CARON BRYAN – Interview with the Director of Port City Models & Talent Inc.

Hard work, integrity and a passion for dream chasing has lead Caron Bryan to not only become the Director of her own business – Port City Models & Talent Inc. – but experience life in the fashion fast lane of New York City. Her experience in the fashion world, first as a model and now as an agency director, has allowed her to bear witness to the changes that technology, social media, finance and time have had on the industry. With an innate ability for discovering talent, a knack for networking and a kindness and genuine sense of spirit that makes her a phenomenal force in a fickle industry, Caron Bryan knows the ins and outs of American fashion and entertainment, and is always there to be a mentor and guide for her clients and talent alike.

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Caron Bryan with supermodel and wife of the late David Bowie, Iman.

When did you start Port City Models & Talent Inc. and what initially inspired you to create such a leading agency?

I began developing Port City Models & Talent Inc. in 2000. My good friend’s teen daughter was interested in having some modelling photos taken, and having started out as a model myself, her mom asked for my advice. I offered to take her to a local photographer to help style her for the photos. During that photo session, as I coached her, the photographer asked me why I didn’t start my own Modelling Agency, since he thought I had an unconventional personal ‘city style’ and New York City connections that I had built through the years, which would set me apart from the 4 other Modelling Agencies that already existed in my home state of Maine. Having just finished a 3 year stint as the Director of the Fashion Merchandising Program at a College, I was ready for a new challenge so I decided to give it a go. My goal for Port City Models & Talent was to offer big city edge and influence with an international feel and aesthetic, providing ‘fashion models’ to my clients, who previously had not been represented in my city. Prior to this, the Agencies in the area represented more ‘lifestyle’ and ‘commercial’ models, not those who modelled for, and were spokespersons, for fashion brands.

My Agency evolved from my strong passion and endless hours of relentless marketing in all spheres, as I developed my brand and image. Being a newly single mom of two teen sons, I knew that starting my own modelling agency from the ground up, with no established models or clients, would be a daunting personal risk and challenge. My intense excitement for what I was attempting to build, coupled with scheduling personal meetings with prospective clients and continually attending networking events with my newly-signed models in tow, would be the niche that would set my Agency apart. Social Media did not exist when I founded Port City Models & Talent (except for MySpace which I did utilize for marketing), so pounding the pavement, scouting and recruiting models everywhere I went and distributing my business cards was a necessity. As we all know, technology and the digital world offers significant immediate connections and advantages in marketing a business and brand, but the infectious energy felt when meeting an entrepreneur in person and feeling their passion and inspiration for what they do, will always create rapport and make an enduring impression on those involved and is hard to replicate online. I did no advertising. Instead I wrote ‘fashion insider’ articles for magazines and newspapers regarding my attendance at Fashion Weeks in New York, Music Award Shows in London and taking my clients to the Cannes Film Festival. I made a point of attending all the filming and shoots on which my models were booked. I wanted to ‘walk the walk’ I talked, so that my models knew, that I was an experienced mentor for them in this business. My competitors expressed that they felt I was a, “pioneer in the industry” and this culminated in my receiving the honor of being voted one of ‘Portland’s Most Influential Women’ for putting our city on the fashion map and landscape at that time.

This endeavour of starting my own Agency, of taking a leap and moving into uncertainty and risk, turned out to be period of intense personal growth and individual liberation and fulfillment for me. I experienced the truism, that if you have enough passion involved in an undertaking, stay focused and work hard and develop a thick skin through the inevitable peaks and valleys, each step will build upon itself along the path/rise. There will always also be a need for reassessment, reinvention and brand tweaking, as technology and our culture so rapidly evolves.

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You started your career in fashion as a model. What are some of your best memories from your early career?

My career started when I was in high school and a London based fashion model, who had graced the covers of top magazines throughout Europe, married a lawyer from my hometown of Bangor, Maine. When the couple moved from Paris to Bangor, she started a Model Agency and signed me. Being selected to do my first TV commercial, walk in fashion shows, shoot for catalogues and be signed to travel the country for an auto campaign, were major initial high points (that a very shy young girl pushed herself to do). I found it overwhelmingly exciting and changed the course of my life, affording great growth in confidence to push past limits. My mother had always encouraged me to get a College degree in education (teaching), which I did and I also studied pattern and fashion design, but from the age of 16, I knew in my heart that New York City and the fashion/modelling worlds were where my true career passion and path would await and unfold.

