Turn­ing mod­els into su­per­stars

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

A glam­orous model sits in heavy traf­fic, des­per­ately try­ing to make her flight. She’s had enough and phones her agent, de­mand­ing to be taken back to her ho­tel and for a he­li­copter to fly her from its rooftop to the air­port. It’s a real sce­nario Chic Mod­el­ling Man­age­ment founder Ur­sula Huf­nagl ex­pe­ri­enced. As a model agent, she says, you’re on standby to fix the many needs of the coun­try’s beau­ti­ful peo­ple. Thank­fully, how­ever, this type of sit­u­a­tion doesn’t hap­pen too of­ten. “The ma­jor­ity of tal­ent work with us, at times others can be­come a lit­tle dif­fi­cult,” Huf­nagl tells BW Mag­a­zine. “We al­ways try to keep them grounded, to en­joy the mo­ment and utilise the op­por­tu­ni­ties for fur­ther growth. Some­times tal­ent can be­lieve the hype and go a lit­tle too far. “Our job is al­ways in­ter­est­ing but we can make any­thing hap­pen.” For the past 26 years, Aus­tralia’s top mod­els have be­come global stars, walked Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cat­walks, graced Vogue cov­ers across the world and landed mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar en­dorse­ments. Their se­cret weapon has been Chic Mod­el­ling Man­age­ment. Huf­nagl founded the agency with her three co-di­rec­tors: Do­minique Longheon, her hus­band of 43 years; friend and long-time busi­ness part­ner Kathy Ward; and Ward’s ex-hus­band Pe­ter O’Connell. They fast be­came in­dus­try heavy­weights. Two of the first beau­ties on their books were ’90s “it” girl Kate Fis­cher and Belinda Rid­ing, who went on to the cat­walks of New York, Paris, Mi­lan and Tokyo. They have since been the force be­hind faces in­clud­ing Cather­ine McNeil, Sa­man­tha Har­ris, Alyssa Suther­land, Chloe Maxwell, Nicole Pol­lard, Pa­nia Rose, Jes­sica Gomes, Nicole Trun­fio, Erika Hey­natz, Mon­tana Cox, Shan­ina Shaik, Ruby Rose, Abbey Lee Ker­shaw and of course, Mi­randa Kerr. Per­haps the rea­son for the agency’s longevity is Huf­nagl’s own mod­el­ling back­ground. She be­gan mod­el­ling at the age of 19, af­ter she was scouted by the leg­endary June Dally Watkins. “I trav­elled through­out the world, worked for Vogue and fi­nally opened a groom­ing school with Do­minique as the pho­tog­ra­pher, then Ur­sula’s The Mod­el­ling Agency,” says Ger­man-born Huf­nagl. The world of mod­el­ling has mon­u­men­tally changed in the 50 years Huf­nagl has been in­volved. Keep­ing up with that change is be­hind the suc­cess of her busi­ness. Not only does this fam­ily-run busi­ness move with the times, the Chic team does things dif­fer­ently. They were the first in Aus­tralia to in­tro­duce an in-house pub­li­cist in Ward, have fa­mously pulled mod­els off the cat­walk for be­ing too skinny and have an open-door pol­icy for bud­ding mod­els, un­like many other agen­cies which aren’t as in­clu­sive.

“We are an Aus­tralian com­pany, fam­i­ly­owned with a strong moral com­pass,” Huf­nagl says. “We put the needs of the tal­ent first. We have strong ethics and are pre­pared to make the hard de­ci­sions when re­quired.

“An ex­am­ple of this was in 2008 at Fash­ion Week. We thought one of our mod­els did not look healthy so we did not hes­i­tate in can­celling her from the job. At the time we thought it was the right de­ci­sion for the model, she felt oth­er­wise and left the agency the week af­ter. But we stand by our de­ci­sion.

“I think the cul­ture within the agency is very im­por­tant and we have al­ways be­lieved in look­ing af­ter our staff. We give them the tools re­quired to nur­ture and de­velop their ca­reers.”

