We’re pounding the pavement of Times Square in search of the world’s next top model...at McDonald’s.
Who knew the fast food chain would also be a place where model scouts like Lanny Zenga from One Management regularly scout for fresh faces?
It sounds counterproductive but Zenga explains that it's these types of chain locations located in New York's most touristy locations (Times Square, Herald Square) that a scout can find a foreign or midwestern beauty.
Other prime locations: H&M in Herald Square, the Zara next to Bryant Park.
“Seriously, if you want to be discovered as a model, just go to these places, it’s where model scouts go,” he quips.
It’s summertime in the city and a prime time for scouts like Zenga to find fresh faces to add to their model boards.
“In the winter you can’t really make out the body of a girl who’s bundled up,” he says. “In the summer girls really can’t hide their bodies and we get to see what they really look like.”
Zenga has been working as a scout at various agencies for a little under a decade. His current employer, One Management, represents some of the world’s top models including Karolina Kurkova, Selita Ebanks, and Poppy Delevingne, to name a few.
And though we're scouring the city streets for those rare over 5'10" size 0 birds, Zenga admits that the Big Apple isn't exactly a hotspot for finding fresh faces. “Most of the girls you see on the streets are already models,” he says.
Agel Gaya, a modeling scout at New York Model Management agrees.
“Everyone who has that potential is signed so what I do is instead of scouting here I’ll go to music festivals, concerts, a lot of place you’ll see young, good looking people,” he says.
“Typically I’ll go to Europe to street scout,” Zenga says. “The country right now that’s hot is Denmark and the Scandinavian countries. When I went there a couple of months ago every girl on the street was scoutable. I swear, I walked around and everyone was fucking gorgeous!”
On a recent weekday afternoon I tagged along with Zenga to get a glimpse inside the model scouting world and to find out how exactly he goes about approaching potential models, what he looks for, and if it’s at all possible to be scouted as a model in one of the biggest fashion capitals of the world.
“Flag her down, oh my God, yes, her!” Zenga say to his assistant, Jamie Davis, a recent grad. We’re a good distance away from the woman he’s eyeing and Davis is hustling to catch up with her. It’s apparent that Zenga has an eagle eye when it comes to spotting what he’s looking for.
“Some people look at what people are wearing, I look at their bone structure,” he says.
Jamie jets towards an Asian girl. She’s tall, lean, perfect, and carries a Rebecca Minkoff purse.
“Have you ever been asked to model before?” she asks, catching her breath.
“Yeah, I’m already a model,” the woman replies.
“Of course you are! Which agency are you signed to? If you ever need a change, contact me,” Davis says, giving her a card.
This exchange repeats itself throughout the day. New York is swarming with models.
We start out in NoHo on Lafayette Street, and head north to Times Square.
Zenga--tall, lean, scruffy--could be a model himself. He’s been with One for the past couple of years, and trained his eye at Ford and Muse before that. He travels about twice a month in search of new faces. So far he’s been all over Europe, to China, and in the States he's visited a smaller agency in Texas.
We finally get to Union Square where Zenga jets towards a girl. She’s around 5’7” (a little short given that female models usually are at least 5’9” with few exceptions, like Kate Moss).
“Wait, this isn’t for America’s Next Top Model, is it?” the woman asks. “Because I’ve been scouted before and I’m really not interested.”
“No, no, no,” Davis replies. “We’re from One Management. How old are you?”
The girl--lean, with wispy hair, a quirky smile, oversized specs and a Williamsburg vibe--shies away.
“I’m 21,” she winks. “Okay, fine, fine. My real age? 26.”
They exchange cards. We walk away and I ask if 26 is too old.
“I’m not going to call her back,” Zenga explains. “If she were 10 years younger then yes.”
Given the new CFDA regulations stipulating that runway models in New York be at least 18, and the year-old Vogue health initiative that requires models to be 16, I ask Zenga about the age at which he feels it's appropriate to scout models.
“In Europe they actually poach girls who are way younger in age--like 12--and they’ll groom them to become supermodels," he says. "I wish we could do that here, look at that girl over there.”
He points to a small pre-pubescent child who walks with her group of friends. She’s petite, thin, a brunette with an amazing face.
“She would be someone I’d want to groom to become a huge star,” he says.
Zenga mentions how pertinent it is to get the girls early on, work them out at yoga studios the agency sends them to, and then provide housing for them. Most of the models stay in Williamsburg, which, according to Zenga, is a haven for models.
“Williamsburg is probably the best-looking place to go to if you want to see beautiful people everywhere,” he says.
And the least gorgeous place?
We saunter towards the Flatiron District and Zenga’s eyes grow bigger. There’s a group of tourists taking photographs.
“This is usually where we find some good ones!” he exclaims, running towards them.
He quickly shakes his head in disappointment. Nothing good in that batch, apparently.
Zenga’s eye wanders like a four-year old in Dylan’s Candy Bar. He’s excitable, eyes girls like they’re different flavors, and notices every person that comes across his radar: “That girl running was just in a Vogue spread!”; “Look at that hot guy, he’s totally a model!”; “Oh wow, that girl is a plus-sized supermodel.” That plus-sized supermodel turns out to be Camilla Hansen at Muse whom Zenga once worked with.
The two embrace and catch-up for a bit in the summer heat before we head to Herald Square.
“We’re in good grounds right now!” he says without a hint of irony as we stand on the corner of 34th Street and Sixth Ave.
“Look at that girl! Okay, never mind she could lose a little weight. Oh! Jamie that girl over there!”
She gives him a look, her left eyebrow raised.
“Her? Okay, let me get a double take.”
A woman is on her cell phone hiding under an awning at a deli away from the sun.
“Yeah, no,” Davis says.
We walk into an H&M there where we find no potentials, then into an Urban Outfitters. While browsing through the racks we come across a young teen, a redhead, who’s shopping with her mother.
“That’s her! That’s what I’m talking about, young girls with their moms,” he says, smiling.
They approach the young girl together and ask if she’s ever thought about modeling. The girl shyly looks at her mother, as if looking for an answer.
“Oh, we’re leaving tomorrow back to Indiana,” the mom says. “I don’t know if modeling is for her actually. Sorry.”
The teenager looks back at Zenga, bashful and flattered. They walk off and the young girl looks back again.
“We planted a seed in her,” Zenga says. “She’s so perfect that I’m sure she’ll talk to her mom and really get on her case until she finally comes see us. I hope she does.”
We end our day at Jamba Juice exhausted and without luck.
Then, suddenly Zenga taps me on the shoulder while we sip on our juice.
I look up to spot a beautiful black woman in the back of Jamba Juice. She's tall, lean, gorgeous. Her hair is in braids, her face clear without makeup. She wears her uniform so well it could be mistaken for an outfit some hipster would put together.
“I’m so glad we seriously at least found one girl!” Davis exclaims.
Zenga immediately calls out for her.
“Excuse me, excuse me!” he beckons.
“Yeah, can I help you?” she asks, wiping her hands with a towel.
“Have you ever thought about modeling?” Zenga says, a flicker of light twinkling in his brown eyes.
“That’s so funny you ask,” she says. “But I’m already signed.”