The fickle world of fashion is no more so than when it comes to modelling. Over the past five years we’ve seen a huge shift in representation, and while there’s still plenty of room for greater diversity, one thing 2016 has taught us is that plus size models are here to stay. But what does it take to make it in this burgeoning industry? Self-confessed Queen of Curve, founder and managing director (and still head curve booker) of MiLK model management, Anna Shillinglaw, gave me her insider tricks to making it big.
Tell us a bit about how MiLK model management came to be one of the leading curve agencies in the world?
I was a model for 20 years, the natural thing was to open up my own agency. Through a lot of hard work we’ve gotten to where we are now, but it’s also about the right time. I still look after the curvy girls, but I also always wanted other divisions. I didn’t just want to be pigeon holed.
How long from conception to reality?
It happened pretty quickly… I picked a colour I liked and designed a website. I started with five models in the spare bedroom of my house and had a virtual office in London, but I knew I had to get a proper place. It was a shoebox, but from then I really started to take myself seriously. Now we have 60 curve models, 300 in the whole agency and 17 staff – not bad in five and a half years.
As the Queen of curve you’ve had some record-breaking moments, like signing Tess Holliday. Was that a hard decision?
Signing Tess was a huge thing, but for me it was just a no brainer. When she told me her height and that she had tattoos everywhere, I was bit like, ‘eeeek’! But I felt really inspired talking to her, I thought ‘I can’t not take her on now, I’ve made my promise’. It was quite controversial, including in my office.
Read More: The best models to follow on Instagram for all your behind the scenes action
I’m the boss, so I don’t think anybody had the balls to say it to my face, but there were a couple of people who felt it would jeopardise how much work we had done to get to where we were. That did make me wonder if I’d made the right decision, but I’m a firm believer that you need to own your decisions. My phone was ringing off the hook, and I remember saying, ‘What’s going on?’ My colleague said ‘you do realise that you’ve just made history?’ Sometimes you have to take a risk.
Right Anna, we want some insider knowledge! What do you look for in a model? Do you know instantly?
Yes. I look for their face. Whether they’re thin or bigger, it doesn’t matter to me - they have to have a gorgeous face. I’ve learnt not to write someone off from the moment I see them, though, because having a beautiful personality can make you more beautiful. Height is important. There are so many models now, if they don’t fit the requirements I just have to say no because I don’t want to disappoint them or disappoint myself.
You say height is important. but Tess…
Tess is just in a league of her own. We just did a model competition and found a couple of amazing petite girls we’re taking on, but if I’m looking for shows and high-fashion, I’m looking for height. We are open to see anybody because you never know. We have all proportions on our curve division, bigger bellies, smaller hips, busty girls…
Read More: Tess Holliday talks why you can never be too big
If someone wants to #slayforMiLK and be a MiLK model, what’s the best way to approach you?
You can go on our website and submit pictures. We look at every single one! Put all your measurements on there. We also do walk ins every day during the week, so pop in and we’ll take some pictures. If we think a girl has something, or we’re not quite sure, we’ll ask them to come in (or send a video if they’re not based in the UK) as you always need to meet people.
What are the guidelines when it comes to the photos?
Please don’t put any of these stupid filters on, we don’t need butterflies and fairies! No pictures of your reflection in the mirror, go outside and use natural light. We prefer no make-up, but a little bit of mascara and concealer under the eyes is fine. Take a Polaroid or digital photo of your self with your hair up, with your hair down, a profile shot and something that shows your shape. Never pay for a portfolio shoot!
If someone is headed to a casting or walk in to an agency, what should they wear?
Something figure hugging. Skinny jeans and a tank top or a tight jumper, at the end of the day you’re there because of what you look like. You don’t have to wear ridiculous heels, but if you feel comfortable then put a pair on. We need to see your skin and your hair - don’t have loads of hairspray and your hair pulled back, we’ll ask you to take it down. Show yourself in the most natural way.
Is there a model tool kit?
A seamless bra and underwear in nude, white and black. A black and a nude G-string. If they have thinner hair, they should have clip in extensions and make sure their nails have no polish on. You should be a blank canvas.
Read More: How to walk like a model, in 5 easy steps
How important are social media stats for a new model starting out? Does it have a bearing as to whether you will take them on?
I wouldn’t not take a model on because they had no followers, but I do encourage models to work on their social media. When we’re submitted models from foreign agencies, they send their Instagram link to see what they’re really like; a party girl, into yoga, a bookworm…
Is there a beauty routine models should sticking to?
Drink lots of water, don’t wear too much make up, look after your skin, go and get a facial every three months. Eat well. Don’t smoke. Sleep. Everything in moderation. Oh, and a spray tan every now and then.
Was there a piece of advice you received when you started modelling that you always tell people?
Yes: be nice to everybody and respect everyone, because you never know who is going to be the next big editor.
Read More: Meet Sabina Karlsson - the plus size model who says milk tastes better than skinny
Not every girl gets signed, what’s your best tip for dealing with rejection?
You have to have a thick skin. If you take every bit of rejection in this industry personally, it isn’t for you. Understand that if you don’t get that job, it isn’t because you aren’t pretty or the right size, it’s because you aren’t right for that job. You have to think, ‘is this really for me?’ I said to one of my girls the other day, who’s in New York and struggling, ‘modelling isn’t everything. This job doesn’t define who you are. We aren’t saving the world, it’s fashion…’
What?! We aren’t saving the world?
No babes. It’s just fashion. If you can’t be a model, then be a make-up artist or stylist or agent or photographer or actress. There are so many other things you can do. Modelling is a great job if you can do it, but don’t get down if you can’t.
By Rivkie Baum, Editor, SLiNK Magazine