How to become a model in Dubai

The UAE's lack of competition makes it easier to get a break


Want to dominate the city’s billboards? Jennvy Hewett reveals how to make it as a model in Dubai.

In a city where transience is an accepted part of expat life and both jobs and friendships are often more fleeting than forever, new faces are never hard to come by in Dubai. But some faces are more profitable than others. How far can yours take you? The considerable lack of competition in Dubai’s modelling industry compared to other markets in major global cities, such as New York City and Paris, means that banking on your looks is increasingly becoming an acceptable way to make some extra cash on the side in the UAE. Getting on the books in Dubai is as simple, in some cases, as filling out an online application. For those Dubai-based stunners flaunting the complete package – face, height and personality – modelling in this city can be a lucrative and exciting part- or full-time gig.

Elisa Galbraith, general manager of top Dubai modelling agency, Bareface, says that its entirely possible to make a steady, reliable income from modelling in Dubai when you have the right attitude and a good agent behind you. ‘It is a small market, but it’s continuously growing every year,’ she says.
You only have to open a local fashion spread or look up at a billboard on Sheikh Zayed Road to see the downsides of operating in an immature market, with a handful of models flooding the business at any one time. Managing director of Dubai-based talent database company Dotcasting, Adam Ridgeway, says this is due to a lack of resources. ‘Flooding tends to be down to a small database pool,’ he says. ‘We have thousands of options for our clients and our talent managers can search through them, with varieties of experience, looks, shapes and sizes on offer.’

Dotcasting stockpiles portfolios and profiles from a range of local talent including actors, models, extras, singers, performers, dancers, promoters, musicians, photographers and stylists. Disappointingly, quirky, edgier high-end looks are often passed over for commercial cuties in this city.
‘The main look has been Mediterranean, with dark eyes and dark hair to appeal to a wider audience,’ says Elisa of Bareface. ‘Dubai’s market is more commercial and therefore there is less demand for quirky and unusual looks,’ she says.

While modelling jobs themselves are varied, with no one day the same, Elisa underlines that, along with having the look, key qualities such as professionalism will ultimately anchor a model’s success or lack of. ‘It is essential to have a great work ethic and to look after yourself. You want a photographer or client to book you because they enjoy working with you and having you on set,’ she says. Likewise, a perfect pout will only get you so far.

‘It’s not just about looks and turning up for a shoot. The ability to use your appearance and personality to promote or sell a product, service, trend, or to display the latest fashion on the runway are the key aspects of being a model,’ she says. ‘It’s a highly competitive industry out there, so models should have a positive attitude. Being photogenic and able to pose is essential. Catwalk models need to have a distinctive walk to get booked on a fashion show, this is a lot harder than it looks and takes a lot of time and skill,’ says Elisa.

Those looking to apply, should do so with this advice in mind. ‘Send us a clear head shot and a full body shot. Minimal makeup will improve your chances,’ says Elisa. ‘Sending photos that are busy or messy with a lot of makeup or with other people in the same photo will work against you. Secondly, you can become a more appealing candidate by showing respect to your agency and having mutual trust,’ she says.

But for those who don’t fit the high-fashion requirements, there’s still some coin to be made. ‘In terms of our cast and lifestyle divisions, we represent all ages, shapes and sizes,’ says Elisa. ‘We look for strong faces as well as characters to play a range of roles,’ she says. ‘A model should speak to their agent for guidance on the type of work they can expect to get based on their portfolio, experience and category of model,’ she says. ‘There is a lot of work for lifestyle cast especially for ad campaigns and corporate videos. You have to be prepared for hard work – it’s not a nine to five job. Hours are varied, there can be night shoots and very long days so it’s also very much about dedication and attitude,’ says Elisa.

Dubai-based Romanian model, presenter and one-time face of Emirates Airlines, Andreea Zoia, says that skills including ‘friendliness, tolerance and discipline’ have ensured she has made a comfortable living as a model in Dubai. But having modelled full-time for three years, Andreea was ready for a new challenge. ‘I realised that I could do more than just model. I have always had an ambitious personality and so modelling served as a cornerstone in my presenting career. Deep down I have always wanted to present but I was too shy to share that dream. Today I know that my 12 years’ experience in modelling has helped me become an expressive, confident and outspoken presenter,’ says Andreea.

It’s not just the ladies dabbling in this highly-competitive industry, either. Dubai-based 28-year-old Brit Mo Hussain says that a friend convinced him to get a portfolio and he now works part-time as a model. While there are plenty of perks, including freebies and invitations to exclusive events and parties, he insists it’s not all fun and games. ‘You’re self-employed and you have to learn quickly how to manage your finances,’ says Mo. ‘Some months you can make a lot of money and others you can make very little so you have to be careful not to spend too much in the good months,’ he says.

Meanwhile, Dotcasting’s Adam says you need to be clear about what you want to achieve when entering the modelling industry. ‘Anyone looking to get involved in the industry needs to be specific in what they are best at, what they want to promote about themselves and how much energy they are going to place in becoming the best they can be. Prioritise your efforts and only shout about what you can do well,’ he says. Lights, camera, action.

Get on the books in Dubai

Register for free and upload professional images or showreels to get on their extensive database. Also offers training and support.

Launched in Dubai in 2001, this agency represents high-fashion models, as well as cast, kids, actors, stylists and performers. (04 428 5700)

Wilhelmina Dubai
Dubai’s outpost of the leading international modelling agency represents runway and high-fashion editorial models.

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