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:: Spotlight :: Stephen Bucknall - leading the F.R.M Empire

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

It’s been an interesting exercise to observe the development of modelling agencies over the past few years since we have been reporting on fashion events in Melbourne. It’s great to recognise the talent and creativity amongst Australian clothes designers, some of which are starting to reap rewards in the international market, albeit slowly and knowing the immense levels of competition. But it’s worth admiring the modelling agencies that are helping provide “the look” that potential clothes and accessories consumers want to see. You need certain girls and boys to drive that inspiration through to the retail market.

One of the people who has shown the vitality and energy in nurturing the modelling talent in Australia is Stephen Bucknall, head of the F.R.M. modelling agency. He’s been at the forefront in giving the necessary results to client needs in fifteen years at the helm of the company that he started. Stephen has just returned from the most prestigious international model and talent convention, the IMTA, in New York. When I came into his office for our discussion, Stephen was on the phone to one of his female models. He says, “You look great. Show your looks, your personality, your sex appeal.” He was extolling the virtues and instilling a belief in his girl that she can impress at an upcoming casting opportunity. As we head into Melbourne Spring Fashion Week for 2003, it was a chance to chat about the growth of F.R.M. and his general outlook on fashion.

Q. You’ve been at the helm of the F.R.M. agency for fifteen years. How do you see the standing of the business at this point?

A. I feel that we’re strongly placed within the fashion industry and within the leading modelling agencies. We’re strongly affiliated with Chic Modelling Agency in Sydney that has a strong bearing on the industry there, as far as the editorial market – magazines, fashion shows, etc. I’m currently representing several models that are working overseas. I’ve just returned from New York where I attended the International Model & Talent Association (IMTA) – a convention with 200 of the world’s leading agents and 7,000 models. It is an invitation-only, annual event. Usually, it is only FRM and Vivien’s that are invited. The convention allows for me to take materials on my talent. This time, I took some models with me - one girl, Dunja, a Bosnian girl, and Dan Zizys, back in Australia for Spring Fashion Week, but soon headed back to New York for major work. Dan has worked in Milan, Paris, New York, and many other big cities on big fashion accounts. Dunja is shooting with Patrick Demarchelier for Harpers Bazaar. I have requests for eighteen of our talent as a result of the convention, with agents like Storm in London, Madison in Paris, Elite in New York, and IMG in New York. These are large agencies that have requested this representation in the fashion markets worldwide. I showcased my leading fashion models – those I felt would be wanted at this convention.

Q. Why should somebody join FRM?

A. We’re what I would call a boutique agency. We don’t take the masses on. I keep my fashion division to a minimal level, representing forty girls and twenty-five boys. What I offer certain models is a management type situation, where I personally handle their careers and their placements throughout the world. We also have the masses – those wanted for commercials. They’re the good-looking, girl-next-door or your average guy-next-door. There’s a huge commercial market in Melbourne also – the bread and butter of the industry. Commercials always roll along. I enjoy the fashion side and that’s what I predominantly handle – the international models and those under development, and about to head on the road. We ensure that models get the proper representation so those who are important can see them.

Q. Are models starting out at a younger age?

A. Models will always remain very young. Most of the fashion girls are starting around thirteen or fourteen. Generally, they want to start a career within the fashion industry. Twenty-two is about the limit for commencing. They can prolong their career if they are established up to their early thirties. A high profile model’s career can be extended a few more years. Girls like Alyssa Sutherland, from our affiliate agency Chic, started at fourteen.

Q. What is the key to fifteen years of success?

A. Honesty, integrity, not making false promises that you can’t keep, and customer service. We are aiming to keep clients happy with the best possible service, knowing their niche market, knowing what they want, whether it is a fashion week, or whatever. With the upcoming Spring Fashion Week, we were credited in having 28 of the 40 models that were showcased in the 2002 event. We’re hoping to get a huge response again. The reason being is that the type of look I go for in the fashion division is not necessarily the “plain Jane”. It’s someone who is a little bit exotic, a bit different, a bit edgy. All our girls are briefed to bringing out the best in themselves along these lines. Several of our girls are Russian, Slavic, Asian, or mixed races. Russian girls seem to be the flavour of the month in the world. Last year it was Brazilian girls. Melbourne is very cosmopolitan. It’s important to show that to advertising clients in viewing the type of talent they would like.

