Anita Norris

January 2007

Two weeks before our interview, Norris and I sat in a Toronto bistro where after a few glasses of Pinot Grigio she told me the most important thing to remember when you're featured on a reality show is to turn off the mic before using the washroom.

Norris is a regular on "The Agency," a VH1 series that follows Wilhelmina's bookers through their day-to-day routine. The reviews, she told me, have been very good, and the agency is planning to screen the first episode during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.

I also learned during this chat that the strong reputation the men's agency enjoys - representing stars like Canadians Owen Steuart, Andrew Stetson and Gabriel Aubry - makes it easier to recruit male models than female models. The men's division, where Norris spent most of her booking days in New York, is regarded as being as strong as any in New York.

The women's division, she acknowledges, doesn't get the same respect. In her role as head of scouting, it's her job to change that. "The mission right now it to shed the image of being a catalogue agency and make the women's agency as strong as the men's agency. We're really investing in our scouting."

The proof of that can be seen in Norris' travel schedule. 2006 ended with a scouting trip to Brazil. This year began with a whirlwind tour of Scandinavia and the Balkan States. "European agencies always send me Polaroids, but I need to see a girl in person. You can scout off Polaroids, but there's always that 5% risk that the girl isn't going to be the same in person."

She also spends one week each month at Wilhelmina's booking table. "You really fine-tune your eye when you're dealing with clients. I really find that now I'm dead-on."

Last year though, after six years of dealing daily with clients, Norris was ready to come home. "I felt like I wanted to come back to my roots - where I'm from - and I wanted to get back to scouting. I felt like nothing's keeping me in New York. I can do this job anywhere with a laptop. Why not home, near my family?"

Rather than losing her, Wilhelmina agreed that there are worse places than halfway between the Toronto and Detroit airports. So now she travels the world selling an image of stability and opportunity. "I think people get a good feeling from Wilhelmina because we've been around so long, and agencies are guaranteed to get their mother agency commission."

"We're still keeping our catalogue base, because if you're a new girl coming in you need to be able to make money. You're going into a company where you're guaranteed to be making money."

Wilhelmina is a very diverse agency with five different women's divisions, two men's divisions, artist management, kids & teens and creative. "The nice thing about Wilhelmina," she laughs, "is that you can start as a model with Wilhelmina, and you can die as a model with Wilhelmina."