Relationships, Reputation and Trust
by Marilyn R. Wilson
Photo by Fred Fraser - www.fredfraser.com
Years of walking the runways of Europe have left an indelible stamp on Liz Bell. Owner of the internationally recognized Lizbell Agency, she arrives for our interview looking elegant even while dressed in casual wear. Days (and nights and weekends) are now spent guiding the careers of many of Vancouver's top models bound for International careers. Her first advice given to every hopeful who walks through the door, "Don't do it unless it's going to come easy. This is a tough business."
Bell was approached by model agents many times while growing up in South Africa, but she always threw the cards away. "I knew nothing about the industry and didn't have the confidence." In her late teens she decided to visit an aunt in Vancouver where she was approached yet again, but this time decided to give it a try. Setting aside her plans to study art at Emily Carr, Bell entered the world of modeling. She was taught how to walk by Tracey Pincott and began booking local work. Fate opened a door when acquaintances encouraged her enter a modeling competition in New York. Winning the competition was a life-changing moment which launched her international career.
For the initial three months she worked in New York and then it was off to Paris where Bell walked 12 shows her first season. Travelling constantly and working with all the top designers was exciting. She fondly remembers her last show with Valentino - Altamoda in Rome (Italian Haute Couture). All the important models were there. The day was spent having hair, nails and make-up done and then it was time to leave. "You all get in a big bus that says Valentino on the side and go to an amazing villa somewhere. There is a screen backstage and Valentino is there saying, 'Look Liz, there's Sophia Loren wearing the dress you wore last season'...The experiences as a model are unbelievable." She continued to work through her first pregnancy and even took her six month old son on the road. When she finally decided to ease out of the industry, it was to work as agent handling a small stable of models at Kirk Talent. In 1992 Kirk decided to focus just on talent and their model roster became the foundation for the new Lizbell Agency.
Those first years were tough. Bell opened her doors just two months after the birth of her second son and had to juggle the responsibilities of family life, building a home, commuting to work, running a business and the 24/7 demands of being an agent. How did she do it? "It was really hard, but I come from a family that is very entrepreneurial and I've learnt by example." She admits to being very maternal and her models are like a second family. Great effort is spent to ensure their well-being. "The whole industry is based on reputation and relationships. I place my models with people I know and love and I trust they are going to take care of them."
A model needs to have that combination of looks, build and personality. Bell comments, "I see beauty in everyone and sometimes it doesn't always work. Once you're in the industry everyone is beautiful so you have to give more, which means having personality, confidence and being grateful and humble." At their first interview she always lets them know, "If you're not ready to go when everyone wants you, then you're old news by next year. So you have to take it and run with it. There is no hurry. Go to summer camp and be a kid for as long as possible, the industry can wait" An emphasis is always placed on the fact that it is truly hard work. A model can go on 20 castings a day in New York with a hundred others waiting at every one. Each has to find a way to stand out, sometimes in a foreign language. Once signed, the agency's focus turns to how best to build their career.
Bell has noticed many changes over the years. First, the industry now moves so fast that everything is immediate and disposal - both models and clothing. Another is that new faces usually do not have to invest in an initial paid test photo shoot to start their career. This is thanks to digital cameras, everyone wanting to become a photographer and in turn, these photographers needing to shoot models for their portfolios. Investing in their career was one way to judge the model's commitment and for them to treat it like a business. A final difference is the approach to runway. Bell had a chance recently to view some old runway videos and was surprised by how chaotic the shows were. "In the 80's we went out in groups and we would walk and cross. It was busy, busy, busy...it wasn't just one [model] down the runway at a time unless it was the evening gowns in the finale."
In 2005 Lizbell Agency opened it's Artist Division. Now the agency can provide not only the top models, but the professional team to realize a strong editorial shoot. Vancouver is fortunate to have local access to such world class talent.
For more information on the Lizbell Agency, please visit the website at www.lizbellagencycom.