A History of Marlowe Press: 1965 - 1990


In 1965, I was in the right place at the right time. The sixties were in full swing and I had found a new way to produce models publicity. Over the next twenty-five years the company I set up, Marlowe Press, became the central publishers in the modelling world. We had offices in London, Paris, Munich and New York and throughout the 80's Marlowe Press published 80% of all model cards and agency books in these major cities. The challenges were exciting and for those of you who work in the fashion industry I'm sure you'll agree it can be an addictive profession. As a key witness to the evolution of the modelling industry I wanted to share my side of the story and reflect back on how far it had come.

In the beginning there was the model, although back then she bore little resemblance to her modern equivalent. She was most likely a debutante type who had freshly graduated from modelling school. She might have spent her days showing collections to the elite guests of a fashion house or working as a full time in-house model to an haute couture house. Unlike now, it was not a particularly well-paid profession and its highest accolade, a Vogue Cover, paid the princely sum of £12 for a day's work.

In 1965 modelling was still in its infancy. Some secretarial services in Europe acted as models' agents charging a weekly amount for their messages and bookings to be taken for them and many models did their own billing. Agents in one country were unlikely to know their counterparts in other countries and the prevailing Napoleonic law in much of Europe declared it illegal for model agents to work for a percentage of someone's earnings, so in Germany for example, they were called secretariats. I know, because by 1966 I was visiting them all over Europe. Very few models travelled in those days, so it was mainly a home town job. The actual 'business' of professional modelling was light years away from where it is today.

1965 was also the year that saw the end of my degree at London University and the beginnings of my Composite® card business.

By 1967 the modelling industry was well under way in England and considered the best in Europe. The biggest names from that era were home grown and would go on to pave the way for the supermodels of the future; Jean Shrimpton, with her gamine features, became a star and the girlfriend of photographer David Bailey (despite his friends warning she was 'too posh' for him). Joanna Lumley was a top model, before crossing over to acting, getting her first big break playing Purdey in The New Avengers. Sandra Paul was the beauty that ended up bewitching Michael Howard who went on to become head of the Conservative Party, Tania Mallet appeared in Goldfinger and Celia Hammond eventually gave up modelling to concentrate on animal rescue. Pauline Stone was also a favourite Vogue model who married the actor Laurence Harvey and later married Peter Morton of Hard Rock fame. By 1970 the music industry had discovered the model industry and has subsequently produced many celebrity marriages.

Most iconic of all was Lesley Hornby, better known as Twiggy, who became The Face of '66 at the tender age of 16. Twiggy showed the world that a model could be 5'6", with a 32" bust and a boy's haircut. Her earnings were £80 an hour when the average wage was £15 a week. Almost overnight she ensured the classic model mould was broken forever. Since then, modelling continues to run the gamut of trends, from tom boy to punk, curvaceous blonde to heroin chic. The mould continues to change and vacillate between the extremes we have today- from the alien other worldliness of Gemma Ward to the bronzed goddess Gisele Bündchen. These changes are not limited to the glossies but can now be viewed by devotees, twenty four hours a day on Fashion TV, all around the world.

1967, was also the year that the seven top model agents formed The Association of London Model Agents or ALMA. My first venture into publishing books was their 'MODEL BOOK 1968', featuring 500 of London's top models. It was gold embossed and bound in padded black leather and appropriately became known as the Bible of British modelling.

This bringing together of London's top agencies with their own model directory that January was a momentous occasion. Although the agents were well used to fierce competition, they now stood together with their united ambition to raise commissions and demand a percentage from the clients (in addition to the models). This effectively doubled their earnings and heralded the serious business of the modelling industry.

From this point on I was dealing with business types running agencies and not just bored housewives or ex models running a shoestring operation. All design control of a model's publicity was paid for and approved by the agents from the early 1970's. The elegance and genteelness of agents like Model Plan, Jean Bell and Cherry Marshall was fast disappearing and being replaced by professional accountants, some of whom tried to hold on to their model's money under any excuse. As is often the case with progress, there are always some who succumb to the temptations of greed.

The worst cases of this were the Italian agents who withheld money from models to coerce them into returning to Milan to work (usually illegally). Italy was always short of homebred models, despite their huge capacity for using models to supply their magazines photo needs. Italy, unlike some other European countries already published hundreds of monthly magazines in the early 1960's. Scandinavia by contrast had an excess of long legged blue-eyed blondes, but almost no magazines or advertising campaigns for them to feature in.

As a result, Ford Models in New York had already pioneered scouting in the early 70's, combing Scandinavia each year for the next perfect face. This was long before the product sponsored talent-scouting competitions, which are now held annually by some of the world's largest Model Agencies. Then it was leggy blondes whereas now fashion is more likely to dictate an East European girl, like Czech beauty Petra Nemcová.

Travelling throughout Europe during the late 60's, 70's and 80's made me a catalyst for bringing together model agents across Europe and my Knightsbridge offices were famous for their annual Christmas Eve pyjama parties. Up to 300 models, photographers and agents would celebrate the festive season in style. One year things were shaken up with two 007's both attending - the original Bond Sean Connery and the model turned actor George Lazenby. Despite the hard work, they were fun times indeed.

