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Quality Over Quantity, When Being A Model Was Exclusive, Oliver Smiles Shares His Story

Quality Over Quantity, When Being A Model Was Exclusive, Oliver Smiles Shares His Story

Last minute phone calls, castings, adrenaline, parties and fame. This is what people think about modelling. But, have you ever wondered what being in the skin of a real model feels like?

Keep reading to hear Oliver’s story, where he shares his most memorable experiences, gives advice for aspiring models and where his inspiration comes from. He also shows how the exclusivity of modelling and being a model has changed over the years and to what extent the industry is not how it used to be before.

”I think that instagram has come through a way that it produces more quantity rather than quality. There is so much push and demand to publish on a daily basis. A decade ago models would have to go through a professional process to prepare a campaign and wait even for months to receive the photos of their shoot because the photographer would prepare the pictures and carefully select them”. 

Either you make the cut or you don’t. That’s it. Oliver Smiles started his career 8 years ago, when he moved from the Midlands to London to follow the path of his career.

‘’One thing that I have learnt about fashion is that you must always remember who you are working with, you must remember who you have in the room’’.

People think that modelling is easy, when actually it requires a lot of commitment, lots of heartache and sadly, sometimes rejection.


How did you start modelling?

I started modelling when I was 20 years old. I was scouted by the owner of Select models on a train station platform in the Midlands, my dad and I we were both on the way down to London. The owner approached to me and said ‘’ You might think this is weird but I own a model agency and I would love that you become part of it’’.

That was when everything started… I just remember sitting on the train with pure excitement. I would keep asking my dad: ‘’ Should I go and speak to her?, What should I do? ” . I went and talked to her and she gave me a business card and told me that someone would call me within the next two weeks.

Once I got to Euston station I walked to Camden with my dad and I got a call. It was from Select Models and they wanted me to go to the agency and meet the team. It was very inspiring, being selected by one of the best. I got a taxi straightaway to ‘’Mortimer street’’; which is where the agency is based. I remember being greeted by everyone, I was very nervous, I have never been so ‘’exposed’’ and I was also very shy at that age… As a young kid that was a bit overwhelming and it felt so unreal. They took me to the back of the studio and took some digitals they were very helpful and gave me tips to relax.

© Oliver Smiles

What do you think about modelling today, do you think the ”Generic Model” type still exists?

No. I think that it is great to see instagram models and see that more content is being created. However, I also think that this over production of content creation eliminates the exclusivity. Don’t get me wrong, it is great that people create their own brands and advertise them. But for me, being an instagram model or an influencer is not the definition of a ‘’ real model’’. I feel more connected to how modelling used to be and I put a lot of effort in my career, I engage with the photographer and follow their directions…I think that is not about the followers, it is about the engagement, and that comes back right at how the classic model from for example the 80’s used to be. I think that when you look at people like Paul Newman or Naomi Campbell you already picture them and automatically associate them with the ”Classic model” type.

Do you think this is going to change? Will the ‘’Generic- Classic Model” type return?

Photographers will always be seen as the creators but in regards to models I don’t think that the whole TV star, Instagrammer, Influencer or Press Reality TV ”Model” will survive, because in a few years time they might perceive it as fake, it does not really portray any emotions. The exclusivity has gone.

Do you think that the scouting process has changed?

I would say that my story is a bit different than others, some models were scouted on festivals or even at the tube… Nowadays finding or scouting a model via instagram is more accessible. The lack of uniqueness also eliminates how models are paid these days and therefore it is cheaper. Previously there were some rate guidelines but now they are inexistent. Everyone can have an Instagram account but maybe nowadays the only way to feel or grasp the ‘’realism’’ of being a model could be when you make it to a catwalk, they are great to be exposed and be seen and they can lead you to be booked for a campaign.

© Oliver Smiles

What is your opinion about instagram models?

Everyone nowadays can say ‘’ take this shot, it is for instagram’’, you do not even require the vision of a photographer. But when Instagram was not there; being a model was a completely different business that would require more knowledge and listening and understanding to the photographer’s directions, you clearly needed to have connection with the photographer and understand each other… One thing that I have learnt throughout the years is to keep your eyes in line with the camera. Looking over the camera gives depth into the picture.  Looking intensely into the camera is more of an emotional shot and if you look out of the camera either left or right you are giving a story. 

