The big-time modelling agent is asked to name his favourite celebrity and he flashes an impish grin. It screams his reluctance to strike the pose of the prototypical big-time modelling agent.
“Jesus Christ,” replies Kelly Streit – and this is a man who has hobnobbed with celebrities such as Madonna.
His favourite book?
“The Bible,” says the chief executive officer of Mode Models, smiling at the irony.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Modelling agent Kelly Streit finds talent in parking lots and shopping centres.|
“Doesn’t that sound wild coming from a modelling agent? It freaks people out.”
His favourite pastime?
“Reading magazines,” blushes the affable 34-year-old Calgary entrepreneur, who hails from the Alberta hitching post of Innisfail. “How shallow is that, right?”
His favourite movie?
“Forrest Gump!” exclaims Streit. “Gee, I loved his outlook on life,” adds Streit (pronounced Strite).
“Like he’s the president of a company and I think that was important, ya know. Cool.”
1. What is your fondest memory of a boyhood in small-town Alberta?
“I would say it was probably managing our KISS rock band in Innisfail when I was in Grade 5. I would promote these concerts in my friend’s basement and charge 50 cents to get in. I guess that was an early indication that I was going to be managing and promoting talent of some sort. It’s not surprising that I’m doing this because I was always taking pictures of interesting-looking people whom other people would say are the ugly ducklings or the odd-looking people. More than anything, I wanted to be successful so I could have nice things.”
2. Because of your flamboyancy and reluctance to fit the mould of a small-town kid, how were you treated in high school?
“Innisfail is a total small town and they just didn’t get my whole thing, ya know, being interested in models, being flamboyant and dressing in wild clothes. I started getting persecuted and teased and bugged. It was tough, but the good thing was that it made me very driven and motivated to succeed. They’d call you queer, freak and prep. They’d yell, ‘preppies suck!’ One time, they took the tires off my car and put them on the hood of the car to see if I could change the tires. But I didn’t. I called a tow truck to put the tires on just to show ’em that I was one up on ’em.”
3. What advice would you give to kids who are tormented by teasing?
“To me, obstacles always built tenacity. When I speak to young kids about entrepreneurship, I tell them obstacles build tenacity. If they can push through those things and stay focused on who they are and what they like, they’re going to be much better for it.”
4. Who has had the greatest influence on your life?
“My wife Stephanie (Mode Models international agency director). We were married on Jan. 26 of this year. She’s just rock solid. She’s got the ability to process things and think about things and rationalize things so much better than me that she’s had a huge impact on the person that I want to become. She handles the managing and directing of the international careers.”
5. How difficult was it to keep Mode Models afloat in the early years?
“It was just unreal financially. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, and drinking champagne on a beer budget, and wearing Versace clothes when I could barely afford the Gap. I would just go buy whatever I felt I needed to buy to look the part and play the part. Then, the cheque would bounce and I’d deal with that later. I lived on the whole premise of easier to ask forgiveness than permission. It wasn’t an easy road. The best advice I’d give a young entrepreneur is to do things right – develop the business plan, look at the market, test it, check it.”
6. What was the turning point for Mode Models?
“It was when I realized it really was going to be a business. When Tricia Helfer won the supermodel-of-the-world contest (1992), I started to realize that this isn’t just an ego thing and this isn’t just about me being so good at finding models. At that point, I started to try and run things like a business and I had to get business consultants involved. Now, business is booming. It has slowed a little since Sept. 11 (terrorist attacks) because of the impact on advertising, but not as much as I thought it would.”
7. Where did you get the knack for spotting talent?
“It was something I was born with. I can look at a person and see how they would look flat, on paper, and that’s a gift. There are a lot of faces that we think are gorgeous, but they’re not all model material because they’re too good looking and the face is fleshy. A more hollow, bony face doesn’t look so good in person, but those are the ones that turn out to be fantastic.”
8. Where are the most unusual places that you’ve discovered models?
“Parking lots, shopping centres, you name it. I’ll be in the middle of a conversation and I’ll say: ‘Just a second,’ and I’ll go and hand out a card or I’ll see someone in a parking lot, pull into an alley, roll down my window and hand them my card. I’m sure they’re thinking: ‘What a weirdo.’ ”
9. Is this work?
“It’s really a hobby. What I do is part of me. I love Mode Models.”
10. What’s the hot look in models today?
“It’s sort of a hard look – like raw and edgy. It’s a face that has those classic features with a really hard-core haircut or not a stitch of makeup on and kind of ’80s Duran Duran sort of punky edge to them. It’s the whole sort of resistance to the norm. That’s what you see in the Club Monaco and Gap windows and anything you would consider fashion forward.
But the mainstream catalogues like The Bay, Sears, Eddie Bauer and Tommy Hilfiger haven’t changed. They will always like the classic all-American beauty.”
11. Beyond good looks, what’s the most important trait in a model?
“It’s an outgoing personality. There are a lot of girls that the world would call ugly who are making it very big right now. They’ve got the lanky body, the perfect body and a very outgoing personality. But you can’t teach everything. You can’t make them understand how to sort of have an arresting beauty in a camera.”
12. When you first set eyes on supermodel Tricia Helfer when she was a 16-year-old farm girl from Donalda, Alberta, did you see the enormous potential?
“Immediately. The second I saw her. I just knew right then, wow! Because her skin was like milk and her eyes were very coy and she just kind of had this soft demeanor about her.”
