Sherril Smith studied for a BA in Business and Genetics, but at 28 decided to quit her office job and travel for a year. Whilst abroad, she made friends who later introduced her to the fashion industry

How did your time growing up in Manchester impact you getting into the fashion industry?

I went to Loreto College which was a Maths and Science school, so I wasn’t really exposed to the Arts. I loved my subjects, but my school was pretty beige and it made me a late bloomer to the creative industry and fashion. The college was run by nuns and I would turn up to school in massive platforms, mini-skirts and makeup and I used to get sent home all the time. I knew it was in me from an early age, when I would go into school and everyone would want to wear what I was wearing, even those who were much wealthier and had access to so much more.

Was the thought of being a model agent ever in your periphery?

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be a male model agent. It was a job that I hadn’t even register existed, however, I recently dug out some old photos and found a photo of my university bedroom which was covered in posters of male models. My true passion coming through subliminally, clearly.

How did you get into model booking?

I was back in Manchester after graduating from Sheffield, I hated my job, binned my boyfriend and went travelling on my own for a year. I met these girls in Australia, who I eventually moved to London to live with and one of them worked in fashion. She introduced me to her friends and I started assisting this girl called Alexa Ing, she was just a PR assistant at the time, but has gone on to be hugely successful and is the founder of Cult Beauty, one of the biggest beauty brands. I began working at a fashion PR agency and did a project with Models 1 where I organised a catwalk show in Manchester city centre. From that I was offered a permanent position at Models 1, finding their new faces and the next generation of male supermodels. I was there for six years, then moved to FM Agency in East London and got headhunted by Elite to head up their men’s division, just over two years ago.

Many fashion internships are unpaid, but is the experience worth it?

For me, because I had no prior experience or knowledge of the industry, interning opened me up to getting contacts, to my likes and dislikes and got me a foot in the door. It’s about seeing as many people as you can, applying to a lot of places and getting those interviews under your belt as experience.

What is the role of a model agent?

A model agent looks after models. You’re mothering them, you’re organising them, they depend on you. If they model full time, then you are their manager and this is their career you’re partly responsible for.

It is a safe option, it’s a 9-6pm salaried job. There is a bit of exciting travelling, and going to shows during fashion month but day-to-day is just managing their careers. Briefs come in daily from clients, for example, I just had one in this morning for Arena Homme Plus with photographer, Mike Ackerman. I know the look he goes for, so I submit a package (from the online portfolios) of London guys that are available for those dates and then the client will come back to me with who they like, then I will see if they’re available or not.

How do you navigate the model/agent relationship? There must be times when it becomes a very mothering role.

With the models, they’ve got to trust you and you’ve got to trust them. It is a business, but also, you’re working with very young people, it’s a very life changing career and you’ve got to be very sensitive to that, I’ve always been very hands on with them in terms of nurturing them and being there if they need advice. It is a full-time job, you can get calls at 10 o’clock at night if they’re sick or when they’re hungover and they don’t turn up for jobs.

“The modelling industry is one of the only industries in the world that the men get paid less than women”

Via @sherrill_smith
Photo by @eddiewrey
For @voguehommes
Modelled by @lawrenceofficiall

It’s almost a school teacher type balance, then?

Yes, it’s that fine line, being strict with them but also having to be sympathetic. If they call in sick it’s trying to figure out if they are really sick and they can’t get to a job or they’re hungover.

What attributes make a successful model agent?

You have to be fearless, resilient to being told no, and patient. If you find someone on the street you need a nice, friendly approach, without being too domineering, because while some people are flattered about being approached, others are terrified. It’s about having that personal approach, going up to a 16-year-old guy and being able to talk to them in a language that they’re going to understand.

It’s also having the vision to know what could be the next trend, so years ago when I first started out, I found these guys that were totally covered in tattoos and there were no tattoo models in the industry at that time and getting Ash Stymest and Josh Beech on the cover of Vogue Homme, shot by Hedi Slimane completely revolutionised the industry. How many tattoos do you see now?

Is there much gender discrimination in the model booking industry?

Model agents are fairly evenly split gender-wise, but the modelling industry is one of the only industries in the world that the men get paid less than women, significantly. A lookbook shoot came in for a luxury British brand last week and the women’s rate was £10,000 for the day and the men’s rate was £1,000, so the disparity is there.

"The old-fashioned way of being a twat is so over, it does help to be nice"

Via @sherrill_smith

Photo by Tim Walker

For @britishvogue

Modelled by @jeenu.mdvn

Why does this happen?

It’s because women sell more and women’s fashion is a bigger industry. Back in the day, men were always the prop and it was only when menswear really took off in the late eighties that it became a proper industry. Rates were a lot more for men about 10 years ago, but there has been quite a steady decline of consumers not buying as much, so rates have dropped.

The fashion business is constantly evolving, so I’m guessing your job as an agent does too?

There was the advent of e-commerce only about eight years ago, which was a whole new ball game. Before, conventional modelling would be a print campaign, advertising campaign or a look book. Then only about five years ago came the Instagram posts, the online influencer, so the industry is constantly evolving. For the London menswear shows in January loads of designers just didn’t show, which shows maybe the state of the economy at the moment due to Brexit and also brands being just more careful and putting their money into different ways of now showing their collections.

Many models are also street cast these days.

Yes, some are street cast, again designers want to save money. They want more diversity and different looks on the catwalk than going to the same models. A young new designer called Xander Zou did 50 boys this season, but at a reduced rate, but most designers have reduced their numbers dramatically. Belstaff were the only premium paying brand on schedule from London Fashion Week and its looks were cut in half from last season, then Vivienne Westwood’s show was cancelled literally a week before, again I think due to budget and maybe strategising what they want to do. It’s in turmoil, you can never predict, it’s constantly changing.

Model booking and the fashion industry in general is characterised as being nasty and bitchy, do you think this still rings true?

The old-fashioned way of being a twat is so over, it does help to be nice. You’ve obviously got to not be a push over, but it’s finding that balance where you can tell someone what you want, but you don’t have to do it in a mean way. I found I could only be myself, it was a good quality and just being northern as well, I think that really helps. You don’t put up with the bullshit, you can see through false people.


Galchester Issue One 