Modelling in Nigeria – What Every Beginner Should Know
Since my departure from Nigeria, the development of Nigeria’s modelling industry has developed immensely. Gone are the days when girls who graced the cover of Hints or the back page of Ikebe Super were regarded as immoral. Only a few reputable model agencies including existed, and the pay packet was nothing to write home about – Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde described in an interview how she had featured in campaigns for numerous brands including Vita Malt prior to becoming an actress and couldn’t afford a car, criticising agencies who believed they were doing their models a favour. In recent times Nigerian girls have expressed a desire to join this rising career, but few possess the knowledge required to succeed in this competitive field.
When I tried to break into modelling in the early 00’s, I had no-one to turn to for advice, my family didn’t approve, and I did not do any research. I jumped at the first opportunity available without asking questions or confiding in anyone, and paid a huge sum for ‘administration purposes”, but failed to land any work. Two months after my last visit, I returned to their office in Ikeja to discover the manager had fled, taking my money with him. I could only blame myself – I should have been more careful. The ‘agency’ consisted of a rented room with bad-quality pictures of odd-looking individuals adorning their walls, and the manager claimed to have a second office in South Africa which turned out to be false. Despite operating from fashion-conscious Ikeja, a borough well-known for their boutiques and fashion shows, none of the numerous outlets ever contacted them. I was one of the lucky ones – a fellow Naija-Brit had submitted her passport and birth certificate to obtain a visa for a Hugo Boss show in South Africa. Did she get booked, or see her documents again? Your guess is as good as mine.
To succeed in the industry, one must not rely on looks alone. Here are some guidelines for any Nigerian girl who wishes to become a model.
Look After Yourself To be a model, look like one. However, not all aspiring clothes horses should strife to resemble pageant queens as not all beautiful girls photograph well. Despite her unconventional look, Oluchi won Face of Africa in 1997, and rose to become one of Africa’s top models. Quirkiness is sometimes required to sell a product, but what really matters is confidence and personality. Looking like a model doesn’t necessarily mean spending loads of money to create an image either. Dress to suit your body shape. Choose a hairstyle to flatter your facial features – if you have sharp cheekbones, your may find that short hair may work for you, and with no cheekbones at all, the opposite. The agency or client may ask you to make changes to your appearance to improve your chances of bookings or represent the brand. If you object to having your head shaved, modelling is not for you. Remember, models eat to live, not live to eat; Mr. Biggs or Tantalizers junkies should take their indulgence down a notch to retain their figure. We’ve all heard it a hundred times, but you are what you eat – improve the quality of you diet with more fruit and vegetables (mostly vegetables), plenty of water would flush out toxins. and everything else with take care of itself.
Keep Fit This doesn’t always mean burning off every pound at the gym. Believe it or not, even plus-size models like Toccara Jones exercise regularly, albeit to keep fit since those curves keep them in work. Any experienced model would confirm posing for the camera requires more than looking pretty. Holding an uncomfortable position during a shoot, travelling far for a go-see, working in the baking sun, remaining on the set for hours, participating in fashion shows… A model needs strength and energy, and in addition to a proper diet, exercise is essential.
Choose Your Photos Due to high fees professional photographers charge, most models build their portfolios on the job, but they’re essential when displaying versatility. Agencies require photos mainly in casual wear, swimwear and formal attire. You may wish to include African outfits, taking care to choose an outfit enhancing your figure. For casual wear, try skinny/straight cut jeans or denim shorts with a white tank top or t-shirt, a lá Cindy Crawford and Beyoncé in the Diet Coke commercial and “Crazy in Love” video respectively. Ultra-slim girls could try a black top instead to make the lower half look bigger. Remember, the clients have to see YOU, not the colours. Neutral colours (black, white, grey, cream, and brown) work best, keep jewellery to a bare minimum, and go for classic styles, bearing in mind fashion isn’t always in style, but style is always in fashion. Fashion photographer and former America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker once stated a common mistake models make when creating their portfolio is posing in the latest fashion trends. An acquaintance of mine competing in a photo modelling contest submitted a picture of herself in a floral blouse and spiky gladiator sandals, both of which were a no-no as they could make the shot appeared dated after the trend passed. Stick to the “less is more” rule combined with neutrality, and you can use the photos again and again.
