Heading to the interview, the two things I remembered about Joe Kool's were the owner's obsession with the Detroit Tigers, and the really, really good pizza. I hadn't been there for more than 20 years however, so it was a bit surreal to be going back as a 35-year-old to meet one of the top scouts in the modelling business.
Why was I meeting Anita Norris at a London, Ontario restaurant? Because despite being the head of scouting for Wilhelmina, with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Miami Beach, she makes her home in the "Forest City."
It was in London, at 13, that she enrolled in modelling classes. Within a couple years she was Miss Teen London, and at 17 she signed with Toronto's Judy Welch.
By 19, Norris was modelling in Milan, and loved it so much she decided to make her home there. Ten years later she started scouting for upstart agency Ice Models. "When you're scouting for Milan it's a lot more intensive than when you're scouting for New York," says Norris, "because you constantly have to fill up an agency. Every few months people come in, then they leave. You don't always have people based in that city."
I first met the striking brunette in 2000 at a Modelling Association of Canada event in Toronto. I was pre-promoting Modelresource, one year before it went online, and Norris was scouting for Milan's Paolo Tomei agency. We ended up speaking quite a bit, both there and at the Canadian Model & Talent Convention that followed two weeks later, and within two months one of my models was working successfully with Paolo Tomei.
By 2001 however, Norris' eye was on New York and shortly after resigning her position with Paolo Tomei she landed as an agent at Wilhelmina... three months before 9/11. "That was really hard for me. I remember walking in at 8:40, which is when the first plane hit, and I walked into our celebrity division which is a wall of T.V.s, and they had the burning tower on T.V. Then we saw the second plane go in. Nobody could believe it."
The terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center happened during New York Fashion Week, so Norris, while dealing with her own trauma, also had to care for visiting models staying at Wilhelmina's model apartment, which happened to be near Ground Zero. "We evacuated everyone. I had one girl in from Gothenberg, Sweden. She was shell-shocked. She came into the agency and I had to take her home with me. We walked 80 blocks that day. It was the weirdest walk that day... people coming out of buildings crying. Everybody walking. Crazy.
"I actually had a girl in from Edmonton - a farm girl - and it was her first season. It was horrible, I mean, she couldn't get out. She and her mother were stuck there. She never came back to New York. Never."