UNO Models has been Spain’s leading model agency for more than ten years. To get to the heart of what makes them so successful and unique and to find out what their next goals will be, we interviewed three of their major representatives. Fernando Merino, director of the Madrid office; David Collazo, main booker at the Madrid office and Izate Sánchez, main booker at the Barcelona office. Models images by Javier López.
Words by Charlotte Coquelin.
This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Fall Winter 2020 Issue 5.
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What was your background before you started working at UNO models?
FERNANDO: I started my career 31-years ago with an agency called JET SET, after which I worked in PH ONE, a leading agency at that time, and then I moved to Group Models for sixteen years and have currently been working at UNO for ten years.
DAVID: UNO has been the first and the only agency I’ve worked for. Before UNO, I worked as a sales assistant at a men’s luxury fashion shop. I also studied fashion photography and, even though I never worked professionally as a photographer, my studies gave me some ‘eye education’, which is very useful for a booker.
IZATE: Before I started working at UNO, I worked for a fashion communications agency. I have always worked in Barcelona but at UNO I gained the benefits of the experiences of people who had worked in the business for many, many years. Even though UNO was a new agency, the owners were people who had been working in the industry for more than 30 years.
What is your strategy for retaining loyalty and what’s the secret of your success?
FERNANDO: Professionalism, seriousness and speed of service.
DAVID: More than a strategy to be precise, I think what keeps our models’ loyalty is that we base our relationships on mutual trust and a lot of communication. In my opinion the role of a model agent is to champion our models’ interests, so it’s very important to know, all the time, what their goals and their priorities are. Our job is also to guide them and to explain to them whatever they need to know about their careers. There’s also the personal side to it, of course. I believe that our models are happier when they feel that they’re being taken care of and it’s not just about getting them jobs.
IZATE: I love people and fashion. I always find something great about the people I have in my life so I work to try and be fun and effective. I imagine myself in their position so that I can better understand their needs and thus can try and help fulfill them using great patience and knowledge.
What differences exist between the Spanish market when compared to other European territories like London or Paris?
FERNANDO: The main difference is about the clients and the level of recognition that they have, although this is now changing due to increasingly levels of globalization.
DAVID: The Spanish market is more commercial than Paris, Milan or London. That means that, in terms of image development, Spain is not the goal for models normally. They can earn money here, and build a nice book, but in order to develop their international careers, usually, they need to work for one of the main fashion labels and that’s done mainly in Paris or Milan. Anyway, there are big clients in Spain with high standards, so it’s still a relevant market.
Nowadays, a model agency’s work is becoming increasingly international. All the markets contact and work with clients abroad, so I guess this is the future and is what will make Spanish agencies work at the same level as international agencies.
IZATE: The difference is diminishing and we are lucky to have international clients working with the top male and female models in our agency.
Could you tell me about some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career so far?
FERNANDO: The greatest challenge is the day-to-day one. It’s about convincing a client to choose our models and how to build a model to be as successful as we think they should be.
DAVID: I think the biggest challenge for us is to be able to adapt and compete in an international market, where now all the agencies abroad try to work with international clients and don’t only focus on their local market. And also national clients are looking to work with international agencies. This makes the competition much harder, and forces us to be faster and always alert.
IZATE: The competition from the big international networks has been challenging, but good ideas always come out of adversity.
the word ‘TOP’ is overused and thrown around too loosely.
What is the first thing that you are looking for when you are scouting for new models? Is personality also a criteria or is it just focussed on looks?
FERNANDO: Our first considerations are always image, personality and potential.
DAVID: The first thing we notice is obviously someone’s look. We need to find a cohesion between physical proportions that work for fashion and that something which makes a face interesting or beautiful, not necessarily classically beautiful, but a face with something special. But of course personality matters. A model’s success lies also with their personality and their attitude towards the work. And experience has taught me than an average model with a great attitude is normally more successful long term than a great beauty with no personality.
IZATE: Our models, although sometimes they’re signed very young, don’t really start to work until they turn eighteen or right before they’re old enough for university. Before that, we always urge our new faces models to prioritize school over work.
Can you name some top models you have scouted and managed all the way to the top? How long does it take to build a supermodel?
FERNANDO: If you have to have a timeframe to becoming a recognized model, I would say at least two years, to be a real top model, more. Anyway, the word ‘top’ is overused and thrown around too loosely.
DAVID: With Oscar Kindelan, for example, we scouted him aged fifteen, and we have been with him for the whole process, which is exciting. The time it takes always depends on the model, and it’s important for them to know that every career is different. Fernando Lindez and Pablo Fernandez are also some other names we work with. Steffy Argelich, Alba Galocha, Rocio Crusset... each of them have had different careers with different highlights... but in the end, they are all working successfully.
IZATE: I’ve managed lots of kids, but the ones who are working on that higher level are Pablo Fernandez and Marta Aguilar, while I have some others who I’m currently developing.
Who is your longest-signed model?
FERNANDO: Most of the models who we are the mother agency to are with us from the beginning of their careers.
IZATE: Javier, one of the founders of UNO, has been Laura Ponte’s agent since she started modelling. Some of the amazing international girls who we have managed from the very beginning of their careers are Carmen Kass, Isabeli Fontana, Elise Crombez and Tasha Tilberg.
What are your proudest moments?
FERNANDO: When you see the success of those models who you have formed as an agent.
DAVID: In general, we all feel proud when a model we have scouted gets to that point of having a nice and established career, but particularly exciting is the feeling in the office every time one of our new faces gets confirmed for their first-ever big international show. It feels like the proper beginning to them finding a way to achieve at the top level.
IZATE: My proudest moments were when Marta Aguilar worked with Anita Bitton and Pablo working for Raf Simons.