T oday I feel old and decidedly ugly. But I probably have good reason – I’m standing in a spacious, brightly lit studio filled with pretty people half my age. For the record, I’m not at the Bareface modelling agency open day in the capacity of an aspiring catwalk model; I’m here to snoop around behind the scenes to get a better idea of Dubai’s modelling industry. It soon becomes clear I’m in the right place. Bareface has been in Dubai since 2001 and has become one of the city’s top modelling agencies. Girls (and one boy) are here today to get a taste of the agency’s new 12-week academy, which will teach them everything from working the camera to strutting their stuff down the catwalk. ‘We’re trying to take it to another level by starting this workshop,’ explains Luz Villamil, Bareface’s 25-year-old Colombian PR exec. ‘It will be the first academy of its kind in the Middle East.’
While a modelling ‘academy’ sounds like something straight out of Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander, this is serious business. Entrants won’t automatically become models once their 12 weeks is up, but they will graduate with a professionally compiled portfolio and a very realistic idea of what is expected of them if they were to pursue modelling as a vocation.
The lady who will be hammering this home to the students is Brazilian Alessandra Cardoso, a 43-year-old former model who has been working in the UAE, in some capacity or another, since 1978. There’s no mistake that Alessandra is the academy’s teacher – I first catch glimpse of her marching the girls in front of the camera, and barking (in the nicest sense of the word) orders at them. ‘We’re not cute. We’re models!’ she cries as she hauls another of her subjects under the spotlight.
Alessandra and the girls take a five-minute break, giving me an opportunity to quiz her a little more about the local scene. ‘It’s very different [in Dubai]. The models here are a bit… spoilt. The competition isn’t as widespread as it is [in New York or Paris], so you have a limited group of models who get job after job. But with the injection of new models, new girls, people have to up their game.’
By this, Alessandra is referring to the new academy, which she hopes will generate a new crop of local talent. I try to glean more about what the 12 weeks entails. ‘What I try to do is… I draw on my own experience,’ explains Alessandra. ‘[Models] get very stressed out in their first year – there’s a lot of rejection, but it’s a learning curve, so it’s making them understand: the more they know [about the industry] the more they become comfortable with it, and the more they practise, and the more they train. Everybody wants to jump straight onto the cover of a magazine, but it doesn’t work that way. They’re very young, so the slower they go, the better, because they become better professionals.’
Having seen her in action, I can’t but help ask whether Alessandra considers herself a hard taskmaster. ‘I am, yes,’ she says unrepentantly, ‘because they’re young, and all they think about is having their pretty picture on the front of a magazine. They have to understand that it’s not all about that – that’s the last step. They need to know that this is a business. They need to be financially aware, they need to be socially aware, they need to have interpersonal skills, PR skills. It’s not about being pretty – all models are pretty. What can you bring to the table?’
Luz explains that the ‘Mediterranean look’ (brunette, dark eyes) is particularly sought after in this region, but surely there’s more to being a professional model than eye and hair colour? ‘If you have a certain personality, you need to portray that personality [in a photoshoot], and you can personify a certain style of clothing and make it jump out of a magazine. The same goes for the catwalk – you have to have somebody who walks beautifully, elegantly and, again, according to what [brand they’re modelling]. A lot of models nowadays are so rigid.’
Alessandra believes the industry is very different now to when she used to spend her time in front of the camera. ‘In my day, we really needed to be professional because we [were shot] in film – it cost money. We were told: “You have 20 films and that’s it.” We didn’t have Photoshop, so we needed to have good skin; we needed to have a good night’s sleep.’
Speaking to Alessandra all but extinguishes any hopes I had of being spotted, recruited and given huge amounts of cash to attend various fashion weeks around the world. Which begs the question: is there any kind of vetting process for the academy?
‘You have to be realistic,’ admits Bareface general manager Elisa Galbraith. ‘But the good thing about Bareface is that we have different divisions – we have the Model Agency, we have Cast & Kids, and we have Entertainers. In Cast & Kids, for example, we have a lot of people who could be great supporting actors, extras, people who are perhaps a bit quirkier – all age groups, all different shapes and sizes, and all different looks. The key thing about this course is to educate people so they realise there are different kinds of models, and trying to find out which one suits.’
The students’ five-minute break is over, and Alessandra’s vociferous personality once again commands everyone’s attention. I may not be catwalk material, but I take some comfort in the fact that it takes more than a pretty face to make it in the modelling industry. Besides, I can’t complain – maybe a career in local TV commercials awaits.
Bareface’s 12-week academy costs Dhs5,000, including portfolio. The course starts on Thursday October 18 (application deadline Monday October 15). For more details, see www.bareface.com.
Three more modelling agencies to try…
This local agency provides models, promoters, cast and stylists.
www.divadubai.com (04 422 7272).
Life Model Management
LMM has male, female and child models on its books.
www.lmmdubai.wordpress.com (04 885 3441).
Mansion Model Management
A boutique agency providing models for film, print and live events.
www.mansionmodel.com (04 386 4467).