A Brief History of Modelling, Marlowe Press & The Evolution of Model Publicity in Europe

by Peter Marlowe © November 2016

In 2016 it is not easy to be anonymous. Most of us are just a few clicks away from being found. If you see a pretty girl in a magazine, chances are she is on Instagram; you can follow her on twitter; maybe she has her own You Tube Channel. Models today are everywhere. They are not just reclining on the pages of a glossy magazine. They are posting videos of their photo shoots, hash-tagging what they just ate (#notmuch) and saying ‘don’t just look at me. Follow me.’  If a client wants to book a model, they only need to access the agencies website and they will have hundreds of photos to choose from but the life of a model was not always this way.

Before the early 1960’s model talent was essentially synonymous with debutant types working as mannequins, often as full-time employees for a haute couture house. Even the successful models of the 1950’s and early ‘60s, such as Dovima or Carmen Dell’Orefice, lived in relative obscurity and would be only recognised by name to those within the fashion community. In terms of self-promotion, the model would arrive armed with a glossy photo with all her measurements and contact details written by hand on the back and use these prints as hand-outs to get more work. Often 4 of her best photos would be pinned to a board and photographed so the print she handed out would contain multiple images which was the closest she might get to having some type of portfolio.

Before 1965 modelling was still in its infancy in Europe and America, and almost nobody knew what was happening on the other side of the pond. 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. The prevailing Napoleonic law, in countries like France and Germany, declared it illegal for model agents to take a percentage of someone's earnings, so in Austria for example, models used ‘model sekretariats’ which were just a secretarial and telephone answering service. Unlike today when photographs and images are everywhere, in the 50’s and early 60’s printing in colour was expensive and so there wasn’t the same demand for photographs or for the models to appear in them. Modelling was fairly menial work and poorly paid so it was not generally considered to be a full-time profession which meant the majority of models had a second job.

Promotion-wise, the glossy hand-written photo still prevailed until by chance an alternative presented itself. At the time my girlfriend Ruth Dumer was one of London’s top fashion models and being in demand meant she was endlessly running out of photos. Wanting to help her out I bought some sheets of Letraset transfer lettering and set out a design and some artwork which I took along to a printer in Soho. Using matt paper and 4 of her best photos he made 250 copies which I then folded in half to an A4 size and this ended up becoming the first litho printed Composite on paper in Europe. This simple solution to a problem was such a success that all the other models who saw it wanted it too and I soon realized that this new way of doing things had real potential. This propelled me into working every day with models as a graphic designer, creating artwork for their names and measurements and choosing the best photos to showcase their talent. Marlowe Press opened its doors in late 1965, and I started to work 7 days a week to meet the demand.

In the fifty-one years since those doors first opened there has been a huge transition in the Development of Models Publicity. From the humble beginnings of the hand-written glossy, through the changes that Marlowe Press helped implement in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, right up until the present day when there are pages and pages of digital content that can be easily accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

Back in 1965 modelling was mostly considered a home-town job as very few models travelled in those days due to both the language issues and the differing labour laws. Italy, which at the time published more monthly magazines than any other country in Europe, had a huge need for models and so they were often lured over there ‘off the record’ and paid in cash. It wasn’t unusual for the hotels in Milan to be raided by the authorities looking for models without ‘Work Permits’, with the original tip off sometimes stemming from a rival agency. From the late 60’s and even right up until the 80’s models would work in other countries and having been paid in cash, would have to leave with the money stuffed in every conceivable place hidden from the customs officials in the airports.

By the mid-60s the gradual rise of fashion photography and the increased demand for models to be used in both magazines and TV advertisements meant that there were more jobs on offer although the rates of pay varied widely between them. A Vogue cover, although prestigious was the lowliest paid at about £12, so if you were in the business just to make money, you would have been better off taking jobs that included semi or full nudity which paid the best. Advertising, which was the only type of job that included repeat fees was also well paid, unlike editorial work although that might offer the benefit of better photos or the perk of a trip to Thailand if she was shooting a bikini story. Catalogue modelling, on the other hand, came with no guarantee of a tan but could add up to a decent amount of money if a model was booked for a week or longer at a time. It was not until the very late ‘70s that the big, exclusive cosmetic contracts were to become part of the financial equation and not until the 80’s that Linda Evangelista would claim ‘I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day’.

