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Fashion 88 : The Style Broker : Omar the Agent Says Goodby to the Ken Doll Image and Hello to a New Realism in Male Modeling

December 02, 1988|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Omar the modeling agent doesn't like to call his models models: "I want to have an agency of real people, not models. They are real, everyday people with great style."

Omar the modeling agent refuses to scout for models: "It has to just happen. I should just walk in the street and bump into a guy and he'll say something to me and I'll say something to him and my heart opens up to this human being and I'll see that he has great style and I'll say, 'Wow, let me give you a shot.' "

Omar the modeling agent doesn't want to be called a modeling agent: "I'm nobody's agent, I'm their friend. I don't like that agent-model relationship. The day you treat me as an agent, that's the day I don't want to represent you anymore."

It's an unorthodox formula but it has worked to Omar's advantage. His models are regularly seen in GQ and L'Uomo Vogue, shot by such superstar photographers as Herb Ritts and Matthew Rolston.

But then, Omar himself is a little unorthodox. The 31-year-old head of Omar's Men modeling agency has taken his ability to find photogenic, but offbeat-looking men and turned it into a business that in its first year grossed $1 million. His dislike for the "Ken doll" look has paid off. Magazines and ad agencies are bypassing gorgeous hunks in favor of guys with big noses, long hair and impish grins.

"I thought this town needed to expand as far as visuals," he explains as he puffs on the first of many cigarettes. "Enough of this Barbie-and-Ken thing. Please understand: People are beautiful in all races, all colors, all heights. I'm trying to break through all those barriers. There is nothing wrong with having that all-American look. Me, personally, I like to market all types."

His roster includes Turkish, Cambodian, Brazilian and Filipino men as well as some born in the United States. They may not look like typical male models, but they do have one crucial element: an innate sense of style.

"I'm trying to make the modeling industry like the film industry, where everybody gets a shot at it," he says, adding, " 'cause nowadays all you need is a little bit of style and you become a model."

He makes it sound easy. It may be now, but wasn't always so. In the beginning it was "very tough" to persuade clients to use anything other than traditional models from an agent they had never heard of.

Selling an Image

"This is the way I approach it," he says, "which is kind of my secret--and I don't want to tell my secrets to the world-- but --my view is, 'I'm going to give you an image for your company.' Not a model, an image. An image that could sell that product. So images don't have to be all the same.

"They'll say, 'We always use blond, blue-eyed guys.' And I say, 'Well, why don't you try something else and see if your marketing goes up or down? Why don't you give me a shot at that?' It has worked, so far.

"Look at this guy," he says, gesturing to a lanky model with long, wavy hair, a prominent nose and a 3-day growth of beard. "He's not the best-looking guy in the world but he does make money as a model. Why? He has such great style, great character. He knows how to speak, he knows how to present himself to a client. That's important."

Martha Maristany, model editor at GQ in New York, agrees. "There was just a need in magazines and advertising for more real people that our readers could relate to. We want people to look at the magazine and say, 'I could buy that suit and look like that.' Yes, you want the fantasy, but you want the realism, too.

"Photographers are happy to work with real-looking people, too," she adds. "They have a better look about themselves, they're more casual, and they move better. I think they even wear the clothes better."

More Than Beauty

Says photographer Rolston: "My point of view on models is that just being beautiful isn't enough. There has to be a memorable quality to the person. I think he's got a lot of those kinds of guys who really project a lot of feeling."

Michael Lee, art director for fashion for The Broadway, says of Omar's models: "His guys understand what a garment does. When we shoot, everything is pinned and taped, so the model has to have an understanding of how to show off that garment to is best advantage. And if I'm in a bind, I can describe the kind of outfit I'm shooting, and I have complete trust that he'll send me somebody he knows I'll like."

His success is owed to more than a keen eye for faces. When Omar pitches his models, he pitches a piece of himself, too. After all, half of Omar's men is Omar.

He makes an impression even on the phone, with his deep, gravelly voice that has an accent of indeterminable origin.

"Hold all my calls, baby, please?" he asks his assistant, but she tells him it's Todd on the phone. He picks up. "Todd? Toddie? Hey, baby!" he says, launching into auto-pilot schmooze.

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