Model scouts are some of the most elite professionals in the business, but they’re also the most enigmatic. They walk among us unnoticed in jeans and T-shirts, scouring the streets day in and day out for the most beautiful women in the world. But it’s not as easy as it looks. Jason Valenta, director of scouting at Next Model Management, opens up about what really goes on behind the scenes.
theFashionSpot: What’s a typical week like for you?
Jason Valenta: It’s never typical! I travel about six months out of the year. Last week, I was in Madrid on Monday, Hamburg on Tuesday and New York on Wednesday.
tFS: How do you approach models when you street scout?
JV: You can’t just go up to a girl and tell her you’re a model scout and ask her for a bikini shot. They might think you’re a child smuggler. You have to be conscious of where you scout and who you’re approaching. When I’m in New York, I carry a scouting card, which clearly shows that we represent top models. When I see a girl, I immediately look for the parent. If she’s not with a parent, I ask her to have her parents contact me. From there, I start a dialogue.
tFS: Is the scouting process different abroad?
JV: In Sri Lanka, I saw an amazing schoolgirl, while I was in a motorized rickshaw zooming around the street. But if you approach a young girl in Sri Lanka, you might get stoned. And in Russia, if you street scout in an area with a strong mother agency, they might be territorial and not want to work with you. It can be touchy.
tFS: Who are some of the models you’ve signed so far?
JV: Arizona Muse, Shu-Pei Qin, Aline Weber, Julia Frauche, Blanca Padilla, Esmeralda Seay-Reynolds…
tFS: What’s one of the most obscure places you’ve scouted?
JV: I went to a city in Russia called Chita. It had been a sealed city because it had an important military base until 2002. When I went into this village on the train with my guide, I was speaking English. But these people had never heard English before. They were following me around and taking pictures of me. I thought they were trying to put a hit on me until they started saying, “Hollywood, Hollywood.” They thought I was famous. I was the first foreigner.
tFS: Do you ever find yourself in dangerous situations?
JV: One time I got in a car, and was driving to this village in the north of Brazil to meet this beautiful girl. There was such a downpour that my driver got lost. The city was only supposed to be an hour and a half away, but I was still in the car four hours later and we were in one of the most violent cities in Brazil. At a certain point, I thought the driver might be kidnapping me. So, I sent the picture of his driver ID to Tammy, my partner on New Faces. I only had one bar left on my phone. I told her if I go missing, track this car.
tFS: Is it more difficult to scout in the winter when girls are bundled up?
JV: Scouting during winter is one of my strategies! If you know a girl is in great shape in the winter, you can only imagine what she’ll look like in the summer. She’s a naturally fit, active girl who takes care of herself. Other scouts, don’t copy! There’s also the strategy of scouting after Christmas and New Year’s. If a girl hasn’t put on weight after the holidays, you know she takes care of herself.
tFS: Do you ever have run-ins with a model’s boyfriend?
JV: Sometimes you don’t know if the boyfriend is crazy. I met this amazing girl in Odessa, Ukraine a few years ago through a local scout. We were sitting in a café having a meeting when her boyfriend, who was inebriated, showed up screaming and swinging his arms. He didn’t want his girlfriend to leave to model. He dragged her away screaming.
tFS: Are you competitive with other model scouts?
JV: No, we know each other in one way or another. A model scout actually called me the other day. She’s well-known, but I won’t say her name. She said, “One day we should meet up and have coffee. I sometimes want to kill you because you get the girls I want, but every mother agency says they love you.”
tFS: So, there’s no trash talking?
JV: Honestly, not so much. Not with me. But there are a couple scouts that I don’t agree with how they work. They try to strong-hand mother agencies and say, “If she doesn’t come with me, we’ll never work with you again.” Then I tell the mother agent that that’s bullshit, and she’s lying. But all in all, we get along with each other.
tFS: Once you sign, how long will you wait for a model to break out?
JV: You have to have patience. If I love a girl, I’ll hold on to her for years. Some girls take longer than others, especially the younger ones who are changing and becoming women. At a certain point, they say, “This is who I am and this is what I’m going to be.” It’s like a settling in. Arizona Muse was on New Faces for five years. Lida Fox was a ballet dancer, and came in with her mom when she was 14. Now, she’s 19 and the muse of Hedi Slimane.
tFS: What are the dos and don’ts of being noticed by a model scout?
JV: Don’t spend a bunch of money on pictures where you’re posing. I don’t need to see the way a photographer in your tiny town shoots you and takes your money. I need to see what product I can work with, so I can get you in front of the big casting agents. I want to see you without makeup, and with your hair up. Send me pictures in a bikini or in a fitted tank top and skinny jeans. Just a simple shot in good lighting with your arms down, and a profile, too. You can also do a little video on your iPhone or BlackBerry — just a small clip saying, “Hi, my name is this…” Then edit that down into an emailable format. Don’t send me huge files or a WeTransfer that are a million megabytes.
tFS: What are you looking for?
JV: Aside from obvious things like height — 5 feet 9 inches is the minimum and 6 feet is the maximum, though there are exceptions — I love beauty with a twist. I like a classic beauty with something different.
tFS: What are designers looking for?
JV: Designers are looking for girls that are fit. They need to be super healthy and fit, especially the show girls in New York. Models have to start thinking about their jobs as being an athlete. Being thin isn’t enough. These girls train two hours a day, every day. Some girls are blessed, of course. But if you don’t work out, you won’t have the stamina to do 18-hour days. This is an Olympic sport.