As catwalk stars criss-cross the globe for fashion week season, modelling agencies are increasingly using social media worldwide to scout out their new faces, to the alarm of some.
Leading agencies such as IMG, Elite and Nevs and fashion houses including Marc Jacobs have all taken to sites such as photo-sharing service Instagram to recruit models, revolutionising the business.
Kate Moss was famously scouted while waiting for a flight in New York, while Naomi Campbell was out shopping in south London when she got a tap on the shoulder, but a move online appears to be heralding an end to such chance encounters… and casting studios.
IMG’s campaign “We Love Your Genes“, in which aspiring catwalk stars are invited to post pictures on Instagram, has attracted over 100,000 followers and led to the agency signing up models from “around the globe”.
“There’s no need to wait to get discovered at your local mall, or in an airport, in the age of Instagram,” IMG tells potential models on its website.
“We’ve signed girls from around the globe — sisters, friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of other friends — and you’re on our radar,” it said.
IMG vice president David Cunningham told Fashionista magazine that social media had “absolutely changed” the model agency business, slim-lining the recruitment process and reducing the fear factor for girls nervous about meeting agents face-to-face.
“Instagram allows us to see potential models’ natural beauty in their everyday lives. They no longer have to spend lots of money on photo shoots or portfolios,” said IMG colleague Jeni Rose.
US fashion giant Marc Jacobs posted a casting call for its Spring/Summer 2015 campaign on Instagram, which was won by Singaporean Nadia Rahmat.
She told AFP that social media was opening doors for models in locations previously off the fashion map.
“Social media has broken communication barriers that were previously almost impossible to get around,” Rahmat said.
“I don’t think I would have received the opportunity if not for social media. It is a revolutionary platform.”
But some are concerned that encouraging adolescent girls to post selfies online could expose them to the darker forces of the Internet.
“I am aware model agents routinely trawl social media to find new girls and my big concern is that proper regard must be taken to age,” British MP Caroline Noakes, chairman of a parliamentary group on body image, told AFP.
“I am really worried that whilst we have a requirement that young people between 16-18 must be in education or training, this appears to be disregarded in the fashion industry.
“Unfortunately, with the age requirement for a Facebook account being only 13, this opens up the photographs of young people to everyone.”
IMG — who along with other top agencies Elite, Select, Models1 and Nevs declined to comment — trumpets its Instagram recruitment of two 14-year-old models in the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as a “15-year-old beauty from London”.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, 10-year-old Russian “supermodel” Kristina Pimenova has 1.3 million Instagram followers and 4.0 million fans on Facebook.
Potential models must also guard against rogue online agencies.
“At the end of the day it’s about being smart,” said Rahmat. “Background checks are always important to make sure you don’t get trapped into something.”
The 25-year-old model also warned that the online world of selfies and instant comment could damage girls at a vulnerable age.
“We have evolved into the age of digital narcissism, and this has prompted a culture where individuals seek validation through likes or comments,” she said.
But there seems little to stop the relentless march of social media, with IMG saying it has developed “proprietary methods” and “special tools” to identify talent.
IT expert John Collamosse from Surrey University told AFP that face-computer vision technology was “approaching the point” where it could be used to sweep the Internet looking for models.
“If you put in a photo of Kate Moss, then it would be possible to find images of someone that looked similar,” he said.