Male models don’t get much of a mention in the historical accounts of the industry and during the 60’s and 70’s their contribution was often little more than being a prop. The only male models making money during this time were the ones booked for big advertising campaigns, like George Lazenby who started his career as The Malborough Man and who, at 29 years old, became the youngest actor to be cast as James Bond. Male models today still get paid considerably less than their female counterparts and only a few, such as David Gandy, might be recognised by name.

Model Scouting, which is a huge business today, didn’t exist in any formal way back then, so in the 60’s a model might have initially been recommended by another model or been a graduate of Lucie Clayton’s Modelling School (Tania Mallet and Joanna Lumley were both ex-students) or discovered by a photographer like David Bailey or Gunnar Larson. Bailey, who admitted later that the only reason he chose fashion photography was ‘because of the girls’, not only dated but was the one credited with having created the ‘Jean Shrimpton’ look.  The role of the photographer as Svengali and the model as his muse was famously portrayed in the 1966 movie ‘Blow Up’ and being a photographer was now considered a cool way to be a part of the industry. Unlike Cecil Beaton and the other gay photographers from days gone by, Bailey and others such as Terry Donovan and Brian Duffy had a far more hands-on appreciation of the female form.

When Marlowe Press first opened for business the type of cover girl who was in hot demand bore little resemblance to the debutantes that came before her. Models like Twiggy, who at 5’6” with a 32” bust and a boy’s hair-cut had turned the classic model mould on its head. There were girls like Edie Sedgwick, Jean Shrimpton, Joanna Lumley and Jane Birkin who was one of the few models to have a handbag end up more famous than her. Fashion had introduced ready to wear, a new style of photography exploded on the scene and the music industry was all about sex, drugs and rock n’roll. Rock-stars and Models were a match made in heaven and nowhere more so than in a building at 124 Knightsbridge in London where Marlowe Press had studios on the third floor and record producer Shel Talmy had his studio two floors above. This model/rocker pairing saw couples like Patti Boyd marry George Harrison at the height of his Beatles fame and Anita Pallenberg date both Brian Jones and later Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones.

There was a club like atmosphere in the agencies during the 60’s and 70’s and 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.

In 1967, Gavin Robinson commissioned me to make the first Head -Sheet for his agency which was a 4 and a half-foot-long poster displaying all the models represented by his agency. It was in this same year that Sebastian Sed set up shop in direct competition with Marlowe Press. Whilst I Trade Marked a ‘Models Composite’, Sebastian traded his model cards as ‘Sed Cards’ or when lost in translation Zed Cards. We had other competitors over the years, including two ex-Marlowe Press Art Directors but most, unlike Composites or Sed Cards, disappeared without becoming generic. Sed eventually sold his business to Robert Wheal in 1973, and became a model agent in Hamburg with his partner Dorothee Parker. Their agency Parker Sed became one of Marlowe Press’s best clients which was quite flattering, and having been competitors we then became good friends.

The one consistency across all the promotional material we supplied over the years was the stamp stating it was ‘Printed by Marlowe Press’ which is ironic as I was never a printer and always outsourced this part of the process. However, in those pre-European Union days all items that were going to be exported had to have a stamp stating their origin. Our publicity was always being exported, whether in the back of my Aston Martin, in a huge cargo of freight or in a model’s backpack when she would travel to Europe.

