This season, the New York modelling agency is taking it back to basics with a white wall and a Polaroid camera
When Symone first sauntered into the Drag Race workroom, the Arkansas queen was dressed in little more than a couple of Polaroids. Having been clipped together from a bunch of individual instants, the shake-n-go minidress was indebted to an archival Gisele Bundchen photoshoot – aligning the would-be-winner with an era of 90s supermodels, heyday designers, and a pre-Instagram fashion fluency.
It memorialised a period in time when models refused to work for less than 10k, when true glamour was measured in golden Versace safety pins, Steven Meisel magazine spreads, and not in double taps or the swipe of a gleaming glass screen. And that’s just what No Agency has done, too. Ahead of the SS22 womenswear season, the New York modelling agency has decided to replace traditional show packages – which consist mostly of PDF model cards – with real life, 90s-style Polaroids. “It's really about a return to doing things in-person and the physicality of the polaroid is emphasized by that,” founder Alex Tsebelis says, brushing aside any fears surrounding post-COVID touch anxiety.
Though No Agency rarely plays by the book – its previous show packages have consisted of buck wild fashion films, DIY zines, and AR walk-through worlds – this year’s iteration rails against the coronavirus-catalysed industrialisation of the modelling industry. “I really think in-person castings are going to become rarer and rarer. So maybe this commemorates them. We have taken it back to basics in a big way, referencing old school model comp cards from 1980 to 2006,” Tsebelis says. Enlisting the help of photographer Morgan Maher, they pulled from the classic agency shots of Paul Rowland – Kate Moss’s 00s booker – who the duo say “shot all of the best ones”.
In 2021, the image of a model striding between castings with a giant portfolio embossed with “STORM”, “ELITE”, and “PREMIER” is somewhat quaint. Brittle-thin iPads have replaced glossy books, while fuzzy self-shot tapes are beginning to encroach on actual castings. Gone are the days when hopeful teens would linger outside the big Topshop on Oxford Street, desperate to attract the attention of a scout, because they can just tag IMG on Instagram instead. “There is a physical connection between portfolios and comp cards that cannot be replaced elsewhere,” Maher says. “The slowness and process of looking through someone's book and having their presence in front of you.”
Patience, they say, is a virtue, and Maher believes it’s that which is central to this project. “I think the process of taking Polaroids allows for a small amount of reflection between each image. The results aren’t immediate and that lends itself to candid conversation, making the shoot feel personal.” The accompanying series of portraits sees Tsebelis’ cohort pose, contort, and grin their way around the agency’s new Chinatown digs, seeking to capture that nebulous sense of honesty and personality, which Maher refers to – “depicting not just a model’s face but their spirit, too”. “Ultimately,” Tsebelis says, “these projects are artistic and are simply our way of exploring or deconstructing the vocabulary of modeling.”
Subverting industry norms and “doing things differently” has forever been the motor of No Agency’s ethos, extending beyond the creativity of its show packages – which Marc Jacobs loves, apparently. “We were casting people that traditional agencies wouldn’t have for ages, but now they are beginning to catch up. Likewise, some big agencies recently announced taking measurements off their website but we’ve never had measurements online,” Tsebelis says. And while the founder adds that “it was nice to slow down for a minute,” he will still be pinging across iPhone shots to casting directors because, as he says, “we have a nice big window in our new studio and I can promise better pictures going forward!”
Check out No Agency’s SS22 show package in the gallery above.