Tell us about some of your stand out model and acting talents and where they have been featured?

One of the most exciting projects for which I booked my models and actors was for the filming of Taylor Swift’s music video ‘Mine’. Five of my models worked with her on-set for a week, following which MTV’s Director of Events called me asking for help in setting up ‘meet and greets’ and with screening an audience of her fans, based on various age groups for a surprise concert Taylor held for us with her band. She was a delight to work with and took all the younger kids booked to ‘Toys R Us’, telling them to shop for an hour and paid for everything they selected.
I’ve booked models for Gwen Stefani, the band Godsmack and assisted in the development of many emerging bands and artists… many of whom are currently working in LA and at a recording studio in Jamaica, through my partnership with Wave-Shaper records. My actors and models have been booked for magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Elle, and been featured in global ad campaigns for Gap, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jeep, Juicy Couture, Estee Lauder, Macy’s, Chase Credit Cards, Nautica, Carnival Cruises, Four Seasons Hotels, Brookstone, LL Bean, Abercrombie & Fitch, Australia’s ‘Tree of Life’ Look Books, New Zealand’s ‘Few’ surf wear and Milan’s ‘Mash’ designer jean line. I’ve sent models for work in Tokyo, Paris, Dublin, Miami, London, LA and Dubai. I have booked my models for New York Fashion Week and have have represented several TV personalities who have been featured on CBS’s ‘Survivor’, MTV’s ‘Real World’, and numerous reoccurring roles on TV shows such as, ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Law and Order’, ‘Guiding Light’ and booked them for major Hollywood films including ‘Message In A Bottle’ with Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood’s ‘Mystic River’ (for which I was also cast in a role with Tim Robbins), and Sandra Bullock’s ‘The Proposal’. Representing TV personalities took me to the 2006 London World Music Awards where I had a spot on the red carpet – Michael Jackson performed and received the Diamond Award for ‘Thriller’ and I interviewed Chris Brown, Andrea Bocelli, Eva Herzigova, Rhianna and other performers.

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Caron with Robert Verdi – TV personality and style expert.

You have been in the fashion, film, modelling, music and fitness industries for many years, starting up a successful business which covers all of these industries. As a business woman, what is your number one mantra when it comes to aspiring to success.

I have a reputation for extreme attention to detail (and perfectionism – although I’m working on that!) and proactively work long hours to train and prepare each of my models and actors regarding industry terminology, who and what names they should know on set prior to attending an audition, as well as what attitude to project and what will be required for wardrobe, etc. My goal is to develop them to be the healthiest, most informed and aware versions of themselves with regards to body, soul, belief and confidence in themselves, as well as to realize the importance of having appreciation for all opportunities given and an attitude of compassion and kindness to their fellow models and prospective clients who may hire them at auditions (no elitist egos/attitudes!).

My small town roots of authenticity, strong moral values and always ‘remembering where I came from’ have guided the philosophy of my career and my approach with those whom I represent, not only as their career mentor, but also being there for personal support as a trusted friend. I believe that in our lives, there are persons who take us to the next level, who introduce us to innumerable possibilities and assist us in tapping into the belief within ourselves and passions within us. They give us the courage to get past formerly believed insurmountable odds and the courage to reach for our dreams and goals. I have always made it my mission to be that impetus/positive influence for the models and talent signed to Port City Models & Talent, Inc. encouraging them to ‘celebrate their talents, follow their dreams passionately, and to reach for the stars!’

How many seasons/years of New York Fashion Week have you attended, and how much has the event and the attitudes of people changed from its inception at Bryant Park to the Lincoln Center, and now to more individual shows at various studios?