What do you wear to castings?

One thing that I have learnt from castings is wear clothes that fit you; don’t wear a t-shirt that is too baggy, you definitely don’t want to walk in looking like a skater boy, you are there to show yourself and show your definition, you are a model. They want to see a blank canvas so don’t wear logos, simplicity is key. Make sure that you look fresh and wear clean clothes, you need to show the brand that you are committed.

What has been one of your best casting experiences?

I actually would like to highlight two, which have been the best casting experiences that I have ever had, they were both for fashion week.

I remember being in Gare du Nord terminal and I had a motorbike waiting for me to take me to the casting. It was a ”Moto” taxi (Laughs) this was all new. It left me right in front of the building to practise for the Belurti catwalk. Everyone greeted me, styled me, gave me the clothes and then I did the walk. Again, going back to exclusivity, I was a new face by then and that is also when new faces were pushed. 

The second one is quite of a story, imagine; last minute call for Armani. I was requested, which was a great thing!

I got there and there were around 800 models waiting at the Armani headquarters. I just remember the main man Giorgio Armani on his chair watching everybody. My main advise is to always keep your eye-line level and never look down. It was a great Fashion Week and such an amazing catwalk.

© Oliver Smiles

What are you thinking about during the Catwalk?

I know how long a catwalk is and trust me, it is no short. It is 30 seconds of pure adrenaline and it takes a lot of practise and knowledge. It is like walking down a path not knowing when it is going to end because there is so much adrenaline built up before the catwalk. Think about it, you have hours and hours of preparation, they take you through makeup, hair, practise…But when you are actually doing the catwalk it involves professionalism and focus, you are not thinking about who is looking at you or how your face is looking at that point , you are thinking about ‘’ How am I holding the bag, how am I standing, how am I walking ? 

Who is the most inspiring person that you still in contact with?

I would like to mention David Gandy, he is one of the most humble models that I have had ever met. I met him on day 4 in Select Models and David Gandy was there. I knew exactly who he was , I have been watching his work for years. We both spoke and he was so friendly. We also used to train in the same gym, now we have a good friendship and still keep in contact. I have learned from David’s advice that you should always give people a chance and if you can help them to succeed you should, specially in this business because I have seen how people can evolve in such a quick time or come crashing down because their ego has gotten the better of them.

Is it all glam and Fame? What are the parties like?

On the party side of things, it is great to be invited, people will wonder about you and the projects that you have done. When I was 21 I would meet really cool makeup artists, hairdressers, content creators, magazine owners… It would be a room full of artists sharing the same passion. I have been to great parties and met amazing people, but… has it brought me work from the parties? No. 

The right place to meet and network in the 90’s was for example Cafe Boheme, in London. Writers, creators would sit down and have a conversation. It was more exclusive. Nowadays these venues are based on a more ”exposed’’ location. Whereas before, you would go to these hotspots that nobody new about, they were more private, more secret… For example ”San Lorenzo”; an Italian restaurant in knightsbridge. 

Do you have a favourite style of clothing? Do you follow trends?

I have always dressed in bright  pastel colours. Colours are a mood lifter for me, I don’t like to wear black on black. I even wear something colourful to a casting and take it off right before I walk in, it just sets me in my right mood and helps me. I have always liked to follow my own trend and be myself.

© Oliver Smiles

Is there a model you think you resemble?

I look at myself as a mature classic style model. I think that when it comes to for example; Paul Sculfor, it is all quite similar; we both share this classic pilot style and he has a taste for cars as well, such as: Aston Martins, Ferraris… he is a very cool guy. I shot an article with him in New York and the photos were taken by Mariano Vivianco, he is another person that I admire too, he is an exceptional photographer.  

Any tips for aspiring models?

