In celebration of imperfection
Introducing Ugly Models, an agency of extraordinary “characters”
LONG NECKS, large chins, flapping ears, crooked noses: welcome to Ugly Models, a London modelling agency of a different stripe, where imperfections are celebrated.
Fashion Week opened in the British capital last week, and among the legions of models strutting down the catwalk, several came from Ugly.
They made eye-catching additions to the perfectly honed or androgynous models that typically feature at fashion’s annual showcase in London.
“It’s celebrating diversity really and it’s bringing a bit more light to fashion instead of just using the bog-standard models,” says agency owner Marc French.
Chairman of Ugly/Rage Models, Marc French interviews a potential model during a casting./AFP
He describes it as a “character” model agency – “from fat, thin, to large to small: you name it, we’ve got it”.
He cited the example of French actor Gerard Depardieu.
“I mean look at him: he’s so full of character and charisma.
“He becomes sexy because he’s so cool and he’s so different.”
Founded a half century ago, Ugly occupies trendy open-plan space in west London featuring a baroque sofa, brushed aluminium computers and walls studded with photos of models.
A portrait of late rock superstar David Bowie adorns the wall, alongside the quote “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius,” which reads like a company motto.
Model Laura Poole poses during a casting at the Ugly model agency in London./AFP
Like any such agency, it manages the careers of its models, putting them in touch with employers of all stripes, from Burberry to Mercedes to Jack Daniel’s.
On a recent weekday, Ugly was organising a casting to complete its catalogue and those in attendance were atypical models.
Among them were some tough-looking guys.
Chris, for example, a former soldier with arms as thick as logs, posed shirtless with a 50-year-old brunette in a two-piece suit.
Kris Chesney, an ex-rugby player with Toulon and Saracens, is a man mountain at nearly two metres tall and weighing 135 kilograms.
With his shaved head, tattooed arms, rugged face, and body bearing the marks of countless scrums, he is perhaps an unlikely male model.
“It’s a new journey, something interesting, like a challenge,” he grins.
A composite image shows potential models during a casting./AFP
Others are on more of a personal mission.
Sheerah Ravindren, a petite 22-year-old model just 1.61 metres tall, comes from Sri Lanka and proclaims herself a “militant immigrant model”.
Sporting a bare belly between baggy jeans and black top, she has a right nostril piercing and plenty of positive attitude.
“I’m a woman of colour. Growing up, I’ve never seen people that look like me in media, in fashion.”
Frances, a disabled model who gets around using a pair of eye-catchingly futuristic crutches, reveals proudly that her disability “hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want”.
For French, “what makes a good ugly models is someone who is comfortable in his own skin”.
“We don’t want retouching, we don’t want people to change the way they look.
“If someone comes to us a certain way, we’d never say it’d be better if he was smaller.
“It’s really important. There’s so much pressure on young kids,” he says.
The agency is also eager to counter any perception that it cynically exploits its models for their peculiarities.
“Sometimes we’ve had companies ring up and said: we want a small person that will kick themselves in the head. Woo... like no – that’s wrong,” says Lulu Palmer, a booker who is head of new faces.
“We’re not here to exploit people, to take the mickey out of people.”
Always on the lookout for new talent, the team admits the company name can elicit less than enthusiastic responses from would-be models.
But, says French, “the minute they understand what Ugly is all about then they want to be a model.”