I have attended 18 New York Fashion Weeks… 8 at Bryant Park, 8 at Lincoln Center and 2 of the newer fashion week business model, currently in flux, since Sept of 2015. My first Fashion Week was experienced in September of 2006 in the intimate venue of Bryant Park, in the center of Manhattan. The ambiance inside the tents, involving the meeting and rubbing of shoulders with the global press and fashion insiders, was an exhilarating feeling of belonging to a glamorous club of which we were all so grateful to be a part. Champagne was served on trays between shows and the networking and bonding with the international press that took place was some of the best connections I’ve ever made for my business. I could barely wait for the next season when one ended. It was so exciting watching Giuliana Rancic from E! News interviewing designers, rock stars, celebrities and attendees, and to see “which designer they were wearing”. The Afterparties were beyond amazing. My first season at Bryant Park I was invited to Max Azria’s Afterparty at Buddha Bar and a Getty photographer immortalized a ‘Max and I moment’, which was printed for a few publications under the title ‘Celebrities who attended Fashion Week’, which made me feel very special and included. I felt that I was finally in my element – a dream long time envisioned. Another season, I was invited to sit in P Diddy’s VIP booth with his Mom and designer Richie Rich. In the Bryant Park VIP Lounge between shows, I met actress Mandy Moore, rockers Joss Stone and Fergie and as press I had interview access to all the aspiring supermodels who were backstage prepping to walk in the shows. The Bryant Park days of Fashion Week were a thrilling era never to be repeated!

All became very different with the move to Lincoln Center in September of 2010, where Fashion Week was held until February of 2015. The Lincoln Center venue had an impersonal airport lobby feel. Nobody who had attended at Bryant Park felt connected, and felt the event had lost its exclusivity to fashion industry insiders. Ticketing became computerized. Fewer people attended for the shows. Most designers didn’t like the atmosphere within the venues and stopped showing, plus the immediate live-streaming of shows to web sites and blogs was beginning to make the extravagant fees that designers paid to show their collections not worth it. After the third season there, the champagne and wine companies were banned and there was no more networking and mingling between shows, which tremendously took away from the enjoyment and value of the event. February 2015 saw an end to an era of New York Fashion Week, as we knew it.

Now with the ever-growing roster of emerging designers requiring more space and with approximately 400 shows being spread out all over the city – leaving editors, buyers and press running uptown and downtown trying to locate all the various venues – the feeling is widespread that this navigating of new venues is a huge unnecessary waste of time. IMG Media now owns both New York and MADE Fashion Weeks… MADE being the ‘downtown cool’ designer roster of shows held at Milk Studios in the West Village. New York Fashion Week happens twice a year in New York, once in February and September and brings approximately 232,000 people to the city (2015) according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The influx of fashionistas, celebrities and traffic jams impact the city’s finances in a big way, typically being the city’s biggest revenue driver bringing in $900 million (USD). This has a huge economic impact on NY’s economy and its residents. Fashion Week brings in even more money than the New York City Marathon, the US Open and the (2014) Super Bowl in New Jersey.

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Caron with designer Richie Rich and fashion squad.

How much has social media changed the fashion and modelling worlds?

The entire industry is in a period of disruption, evolution and experimentation with designers and attendees attempting to apply and utilize technology. The point of Fashion Week was to promote collections to editors, retailers and press 6 months before they hit stores. This objective has become lost in the age of instant online accessibility. Designers now run the risk of fast fashion retailers knocking off their collections at highly discounted prices long before the 6 month window that has been the norm to get them in the stores. There are Snapchat channels bringing collections straight to consumers. The MADE Fashion Week Shows this past September offered designs from The Blonds and Patricia Field to buyers directly off the runway following their shows. IMG offered ‘The Shop at NYFW – The Shows’, which featured purchasable designs open to the public. Many designers for the past two seasons have done ‘see-now, wear-now’ pop up collections on Google. Others have traded exclusive runway shows for creative ways to tie in the ‘experience culture’ for easy loading of the designs to Instagram to those with an influential social media following. Tommy Hilfiger transformed the South Street Seaport into a ‘Tommy Pier’ carnival complete with a ferris wheel tapping into this ‘see now, buy now’ movement, featuring top model Gigi Hadid. A ‘shoppable live stream’ coincided on tommy.com as models walked the runway in real-time. All pieces were available to shop immediately after the show, both online and in retail stores across the globe. This past season was the first iteration of bringing NYFW to the streets for the people.