  1. When you are going to a casting make sure that you turn up on time or even earlier, you don’t know how many people there are going to be there and what your time slot is going to be. When you walk in show great energy and passion. Make sure they remember you.
  2. Always look presentable and definitely smell good. Keep a travel bag with deodorant, aftershave…
  3. Invest in yourself, your clothing, your footwear, the creams you use… All of these factors are really important, you want to give a good impression. You have to vision that you are applying to a multimillion dollar casting and so you want to give your best. 
  4. If you go to parties, go to the quality ones, who knows? You might meet someone at that party that might give you tips or even want you for a campaign.
  5. Never ever, ever discriminate anyone in a room, everyone in there is there for a job. Also, stay on your own lane and your path because you are your own challenge, so never compare yourself to any of the models.
  6. Get the names of the people in the room such as like; the Assistant, the Photographer, the Art Director, the Stylist… try to remember them, because you are not going to look professional if you don’t remember it. Just imagine, a few months later you might be asked :”Who was the stylish, I love the clothes, who styled it?”. If you don’t know you won’t look as interested or professional. 

What kind of music do you listen to?

Music reflects the mood you have. It clearly keeps me focused and balanced. I listen to a lot of calming and relaxing music, this helps for preparation and relax before castings as well . I don’t like fast music, I listen to music that gives me a beep though. For example: Cafe de Anatolia is one of my favourite music labels, it keeps me very focused.

How do you maintain yourself and your physique?

The biggest thing for models is a balanced diet and sleep. Make sure you have enough sleep. Sometimes you can be shooting for 12 hours and the next day you are going to feel very tired.  When I am on set early I always try to have a good breakfast in the morning. For example, a banana helps me with potassium and helps me to keep more energy throughout the shoot.

Also exercising is key, I have been training for a long time and it takes a long time to learn to know your body.  It is all about having a balanced diet and not eating junk food such as; pizzas, tacos, burritos… You can never be sure what the client wants at the time. For example, I was asked to lose weight on my first Paris shoot and then I was told to put on weight when I moved to New York.

What I recommend is to listen to your body, make sure that you get your nutrients. It is good to have a routine.

See Also

© Oliver Smiles

What creams do you use? Any recommendations?

Creams are really important, sometimes I get gifted ones and sometimes I find that they might or not work for me.

However, I prefer to buy my own creams, the Tom Ford skin care range is great. If I invest in a brand I want to invest in a brand that is growing… Who knows? You could even become a brand ambassador or collaborate with that label. Before, models were associated to a certain brand, you would automatically relate the model with it. Although, nowadays it is a different game; everyone can become a brand ambassador on Instagram and get a 20% off but it is not how it used to be…

For the face I like to us Dr. Sebaugh Foaming Moisturiser as we as the Tom Ford concealer and eyebrows tinter. 

If you want more hydration and feel fresh Loreal Men Expert Hydra Energetic Anti- Fatigue Moisturiser is one of my favorites, it is so light! 

For hairstyling I like to use American Crew, they are one of my favourite products.

Oh! And another essential which I recommend is Creme de la Mer as well.

We heard that some of you passions are cars. Which one is one of your favourites?

Absolutely, I do have a passion for cars and if I would have to pick a classic car it would be a ‘’ Mercedes Pagoda 280 SL” in beige or a cream tone… I absolutely adore it. 

Where does this passion come from?

Cars have been in my blood since I was born, this will never leave me. I love cars and their look. I remember being with my dad in the car and imaging racing, I would buy car magazines, etc…

I feel very fortunate and lucky because I have been able to buy my dream car, my Defender, which I will never be able to get rid off because I have worked so hard for it that it resembles a memory.

One thing that I have learned throughout the path is to not expend all the money you earn but if you desire something like a car or a watch, go and buy it because it’s a memory and a representation of your success.

© Oliver Smiles

Given that you get the chance to travel a lot, what has been your most memorable trip/place to visit? 

New York and Barbados

They are both very different places, why?

I felt in love with Barbados because their music taste is relevant to my lifestyle, the Caribbean cooking; their food style is great. It is also a slow paced lifestyle which I enjoy because it reflects my life. I am very laidback and relaxed.

In my professional and working lifestyle I definitely pick New York. Essentially because of the networking but also because you can walk anywhere and you don’t necessarily need to use the tube, which is wonderful.

Where will be your next move?

It is between New York and Istanbul, I have a great deal set up in New York and I hope that after this lockdown and Coronavirus the economy recovers and that models are seen more exclusively instead of this instagram typical model.

This article was written by Claudia Villarrubia, the Chief Creative Officer here at The A-Z Bible.

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