International Model Management

June 2007

12:30 p.m. Two blocks west of my bar stool a line of model wannabes with parents-in-tow are registering for the chance to be discovered by scouts that have flown in from New York, Tokyo, Paris, Taipei and Cape Town. My bus from Toronto arrived well before anything was really going on, so here I sit, setting aside W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage to scratch down notes and contemplate the day ahead.

International scouts watching the video
2:05 p.m. The newly renovated ROXX, I'm told, is the iconic hotspot of the Georgian College crowd. This was my first stop when I got off the bus from Toronto two hours earlier. In college I was a deejay at a similar club in a similar city (Lethbridge), and that eerie sensation I used to get when the doors weren't open - the it's-too-quiet-and-I'm-too-lucid-to-be-sitting-in-a-nightclub feeling - I started getting it again before I wandered to the pub down the road.

Today, a Sunday, the ROXX is host to the 14th Annual International Model Management Cover Model Search. Sounds like a rather highfalutin' name for something going on in a bar, but despite the stale beer 'n' bleach aroma this is indeed one of the more ballyhooed events on the fashion modelling circuit.

I'm certainly not the most travelled industry type - that title in Canada belongs to Elite's Matti Gidilevich who sits across the dance floor from me now - but I have been to conventions in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. I've dropped in unannounced on a Mode Models' search in Calgary and one of Panache's in Winnipeg. ProScout, FacesWest, CMTC, MTSC, MAOC... I've attended my share of discoveries. I've even staged a couple searches in Saskatoon. But nothing is quite like this.

Along with well over a hundred contestants and their supporters I'm sitting here watching a mostly recycled, 24-minute video produced by the most improbable success story in the Canadian modelling industry. I'm writing during the video, glancing up occasionally to see fresh-faced discoveries of years past; there's Kathleen Clark, there's Marla Bailey hamming it up for the handicam. It's more than endearing - it's also testimony to what one person can do, if they know what they're doing. This is the handiwork of Michèle Miller who has turned South Central Ontario into one of the prime destinations for model scouts.

In Calgary, of course, there's Kelly Streit. Like Miller, Streit opened in a small city (Red Deer, in his case), and started empire building under the Mode Models brand. "If I was uprooted and placed in Timbuktu, or in Northern Ontario, or Halifax or Prince Edward Island," he once told me, "I would within a few years build a roster. You have to know what you're looking for, and know what to do with them. And that's something that can't be taught."

Miller says she always had that instinct, pointing to high school when she would pick the "geeky ones," do their makeup and take their pictures to show them how beautiful they are. "That's what modelling is all about," she says now, "spotting the non-obvious ones."