Scouting the Next Supermodel with MARISSA SURMENKOW

In the midst of all the chaos that comes with scheduling bookings, castings, rates, travel, promotion and development of every model, agents have their work cut out for them.  I interview my very first booker, super-scout and “professional people watcher,” Marissa Surmenkow.  Marissa has scouted and developed some of the biggest faces in fashion. How long have you been an agent? I have been working in the industry since 2004 starting in Chicago with Elite (now Factor Women) and presently working in New York for New York Model Management. How did you get involved with it? I sort of fell into the business after interning for Elite in Chicago. During my last semester of college studying fashion merchandising, I was in need of an internship. Not ready for a move to New York, moving back to my hometown of Chicago was the best option. A family friend, who was a stylist represented by Elite, had suggested that I apply for their intern program. I really hadn’t given much thought to this side of the fashion industry, but after 4 months of learning the ropes at Elite, I knew I had found my passion. From there was hired on as a junior agent and eventually found my niche in scouting and development. What do you look for in finding the next big thing? This industry is so competitive and saturated with models, personality is really the quality I look for in a brand new girl. It is no longer the market of girls being successful on looks alone, she needs to have more going on than just being a model. What is the best part about scouting? The most rewarding part of scouting is the story; finding a girl walking down the street and seeing her transform in the business. It sounds cheesy but a career in modeling can change a girl’s life. Typically it’s the girls who never thought modeling was an option who are most successful. They don’t realize their potential, their beauty, what they have to offer because maybe it was something they were teased about in school or felt embarrassed by growing up. But then someone scouts them out of the blue and it leads to a path they never dreamed was possible. One of our top newcomers last season was working 3 jobs between fast food chains and retail and is now full time modeling in New York. She has shot practically every major magazine, had a designer campaign last season and all within her first 8 months of modeling. Those are the stories that I love the most. Where are some of the unusual places you find talent? As a scout, my eye is always “on” so every day when I am at the coffee shop, traveling through an airport, I am always looking for models. What is the hardest thing about your job? There are 2 things I find most challenging about being a scout. First, finding those who fit what we are looking for; body type, facial features, personality. And second, those who we street scout, having them contact you back. Many times we find incredible girls, but again they had never thought of being a model so never follow up with us. How have you watched the industry transform since you began working as an agent? There are so many more models in the industry than when I started 10 years ago. We have also had a lot change in New York over the last year with the age of models who come to our market. Now with the new child labor laws in New York, girls under 18 have to have a work permit. So we now have reevaluated our strategy when dealing with the young girls. Most will wait to come to New York full time till they graduate high school. Which is better in my opinion. What role does social media play for models today? Social media has a huge influence with our industry; clients are even asking upon booking a model how many followers they have. Models are being scouted and launched from posting on Instagram and Facebook. It really is a key media outlet for a model to build his or her brand. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I would love to say on a beach somewhere but the reality is I don’t see myself in any other job. I feel very fortunate that at a young age was able to connect with a profession that I am so passionate about. My hours are crazy and am traveling constantly but I thoroughly love what I do. And working with a team like I have at New York Models is extremely rewarding. I am thankful for this every single day. What is the estimated timeline for a working model? If a model is smart about her business she can work well into her 30s and even 40s. It’s very inspiring to see icons like Linda, Christy, Kate still have such a strong presence in the business. What is the biggest mistake you see models make? For me it usually can be 2 things that models fail to realize; first being the trust that is established with his or her team. Many models think they “know” better and listen to outside parties when making big decisions about their career. If there is no trust established, we cannot do our jobs properly. The second is that models don’t realize they do have a lot of control with the success of their career. Their personality, movement, personal sense of style are major contributors in their business. Many models don’t recognize that when we advise to “always wear heels” or to work on expression or movement; these things are the tools to get them booked or rebooked with clients and they fail to listen. What advice do you have for aspiring models? Educate yourself on the REALITY of the industry not what you see on reality television. Unfortunately there is not a book or manual you can read to be a successful model but do your research. Look at blogs like models.com or style.com; read up on the agencies before you send photos, know what they are looking for and how you can fit in. If you are 5’4 and trying to be a fashion model, the REALITY is that you are too tiny in height but the commercial world could be a fantastic fit. What advice do you have for aspiring agents? If you want to be a successful agent or scout, you have to put in your time. Work as an intern and work hard. We have so many applicants that think our job is easy, going to photo shoots and fashion shows every day and that is not the case. For show week our team is in the office till 10, 11pm every night back at 8am the next day for 3 weeks straight. It is not as glamorous as I think people perceive it to be. It’s a tough industry but can be very rewarding. image My very first Polaroids taken by Marissa at Elite Chicago

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