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Updated: May 2, 2019

Toni used his position as a fashion outsider positively when he set up Brand Model Management in 2005. Toni used his previous experience as a businessman to his advantage. He faced fashion with a new perspective, therefore he could change and be better. Brand Models Management was the first of it's kind in Finland, an agency devoted to finding new faces and creating extremely successful careers for their girls, compared to the more classic and agencies that already existed in Finland.

For how long are your running the agency? How the model industry has changed since your beginning? I launched Brand Model Management officially in 2005, yet the first years were pure construction behind the scenes. Finland hadn’t seen a serious new agency for over 15 years, and as an outsider, I saw many things could be done differently. The change has been dramatic. I’ve been lucky to experience still the old world, when runways ruled the fashion and were the one and only launching pad for serious career, but young enough to already seeing where the industry is about to move. Personally, I don’t like to discuss about modeling as an industry itself: we are completely dependable of marketing and advertisement, and budgets companies are willing to invest for their image and promotion. But the true change is globalization, and even I thought it should have impacted our industry first, it seems agencies and casters stayed stubborn way too long to accept what is about to happen. One reason why Kardashians took over. We failed to see the new middle class, the new generation of a global audience - and if the audience doesn’t get what they are looking for, they will find it elsewhere. In this case, from social media. The Model industry had all the tools and experience to see it coming and take advantage of it - but instead, we hyped about Prada exclusives around the small private table behind closed doors, when consumers looked elsewhere. You should always read the forecasts if you don’t want to get your feet wet. In this case, Miu Miu loafers.

Kirsi Pyrhönen by Steven Meisel for Italian VOGUE

What are the skills that you must have to run the agency? There’s three sections in the talent industry: Scouting, development, and management. What I found out, was that everyone was doing scouting, and instead of development, there was always the importance of placement. After placement, there were crossed fingers “what might happen”, when new face lands Milan, Paris, New York... or wherever. If she or he failed, usually the talent was sent to Istanbul or China. When thinking of the slots possible to be taken purely by luck, the majority get ousted from the center and end up floating at the outer circles. I decided to learn the hardest part: development. Becoming a master in that. If we really believed in someone, we then have a chance to build her to become so strong, she eventually makes it New York and Paris, no matter what. You can run an agency by scouting talents and sending them worldwide. Or you can run an agency representing talents, and booking them for your clients. There are different business models. Management is different: that’s when you know, how to maintain the career and bring growth into it, for a decade - and understand, that as an agent, you work for the talent, not opposite. Like a lawyer, you can be fired, if you’re simply bad in your job. And most models should realize that. After all, this is a sales job. You sell the vision and dream to your talent, and then you must sell the same vision to fellow agents and especially clients and creatives. If you can’t sell, you cannot be a great agent. Understanding, selling a human being, is closer to working in politics, than selling a car.

Nowadays, do exist any boundaries when we talk about scouting? Not really. I was scouting from social media back to 2003 when there was no such word as social media. Over half of our talents have been found through different channels online. And as Finland is a country with large land mass but small population spread all over, scouting isn’t like it is in the Netherlands or Denmark - standing in one railway station. It was also mandatory to find new ways. And due to that, I realized - why not use that globally. So, 2011 I signed a Venezuelan model, Angela Ruiz, and went forward with Colombian, Taiwanese, English, French, and so on. What comes to scouting online, you need to handle 1st class communication. There’s too much scum all over: to stand out, asks a lot of delicate and convincing touch, how to approach people.

Steffi Cook walking for Balenciaga Spring Summer 2018

Mother Agencies have a closer relationship with their models. What kind of issues and situations do you need to solve when your models start working abroad and on a bigger scale? I’d say, a manager is next to parents and partner. Often, we need to even replace family, as unfortunately not all have strong support by them, or there’s a background of a broken home. Then again, to really pursue for modeling, personal life must be on stable ground, and self-esteem must be healthy and solid. This business should never be a vendetta, or way to show others you can make it - otherwise, you never learn to grow in it, or enjoy it in the end. Once you “kicked ass”, there’s nothing to go for. The first responsibility of a caring mother agent is to make each talent to see WHY she’s in this business, WHAT she wants to achieve, and get COMMITMENT. We start only talents, who are in for 3+ years process. We don’t go ‘trying what happens’.

