Roger Canamar was shopping at a discount store a few weeks ago when he spotted something he had to have: It was a face, and it was perfect.
As owner of Notorious Model Management in Santa Ana, Canamar constantly seeks out faces that he can add to his roster of male models who have posed for clients such as Versace and Abercrombie & Fitch. So when he saw the young man with the chiseled, angular features, he stopped him.
"Have you ever worked as a model?" Canamar asked.
"No," answered Mauricio Mora, a 20-year-old Santa Ana resident.
Canamar pressed a business card into Mora's palm and urged him to call.
"I was skeptical," Mora recalls, but he saved the card and later called Notorious. Since then, Mora has posed for a professional photographer. His picture has been forwarded to the New York office of fashion photographer Bruce Weber, and "they're loving him," Canamar says. "They may want him for a shoot."
Mora, who happens to be looking for work this summer, hopes that his encounter with Canamar will lead to lucrative modeling assignments, but he remains wary.
"If nothing happens, at least I'll get some good pictures," he says. "If something does, it could be nice. There's a potential for easy money."
Modeling hasn't been a hassle for Mora--so far.
Yet for the many beautiful people struggling to make it as models, it can be an ugly business.
Few people ever make it as successful models, and those who try often risk their money, their dreams and their egos in the hope that they'll beat the odds and make it to the runways of Milan or the pages of fashion magazines.
It can be doubly difficult to succeed as a model in Orange County.
Most of the big agencies--and most of the modeling work--are found in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Brand Model & Talent Agency in Santa Ana is one of the area's few large, successful modeling agencies, representing about 500 male, female and child models.
"When I first started my business, there wasn't an agency in Orange County really taken seriously for high fashion," says Patty Brand, owner of the 11-year-old agency. "I just plugged away."
Brand's models do both commercial and print work. They've been hired by local retailers such as South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island Newport Beach and by Los Angeles clients "tired of L.A. attitude." The client list also includes national and international companies such as Land's End, Speedo, Clothestime and Talbot's.
"Some [Orange County models] have made lucrative careers out of modeling. We manage their careers and negotiate their rate," Brand says. "We're not a school and don't require fees. We encourage them to avoid modeling school."
Brand has seen plenty of people who have passed through the mill of modeling schools, agencies and photographers only to end up with a very expensive photo album. They easily fall prey to unscrupulous outfits that take advantage of their naivete and their vanity.
Reputable agencies collect no money from models. Instead, they work on commission, taking part of the proceeds (usually 15% to 20%) from modeling assignments.
"I've had hundreds of people come to me after they've spent thousands to agencies that claim to be legitimate but aren't," says Phyllis Hanson, owner of the Kids Hollywood Connection in Newport Beach.
Hanson serves as a consultant to parents whose children are getting started in modeling, theatrical and commercial work. She helps them place their children with reputable union agents so "they don't get had."
"Parents will pay an agency thousands for workshops and photos, then they're stuck," Hanson says. "If someone claims to be an agent, they're not legitimate if they charge money."
Reputable agencies sign up models at no charge, then give them a list of independent photographers. It's up to the models to pay for pictures of themselves to put in their portfolio, or "book," in industry parlance. Such books easily cost $1,000 or more by the time the model pays for the shoot, the prints and the portfolio, but they're a necessity.
"If they don't develop a portfolio, they're never going to work," says Bob Hodson, a freelance photographer in Costa Mesa who photographs models for portfolios and does fashion shoots for clients such as Clothestime.
"Some agencies say, 'Give me $1,000,' then they shoot pictures that are pretty worthless," Hodson says.
An agency should send out pictures of their models to their clients--fashion companies,
photographers, ad agencies, department stores and others who hire models. If an agency doesn't have any clients, the pictures go nowhere.
"They put the portfolio together and then they don't do anything. They say they have clients and they don't. We tell [models] to give those pictures to their grandparents and start over," Brand says.
Mora has been lucky. He hasn't paid anything to launch his career. Even the photographer who took his pictures waived his usual sitting fee because he wanted photographs of Mora to add to his own portfolio.