    A Head Sheet published by Robert Wheal showing the pre-EEC requirement ‘Printed by…’


When it came to travel, countries such as Italy were short of models where others, like Scandinavia, 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 pioneered the concept of organised scouting, combing Scandinavia and the rest of Europe in search for the next perfect face and this practice was soon adopted by agents all over the world and is one that still continues today. Discoveries include Kate Moss who was minding her own business at JFK airport, Jourdan Dunn who was shopping at Primark and Gisele Bündchen was found wandering through a Mall in Brazil. Every year some of the world’s largest modelling agencies host product sponsored talent-scouting competitions and others are found via reality TV shows like ‘Make me a Supermodel’ and ‘The Face’. The type of girl they are searching for is dependent on current trends. Then it was leggy blondes whereas now fashion is more likely to dictate an East European girl, like Natalia Vodianova or Irina Shayk.

If a model had already been discovered by an agency in her home town that agency would by default be considered the ‘Mother Agency’ and they would still receive a commission from her work overseas with other agents. Model agencies have always worked on a commission basis which was usually 20% of the fee the model received, which would be shared with the ‘Mother Agency’ if relevant. This structure began to change in 1967, when Marlowe Press was asked to publish the first Directory of the Association of London Model Agents or ALMA, for the forthcoming year entitled MODEL BOOK 68, 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. 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. 

By late 1970 a better filing system for models composites was being considered by Marlowe Press and their competitors. ‘Marlowe Index Cards’ and Sebastian’s ‘Sed Cards’ were launched as an A5 card format, but the idea of coding cards proved a disaster so the concept was abandoned by 1972 in favour of ‘Ring Cards’ .

In 1970 the laws had changed in France and model agents were obliged to become the employer of the model and therefore responsible for her tax.  The agents were also beginning to see the importance of the models publicity, and how a unique but uniform graphic design for all their models composites could help develop their reputation and build their brand. From this point on I began acting as a promotion consultant to Model Agencies, in just the same way an advertising agency would, the difference being that I was a publisher, so I was not buying space for my clients in other people’s magazines. Now that the agents received all the models income direct from the clients they were also in the perfect position to take over payment for all their models publicity, which had the ripple effect of ensuring Marlowe Press was paid on time, so it was goodbye to bad debts and any further financial uncertainty.

The issue of being paid on time was also something that models had to contend with. For example, a model working in Milan for a month with an independent agency, 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’) or have the debt used as a way to lure her back for more work. In 1970 François Lano opened the first Model Agency Group, TALENTS, which would go some way towards fixing this problem and give the model better payment security. Model Agency Groups, which had booking tables in different countries, sprung up during the 70’s and 80’s and continue today with chains such as Elite and IMG.

The 70’s ushered in a fresh batch of Models that caught the collective imagination of the time. There was Jerry Hall, over 6ft tall and brimming with southern charm; there was Cheryl Tiegs, as wholesome as US cherry pie; and there was Janice Dickenson, who despite initial rejection ended up with a career that boasts 37 Vogue Covers. Racial barriers also started to come down with Beverly Johnson paving the way for Iman and others during the decade.

Marlowe Press were now book publishers for model agencies all over Europe (all of which can be seen on this website), and it became increasingly clear that to attract good models an agency needed a good book. One man who took excellent advantage of this was John Casablancas who, in 1977, and in keeping with his ambitious plans confided in me that he planned to open an Elite Agency in the US. Until now Ford, Wilhelmina and Zoli were the big three agencies that dominated the US market and were Elite’s partners at his agency in Paris. By plotting to tread on their turf and to do so in secret, would be a huge betrayal and would go on to trigger the legendary ‘Model Wars’ that saw both Ford and Wilhelmina file lawsuits for violation of verbal agreements.

Knowing he needed a campaign that would launch Elite’s arrival in New York, John came to me requesting a low cost, high impact promotion that would make sure it would not go without notice. My concept for getting Elite their slice of the American pie was to have John persuade all his models to agree to order either a single, double or treble composite card at the same time. Any other agent would probably have been met with an uprising from their models, but so devoted to their champion were the models at Elite in Paris that they all agreed without exception. That’s how 4000 books and thousands of model Composite cards descended on the US in the first week of 1978, landing onto client’s desks and reminding the top three agents in New York at the time of the power of good advertising.

