The founder of Leni’s Models tells Laura Jackson how she made the transition from model to owning her own bookings agency.
Tell us how you got into the model booking world I was scouted when I was 15 at The Clothes Show and did a bit of modelling while I was at boarding school, but I found it quite tough. I’m only 5ft 7in. I realised I was always going to struggle if I chose that route. Instead I took a job at agency Model Plan as a junior booker.
How did you get from junior booker to owning your own agency? I worked my way through the agencies, including Model Plan, Nevs and Premier. It was while I was working at Premier that I was approached by a guy called Paul Drummond who owns a private members’ club called Quintessentially, and he asked me to set up an agency with him. My initial thought was that there were enough agencies in London already but Paul persuaded me I could run it my way. In the end, Paul and I parted company, so now Leni’s Models stands alone.
You bill Leni’s Models as an ‘ethical’ model agency. What does that mean? It means a focus on the health of our models. We offer a full support system to the girls we have on our books. That includes sending them to my favourite facialist, offering them diet and exercise advice, having counsellors on board to listen to them, and even giving them guidance on managing their money. If girls do really well and handle their money properly, they can retire at 30 and have a great life.
You were recently on the panel for a real people catwalk show organised by Designer Sales UK (DSUK). Tell us about that. It was organised by Elaine Foster-Gandey, director of DSUK, to show that people of all shapes and sizes can look great on a catwalk, and was followed by a debate about why we use such thin girls as models. I wanted to speak about how important it is to use healthy models on a catwalk. It’s not about being really skinny or plus size, it should be about being healthy. Obesity is no better than being unhealthily thin but the modelling industry needs to set some guidelines. There needs to be an attainable and aspirational body image out there. When you think back to the supermodels in the 1990s, what did they all do when they came off the catwalks? They launched exercise videos. Women like Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford understood the importance of exercise.
Are there any models you particularly like at the moment? Natalie Suliman, who is one of my girls and one of the faces of Marks & Spencer. There is an amazing redhead called Olivia Rosanagh who is one of our new faces, and I also like models like Hilary Rhoda, who is classically so beautiful.
There was an issue in the press recently about clamping down on modelling agencies charging sign-up fees. What do you think about this? Any agency that charges you to be on their books is nine times out of 10 non-reputable. There are always costs associated with getting a new model on the books, but the agency should generally front these.
Where is your favourite city to shop? It’s a bit random, but I really like LA. You can get everything there, and I like the vintage feel of the style out there.
Who is your favourite designer? Donna Karan cuts for women and I love that, and also Diane von Furstenberg,
as her dresses are very emotive.
Which is your favourite fashion era? The 1950s, without a doubt. Women still looked like women and those clothes suit my body shape.
Which is your favourite shop? Forever 21 is amazing, and I also love Zara Home. There is a fantastic one in Dubai.
- Eleni Renton is the founder and owner of model bookings agency Leni’s Models