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Susan Schwabinger – Alexa Model & Talent Management Agency

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Susan Schwabinger – The Talent Maker

Alexa Model & Talent Management Agency

By Ed Bertha

Photography by Giovanni Lunardi

Pretty Faces Going Places

Slide show below

“We were racing back to the La Mamounia hotel from a photo shoot in the middle of the Moroccan desert and our van kicked up a rock. It broke the client’s windshield. A few minutes later the windshield caved in, but the client kept on driving. Next thing you know it started to really rain and the client is getting soaked. I know, rain in the desert? Finally he pulled over and got in the van with the models. He just dumped the rental car on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. It was really kind of funny.”

susan-schwabingerMeet Susan Schwabinger, aka model Susan Chase. Since the age of 19 she has immersed herself in the modeling industry, from traveling the globe to now owning Alexa Model and Talent Management Agency. After attending the Art Institute of Atlanta, she started out as buyer for an upscale retailer. Shortly thereafter Susan decided to go it alone as a model on New York’s Seventh Avenue, the heart of the fashion industry, and never looked back.

Socializing with all the right people in New York City, she met Yama Yamamoto, an influential individual associated with Max Factor and Nikon. He liked her, “So I was in.” That connection opened the door to Wilhelmina Models, a top modeling firm. Susan’s first booking was Harper’s Bazaar. Soon thereafter she was booked everywhere and off to Europe.

Landing in Milan, Susan ended up spending a significant amount of time there, and worked almost every day. “I worked for all the major magazines. I did the collections in Rome, and they only use the the supermodels for those. I even did a shoot in Giorgio Armani’s apartment. Not many people can say they have done that.” Her Milan base led to a shoot in Israel. “I liked Israel a lot. The desert is gorgeous. The sunsets are an orange rosy glow. Beautiful.” She echos the same about her Moroccan desert experience “Spectacular views. The people too. The scarves they sold were brilliant colors. The little kids would surround us. They were fascinated to see a Polaroid. We were an anomaly to them.”

susan-comp-cardsNext, London came calling. Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and a host of others filled her calendar. While she was there, a photo of Susan was put on the AP wire and released internationally. The Huntsville (AL) Daily News picked it up and ran a story comparing Susan to Ava Gardner. Her Aunt in Alabama saw the article and immediately called Susan’s mother. All had a good chuckle.

While in London her mother came to visit. At the time Susan’s apartment was in the West End. During her mother’s stay there was a huge street fair that got out of control leading to the infamous West End riots. Needless to say it was a scary time for the two women but keeping their wits about them, they emerged unscathed.

From London Susan jetted off to book for Paris Planning and Francois Lano. Marie Claire, Elle, and Vogue all came calling. It was during her extended stay in Paris that Susan met John Casablancas whom she would cross paths with later on in life. “In Paris I worked every day; designers, collections, shows, magazines. It was the collections that catapulted me home. I worked almost 24 hours a day for 2 weeks; shows during the day and shoots at night. You’d get up for a 6am booking and work till 6pm then you’d have a 7pm booking that would run till 2am. 3 hours sleep. It almost became like I was hallucinating. That was it.”

From Paris she headed back to New York City and Wilhelmina. “At one point, I had my picture all over Fifth Avenue in New York.” Informed that CHANEL was looking to replace Catherine Deneuve, Susan was game. Thus began an intense 1 ½ year affair leading to her selection. Then the unforeseen happened: Wilhelmina was diagnosed with cancer. Two months later she died, dealing a debilitating blow to the agency. “Wilhelmina was the rock. She was the only one in charge. Nobody could step in and run the office. I had a $5 million contract. It was signed, executed. It went away. I was angry, quit modeling, decided to get married and have a child.”

susan-chase-bwAfter five years of marriage Susan divorced and moved back to Florida, where she grew up. With no plan other than to care of herself and her young daughter, she landed at Kelly Services. There she quickly went from temporary work to a managerial position within the firm.

While at Kelly Services she started teaching classes at John Casablancas Model and Career Center. Once again Susan was back in the world of modeling and high fashion.  Her abilities made a strong impression; Susan was asked to be the director of the school, which ultimately leading to her running the facility. Under Susan’s guidance the Tampa center went from being the worst performing center to the best performing center in the country for three consecutive years.

