Faces that defy stereotypes: SA model agent is redefining beauty ideals
If we were being optimistic about the state of the modelling industry, we would say that its diversity stats were improving impressively.
After all, isn't Edward Enninful (male and black) the new editor of British Vogue? Isn't mixed-race model Adwoa Aboah (British mum, Ghanian dad) the cover star of his first edition at the helm? Generous in size, by usual model standards, curvaceous Ashley Graham made the Forbes list of the world's highest-paid models last year, and transgender model Valentina Sampaio graced the cover of Vogue Paris last March.
But the fact remains that most of the models whose faces and bodies grace Z cards from New York to Cape Town and Paris to Milan are extremely thin, young women, like Candice Swanepoel, Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid.
The fashion editor at the Daily Telegraph in London, Emily Cronin, writes: ''Diversity isn't a box you can simply tick. It's a matter of race, yes, but also of size, shape, age, gender and different abilities, among other identifiers. There are so many aspects to the notion that sometimes the word 'diversity' itself, like 'sustainability', can come to seem a husk, an empty buzzword."
A focus on diversity should mean creating a space where all women and men can see themselves reflected in fashion and advertising, and Fani Segerman, who opened The Fantastic Agency in Cape Town in January this year, is attempting to do just that.
''I worked in the industry for many years as a stylist and casting director, and later at a prominent modelling agency where I learnt the ins and outs of the modelling industry. I saw the space for a new, interesting and 'alternative' agency," she says.
Experiencing the industry from both sides of the camera - she was scouted at 17 and signed to a model and talent agency for many years - Segerman says she believes there's definitely been a shift over the past two years to brands wanting more diverse and authentic models.
But old notions of beauty are still entrenched and Segerman is working hard to change that. ''My aim is to represent models that break the mould of what is 'normal' or accepted, to encourage brands to use faces that defy stereotypes, and to keep growing alongside the new wave of modelling."
Scouting faces from Instagram accounts and the streets, Segerman wants to develop models and talent into industry jewels. "I focus on discovering and developing fresh talent. Through my talent selection, I'm trying to make a shift in [an] industry that's still very traditional and backwards when it comes to representation."
Her vision for the agency is outlined on its website: "We represent the full package - the people you stalk online, the muses, the ambassadors, the visionaries who bring life to brands."
And the young modelling agent says: "In an industry based on image and appearance, I am trying to shift the focus to better represent the people who are often overlooked or excluded. Representation in the modelling world is so vital and I hope that can translate through the work I am doing at Fantastic."
The world is having a pretty disruptive moment and ''norms" are changing fast. ''The space for important dialogues has opened up in a big way," says Segerman. ''Voices are being heard and they're sprouting new movements. With the #MeToo campaign we can see how quickly and powerfully these new movements can grow and encourage change."
One thing that's continually in fashion is that ''the younger generations always pave the way for the rest of the world in terms of what is 'in fashion' or 'on trend'. The youth will always lead the way, and we need to pay attention to that, " she says.
So what is Segerman's definition of beauty? ''Anything that moves me," she says.