Introducing Kathy Pryer – the woman behind the most famous male faces in the world
From the outside the fashion industry appears to be a simple thing. The clothes are made, presented and put into stores. Simple really. In reality the industry’s gears are continuously whirring, with seamstresses, photographers, stylists and designers all working tirelessly to get clothes out there for the general public. Model agents are one of the cogs in the machine that is the sleepless industry and Kathy Pryer is at the helm of one of London’s leading model agencies. Having come to Models 1 over 20 years ago, Pryer has been an indispensable part of the team that has managed the likes of Yasmin Le Bon, Cecilia Chancellor, Dree Hemingway, Neelam Gill, Hollie May Saker, Jena Goldsack, Alicia Burke and Olivia Palermo.
The male models that they handle are some of the most successful in the industry, stretching from George Barnett, Jarrod Scott, Ton Heukels and Sam Way to Johannes Huebl, Francisco Lachowski, Xavier Serrano and Toby Huntington Whiteley. As a co-owner and director at the company she is central to sourcing the men that will one day front campaigns, represent brands and in today’s social media age, become Instagram stars.
Yet the fashion industry comes with a stereotype (thanks in part to films like The Devil Wears Prada and Absolutely Fabulous) and you may think that Pryer, as a woman whose job was created with a dependency upon looks and image, would exude the imagined tendencies of the fashion diva. If so, you’d be wholly and absolutely wrong. Upon meeting Pryer at the sleek Models 1 office, you immediately feel her warmth and maternal side. You can tell that her sole priority is to look after a whole host of young and aspiring models who are daunted by the sheer aspect of sitting in front of a camera and don’t quite yet know their potential. This calm and reassuring yet head-strong woman is what the industry runs on (rather than the Miranda Priestly style caricature) and you immediately feel at ease within her company.
I wanted to meet up with her to discuss the male modelling industry and the future it holds, especially in this new age of technology. So how exactly (and why) did she get into this side of the complicated mechanism of the fashion world? What was it about model booking as opposed to fashion design that was alluring to her? “I moved to London after a leading fashion photographer kindly proposed me for a junior booker position at a particular boutique model agency he was booking models through - I had always wanted to get into this world, I wasn’t exactly sure where, but I wanted to be in the fashion industry.” She muses for a few seconds before continuing, “I knew I didn’t want to go into design and I was teetering on the edge of PR, but when I found my niche as an agent I was happy with that, very happy.” Fast forward a few years and she landed the top spot at Models 1 Men, which is about to celebrate fifty years as one of the leading model agencies in the world. Not bad at all.
I am intrigued to know what she looks for in a male model and how that has changed, as surely it has in this new age of social media stars. “There are two looks” she explains, “the younger guys who start modelling between the ages of 16 and 21 and then the older more classical guy.” “The new faces can be stronger in terms of look - they’re more individual, they have perhaps three or four seasons of being high profile and then a majority of these will make it over to the main board where modelling will become a full-time career”. On the Models 1 boards this has happened for the likes of Charlie France, Jeremy Young, Ryan Barrett and Ibrahim Van Den Bergh.
With social media’s influence rapidly growing Models 1 has had to slightly alter the way that it works. “A lot of brands are dropping press advertising and are pushing a lot more for social media activity” Pryer tells me, after I ask her opinion on the Dolce and Gabbana Autumn/Winter 2017 menswear show which saw Jim Chapman, who is also looked after by the agency, among other social media phenomena replace models. “That’s the platform now – that’s how brands gauge their audience because social media offers instant association. Now clients look at models and see how many followers they have got, to work out, if they are going to be good brand ambassadors.” How does Pryer feel about this? The change is pretty momentous with regards to how the industry has run for so many years. “I do find the other way far more creative, because you’re dealing with casting directors and photographers and you’re selling the models - it’s a creative process for an agent to interact like that. I think social media is a good thing in many ways, but then that is when I think modelling diversifies into a different type of person- it is not just about a beautiful girl or boy, it’s increasingly about who is active on social media.” What of the Dolce and Gabbana movement? Will other brands be following suit or is this just a case of trial and error? I myself don’t see it as a successful jaunt and Pryer seems to think that the classic method of model scouting is overarching. “The Dolce and Gabbana show is a real change from what they usually do. It’s a real step away from how they usually operate and I do think they will go back to models.”
The modelling industry is a vast expanse of talent and originality, sourced from all over the world, yet Pryer is happiest scouting in her country’s capital. “London can afford to be quite experimental - the photographers, casting directors and designers are always looking for the next breakthrough talent.” This is the city that gave us a whole array of models, from Billy Huxley to David Yang, each with a unique look. London is often described as the capital of the fashion world and has increased its influence over the global fashion market. Models 1 is known globally for discovering its own new faces. American agencies, in particular, are always amazed as to how successful we are at finding new talent in and around London. They say they wish they could find what we find on the street – at festivals for example. We are the official scouts at festivals.” Yet the market has changed dramatically and what is deemed a model is different now to ten years ago. The boundaries of a model’s look are changing. London in particular is less in favour of the “square-jawed muscular model” that is favoured more in America and certain European markets. This isn’t the Eighties anymore and the male model isn’t starring in television commercials with a cheesy grin. “In terms of the London market models have to be handsome, but have something a little bit quirky about them. The British look can afford to be far more unique and diverse.”, Pryer spells out. “I don’t think we have the clients here who are really into the beefcake look - they’re more into a look that’s very handsome but less obvious, a kind of “boy next door” with a sense of coolness.”
As the afternoon draws on and I realise that I’ve been sitting with Kathy for almost an hour, I start to wrap up. I have been given an insight into the pristine world of the modelling industry and have discovered that it is not as sterile or cold as people may at first believe, thanks in part to the warmth of people like Kathy Pryer. One question lingers on my mind though. For a woman who has worked with some of the world’s top male models, surely there is one man that perhaps she would have liked to have scouted herself. “I’m lucky enough, if I haven’t represented them, to have met brilliant models around the world. There is a Dutch model called Mark Van Der Loo. He shot absolutely everything and was probably one of the first male supermodels.” She continues to ponder, “it’s a very difficult question. She continues to rack her brains, “Sean O’Pry. Yes Sean O’Pry. Absolutely.”