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Are you an "anti-model" if you're still cool, thin and beautiful?

Ayesha, an artist and ‘anti model’ for the Anti Agency

Calling yourself an anti-agency might seem like a pretty bold claim in the modeling world; but it’s working out okay so far for the London based Anti Agency.

Anti Agency are a talent management firm “for people who could’ve been models and decided not to, for people who are too cool to be models and people with real lives on the verge of exploding in music, fashion, art, illustration & creative industries etc.”

On the Anti Agency’s books are many of Dalston’s finest: hipster kids with lily-pale skin, tattoos, dreadlocks, pierced septums and shaved heads.

In addition to being ‘interesting’ looking, they’re all pretty conventionally attractive, and while not all of them are ‘model thin’ there’s less diversity of size than you’d see at say, Wilhelmina an agency that reps plus size and petite models including Australia’s Robyn Lawley.

The Anti Agency was founded by a pair of fashion insiders, Pandora Lennard, formerly of indie fashion mag Tank and stylist Lucy Greene whose client list includes the who’s-who of London’s achingly cool fashion scene.

Lennard told the Daily Beast that the Anti Agency has no weight or height requirements;  preferring instead to pick models for their personalities. 

But don’t be fooled, the Anti Agency does let its models express their ‘individual style’ in its (still heavily retouched) photographs, and boasts poets and musicians on its roster.

The website is missing those creepy vital stats like height and waist measurements (that are standard issue for most modelling agencies), instead providing barebones information about what the models do. Each model has a job description like ‘artist’ or ‘journalist’.  So far, so cool and it’s nice that in addition to things like piercings, some of the women on the books also sport actual real not-waxed-off body hair.

Not so cool is the way the Anti Agency writes off those people who chose to be models before they became hipsters (you know, the ones who were scouted at 14), dismissing them as somehow less-than. “Too cool to be models” is how they describe their own special non-model-models… and yet they’re on a modelling site? Sorry, what?

Modelling agencies that do ‘street casting’ are not a new thing. The desire to reflect what the hippest young people are doing has been around since Yves Saint Laurent looked to the streets, founding his Parisian ready to wear Rive Gauche line and boutique in 1966 and basing his designs on what he saw the artists of the left bank wearing. Betty Catroux is a living testament to street casting’s power.

For every dozen advertising campaigns where the models look sunny and normal, there’s at least one where they look ‘rebellious’ – think General Pants or American Apparel. And in order to cast ‘rebellious’ looking models, there have to be agencies that cater to this niche.

In Australia that agency is Six Wolves, whose roster probably includes just as many musicians, artists and aspirant writers as the Anti Agency’s does; purely because young people who self-style as ‘interesting’ usually also identify as creative. Brands like Uniqlo, GAP and Lanvin have all used ‘real’ people doing interesting things in their advertisements recently.

You’d think that casting a wider net when it comes to who you put in your campaigns is always a good thing, but it’s also possible to get it wrong.

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It’s great seeing new faces, and people who represent how the majority – or an interesting minority – of people look, but when this kind of campaign is executed poorly, all you get is an interesting person flattened into two dimensions. They become a cool looking billboard, rather than an awesome human doing stuff you’d like to know about. That’s what made Lanvin’s 2012 winter campaign so good; you really got a feel for who its stars were.

When a ‘personality’ campaign is done right, it can pay huge dividends to its stars. Having a point of difference can serve as an advantage in modelling – breakout fashion stars often don’t fit the typical model mould, from Beverly Johnson (the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue) to Kate Moss (short at 5’8) to Charlotte Free (short AND with bright pink hair).

Having something that makes you stand out can be an advantage, so by collating a roster of atypical beauties, the Anti Agency is actually maximizing the chances that one of its models will make it huge. Like most of the models I mentioned above, all of the models represented by the Anti Agency are still, quirks aside,  conventionally gorgeous. They have body types that, while they might not be model-perfect, are certainly model-ish. These girls and guys look a lot more like a Calvin Klein campaign than a Rubens painting.

The Anti Agency, and other street casters aren’t just selling models’ bodies, they’re also selling their ‘cool’ factor. Often that cool is based on symbols that once signified the exact kind of person who wouldn’t appear in a GAP campaign. Can you imagine the members of Pussy Riot playing at a fashion party?

Whether you think the appearance of models with tattoos and crazy hair is something to be mourned or celebrated depends on what you want out of images.

If all you’re after is a broader representation of what humans look like in our day-to-day media environment then, like the rise of the grey goddess, the Anti Agency is worth cheering on. We can pretty much take it as a given that we’re not going to see people who don’t have great facial symmetry and appealing features in advertising campaigns any time soon. All things given, people prefer to look at sexy people. So it’s better we have sexy people of all colours, shapes, sizes, ages and subcultures  represented in our ads and on our screens, if only so that people of all sizes, colours, shapes, and subcultures remember that they too, can be sexy.  

If however, you miss the days when symbols like piercings stood for something more than vague intimations of hipness and individual difference then it’s kind of a downer. It’s another sign that punk is dead, and there’s a Dangerfield built on its grave site. There was a time (the seventies) when what you wore could be taken as a serious outward reflection of your beliefs, a protest banner that you carried every day of your life. This is still the case sometimes, but often those banners have been bought by brands and used as logos to sell products that have nothing to do with the original meaning of the movements they’re co-opting. There’s something icksy about watching the language of your deeply held beliefs being spoken in an advertisement for reasonably priced t-shirts.

Either way, there’s no denying the Anti Agency’s models are shiny and pretty just like the models used by every other modelling agency ever. And that’s not just their rainbow hair and piercings.

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