Q. Your website has come on in leaps and bounds…

A. We put a lot of time and energy into it. It has a search engine so you can appropriately look for size, hair colour, and other features. We have the different divisions – the body models section, fashion models section, and the international top model section. The website is an intricate part of showcasing the agncy and promoting it to the best of our ability. We offer information on anyone joining our agency in what is required, what is the look, how their hair and make-up best suits them, right down to their walk. They are coached as far as showing themselves for television and how to present themsleves for the runway. As much goes into styling and modelling to get them prepared for the market.

Q. What fashion trends do you happening?

A. The fashion is leaning towards grunge again. I see a lot of grunge; the hippy type aspect is still very evident. The mismatch of clothes and fabrics – nothing really goes together. That’s what I have seen around Australia and other territories, and what people ae looking for in fashion. The designers are saying it also. It’s an attitude kind of dressing these days. Everyone has his or her own uniform that says, “This is me. This is how I am.” They dress accordingly.

Q. Are the European and American agencies looking for certain types of girls and boys?

A. As I said before, the Russian girls are popular now. The girls with high cheekbones, full lips, and flawless skin. If you’re beautiful and you present yourself well, everyone has a chance providing they have the height requirements. The dark, olive skinned girls were working for a long time and the Brazilian girls have faded out somewhat now, in favour of the fair-skinned Russian girls. You will see that on the runways over the next twelve months.

Q. What do you bring back to the business from a convention like the IMTA?

A. I just tap into how each of the leading agencies is run, and the type of talent they’re looking for. I try and utilise that knowledge and integrate it into my business, as far as what I’m looking for. It gives me a little bit of an edge in the industry in knowing what’s going on overseas ahead of Australia. We’re twelve-eighteen months behind the rest of the world. The designers are catching up but the mentality is still a bit behind as far as what is projected in the fashion world throughout Europe and the USA.

Q. You mentioned your international models Dan and Dunja. They are great success stories…

A. I found Dan on Acland Street, St.Kilda four years ago. He had no money and was a bit of a “rough nut” when I first saw him. We then groomed him, got him off to Spin Communications where, with a couple of snapshots, he was selected for his first runway shows during a fashion week. We placed him with Storm in London and Madison in Paris. He shot with some very famous photographers, such as Mario Testino and shot for Armani, Prada, Gucci, Christian Dior and other big fashion labels. We’ve been preparing him for New York, which is the “be all and end all”. As far as people in modelling goes, New York is the place to land a huge dollar job. Dan is heading there after Spring Fashion Week.

Dunja is a Bosnian refugee who came to Australia with her family, having left her war-torn country. She started gracing the pages of the Melbourne Sunday Herald-Sun newspaper fashion pages. She then discovered, at a later stage, that her aunt, with whom her family had lost contact, had become the fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar in New York. She went to New York twelve months ago and the first test shoot, she was with one of the most famous photographers in the world, Patrick Demarchelier. She came back to Australia and worked successfully. She is now back in New York doing some major fashion shoots and placed with New York Models, which is the agency that Dan is with also. The Calvin Klein boy, Travis Himmel, is with them too. It’s a great story for Dunja. From being a Bosnian refugee, she’ll be trotting the runways of Milan in September. Her career has progressed enormously.

Q. What does the future hold?

A. What I’m doing now is strongly working on my association with certain agencies overseas, building strong relationships with them so I can have Australian models represented overseas and hopefully create some great talent out of Melbourne and out of F.R.M.

Photos: 1) Stephen Bucknall 2) Dan Zizys 3) Dunja

Carmine Pascuzzi

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