Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Fashion is reaction to the world we live in and what a dynamic time it is we’re living in currently. The Me-Too allegations are challenging the fashion industry leaders, Brexit is creating financial uncertainties and social media has flipped the world of fashion on its head. Amidst the madness, there is still the unflappable Emma Quelch. And who better to guide us through the current storm than the industry stalwart and Vice President of IMG models. Quelch climbed the ranks having first spent twenty years as a model booker at some of Europe’s leading agencies, firstly at Select Model management, before moving onto her current home, IMG London. Quelch proves that the world of fashion isn't so fickle after all and that love for what you do conquers all.
Words by Charlie Newman
This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4
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What a CV! How have you endured in an industry that is notoriously fickle?
I have so much passion for this industry, and with that passion comes a lot of energy and hard work. I’ve constantly reinvented my role to keep things moving and keep it interesting. I’m lucky to love what I do, the company I work for and people I work with, so it’s easy to maintain focus. There has been a lot of change within the industry over the last twelve years and IMG has evolved in this time as well. Being part of the Endeavor network and being exposed to so many different companies continues to inspire me.
When did your love of fashion first spark?
I loved models when I was growing up – my favourite was Helena Christensen and I remember spending most of the money I earned from my part-time job buying magazines and clothes. One of my first introductions to fashion was through the Clothes Show Live TV. I never knew that schools such as Central St Martins existed or that you could make a career from loving clothes and models. The creative industries were never encouraged at school then and it’s been exciting to see how social media has opened up our industry and made it more accessible.
The role of an agent is shrouded in mystery to outsiders. Please could you run us through exactly what the job entails?
We are responsible for the livelihood of our clients, and manage all aspects of their career: campaigns, magazines, appearances, shows, contracts, travel, finances, social media, logistics and their health and safety. Our days are spent communicating with casting directors, brands, photographers, and creatives.
How has your job changed from the start of your career to Vice President, Managing Director?
I started my career as an assistant, which at the time was the best job in the world. I got to read
magazines all day and got paid for it! As Vice President and Managing Director for IMG Models in London today, I have a lot more responsibility in building the careers of both our talent and the IMG London team. I love seeing people flourish and progress over time and am honoured to play a role in helping shape and develop them.
The role of the manager has transformed tremendously since when you first started. How have you experienced the change?
When I started in 1997 we didn’t have mobile phones or computers. The speed in which you could gather or relay information was a lot slower, and the way brands reached their audiences was very different. Navigating the many technological changes and advancements that have happened along the way has definitely kept things interesting!
How does IMG champion the growth of diversity within the industry?
IMG has always been a leader in the fashion industry – we’ve pushed boundaries and have been at the forefront of conversations around diversity and inclusion from the beginning. We encourage our team to sign the best talent out there, regardless of size, race, age or gender. On the industry side, we have encouraged customers to broaden their thinking and to consider people from all different backgrounds. We have to inspire the next generation and cement the idea that everyone deserves to be a part of the fashion industry.
How do you equip your models with how to maximize their career on social media?
We advise our talent on all aspects of their careers, and social media plays such a huge role in our industry today. Everyone has their eyes on it – whether that be brands, clients or the public. Platforms like Instagram are another way for models to show the public and customers who they are and what their voice is. We continually guide and advise our models about social media and how they can best harness each platform to amplify their career.
Fashion weeks are expanding and fast fashion is booming and as a result, people are beginning to wake up to fashion’s unrealistic and excruciating pace – especially for the models. Do you think the entire industry will have to pull back at some point?
It’s important for everyone in the industry to be aware of the need to check in with themselves, especially during hectic times like fashion month. Through our Model Prep program, we work to equip our models with the knowledge and best practices around both their mental and physical health. What works for one person may not work for another, and it’s crucial that we take time to learn what works best for us as individuals.
Modelling is one of the only industries where women are paid more than men. Are you working on levelling this out? What is your stance on this?
We are advocates for all of our talent regardless of gender, size, age, etc and work to secure the best opportunities to advance their careers.
What advice would you give to an aspiring model, manager or booker?
If you really want it, then never give up! Work hard, be passionate and keeping knocking on doors until they open.