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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

In 3-D, Omar is a 6-foot-something live wire with impossibly long legs and straight hair slicked back, a collection of bracelets on his wrist and a chunky silver ring that says "JAH" (for Haile Selassie, the late emperor of Ethiopia.) "My mother is Ethiopian," he explains, "So I carry Jah with me since I was 15 years old."

Speaks 7 Languages

His father, a Spaniard, owns travel agencies worldwide, explaining Omar's ability to speak seven languages, his claim to an education in 40 different schools and his distaste for labels.

His name is Omar Alberto de la Rossa but his business cards read simply Omar Alberto. "I want people to know I'm Spanish 'cause Omar sounds Arab," he explains. "I'm don't want people to think I'm an Arab. And I don't want people to think I'm religious. I'm not.

"As a matter of fact I'm Jewish Ethiopian. My mother is Jewish. But I don't want them to say, 'He's Jewish,' or 'He's Catholic.' I just love everybody."

He started modeling after being discovered by a scout. He hooked up with Elite models in New York and was sent to Europe because agents told him his look wasn't "black enough," but more European.

While living in Milan and doing mostly runway and showroom work, he spent weekends in New York (his father's connections with the airlines helped) at the legendary disco palace Studio 54. There, he says, he got his fashion education.

'To Be Seen and See'

"I'd go only to be seen and see the beautiful people," he says. "To be able to talk with Andy Warhol or Diana Vreeland, the empress of fashion, people like that. To me they were geniuses of the industry. It's a very visual business. If you're seen with a jerk, you are a jerk. If you're seen with a celebrity, people want to know who you are."

He segued from modeling into working as an agent in New York in a small firm. There, he befriended Paul Fisher, and when they decided to go West they headed for Los Angeles to EastWest models. Omar represented men; Paul, women.

After 1 1/2 years they left. Paul went first and set up his own firm, It Model Management. Omar quit months later, not knowing what he would do next. But without his knowing it, Fisher already had set up a phone line for Omar.

"Yes, I had the phone installed, and yes, I had it taken out in his name," Fisher admits. "But I knew that if we were set up, and all the models were able to be paid, (if) we had the talent agency license and (if) we were completely legitimate, then it would just be a matter of time. Nothing could keep us apart. We belong together.

"I wouldn't want to be in the business without Omar. I'd probably go crazy, to be honest with you."

Fisher, 28, is as inwardly intense as Omar is gregarious. He has dark circles under his eyes and sports a few days' beard growth that makes him look like a younger Mickey Rourke. Of course, he chain smokes. He considers his "girls" his friends, too, and says there isn't anything he wouldn't do for them. He is fiercely protective.

"If I find out that a photographer has taken a picture of one of my girls topless," he says calmly, "I'll break his hands. I'll break his hands."

Polished Routine

They have polished the good-model-agent/bad-model-agent routine. Omar knows he can be a pushover, and if he feels a client is trying to take advantage of him, he has them speak to Fisher.

If Omar has a fatal flaw, it's that he wants everyone to like him: "I'm not known for being an animal in the business. I'm known for being a nice guy. My partner says, 'You know what your problem is? You want everybody to like you.' So what's so bad about that? Why should everybody have enemies?"

Omar did manage to avoid a major modeling war when he left EastWest. At the time he quit to try things on his own, the company was thinking of phasing out its men's division.

"Omar left on good terms," reports CeCe, vice president of EastWest Model Management Inc. "We're all friends. He's a great agent. It's healthy competition. We've been around for three years, and I think in that time 10 agencies have opened. There's room for everyone, as long as you establish a style. We're all basically competing for the same job, but a client will call depending on the particular look they want."

Agency Is His Life

About 80 models followed Omar. He acquired about 20 more in the following year, some sent to him by photographers. In the beginning, he says he worked 24 hours a day getting his models jobs. It's slowed a bit since then but his life is still the agency.

"My staff are slaves to Omar's Men," he says proudly. "That's all we do."

He lost his girlfriend of six years because of it. She tired of him living for his work, and for being known as "Omar's girlfriend."

Again looking for steady female companionship, he still has his models to hang out with. He encourages them to drop by the agency, a not-so-cushy office in the downtown warehouse district where pictures of models cover the walls. There's a basketball hoop in the back, a cot if they want to crash and food in the refrigerator.

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