All of the beautiful faces attending classes began to catch Susan’s attention. Always one with an eye for talent, she began to submit model candidates to Elite in New York City. Soon Elite was making trips to Tampa to meet with Susan. “I thought that was pretty cool.”

Discussions with the Casablancas center’s owner about establishing an agency were not well received, so Susan bought the school and launched her own agency.  As the agency began to take off, running it and the school became too much. So two years after buying the school she sold it and focused on Alexa Model and Talent Management Agency, named after her daughter.

keith-susan-timTwenty three years later Alexa is still one of the most respected names in the business. “I have always had a good eye for talent. We do a lot of placement in New York. Over the course of the years we’ve developed many new faces.”

Inquiring about some of her faces Susan picks out some comp cards and begins. “Jennie Pickens is now with MC2, she was third runner up in Eileen Ford’s Super Model World in 1993. Kim Ulmer was huge for us, working Asia in Tokyo and Thailand. Becky Bosworth went with her and did very well too. Nivia also was a big star in Asia. Katie Holliday (this issue), she was 13 when we started with her. She’s worked a lot, Greece and many other locations, lives in New York. She’s the face of Clairol on many of their boxes. Jennifer Long began at age 17. She’s done Germany and South Africa, lives in New York too. Maxwell, he’s doing well. The IZOD cologne campaign, Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch. Kimberly’s now with APM in New York working the Söfft campaign and Jockey. Then there’s Bailey. She’s also working with APM and recently did a large Clairol campaign. Scarlett Benchley. I love her. I knew her mother when she was pregnant with her. She’s a little booker doing all the mags and Nintendo. I could go on for quite some time.”

Pausing and reflecting for a moment she brings up the name Brandy Quinones. “We found Brandy living on the street in Tampa. She was only 14 years old. We made her into a model and introduced her to Jean Luc Brunelle. Next thing you know she takes off in Miami and immediately ends up in Paris. Everyone wanted her; Vogue, Elle, CHANEL, Karl Lagerfeld. She was in the money. Upon returning to New York she became someone who had every model disease known. Brandy was her own worst enemy. At that point she had no respect for the client and her reputation went downhill. Nobody could control her. I don’t know what happened to her. She could have had it all.”

Asking what makes a good model Susan doesn’t hesitate “I look for bone structure. You need cheek bones. Eyes, they need to be wide apart. They photograph better than eyes that are close together. Nice hair. Nice skin. You need to have a thinner body type. Long legs are an asset. Even a shorter girl with long legs works.”

alexa-modelsWhat gets the agency’s attention and lands jobs? Good photography. Walking to her desk Susan returns with a file of before and after photos. “You need to have great pictures to get noticed. Pictures are a must.” Taking a moment she finds Maxwell’s before and after photos. “Look at these. The most beautiful person in the world will not make it with the wrong photography. Clearly photography makes all the difference in the world whether you get a job or not. Not all photographers are fashion photographers. You need to seek one out like Giovanni Lunardi. He knows how to get the best out of people and has the track record to prove it.”

In the fashion world there are three types of modeling; commercial, editorial and runway. “Commercial is where the money is. It’s harder these days to land big campaigns as clients are using actresses and actors instead of models. Editorial is a bigger market but you don’t make any money. You get your picture in a magazine mainly for the exposure. Runway, that’s very different. The girls are not typically super gorgeous. The designers don’t want the model taking away from the garment, so they tend to be nondescript.”

Working in an industry where faces are everything and beauty only skin deep, Susan is a breath of fresh air. “I love to hang out with the models. We’ve been friends for so long it’s like family. Even with some of our clients too. I’ve known them a long time. You need to treat people the way you want to be treated.”

“I’m a people person. It’s a people business.”

Click here to meet the models.

Alexa Model & Talent Management Agency
550 N. Reo Street, Suite #300
Tampa, Florida 33609

(813) 289.8020
www.alexamodels.com

Group Shot
Husband Keith, Tim Miles and Susan reviewing photos.

Blouse by Ralph Lauren
Skirt by BCBG Maxazria
Jacket by St John

Wardrobe courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue

Copyright © 2011 REAL Magazine

Links to this article are encouraged

Photography used under license from Giovanni Lunardi Photography

Photography Copyright © 2011 Giovanni Lunardi

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