Mariina Keskitalo by Fernando Gómez and styled by Daniel González Elizondo.

Have Social Networks got more importance than what use to be to book a model? Which are the good/bad consequences of so much exposure for the models? When I first started to consider this industry, and if I had ideas to create something, it was through social media. Back in 2002, that word didn’t exist though. There was no iPhones, no touch screens, and digital cameras were just about to become good enough to even make A4 size photo print. In Estonia, they had a website called Rate: they apparently built it more as Tinder, but as it allowed commenting, I realized it was actually a great scouting tool. So, we went Tallinn with a photographer friend of mine, set a casting in a hotel, and got over ten girls coming. Through that website. And when they just opened a portal called IRC-Galleria, exactly the same as Instagram today but then working on computers, of course, I saw the light: Finland is a vast country, with few people, so finding ‘crossroads’ for scouting the way Danish or Dutch can, is impossible. Instead, sitting in the office and clicking ‘Browse’-button on each city, seeing who’s logging in, gave me the opportunity to see thousands of people based on their photos. And what model needs to do naturally? Shoot. What’s the best way to find a photogenic person? By photos, perhaps? And once taken by friends (Selfies were not happening yet), it also showed the real, natural person without pressure or posing. So, to put it short: Without the rise of social media, I couldn’t have built the agency. And yet, through that, I also became very native using all modern platforms for communication and messaging, when others thought I must be crazy, or that it’s dangerous or very suspicious way. But: with professionalism and credibility, the ways can vary. With social media, it’s just even more important to build image and credibility, to stand out in a long run. What comes to bookings, I always repeat - it’s a media. Media among others. It’s not THE thing, it’s not life. It’s a channel. If we represent and manage people who are great, then we must also build that channel and media to work on their favor. But things cannot be based on social media, as that’s a bubble. After all, a talent must work with real professionals, real features and skills are needed, and real professional respect. Millions of followers won’t change that: singer needs to sing, and beauty must be real. But of course you can get rich playing Tv-Shop tricks and selling push up bra or tooth whitening or bad dresses - especially in America, Instagram is new tv-shop. But do I want to build tv-shop stars? I’d cash it out quick, but it’s not what makes this an adventure. Compare to sports: you can have a million followers and deal due it - or you can be a world champion in something, get your followers because of it, and make a deal based on them. I rather manage the latter. I don’t gamble, and I don’t like casinos. Social media is great to fulfill our strategy, but it’s not the strategy.

Aaron Sirainen for Gucci Cruise 2019

What do you consider is the best part of your work? Freedom. Definitely freedom. Another thing is being able to coach young people to find success from themselves: not becoming something else, but understanding, it can all be based on you, as long as you develop yourself and keep going. That cannot be taken away, and that can be used for any profession or task in future life. Creating confidence leading to success. And I’ve always been an aesthetic person: so, this is what I can do naturally. Combining managing skills to strategic thinking, and aesthetics - cannot be done in many other fields. Also, it’s great when you can create something that isn’t another product, an item. When good things happen with a human being, it brings more good around it. Not sure designing a chair or iPhone feels the same. Perhaps.

And to finish, what is the advice you always say to your newbies? Career can be only built on stable foundations: Modeling is not to revenge your bullies, is not to prove your parents wrong, is not to show anything to yourself. What’s after, when that’s done? You must be ready, and you must see yourself capable. Accepting you have a talent, you have strengths and believing in yourself. And there’s only one ‘you’: never compare. And eventually: AS LONG AS THERE’S PROGRESS, THERE’S NO DEADLINES!

Read the full Mother Agencies feature at Spring Summer 2019 - Issue 2. Get your copy here.

Toni Korpineva's portrait by Jessica Luostarinen.

Words by Charlie Newman.

Lotta Kaijärvi during the show debut of Ricardo Tisci at Burberry


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