What view­ers might see as an overnight suc­cess for a model has taken many years of plan­ning, count­less strat­egy meet­ings and per­sis­tence from the tight-knit Chic team. O ne ex­am­ple of this is mod­el­ling su­per­star Mi­randa Kerr, who joined Chic in 2000 as a fresh faced 17-year-old. Huf­nagl and Ward met Kerr when she was just 12 but de­cided she was too young for the cut-throat in­dus­try. Later, through­out her 12 years with the agency, Chic men­tored Kerr and se­cured her lu­cra­tive con­tracts such as David Jones and Port­mans. Also on the agency’s books is in­dige­nous model Sa­man­tha Har­ris who was in­tro­duced to Huf­nagl and Ward in 2004 af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Girl­friend Model Search in Bris­bane. She be­came a na­tional fi­nal­ist at the age of 13 and has gone on to se­cure nu­mer­ous mag­a­zine cov­ers and prof­itable en­dorse­ments with Bra’s N’ Things, Price­line and Cal­i­fia Farms Al­mond Milk. An­other fa­mil­iar face to ben­e­fit from the agency’s tenac­ity and guid­ance is mod­el­turned-ac­tress Erika Hey­natz, who signed in 1998. Un­der Chic’s guid­ance she has mor­phed from model to singer, to TV pre­sen­ter, to suc­cess­ful ac­tress and theatre dar­ling. “Ev­ery time I have had a change in di­rec­tion, they have come to the party,” Hey­natz says. “TV pre­sent­ing? Sure, go for it. Mu­sic busi­ness, yes! Let’s give it a go. Mu­si­cal theatre, do it. We be­lieve in you. “Even if it hasn’t been their area of ex­per­tise, they have thrown en­ergy and re­sources into cre­at­ing a path­way for me to ex­plore ev­ery burn­ing ca­reer de­sire. They are cre­ative at heart and have al­ways in­stilled in me that ver­sa­til­ity is key to sur­vival and suc­cess. I know Ur­sula means it when she says, ‘What do you want to do now?’ She gets great plea­sure in help­ing her tal­ent chase their dreams.” Hey­natz’s well-rounded ca­reer is a re­sult of Chic ex­pand­ing its ex­per­tise, be­com­ing a on­estop shop for mod­els want­ing to ex­plore all facets of the en­ter­tain­ment and mod­el­ling in­dus­tries. Huf­nagl has opened sev­eral in­house di­vi­sions, in­clud­ing Scoop, the com­mer­cial di­vi­sion of the agency; Chic Blog­ger Man­age­ment, an in­flu­encer, tal­ent

We are like a sec­ond mums to a lot of girls

man­age­ment and de­vel­op­ment agency; Ate­lier which rep­re­sents lead­ing and emerg­ing ac­tors and cre­ative tal­ent; En­trée, which spe­cialises in food and life­style; and The Artist Group, which looks af­ter the top pho­tog­ra­phers, make-up artists and stylists.

Huf­nagl knows time in the spot­light can be fleet­ing and it’s for that rea­son the main fo­cus is of­fer­ing tal­ent longevity and op­tions in the volatile in­dus­try. And why many would ar­gue Chic has a stran­gle­hold on Aus­tralian tal­ent.

“Chic’s strength is our abil­ity to recog­nise and of­fer a wide spec­trum of op­por­tu­ni­ties for both male and fe­male tal­ent, not only in the ‘now’ but look­ing to their fu­tures,” Huf­nagl says. “They can see their ca­reer doesn’t just be­gin and end with phys­i­cal beauty but can also in­cor­po­rate their skills and in­ter­ests. We are with them for the long haul.

“Over the years we have launched sing­ing, act­ing and pre­sent­ing ca­reers, se­cured art ex­hi­bi­tions and li­censed cos­met­ics, home­wares, fash­ion prod­ucts and more.

“Alyssa Suther­land won a ma­jor role in the se­ries Vik­ings. We signed Abbey Lee Ker­shaw to her first act­ing role in Mad Max.

“We are an agency that mod­ernises it­self by cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for our tal­ent.”

One thing all em­ploy­ees at Chic agree on is the safety and well­be­ing of their tal­ent. The in­dus­try was once in­fa­mous for pre­scrip­tion and party drugs, preda­tory pho­tog­ra­phers and im­pos­si­bly thin, in­se­cure mod­els. Huf­nagl, Ward and the Chic team’s job is to en­sure their “girls” don’t get caught up in the un­der­belly of the mod­el­ling in­dus­try.

“Girls can be signed to the agency as young as 12 and we have signed them at that age but they have to un­der­stand the next few years is like an ap­pren­tice­ship,” Ward says. “They need to ac­cept they will not be work­ing un­til the time is right and that is nor­mally not un­til they are be­tween the age of 16 to 18, when they are more ma­ture and bet­ter equipped to deal with pres­sures of the in­dus­try.”

Huf­nagl and Ward are un­com­pro­mis­ing when it comes to pro­tect­ing and men­tor­ing.

“I think be­ing par­ents and as a com­pany we un­der­stand the chal­lenges these young girls face in this in­dus­try so we have al­ways been hands-on and very pro­tec­tive when they are away from their fam­ily,” Ward says.

“We are like a sec­ond mums to a lot of young girls en­ter­ing the in­dus­try. Over the years, we have opened up our houses to girls who need to come to Syd­ney for work.

“Kate Fis­cher stayed with Ur­sula for four years and I have had lots of young girls like Sa­man­tha Har­ris live with my fam­ily. She was only 13 at the time and I have ab­so­lutely loved watch­ing her de­velop and ma­ture into the amaz­ing tal­ent she is to­day.”

Chic co-founder Kathy Ward with one of the agency’s stars Sa­man­tha man­tha Har­ris;Har­ris and, right, Mi­randa Kerr who was with the agency for 12 years. Main pic­ture: Justin Lloyd.

Chic has moulded the ca­reers of, from left, Chloe Maxwell, Nicole Trun­fio and Jes­sica Gomes; be­low, co-founder Ur­sula Huf­nagl.

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