Roundtable Interviews with Paulina Poritzkova, Veronica Webb, Magdalena & Diane DeWitt by Vivian Kelly for The Look On-Line

On Making It Big...

One of the biggest questions in the modeling field is who will 'make it big'. We wondered if there was a magic formula held by the privy few or if it was just dumb luck. Some girls, like Gisele, 'couldn't get arrested' for their first few years in the business. Suddenly, a few years later, they're the girl opening and closing the big shows, on the best covers and every designer's darling. In an interview LOL did with supermodel Maggie Rizer earlier this year, she gives a lot of credit to her booker, Louie for her success.

LOL: What determines if a model will 'make it big'?

Veronica: Luck, it's a girl corresponding to what's popular culturally at that moment. Today, Maggie's big - she has that Nan Kempner kind of super skinny socialite body and she's more than capable of doing the work.

It's also influence peddling, a lot of it is politics. Like all of life, it depends on who says what to whom and how much you trust the person who's giving suggestions. Sheer persistence counts too. When I went to the castings for the Versace show 10 or so years ago, one of the assistants, Angelo, physically threw me out. He told me I was so ugly and he couldn't believe I would show up at Mr. Versace's casting. I kept going back until I got the show. It took me about four years. You have to work to the point where you're undeniable, where you have enough pictures, look the part and just can't be told 'no'.

A Vogue shoot is always a high point. Being in it sets the standard, as it's a big recognizable brand. I had a Revlon contract from 1992-95 because of the editorial work I did leading up to it. This opened up my eyes to the big money there was to be made in advertising. But, there are only so many contracts to be had, especially if you're Black.

Paulina: It's a complete and total accident. It's all about timing, being in the right place at the right time.

Magdalena: Something comes through in a picture that was taken of you that has the spirit of what someone out there is looking for. It's chance and timing, there are so many models and so many different tastes. It's not even about being professional. It's also important to have a photographer who knows how to shoot you and a booker who believes in you like my booker, Leigh.

Doni: There are definitely special girls, contract girls are special, for sure. The bigger the girl, the more leeway a booker has when negotiating. He has to be savvy enough to negotiate terms and extras that are going to keep his girl happy. As a booker, you develop a sense of what the client wants. You see enough girls and read enough magazines and you become tuned into which way the wind is blowing.

LOL: Does a model's pay scale have bearing on how she's treated? Has the money and the fame affected your relationships?

Veronica: Honey, rich people always get treated better. Being famous is currency, it's the perception of wealth that matters. FYI, models pick up their own expenses.

Paulina: Yes of course, oh my God! Once you're on top, people let you get away with murder. Girls start taking it for granted. People created these Supermodel Prima Donnas, the girls were encouraged to behave that way and then discredited them, (I'm talking about Christy, Linda, and Naomi), for behaving the way they were encouraged to.

What we're really talking about is dealing with celebrity. Your old friends and family get star struck. You have to be a bit more private and a lot more careful about the things you do and say. The agents don't warn you - after all, of the 100 girls they have maybe one will become a bona fide star. In my day, there was no damage control, nothing. That's why there are so many horrendous quotes coming out of the mouths of the young models. You just have to figure it out by yourself.

Magdalena: It depends, I feel embarrassed when it happens. You can demand it by the way you behave, but why? Why should I get different treatment? If you're in politics or something major, OK. If I get an upgrade when I'm flying though, I'm thrilled! The idea of a model and the celebrity attached to it is exciting for people. Sometimes though, I lie and tell people I'm a painter because I like to remain anonymous in my real life.

It's never been a secret that there have always been an elite core group of image makers in fashion. They are the fashion Gods who anoint the girls and are instrumental in elevating them from mere models to a hot 'face'. These are the people who make the fashion carousel spin around.

LOL: Who are the three most important people in fashion #1) in your heyday #2) today? Doni, we'd like to hear from you too!

Doni: The Stevens (Meisel) can create an 'it' girl of the moment by landing them on the covers of Vogue Italia and American Vogue. But one photographer alone is not going to keep it going. That's when the sharp booker who has a vision of the right types of jobs for his girl comes into play. Top three today, I 'd say, Tom Ford for resurrecting Gucci, photographers Michael Thompson and David Simms. In the sixties, it was Richard Avedon, who was really an original fashion photographer.

Diane: Sorry, I've got to do four! In my day, photographer Victor Skrebneski, Valentino, Iman and Bernadine Morris. Today, Steven Meisel, Anna Wintour, Oscar and Carolina Herrera.

Veronica: The fashion designers. They're the people who make the clothes that make the fashion carousel go round, no disrespect to editors and photographers. Top three: Azzedine, always and back then, Gautier and Karl (Lagerfeld). Today, it's Michael (Kors), Prada, Marc (Jacobs) and people like the guys at Tuleh and Randolph Duke who haven't been absorbed into the superstores.

Paulina: There have always been these high-powered superstar makers - it can be a photographer stylist or makeup artist, even. Steven Meisel has made quite a number of girls who might have not been made had he not taken them under his wing. Before him, Vogue was doing it and Sports Illustrated, for a while. Who ever is 'it' can throw their two cents in and create a monster. Oddly in my career though, it doesn't really apply. There was no 1,2,3 super mentor to me although Monique Pillard was very influential in my career and made sure I didn't overbook cosmetics to niche me too much as I was doing Estee. (Paulina had the Lauder contract for 7 years).