Throughout the 80’s Marlowe Press continued to thrive, which was in part due to our success with the Elite Campaign, but also the sheer size and scale of the US market compared to Europe, meant that the number of books and cards being ordered increased by nearly 600%. In 1988, we also invented the ‘Go-See Card’ which I am particularly proud of, as it was another simple solution to a common problem in the industry at the time. Ever since the 1960’s the issue with publishing photographs in colour was the time it took, including getting a proof copy for approval. It occurred to me that if we could create a photographic process that could expose a sandwich of photo and text film, then we might be able to print high-quality glossy prints in a matter of hours. Thankfully I found a talented photographic technician, Simon Britton, who realised this vision and the ‘Go-See’ card was born. Being fast and inexpensive it was ideal for launching a new model or photographer. Today a printer/scanner and laptop can do the same job in minutes, but this was the end of the 80’s, so we were still using fax machines and had yet to discover the technology of today.

Elite’s entry into the US Market had a huge effect on the industry; the atmosphere of duplicity saw models swop sides, jumping from agency to agency and with the death of Wilhelmina (former model turned agency head) the following year the situation continued to escalate. In the end, the real victor was the model who benefited from the competition by picking up bigger fees. It was against this backdrop that we were introduced to a new breed of model, one who would simultaneously appear on various magazine covers all over the word and no longer required a surname; The Supermodel. The 1980s was the decade that a handful of models, Cindy, Naomi, Christy and Linda among them, dominated the modelling market and became the Celebrities du jour. it had become less about the clothes and more about the clothes-horse. The supermodels cult of celebrity meant they were now the ones calling the shots and the spoilt behaviour of some and huge fee demands even saw John Casablancas, the agent who started it all admit, ‘one of my biggest regrets is that I created the supermodel. They can be impossible. Impossible.’

It wasn’t just fashion that was changing; there was also the huge advancements in technology and the increasingly wide spread use of the world-wide web. For me personally, the imminent threat of the internet was the biggest change to the industry and was a significant factor in our eventually closing Marlowe Press in 1990. The technology of the internet would go on to make publishing nearly redundant. What had taken us weeks or months to produce using darkrooms, re-touchers, printers and binderies was replaced by computer operators and this digital platform meant a models photo and information could be distributed faster, cheaper and more immediately.

In addition to the internet, the rise of social media and most significantly the introduction of Instagram in 2010 has continued to change the way a model can promote herself to the world. Photo sharing via social media has been a major contributor to the success of many models including Model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, whose kooky images have seen her Instagram account gain 34.8 million followers at last count. This image-driven platform effectively acts as a digital look book for a model with her likes, comments and followers clearly tracking her popularity. It is little wonder that the agencies have also hopped on the digital bandwagon with the majority of scouting now being done not on the streets but by scrolling online. IMG, one of the largest modelling chains in the world, not only has an online scouting application process but recently launched a scouting Instagram account (@WeLoveYourGenes) giving would-be-models the chance to be discovered from the comfort of their home.

Fast forward to 2016, and it seems despite the digital takeover, the Composite Card is still alive and well. Most of the agencies I spoke to use these still as a means of promoting their models even though most of their promotional material is now online. The cards are usually designed in-house before being outsourced to a printer, with the layout and number of photos varying from agency to agency. Often only required for events such as Fashion Week or runway shows, the models get a smaller run of their cards than they would have back in the day. As to how long they will continue to be in circulation is anyone’s guess with some of the agencies now deeming the cards a waste of paper, ink and money and so their eventual demise may simply be a question of sustainability.

While the print runs may be getting smaller, the modelling industry continues to grow year on year. Modelling is big business and whatever your dream for a brand may be, there are thousands of agencies all over the world that can provide you with the perfect model to sell it. From June 2014 to June 2015 the 21 highest paid supermodels made a combined $147 million pre-tax income proving that this industry is not only hugely lucrative but is also more than just a pretty face.

Peter Marlowe © November 2016