Until the 80's, being a model in the industry might have meant only working two to four days a week and many had to supplement their income with a second job. The enjoyable lifestyle was a major upside but proved to be short lived. The business now has transitioned into a far more stressful and competitive business. Some time during the mid 80’s the party was over.

From the late 60’s and into the 80’s models from all over the world would work in countries like Italy for cash, leaving with money stuffed in every conceivable place, hidden from the customs officials in the airports. Those of us staying in hotels such as La Louisiana in Paris or the Arena in Milan became used to raids from the authorities, usually at around 8am, looking for models working without ‘Work Permits’. Fierce competition between agents, particularly in Milan, was rumoured to be behind the raids so agencies started to form world-wide chains in order to give the models more payment security.
Hence, one of the main reasons models in the 80's wanted to join an agency which had booking tables in different countries (such as the Talents and Elite Agencies), was so they could resolve the problem of how and when they were paid. A model working in Milan for a month with an independent agency, for example, would want to leave the day after her last job, but the client would not have paid by then. So the model might be offered a discounted payment by the agent (which many models considered just a polite way of being 'ripped off'). Alternatively, she could have the money transferred to her by way of her model agency 'group'.
The rise of the model agency groups had mixed success. For many models, the concept of being with a small agency, whose bookers have connections in the client world is always preferable, because of the amount of time and effort that they are given to boost their career. For others the chance of being in a bigger agency, that inevitably books more of the big campaigns, gives the model a chance to make client and photographer contacts she might otherwise wait years for in a smaller agency.

Looking back, it also becomes clear how differently things were done then. In the world before the Internet, many aspects of the industry were dealt with more personally. Models, when not at a booking, would spend the week visiting photographers, introducing themselves and leaving a composite card in the hope of getting a future booking. These 'go-see's', as they were known, were unprompted castings. It was largely the photographer's prerogative to choose the models he wished to work with. Today it is the client who has the final say. Digital photography now allows pictures, especially on location shoots, to be client approved on the spot before the model has changed her clothes or the light has been lost. This avoids the past issues photographers may have had with initial rolls of film being turned down and the question of whether the model would have to be paid twice for re-shooting the job.

The old adage that a model is only as good as her last picture holds true, but equally an agency, or rather a booker, is only good for a model if they share some chemistry. In the old days there was a club like atmosphere in the model agencies and the relationship between the model and the booker thrived. However as the business became more competitive, models were no longer encouraged to hang out round the booking tables, lest they pick up information about other girl's rates or contract negotiations. The major modelling agencies don't have time to party when there is big business to be done and serious money to be made.

Modelling schools are still a difficult issue for the top agencies, particularly as some of them also run them. In the 60's Lucie Clayton was considered to be the best such agency and school in London (Jean Shrimpton, Joanna Lumley and Tania Mallet were all former students) but times have changed. Despite the fact that many young girls aspire to be models, the majority who make it, are far more likely to have been 'discovered' than to have graduated from a model school.

In 1974, I spotted a teenager by the name of Sue Baloo in central London and it proved true in her case that getting into modelling can be about who you know. I took her to Lucie Clayton with some of my test shots where she was immediately accepted into the agency and booked by David Bailey for the cover of Linea Italiana within a week. Other famous names who were 'discovered' (although sadly not by me) include Kate Moss who was minding her own business at JFK airport and a 15yr old Naomi Campbell spotted shopping in Covent Garden.

Not every girl with potential is recognized at first. Some of the biggest names in the industry were turned down by their first choice of agency, only to be accepted by their second or third choice. This holds true for Janice Dickinson who despite initial rejection, ended up as the self styled world's first supermodel and boasts 37 Vogue Covers to her name. Tyra Banks was also turned away several times before becoming a huge success and now the host of 'America's Next Top Model'.

The biggest contribution that agents have made in the last 40 years is their upward pressure on model's rates and one man was at the forefront of this, John Casablancas the President of Elite, who challenged the American agencies by replicating his Paris based firm and setting up Elite Model management on their New York turf. This not only led to the model wars of the 1980's but also went a long way towards raising the price a client had to pay for a model to sell the dream.

Under his watchful eye Carol Alt became the youngest girl to secure a cosmetics contract. Brooke Shields made a fortune telling the world that nothing came between her and her Calvin's and Christie Brinkley was signing multi million dollar beauty contracts before the decade was over. No model in the world retiring before 1980 had become a millionaire. Many have since done so and this is entirely thanks to the business acumen of the agents.

For me personally, the biggest change to the industry was the looming threat of the Internet, which was a significant factor in our eventually closing Marlowe Press.

The fabulous technology of the internet made publishing redundant. What had taken us weeks or months to produce using dark rooms, retouchers, printers and binderies was replaced by computer operators - nothing is faster, cheaper or more immediate than the internet for distributing photos and information.

There is a certain irony in that I am now using the very medium which made our publishing redundant, to tell my story and, having spent 3 decades working with the world's most beautiful people, I am happy to share the very best of our photographic archives with you all.

In the beginning there may just have been the model, but now there is a multi-million dollar machine behind the scenes. A machine made up of models, agents, photographers and clients in every corner of the world. A machine that back in 1965, even the most ambitious and forward thinking of us could never have fathomed.

To the industry that gave me so much, I say thank you. Thank you for giving me such a great career and may the model industry continue to give pleasure for many years to come to those special few who face the challenges of the modelling world of the 21st century.


Peter Marlowe January 2007