Valerie Trott is a star maker.
As president of Elite Modeling Agency’s Los Angeles Office, Trott has worked with some of the world’s most famous models and actresses. Cheryl Tiegs, Paulina Porizkoza, Kathy Ireland, Kim Alexis, and Demi Moore have all walked into her office during the past 18 years.
Trott began her career in 1969 managing Vidal Sassoon’s New York salon, which became her inroad to that city’s modeling industry. She was hired a year later as a booking agent for Wilhelmnia Models Inc., later working for Ford Models Inc. before coming to the West Coast with the Nina Blanchard Agency.
In 1982, she was offered a job heading Elite’s L.A. office a job she has held ever since. But, she says, don’t let the glamour fool you. In Los Angeles, where entertainment is a dominating industry, modeling plays an important role. The competition is tough, and Trott contends it’s a field where business sense means everything.
Question: What does Los Angeles mean in the modeling industry, which is primarily based in New York?
Answer: This city is very important to the modeling industry, mostly because this is where all of the major studios are located. There are a number of models that come out here specifically to break into television. The main clients the big advertising agencies are still in New York. But Los Angeles has the film industry and that’s a major attraction to many of the models. The perfect example of this is Demi Moore, who started as a model for us here.
Q: Should modeling be considered a part of the entertainment industry?
A: We don’t fit in. Basically, we shouldn’t fit in because we’re not in the entertainment business. If Demi Moore wanted to be an actress, I wouldn’t have a clue how to get her there. But, if someone wanted to come in and be Cindy Crawford I’d know the path it takes. I don’t make actresses, I make models. But, there is a cross-over at some point.
Q: How do you find new models to stay ahead of the competition?
A: Ford is here now. So is Wilhemina, United, Company, Sirens and Next. There are so many of them. It’s not that I’m not worried. I’m very well aware that they are all here. It keeps up my end of the bargain, and keeps me on my toes. It’s not like I’m sitting up here on top of the hill you don’t get complacency with competition. This is a very competitive industry. It sounds very glamorous, but it is very stressful it’s hard. We have open calls for models to come in most days of the week, after school. We’re also always scouting for talent at the malls, beaches, and anywhere around town. It can be very intense.
Q: During the past few years, much of the modeling business has shifted to South Beach in Florida. Why?
A: It’s less expensive. They don’t have to deal with Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Santa Monica every time you need a permit. It takes five hours to get a permit here. In South Beach, they get one immediately for $3 and can shoot all over Florida. This is our big complaint. We’ve had many meetings with all the different cities, and they were going to try to bring back a lot of the business that moved to South Beach. But they still haven’t done anything about it.
Q: How frustrating is this problem?
A: Los Angeles is such a great location that you have a lot of very good people that come. Magazines and advertising companies used to come here to shoot catalogs from all over the world. It was really fantastic. They would use it because they could go up to the mountains, go to the desert, go to the ocean they had all these fabulous, wonderful locations. They still come, but I think if this city would just open up it would help.
Q: How big is the agency?
A: We have on our roster about 230 models, with girls all over the world. In Los Angeles we have between 50 to 70, including the new people we have in development.
Q: What is your routine like every day?
A: Go to the gym every morning at 7 a.m. I’ll start the day early from my house with telephone calls to New York City. But coming into the office, I never know what the day will hold. What I do now is the management and development part of the business. I have a great staff as far as bookings, but I still do bookings from time to time. On a whole my job is to run the agency, and the secret to a successful agency is who do you have lately. We have been extremely successful in finding new talent every week. Los Angeles is such a great area to do scouting. I take care of most of the promotional stuff. I’m basically a mother hen.
Q: How much of your job is spent making business decisions?
A: I’m changing hats every five minutes. We get the accountants in here, I’m having lunch with a banker the next day, and then I’m meeting with the models. You work hard to build a company, and then you have to work harder to stay at the position you’ve reached. There will always be a demand for models, but sometimes like in any other business we get lean years. Things were tough when all the department stores here went bankrupt that was a time when we lost business. There isn’t a time to sit back and relax until retirement. I like the business side, and maybe that’s why I’ve succeeded here. I like to make things work. One of the things I’m lucky to be able to do is to change those hats pretty easily from morning to afternoon.
Q: What are your feelings on the “heroin” look that has become big in the industry, and recently criticized by President Clinton?
A: It’s going out of style and I’m very happy. I didn’t like it, personally. It’s very hard to find models who would fit the half-dead look. That style kind of threw me for a loop. We stuck to what was the basics the face, body, type, features and you can make them up any way you want. I think now you are going to start to see a change in the industry, more of a natural look. Those are the kind of girls we get in California more traditional.
Q: How bad is the drug problem among models, and how do you deal with it?
A: You see it. There was a time when it was bad, and then got better, and got bad again. There are drugs in this industry, in the entertainment industry, in the music industry, and in the business community. Doctors are taking drugs to keep themselves awake. Is it more here? I think it’s more because the industry is smaller and it’s more talked about. The people are younger. It is a concern. We need to get back to a more healthy look.
Q: There has also been criticism that the industry starts off models too young. What’s your take on that?
A: We start at 14 and it’s a lot of work. The kids are difficult it’s just that they are 14 and you are sending them out on a grown-up’s job where they may be making $1,200 a day. Someone paying that much is expecting a real professional person. It’s something that is like walking on egg shells to balance the client, the mother and the young girl. I’ve got a 14 year old who just traveled and made $30,000 for one day’s work. It’s like sports, they start out really young and get paid a lot of money but it doesn’t last.
Q: How have things changed in the past few decades?
A: The models still work hard today. But today, they are fussed over and get paid incredible amounts of money. Years ago, when you did catalog work, you didn’t have as many people around to make sure you looked good. You did it yourself. It’s much more competitive these days. The sheer financial deals that are made are astounding.