SINGAPORE, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- The glamorous world of models is not what it used to be, at least from a business perspective. Gone are the days of supermodels who wouldn't get out of bed for less than $10,000; the economic realities of the last few years have sobered up the industry as advertisers and fashion designers have cut their modeling budgets.
This trend is best reflected in modeling revenues, which Elite Model Management Group admits have plateaued in recent years, even decreasing a little in the last two years.
"The era of the supermodel is over. The last name I can think of is Gisele (Bundchen) in the late 90s, since then we've not had a super-model," Calvin Cheng, head for Asia Pacific at Elite Model Management Group, told United Press International. "We can't really say why, it's more of a trend. But perhaps, fashion houses also got sick of paying these top models hugely inflated fees, even though they were not any more special than their colleagues on the modeling scene."
Cheng added: "They were special only in the fact that they had celebrity status."
Elite is the largest modeling agency in the world with 750 models on its book and $80 million in revenue in 2001 (including $57 million in models' earnings). But with modeling fees plateauing, the agency has been looking at new horizons to generate revenues, particularly Asia and horizontal industries.
While the 80s were dominated by American and Scandinavian models, the fall of the iron curtain saw the arrivals of the Eastern Europeans, ready to work hard to escape the harsh realities of post-communist economies. Now, it's the turn of Asian beauties to knock on the door of the model world. Movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon revived Western interest in Asian culture, with actors like Jacky Chan, Michelle Yeo and Lucy Liu now bankable names at the box-office.
In the fashion world, an easterly wind of Orientalism has dominated catwalks over the last couple of seasons, with Lavin and others using an increasing number of Asian models for their shows.
But more importantly, the Asian advertising market has become more sophisticated with the advent of growing Asian-region consumerism going hand in hand with regional economic development.
While Elite has been in Japan for 20 years, its presence in the rest of the region had been very limited throughout the 1990, especially as the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 dried out advertising revenues.
Then, two years ago, the company started an aggressive expansion plan, reopening in Singapore (2001) and opening in Shanghai (2001), Hanoi (2002), Korea (2002), India (April 2003) and Saigon (Sep 2003).
"Elite was the first international model agency to set up shop in India, which up to this year was solely dominated by single independent agents making it a very fragmented market. Since then, agency IMG Models has followed suit," notes Cheng.
"My priorities have been China and India not only because they are the two largest markets in the region, with obvious demand from advertisers. But I also believe that the models from those two countries are the most likely to make it on the international scene. Chinese models can be very tall, while Northern Indian beauties are very close in look to Southern European beauties," he adds.
The company is also diversifying to new, horizontal industries, leveraging on the strength of its brand.
Marketing a famous brand name with different products is commonly done now. Yves Saint Laurent famously gave away licensing rights to more than 100 products, some often completely unrelated to fashion (like cigarettes). Movie stars often market their "essence" with perfume bottles (think Elizabeth Taylor or Cher) and famous French actor Alain Delon has managed to build a business empire on the strength of his name alone, selling anything from kitchen appliances to eyewear, cigarettes and stationary.
Elite is now marketing fashion lines, hair accessories, modeling schools and spa projects. All of these "side" activities are contributing a growing percentage to revenues and Cheng points out that profit-margins are good (as high as 70 percent for Elite Hair).
With the company aggressively expanding in Asia, Cheng is optimistic that the raising of the brand name will facilitate the launch of new products, which will help boost the company's bottom line. On Nov. 8, the company will hold in Singapore the Elite Model Look 2003 International Finals to select the top model of tomorrow and Cheung is hopeful the event in itself and the publicity it will generate will enhance the brand name in the region.
"Our general strategy is to enter as an agency first, as the brand of Elite stands on its agency. And when the brand is strong enough then we can move in other industries through licensing the brand," Cheng explains.