In this new media landscape, fashion is more accessible than ever and society continues to be fascinated by fashion, fame, celebrity and expressing their own personal style to the masses through social media. Just when fashion was becoming a vibrant force in popular culture and attracting a new generation of designers, the current model seems to be losing relevance and focus. Fashion Week has been in an existential branding crisis over the past few years and is experimenting with a multitude of approaches in an attempt to embrace and adapt to all the changes social media will continue to bring to the industry. Industry strategists are reflecting upon whether Fashion Week should be primarily a theatrical marketing event for brands and for bloggers who channel the collections directly to consumers. Should it remain relatively exclusive or be free to all who purchase a ticket? Should it be a trade show for editors, buyers and brands to launch their collections to retail markets? These questions remain unanswered and all is in experimental mode for the next few seasons.

As far as how social media has affected the modelling world… these days, not only has Instagram become an extension of a model’s portfolio, but also their social influence. The number of Instagram followers a person has, and the number of comments/likes they receive per post, is now one of the most influential factors in getting booked. Instagram has rapidly evolved into an interactive digital lookbook for aspiring models. Many brands and agencies see it as a much more “natural” insight into not only a person’s appearance, but their everyday lifestyle as well. The social network has reshaped the landscape of both marketing and fashion modelling, and its effects will be felt for many years to come. Marc Jacobs was one of the first brands to really make use of this shift, when it used Instagram as the means to cast its Spring/Summer 2015 campaign. Nadia Rahmat, a Singaporean model with Arabian and Indian heritage, won the contest and was chosen out of 50,000 people. “Street-casting” has become less and less effective for Agents. In New York, scouting is very difficult. If you’re attractive or cool and you’re scouted in Soho, then you’re probably already a model… it’s very hard to discover raw talent on the street anymore. Agents do more scouting online now. Agents and many clients now consider a model’s social media presence to determine which model can best promote their products and reach consumers.

Caron with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt // With TV personality & stylist Carson Kressley

What are the most outrageous, spectacular, kind or dramatic experiences you’ve encountered backstage at fashion week?

I have had many amazing experiences backstage – interviewing, congratulating and being inspired by so many – from experienced designers, newer emerging talents, teams of stylists, rock stars and celebrity front row friends – as well as having the opportunity to look through the designs hot off the runway. I’ve also enjoyed the buzz of watching my models and others being prepped by the hair and make-up teams for their runway debut; it is a world that is hard to put into words. The entire experience is like a sneak peek into a world of fantasy twice a year, which you feel so fortunate to experience and it carries your spirit away from the routine of everyday life. Some of my most memorable moments include: Rolling Stone Magazine interviewing DJ Samantha Ronson while her twin sister, designer Charlotte Ronson, was being photographed by multiple press outlets. Brazilian rock star, Seu Jorge putting on a mini concert, as actor Bill Murray sung along. Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue, Carmen Electra, supermodel Petra Nemkova and the ‘The Real Housewives of New York City’ shaking hands with my team and I while my model Taylor, who walked in 4 shows during that particular Fashion Week, is being photographed with Heidi Klum. All the creative worlds collide backstage. It’s a magnificent, fabulous ‘networking’ scene. Everyone there, from the models to the press, are feeling the magic simultaneously.

You have had the opportunity to interview many celebrities, models and artists in your time. Who has been the most iconic that you’ve encountered?

I’ve interviewed fashion designers Max and Lubov Azria, Tracy Reese, Rachel Zoe, Charlotte Ronson, Christian Siriano and many others through the years, as well as attended their amazing dinner parties (which get more over-the-top each season and are fantastic networking opportunities for marketing my business and obtaining new clients). One of my favorite moments was interviewing supermodel Iman for my fashion column in the VIP Lounge at Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week. It was for the launch of her exotic fabric collection, ‘Iman Home’, inspired, she told me, “by the global cultures encountered during her extensive travels, as a model and by her Somalian heritage.”

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Caron with designer Christian Siriano.

What advice would you give to aspiring models?

Young aspiring models need to get as much experience as possible in their hometowns – shoot a variety of photographs (and videos) from many different photographers’ points of view, incorporating a wide variety of make-up and hair looks, wardrobe, backgrounds and lighting – before heading to the larger markets. Every experience on a shoot helps them to become more comfortable with expressing themselves. They loosen up and become able to morph into the chameleons they need to be in order to express moods deep from within their soul through their eyes and expressions, that will allow them to sell and endorse products for future clients. Any type of additional acting work, stage experience (dance, pageants, etc.) will be a plus, since modelling depends not only upon physical attractiveness, but also charisma, personality and an ability to project a variety of moods to the camera. Attitude, reliability and intelligence are also key to any model’s success and in the end, whether or not an aspiring model or actor makes it to superstar status, the belief in themselves they will gain along the way can never be taken away from them and may open doors to other opportunities within the fashion and entertainment industries. The gaining of confidence a young person develops from putting themselves ‘out there’ in this field, in the pursuing of a dream, cannot be underestimated.