A simple manicure and pedicure makes a difference, but avoid nail patterns; clear nail varnish is sufficient. The best shoes are simple stilettos for added elegance, and always point your toes in shots when you pose sitting or lying down to give the impression of longer legs. Natural shades work best in make-up.
Vary your looks – serious face, smiley face, mean girl, etc. Ask the photographer if he can provide a number of the photos in black-and-white, as this is an industry favourite. When selecting pictures, you don’t need to fill a whole album; five or six shots are enough, as long as they are the strongest which display variety, including head shots and full body. Steer clear of agencies that force you to use a specific photographer – it could be a scam.
Practise Your Poses It takes time, but a good model knows how to move in front of the camera, and an experienced photographer would guide you during the shoot. You could also buy European editions of high-fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, or Cosmopolitan and study the poses, or Google the image ‘high-fashion poses’. On the day of the shoot, take the magazines with you to the studio and copy the ones you feel comfortable with, keeping in mind certain positions flatter you figure. Posing should involve not only the body but the face, making use of the eyes, cheeks, and mouth, and taking care not to produce an exaggerated effect unless required.
Find a Reputable Agency If you decide not to go down the model contest route, agencies are the perfect option. In recent years several reputable ones like Beth Models have emerged, and their business is constantly mentioned in fashion magazines and blogs. Beware of so-called agents who consistently advertise in newspapers, particularly in the classified section – if a model agency is reputable, they may not have to promote themselves consistently as most have connections within the fashion industry. If you are invited to their offices, ask questions, and if they hesitate, act evasive, or give the same answer to different questions, beware. Observe any model photos displayed on their walls, and note the quality. Are they unprofessional or heavily photo-shopped? And make sure they only offer the jobs you have in mind for before signing that contract in case the high-fashion agent turns out to be a pornographer. In terms of contracts, ask if you can show a copy to a lawyer before signing even if you lack legal representation, and if they take offence, leave. A genuine business is never scared of proving their authenticity.
Beware of Scammers No reputable agency would charge you to join them, although you may pay a small fee for test shots, and in some cases, for administration. If they have faith in you, they would invest in you first, receiving their commission after you obtain a booking. Beware of agencies who claim a lucrative opportunity could disappear if you refuse to cough up some money, as I learned the hard way – scammers are notorious for making huge promises before disappearing with large sums, leaving novices in tears. While portfolios are vital, it’s a myth that all models must have own one before they’re offered work. (Tyra Banks obtained a booking after a fashion photographer viewed her passport photo on a long flight). Years ago I paid a huge amount for what I was told would be an outstanding portfolio, and ended up with trashy pictures on a CD-rom. Show them whatever studio shots you have taken as mentioned earlier, and it should be sufficient.
Do Your Research There’s a reason models constantly flick through the glossy pages of Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. Keeping abreast with the fashion world helps you distinguish between the fake and the genuinne. The fake model agency I visited boasted that they had discovered Oluchi, which was absolute rubbish. Everyone knows that she was persuaded by a fashion designer aunt to compete in Face of Africa. They also claimed that an upcoming job they thought I’d be right for a Hugo Boss show in South Africa. When was the last time Hugo Boss used dark-skinned black females? If only I’d known then what I know now…
Be Smart For your own protection, use your brain. If you feel uncomfortable with what occurs within the business, you have a right to question their ethic. How often have women been forced to pair up with male models who touch women in intimate places during photo shoots, but lie about their sexuality? (“Don’t worry, I’m gay…”) Remember Benjamine Bowers, the Abercrombie & Fitch model who sued the company for $1,000,000 after he was told to masturbate in front of the camera to appear relaxed? (Hadn’t he heard of yoga?) No-one held a gun to his head, he should have known better. Always refer to the contract, and make sure you are not being cheated.
Be Professional Always be punctual, always be polite, and always work to the best of your ability, even if your tired, or no client would ever work with you again. The only reason Naomi Campbell continues to land bookings, despite her diva-like attitude, is because no-one does the job like her, or else she would have been finished years ago.
Make Sure Your Family is Aware Granted, your folks may not approve of you modelling (Eucheria Annunobi and Kate Henshaw have both confirmed their fathers were furious about what their daughters were doing), but always give details of the location when preparing for a job, and if you are under 18, make sure an adult acts as your chaperone.
Remember, these are mere guidelines – the rest is all up to you. Good luck!