Marc French Interview: Ugly Modelling Agency Boss

October 29, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

Hiring dwarves for a porno, fat people to test bed springs or 78-year-olds with scrotal piercings… it’s just another day on the job for Marc French, who runs the London-based alternative modelling agency Ugly.

Ugly supplies “character” models for all of the above, as well as for major fashion campaigns and magazine shoots, with clients including Dazed and Confused, Calvin Klein and Vogue.

Britain’s Ugliest Models – a documentary series following the everyday ins and outs of the agency – starts this week on Five, so we caught up with the man who makes it all happen. An ex-model himself, he shares with us his views on SuBo, celebrating diversity and whether a Britain’s Next Top Ugly Model reality show may be on the cards…

Do you find there’s a growing trend for casting character models? Has the SuBo saga made an impact on business?
I definitely find that more people are opting to go for more characters, but Susan Boyle hasn’t affected business much really. We’ve always had unusual characters.

So there hasn’t been a change in what kind of clients you have then?

It’s exactly the same really, but I definitely feel that the people booking models are getting a bit more daring by using more characters which is great. It’s so boring looking at the normal standard models.

Everyone’s getting a bit sick of size zero syndrome as well…
Yes, and it’s unhealthy and it’s making people be something they’re not. The good thing about Ugly is that I’ll say to my models: “I don’t want you to change at all. If you’re overweight, stay that way, if you’re really comfortable in your own skin and you don’t want to change well that’s really good for me?.

That’s a refreshing thing to hear from a modelling agency…
That’s exactly what we want to get across. We really don’t want to change anyone, we want them to be themselves, and if someone is slightly unique then all the better. If they’re just a normal plain Jane there’s work for them as well. But they have to have a little bit of a twist and they have to be really comfortable with themselves.

Presumably your models are more confident when they’re comfortable, which is good for you as you’ll get more from them on the shoot.

Absolutely, like with our guy Del (TFI Friday’s Ugly Bloke) who just turned up one day. He’s the only model in the world who’s done three major jean campaigns – Levi’s, Diesel and Calvin Klein – and he was probably the kid who was picked on at school. He’s got that confidence and that way about him and has just grown and grown into this superstar, and it’s fantastic to see someone blossom.

Is there anything that would put you off taking a model? Is there such a thing as “too ugly??
A disability. I don’t think that’s something you could class as ugly. Though if someone was disabled and then really comfortable with themselves, [I’d consider it]. We’ve got a guy who’s got spina bifida who’s really cool and does a fantastic job.

If someone was uncomfortable with the way they look I would never take them. I’d take most types of looks as long as the models work well. There are lots of people who look great but can’t really work in front of the camera, we have to get that out of them as well.

Do you ever get any backlash, or feel as though you’re facing a moral dilemma?

No, never. I think that Ugly attracts the kind of people who are really comfortable with themselves. No one would come to us if they weren’t comfortable, so whether they’re drop dead gorgeous, or they think they’re drop dead gorgeous – which is fantastic for us – there’s no dilemma, we’re just celebrating diversity.

Do you get any really good looking people trying to get signed?

Loads, absolutely loads, and they think it’s great to be with Ugly because they can pull funny faces and put on a bit more of an act. Lots of models don’t get taken on, however. We have a few models who look quite normal, but they have special skills like being a fantastic gymnast, skills that would never be used in a normal modelling agency. Here, people come with the most bizarre [skills].

You say that you encourage your models to be themselves and that you’d do nothing to change them. Do you think that Susan Boyle should have a makeover in line with her musical career?
No I don’t, I think she has her own character and that she’s great the way she is. No-one can say she doesn’t look like she has that fantastic voice. It doesn’t matter how you look if you have that voice, she’s a great character and I think she’s really cool.

But she’s probably not entirely comfortable with what she’s being made to do.
I think she is, otherwise she wouldn’t be doing it. No-one forced her to go up there, she’s got a job, she knows she looks that way so I think she’s comfortable being there. People will try and change her but at the end of the day you can’t change her too much, it’s the way she looks, and there’s nothing wrong with her face at all. I think it’s quite refreshing to see someone not looking so perfect with such a voice.

Are there any famous ugly people you’re dying to get on your books?
Not really. I would represent Susan Boyle in a heartbeat. I like all kinds of character faces, but it’s not just about their face it’s about their personality and the way they are.

Do you see an opportunity for a new reality show like Britain’s Next Top Ugly Model?

Do you know what? I really do because… and I’m not just saying this for my own business, but when you’ve got a handful of my characters in one room together it is electric, it’s just incredible, and that’s the thing I love about Ugly so much.

When we have open auditions, to walk along the queue of people lining up for an audition it’s fantastic. You’ve got little old ladies, a hell’s angel, a big fat man and it’s lovely.

Leonie Mercedes