What is next for Caron Bryan – the woman and her agency?

I’m looking to further incorporate technology and social media into my collaborations with clients to sync talented, influential models, actors, musicians and personalities with brands via social platforms and I’m developing a blog and have some other projects currently in the works (including writing a book). I’m always keeping my eyes open for new opportunities and purposeful challenges and partnerships, still in keeping with my original goal of coaching, developing and mentoring those whom I represent to fulfill their highest potential and dreams. That has always been and will continue to be my mission in any future iteration of Port City Models & Talent. Surrounding myself with a variety of innovative and creative people who open my eyes to a variety of global experiences and viewpoints prevents burning out and ineffectiveness. I also want to determine how I can utilize my talents and business to fill a need in society. I have particularly enjoyed my time working with ‘Dress for Success’, the organization that assists women on the road to financial self-sufficiency by providing donated workplace attire and producing charity fashion show benefits for a variety of causes and look forward to doing more of that in the future.

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The ‘Mover + Shaker Couch’ at New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011 (September 2010).

QUICK RANDOM ONES

If you could swap jobs with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
Heidi Klum or Anthony Bourdain – they are multi-talented people whom I greatly admire, who have curated their talents and passions into stimulating businesses and TV shows.

All time favourite designer?
Donatella Versace: for her edgy rock n’ roll rule breaking and rebellious design aesthetic.

Christian Siriano: who emerged from Project Runway and whose glamorous red carpet designs appeal to many (Michelle Obama wore one of his dresses at the Democratic Convention).

Best fashion week show?
The Barbie 50th Anniversary Show @ Bryant Park in February 2009 was the most fun and flamboyant show I’ve attended from past seasons. ”Doll Parts” by Courtney Love/Hole opened the show that represented Barbie through the decades… from glamorous to hipster to fashionista to Barbie of the future… with every ‘real life’ Barbie model, who strutted the runway, wearing an outfit designed by a different Designer. Barbie of the future wore metallics and funky clear vinyl with the most outrageous look being designed by Bob Mackie (Cher’s own iconic gown designer). The excitement in the tents was unbelievable as all the attendees were gifted with a limited edition debut ‘Barbie Fashion Model’ doll.

Favourite place on earth?
New York City: the fashion, glamour, diverse culture, inspirational vibrant energy, breathtaking rooftop views and tribes of fellow dream seekers.

Favourite fashion trend?
I tend to wear a uniform of black coupled with animal prints (I am very partial to zebra). I express my personal style with accessories such as an oversized belt, statement jewelry, killer shoes and perhaps wildly patterned stockings. I try to push the envelope just a bit, without being over the top and most importantly not being defined by any rules or age. My favorite look is glam rock and I own lots of moto leather jackets, leopard (faux) fur coats, Hervé Leger bandage dresses and skirts, fringed and studded handbags and over the knee boots. I believe that personal style is about looking good, feeling your best and showing that presence and ‘comfortable in your skin’ sensibility to the world. Having cool style is not about following the trends, but instead incorporating a few that ‘speak to you’, into what you already own. How something fits you can make or break your look. If you don’t sew and cannot alter items that you buy yourself, your tailor should become your best friend. I alter almost all the items that I buy, so that they will fit me perfectly, even my leather jackets. It makes a huge difference in the confident personal style statement you make to the world and how you are seen.

Best place in Manhattan for a cocktail?
Top of the Standard Hotel/Boom Boom Room (breathtaking 360 views of NY).
Electric Room beneath the Dream Downtown Hotel (after 2AM).

First celebrity inspiration?
Cher: admired her rebelliousness and outspokenness.

Biggest vice?
Roof-hopping until dawn in New York with the fashion crowd, perfectionism in everything I do and not getting enough sleep (due to insomnia), although I do believe that life-changing random adventures often only happen after 2AM, when the rest of the world is sleeping.

 

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