Natalie Hand / On Modern Beauty
Photography Rahel Weiss Fashion Linh Ly Words Simone Konu
Natalie Hand is the founder and director of Viva London, an internationally renowned model agency. She represents modelling legends, as well as the most sought after new faces. We talk to Natalie about modern beauty, and the importance of being more than just a pretty face.
How did you find yourself working as a model booker?
I trained as an actress and during a ‘resting period’ (there seemed to be a lot of those!) I saw an advert in the Guardian for a “Junior Model Booker”. I got the job and from day one was hooked. I didn’t expect to become so caught up in it but actually I was always kind of obsessed by models and the stories they told in magazines – to me they were actresses too, so I could relate. They could inspire people and make them dream. Who wouldn’t get swept away with fantasy and beauty?
With industry icons such Stella Tennant, Raquel Zimmermann, Natalia Vodianova and Charlotte Rampling on your books to models of the moment such as Mica Arganaraz and Damaris Goddrie, what do you think contributes to Viva’s success?
Cyril Brule set up Viva in Paris almost 30 years ago with a true passion to take care of the models and this fundamental driving spirit has never faltered within the agency. In an industry which has a potential to be dangerous and worrisome Viva is a place where the model’s wellbeing truly comes first. Emotionally, physically, creatively and professionally. We try to create an environment where the models can blossom and thrive. To me this is the primary factor in the success of the agency.
The series of photographs that launched Viva London, shot by Scott Trindle, took a fresh approach by showing the models in their own clothes, with no hair and make up or retouching. How important do you feel it is to show the person behind the facade of fashion?
Absolutely essential in this day and age! Glossy imagery can be captivating. Yes. But raw, real beauty to me is even more powerful. I feel that true beauty comes not just from perfect features but from the spirit inside. Imperfection is the new perfection and this is a message the world should be embracing for the sake of our daughters and future generations. Character and personality is actually what marks out a supermodel.
There are thousands of beautiful models, but the true “Tops” have something else – a spark, a sense of humour, a power, determination and strength that a photographer can capture… all these things make a model, and any person for that matter, special and unique.
In fashion editorial we shoot these incredible women yet they are often mute, we project characters onto them. How important is the model’s voice?
Like anyone in the public eye nowadays the girls have a responsibility to a certain extent as inspirational role models of their generation. Many of them have hundreds of thousands, even millions of ‘followers’. So yes they are listened to and what they do/ say can really count in this world. That’s an incredible power to have!
In Viva’s model portfolios, models are accompanied by a written interview/biography answering questions such as ‘If you were an activist, what cause would you support?’ and ‘If you were a historical figure who would you be?’. Do you feel that the fashion industry is demanding more from models than just being a pretty face?
Yes absolutely. I think the industry looks for uniqueness and individuality. Even as a very New Face clients are looking for the thing that makes the girl stand out….They’re asking ’what is really interesting about her’?
And I think that consumers also want to feel that models are real people and not two-dimensional cut-outs. That they stand for something, that they aren’t perfect illusions but true aspirational characters.
How do you feel social media has changed the way we view models?
Models are under much more scrutiny! But the power of being a role model is a great opportunity and they really can have an impact.
Nowadays having a social media presence is a prerequisite of the job. I don’t think it should necessarily mean a race to have the most followers, but it is another tool that the girls can use to establish who they are in the fashion marketplace, to show their humour, their point of view, their talents and true essence. It can help them define themselves.
Model agents are always on call and it’s a very demanding role. You have established a business, split your time between London and Paris, and have a family. How do you strike a sense of balance?
With difficulty! Having a family and a demanding job – even when you absolutely love them to bits it is a challenge of time management. I am lucky enough to be with someone who also works in fashion, has similar pressures and can empathise.
The more you do however the more you wish you could do. Time becomes the real luxury.
The fashion industry is starting to embrace a more modern take on beauty; embracing age, race and size of models. How has this changed the way you scout and nurture talent at Viva?
I’m so happy that this is the case. I think the industry still has a way to go, I don’t think we have enough models of colour or ‘older’ models on the covers of magazines for example. But we have made great strides over the last 10 – 15 years. Representing such timeless icons as Stella Tennant and Tatjana Patitz makes me feel so proud. These women look their age and are all the more gorgeous, beguiling and seductive because of it. They are still in as hot demand as ever.
Models nowadays can even begin careers much later. Saskia de Brauw was in her late twenties when she started for instance.
If you had one thing to say to aspiring businesswomen, what would it be?
Find something you love doing. Really love. Where you can feel challenged and excited and stimulated every day. I think everything else comes from that place.