I had the pleasure of sitting down with executive agent at The Society Management, Jon Ilani. The Society Management is a modeling agency which serves as the New York devision of The Elite World Network. Clients include Kendall Jenner, Kate Bock, and Winnie Harlow. Jon’s business is based in New York City and I found it enlightening to hear his take on some of the most prominent New York events such as The Met Gala. Jon’s interesting story coupled with his true passion for what he does is inspiring.
Brianna: So when you first decided this was what you wanted to do how did you go about getting started in this industry, were there any struggles you had?
Jon: The challenge for me breaking into the modeling industry was access. I started in this business pre-Instagram, pre-smart phones. I graduated from SUNY Binghamton University and not only did I not know anyone in the business, I didn’t even know anyone else pursuing this type of field. My older brother offered some assistance: he called 3 of the biggest modeling agencies in the world, Elite, Ford and Wilhelmina to ask them if they accepted interns. Ford said yes and scheduled an interview. After interning for 3 months, mainly cleaning and stuffing envelopes, I was offered an assistant position and could not have been more excited. I think these days, people need to remember to roll up their sleeves and work and you will be rewarded. Nothing comes easy.
Brianna: Wow, I love how you went after what you wanted and worked your willingness to work your way up from the bottom. You stayed true to your plan and what it was you were ultimately trying to achieve. I think that a lot of people in this generation take the instagram and technological side of the business for granted. So what was it that inspired you to go after this career in the modeling industry?
Jon: Initially I was drawn to this career to work with creative and talented people including the photographers, stylists, models, actors, and hair and makeup artists. I was interested in the business behind these people.
Brianna: Before you mentioned that there are different clients who you have long standing relationships with, can you share what it’s like building relationships especially in your industry?
Jon: When you work in any industry, relationships are your most important asset. The most meaningful relationships are built on trust which happens over time. For the last 15 years I have worked closely with art buyers, casting directors, and marketing directors to help execute their creative vision by casting the right model or celebrity in their campaign. Over time the trust builds and you have sturdy relationships.
Brianna: I can imagine that quality relationships in such a tight-knit industry are crucial. Who were some of your first contacts in this industry?
Jon: My very first booking was for Ashley Graham for Hanes! But my most exciting first contact was the Bookings Editor of American Vogue and working with her on the “Shape” issue, to book curvy models in the issue. Luckily this is now much more common.
Brianna: Amazing, I happen to be a big fan of Ashley Graham myself and I think she really has a positive voice in the industry. So with major events happening in the industry such as Fashion Week and The Met Gala what is it like from the models perspective, before you explained that although it is extremely tiring it is well worth it in the end, especially for the girls. Can you elaborate on that?
Jon: Fashion week and the Met Gala are pinnacles of the season and are exciting time for models to gain worldwide exposure and mingle with the fashion elite. However a model’s schedule is intense, they are often booked in three different countries in one week and spend a lot of times jet-lagged and in airports. These huge events require a lot of preparation with castings and fittings and late nights. Its exhausting but exhilarating- especially when it’s a models first time!
Brianna: We really only see the shiny, pretty side of the industry, but from a model’s perspective it sounds pretty grueling at times. Something that has always intrigued me about the industry is that it really is a double edge sword—the hard work that goes into putting events, campaigns, and shows together is extremely demanding, but at the end when the big events come, it’s rewarding. Speaking of all of these events, do you have a particular favorite?
Jon: I look forward to The Glamour Women of the Year Awards which is an award show honoring game changers, rule breakers, and trailblazers. It’s a time where fashion focuses on women changing the world.
Brianna: I remember when Rihanna won the award, I think that it is great when the industry highlights positivity. Earlier you brought up social media being a very big and helpful tool in this industry, can you talk more about that?
Jon: Instagram has given a great deal of power to the talent. Brands are looking directly at the models to tell them how to style certain outfits or what products they actually use and like- they depend on this authenticity to engage their respective audiences. With this power comes a serious responsibility. When you have millions of people watching you, you are able to spread positive messages. Brands and magazines are supporting the models and talent who do this!
Brianna: I really like what you said about how this power of social media brings tremendous responsibility. I think sometimes we all forget the power we have on this platform. So Jon I have so enjoyed speaking with you on the topic of the industry but I have one final question for you and that is, if you weren’t doing what you are now what would you be pursuing?
Jon: I love working with people but on a deeper level. I would probably be a social worker or psychologist.
Brianna: Thank you so much Jon for being with us and for talking about all the exciting parts of the industry.