Wilhelmina Minneapolis: Old Brand, New Office

A&E got the skinny on the latest modeling and talent agency on the Twin Cities’ block.

Shannon Ryan

Though Minneapolis may not be regarded as a fashion capital, our presence as a marketplace in the talent and entertainment industry is still impactful. While we may be more suitable for Cheerios than Chanel, our industrial prowess is what lured mega modeling brand Wilhelmina Models to launch an affiliate office in the Twin Cities metropolis.

Wilhelmina Minneapolis is one of 11 global extensions of the Wilhelmina Models brand. It’s a full-service modeling and talent agency and one of the top brands in the world of fashion. Though an independently owned office, the Minneapolis agency was trained in the Wilhelmina Models’ philosophy: to build and diversify its brand in the fashion industry. Minneapolis was chosen as an affiliate location because of its rich commercial market.

“The clientele here is huge — Target, Best Buy, Polaris, 3M, General Mills, Buffalo Wild Wings and Great Clips, among others,” said Eric Slater, agency director for Wilhelmina Minneapolis. “It’s a huge market, and people here honestly just don’t realize it.”

“You’ve got major corporations that are nationwide and/or global, and there’s a lot of talent to be showcased through them,” Slater said.

The faces we see on products in stores such as Target and Best Buy are local faces mostly belonging to agencies within the Twin Cities.

Our commercial market is what allows the modeling and talent industry to thrive here, and that naturally is Wilhelmina’s main focus. High fashion shows aren’t a top priority for Wilhelmina models because of the lack of paid shows in our area.

“It’s rare to find a fashion show in Minneapolis that pays the models,” Slater said. “In commercial work there is a hell of a lot more money to be made, because it is product-based.”

Though booking runway gigs isn’t the agency’s specialty, it will occasionally staff local fashion shows to give its newest models premier practice on the runway.

“We have a lot of individuals in our development program, so we’ll send them to no-pay fashion shows just so they can get some experience,” said Angela Puckett, senior booking agent at Wilhelmina Minneapolis.

When seeking talent, the agency hosts open calls at its Minnetonka office. It looks for people that can be booked in our direct market.

“We aren’t looking for size 0s or 2s; we are looking for everyday-lookin’ people,” junior agent Calli Karter said. The Minneapolis market is what tailors the agency’s needs for models.

Aside from commercial appeal, personality is another key factor in signing an aspiring model to the agency.

“The industry is playing a chess game,” Slater said, “In an industry that is always judging, we have to see beyond the image directly in front of us.” People with bright personalities and social strengths will succeed in the industry; those lacking will not.

Upon signing a contract with Wilhelmina, the new talent works with the agency to prepare for meetings with potential employers. They train in fashion, acting and movement, no matter which of the three avenues they happen to be pursuing. It’s a development process.

If a model is appropriate for the main office locations in New York, Miami or Los Angeles, Wilhelmina will send the talent there to merge them into a higher-fashion scene. Height is the major requirement for this dispatch, and agents from those three offices do the selecting.

Wilhelmina is the biggest modeling and talent brand in the Twin Cities, but it’s also the newest agency on the block. Nevertheless, after less than a year in our metropolis, the agency already holds a strong presence. Wilhelmina’s biggest threat will be competing with old dogs in the local talent industry to hold true to its alpha brand.

“Susan Wehmann [Models and Talent Inc.] and Moore Creative [Talent Inc.] are the power agencies; they’ve been around forever,” Puckett said.