13. How much do your top models make?
“They can make up to $1 million a year and Tricia has had years where she has made over $1 million (the agency’s commission is five to 15 per cent). Tricia has moved to L.A. and she’s shifting into acting. I’d say Amanda Jensen is our best future model. She’s already the Guess? girl and she’s only 15.”
14. Can your top models lead a normal life and eat cheesecake?
“No, you can’t eat cheesecake. No. No. To be a top model, you have to fit the sample sizes and if you can’t fit the sample sizes, you can’t model. They have to eat well and work out five days a week. The perks are travel, money, all kinds of glamorous parties, meeting famous people. Plus, you can work five years and not have to work for the rest of your life. The average career for a girl is five to 10 years and it can be 20 years for a guy.”
15. What’s your vision for Mode Models?
“We’d like to expand more in the United States (currently, Portland has the only U.S. agency). We’d like to go into San Francisco and somewhere in Idaho. I like to go into these discreet regions and find the face of the future. You want to go where you can find fresh faces and develop them. There are not as many fresh faces coming out of the bigger markets. But we don’t plan on moving our head office from Calgary. We love Calgary.”
16. What has this business taught you about life?
“It has taught me that a person has to know what I call their true north. What I mean is that they have to know what their moral guideline is. I believe that in modelling and in fashion and in our business that is so fickle and so bitchy and so back-biting, that if you know who you are and who you really report to, you’re going to be just fine. I started off really young playing the whole game, but then I learned about my true north, which made it easier to make decisions and to get through life. And that’s what we teach our models. When you go into a modelling audition, you become a ghetto blaster. And people pick apart your features. They’re going to like your bass and hate your treble, they’re going to like the way your speakers look and they may not like your handle. So if you can objectify yourself and not listen to what that photographer is saying about your appearance and simply treat yourself like a commodity, you’re going to be fine. So they need a true north so they can say: ‘That doesn’t matter, God doesn’t look at me any differently.’ ”
17. What are your spiritual beliefs?
“I believe in God and I believe prayers are answered. But I hate the word religion. Religion is something that has caused a lot of problems in the world. People get religious (about) something and they have no flexibility and I think that’s a big problem.”
18. If you could snap your fingers and change one thing in the world, what would it be?
“The thing that I’d love to change is to have everyone have faith in God. I believe that if you live by those 10 Commandments, it would be a really nice place to live. Nobody is going to be able to do it perfectly, but, if you’re trying to do it, then that means if you screw up, you’ll apologize for it or, if you make a terrible mistake, you’ll try and rectify it. And that doesn’t exist nowadays. A lot of people, if they make a mistake, they try and cover it and, if they do something awful, they try and justify it. And that’s not so cool.”
19. What do you see in your life’s crystal ball?
“I see kids. I want to have kids. I see more Mode Models offices. I see us being more organized. I see better managing of models. And I see more supermodels.” 20. Would you let your daughter grow up to be a supermodel?
“Absolutely, if she wanted to do it. This whole thing about this business destroying people is a joke, because we don’t have that problem. If the kid is brought up properly and doesn’t want to get into drugs and all that stuff, she just won’t. The ones who want to get into it will get into it in Calgary or in Stettler. The point is that it’s the individual, not the industry. You have lots of lawyers that do coke (cocaine) and stuff like that to stay up all night because they’re trying to get through all these deadlines. You have all kinds of infidelity happening in offices because of unhappy marriages. So it’s not just the modelling business that is full of debauchery, it’s the world.”
IN PROFILE: Kelly Streit
* Born/raised/age: Wetaskiwin, AB; Stettler, Rocky Mountain House, Innisfail, AB; 34.
* Title: CEO, Mode Models International.
* Education: Innisfail High School.
* Family: Wife Stephanie.
* Career: Streit founded Mode Models in Red Deer in 1987 and was also lead model scout for Ford Models New York from 1987-92. While overseeing agencies in Calgary, Edmonton and Portland, Ore., he also scouts, photographs and promotes models, as well as producing fashion shows.
* Community: Streit is a member of the boards of the Calgary Opera Association and Alberta College of Art & Design, a member of the Glenbow Museum’s steering committee for fund-raising events and fund-raising event co-ordinator for Alberta Breast Cancer Research. Mode Models has produced numerous fund-raising shows for groups such as The Kids Help Phone, the Calgary Board of Education's Commission on Literacy, the Northern Alberta Centre for Chronic Lung Disease and AIDS Calgary.
* Awards: Streit won the 2000 Pinnacle Business Award and has been recognized for philanthropic contributions by the National Society of Fund-raising Executives.
THE COMPANY: Mode Models International
* Brass: Kelly Streit, CEO; Bill Giofu, agency director; Stephanie Streit, international agency director; Brenda Rains, Edmonton agency director.
* Profile: Mode Models locates, develops, manages and places modelling talent in world fashion markets from agencies in Calgary, Edmonton and Portland. The agency's discoveries include long-time supermodel Tricia Helfer from Donalda, AB, Ford Models supermodel Kim Renneberg of Calgary, Paul Greene of Wetaskiwin, who has appeared for Tommy Hilfiger, and current Guess? girl Amanda Jensen of Portland.
* Web site: www.modemodels.com
* Calgary Head Office: #400, 933 17th Ave. S.W., Calgary, AB T2T 5R6; phone/fax 403-216-2770, 403-216-2771.