Get Discovered

Mining Instagram for Models

Fashion hopefuls used to cross their fingers that they would be spotted and signed while living their everyday lives. Now, all it takes is posting the perfect selfie.

“Getting discovered” has always been a bit of a wild card. Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Adriana Lima, and Kate Moss are just a handful of models spotted by agents as they were going about their everyday business; now they have multimillion-dollar high-fashion careers. But, in an age of social media, does being in the right place at the right time even matter? Is it a game of chance, or is it more about a well-filtered photo?

Levis, Marc Jacobs and even Cara Delevingne have all taken to Instagram, seeking out regular people to model their clothes and promote their upcoming collections. And it seems like agencies are taking note, using the social media platform to find new talent to become full-blown professional models…simply by browsing.

“At the end of the day, the coverage area is just greater,” Luke Simone, an agent for Wilhelmina, told The Daily Beast. “I definitely think that social media is becoming the new norm, specifically Instagram, because it allows the industry and agents like myself an instant, insightful, and efficient way of discovering potential talent.”

Simone’s first successful encounter with Instagram scouting came earlier this year when an image of 21-year-old Matthew Noszka came across his newsfeed. “After looking through his pictures and his videos,” Simone said, “I knew that he would be a great fit with Wilhelmina.”

Noszka was the complete package: all-American looks, athletic lifestyle (he plays for his college basketball team), and a great personality to boot sealed the deal. Simone reached out, asked if Noszka had ever considered modeling, and if he would be open to coming into the Wilhelmina offices to meet.

“I was supposed to come out to New York to meet Luke in the middle of August,” Noszka told Cosmopolitan, “but he started sending the pictures I took at the gym and some of my Instagrams out to clients immediately. A couple days later he called me back and told me I had booked a job with Nike and needed to be in New York later that week.”

From there, Noszka went on a casting call for Wrangler and shot an editorial for BlackBook magazine; WWD showed interest in using him for a feature and more offers continued to pour in, including an editorial for JÓN magazine with potential for the cover and meetings with GQ.

But not all agencies are as comfortable stepping outside the realm of official competitions. Next Model Management has encountered false accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets of people posing as agents in order to coax young hopefuls to meet them with the proposition of a modeling career.

“There is a safety element to it that we take quite seriously here [at Next],” Katy Moseley, the agency’s director of PR, told The Daily Beast. “We have quite a lot of people ringing the agency saying [they’ve] just been scouted by someone on … completely inappropriate platforms,” such as Plenty of Fish, an online dating service. When cases like this arise, and Next is contacted by dubious youths, Moseley says they take every necessary step to have the impostor account shut down. “But just as easy as it is to get them shut down, they can just a easily open a new one. It’s an ongoing thing.”

Since most of the hopefuls they see being falsely recruited are minors, Next prioritizes scouting new faces in a very safe and cautious manner—which doesn’t include “cold-calling” on Instagram. “In my mind, the parameters you can set and monitor in the best way is to do it in the safety net of a competition.”

Next recently partnered with Rimmel London to source new talent to sign with the agency. Hopefuls submitted selfies through Instagram with the hashtag #NEXTRIMMELMODEL in hopes of being one of five finalists to receive tickets and a VIP camping experience at Norfolk’s Sundown Festival. There, they will meet with scouts from Next and one winner will be selected to star in a photo shoot for the cosmetic brand and potentially gain representation with the agency.

“Unfortunately, it’s a really big problem … when people act in a fraudulent way,” she said, “ and we do everything we can to combat that. One of the ways is always [scouting] in a very official capacity.”

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Yet, some agents still find Instagram to be a viable option for finding potential talent. “Nowadays, a lot of us are on our smartphones or our computers,” 11-year scouting veteran Aly El, who represents Women Direct, told The Daily Beast. “So we don’t make as much time for ourselves to go and interact in the world. It provides a way of greater outreach and easier communication.”

According to El, approaching someone via Instagram is a lot like approaching someone on the street. You must always use common sense and the proper approach. “You have to do it with tact,” he said. “I first ask if they are represented and if they are interested. If so, I have them email me on my work email in order to make everything official.”

But, ultimately, it’s a “needle in a haystack” endeavor, as El put it. Just like street-style scouting, it’s rare to come across someone with potential success, mostly because of filters and phone apps that smooth, retouch, and reshape photos. “You just have to be diligent in figuring out what they really look like,” El said. This means closely examining photos for sought-after traits like height and a symmetrical face. By using Instagram to browse through a potential talent’s photos, agents can gauge their look, style, personality and lifestyle as a “pre-evaluation” process to decide if someone has the potential for success. That is then followed up by requests for “photos with no make-up, no retouching, and no filters” because “nothing is ever what it seems.”

Yet Instagram “cold-calling” seems to work, at least when the right person pops up. Even Moseley agrees that certain people command being reached out to. “If you happen to stumble upon some gorgeous person,” she said, “then obviously you are going to reach out to them in the same way that I would if I saw someone walking down the street or on the subway.”

So keep the selfies coming. Your big break could be an Instagram like away.