WATCHING Mandy Maher pose for the photos for this article, it’s obvious how comfortable she is in front of the camera.
She easily takes direction and instinctively knows what way to stand without looking or feeling awkward. The savvy businesswoman uses the same intuitiveness when it comes to selecting her next top models.
She founded Catwalk Model Agency 14 years ago and after their first show in Windsor Motors “they’ve never looked back”.
Having spent a number of years on catwalks around the country herself, Mandy recognises the must-have assets to make it as a model.
“I never stop looking,” says Mandy, who has even stopped girls on the street to invite them to a screening.
There are about 40 models on the agency books and she has signed ten new faces since January. “You have it or you don’t. I pretty much know when a girl walks in. It’s like being a good singer, your voice can be improved, but you can either sing or you can’t,” she explains.
Searches for the next Elle MacPherson, Kate Moss or Erin O’Connor have been another branch of the unending stream of TV reality shows but much of the drama is far removed from the reality of what makes up the modelling world in Ireland and the UK.
Catwalk is one of the few professional modelling agencies west of the Shannon and Mandy, having modelled for The Holman-Lee Model Agency in Limerick for many years, saw there was an opening for one in the West of Ireland.
The glamorous and exceptionally groomed business woman complements the sumptuous surroundings of the g Hotel in Galway and she and her models have been busy preparing for a major fashion event taking place there this week.
The former fitness instructor, who juggled her modelling business while working at Peak Physique in Galway, decided to set up the business pretty much overnight. It started with six models and Mandy continued to model herself because she didn’t have enough girls at the beginning.
Catwalk is on the verge of launching itself as a national brand but Mandy is very aware of the importance of local support and she attributes this to the agency’s survival.
“Local businesses have been fantastic to us and we’ve developed a very good relationship with clients over the years.”
Some of the models have been with Catwalk for many years and there’s always a demand for its recognisable faces such as Lynda Duffy and Mary Lee. But she is conscious of continually keeping an eye on which model appears where because, as she points out, people can get tired of seeing the same faces at shows and on shoots.
Catwalk hosts regular open days every three months or so. “We’re always looking for a girl that’s going to be the next big thing,” says Mandy, who is very open about what basics any contender needs to have.
She says the models have to be able to perform at a national level and height is a major factor with girls having to reach between 5’ 9” and 5’ 11”. There are some taller models but a girl can actually be too tall when it comes to showing clothes for an Irish market.
Newcomers usually start modelling between 16 and 19 years of age and while good hair and skin are prerequisites, skinny isn’t a must-be item for Mandy.
“We don’t actually like our models to be very thin. People like to see healthy looking girls and while there is a market for size 8s if there was a girl sized 14-16 who had the whole package then we’d have huge openings for her. You can’t forget where we are and I’ve never told a girl to lose weight,” stresses Mandy.
Her office is inundated with girls calling who are interested in getting into modelling but unfortunately many of them don’t make it.
Confidence is important but Mandy is mindful to remind her models that no one likes someone who is conceited or arrogant. “If the customer doesn’t warm to them then they just won’t get re-booked,” explains Mandy, who personally trains each new model for about eight weeks.
However she can only take them so far and as she points out, each girl is on their own in the books and it’s up to them to prove themselves to the client. “They have to be hungry for it and not feel as they are being pushed into it,” she adds.
The Catwalk models work for a variety of clients, from fashion shows and fashion shoots to brochures, style guides and press calls.
While Mandy likes her models to meet certain criteria, she has one model who is short in modelling terms at 5’ 5” but Mandy took her on because she says there is always work for a girl with a “great look”.
Anyone who thinks that a model’s life is something like footballers’ wives needn’t call Mandy, who has her favourite high heels well hinged to the ground. She is adamant that her models work hard for what they have and has plenty of horror stories of outdoor dressing rooms and getting dressed next to the mop and brush.
The key, according to Mandy, is always to look and be as professional as possible.
She admits times are tough and the model agency hasn’t been immune to feeling the pinch but the busy mother is determined and optimistic. “You can sit back or, you can get up and go,” she enthuses.
THE striking 20-year-old started modelling about three months ago and has featured in a number of fashion and event shoots already.
Simone moved to Ireland eight years ago and had never thought of modelling until someone suggested she attend one of Catwalk’s screenings.
The GMIT student, who is in her final year of a Business and Tourism course, manages to fit her modelling work in between her studies, but, she admits it can be hectic.
“I’m delighted I’ve been so busy since I started. I really didn’t expect to get so much work.
“I’m pretty organised and I spend lots of time studying and do the modelling as well. It’s worked out better than I expected it to,” she explains.
Looking at Simone’s professional shots it’s hard to imagine that underneath all the styling she is shy.
“I am quite a shy person. I wasn’t used to being looked at and to be honest I was a bit scared for the first few shows.”
Simone has a long and often unpronouncable surname for the Irish tongue, Zasiliauskaait, and usually just goes by her first name. Being in front of the camera and on the catwalk has increased her confidence and the experiences are something she really has grown to love.
The work isn’t as glamorous as the final runway show or photo shoot ends up and Simone assures us that the days can be very long.
“It is tough. Some of the modellling TV shows don’t show what goes on in the background and that you can spend all day rehearsing and then getting hair and make-up done.”
Simone has begun to spend more time on her beauty routine.
“I now try to look after my hair a lot more and I’ve started a proper skincare routine, which I never really did before.”
The young model says her friends all treat her the same since she started modelling professionally and they are delighted for her success.
Simone attributes her sleek figure to her genes and openly admits her love of food.
“I suppose I’m lucky to be tall but I still love my food and while I won’t eat take-aways all of the time I still treat myself now and then.”
THE epitome of elegance, Mary is one of Catwalk’s ‘tried and trusted’ models. She started modelling in 2001 and is always in demand.
She caught Mandy’s eye when she entered Miss Galway just over ten years ago and has been taking to the catwalk ever since.
Mary, who has her own beautician business Chez Lee in Gort, says she still gets nervous before a show and admits that her biggest hang-up is a fear of falling – of course she never has taken even the slightest tumble.
“I wouldn’t do it unless I loved it and I really do. I get a great buzz from it,” she remarks.
“It does take a lot of time but we have great craic and it’s amazing how many people I’ve met over the years.”
As a professional beautician Mary is mindful of her appearance and admits that she is more conscious of how she looks because of her modelling work.
“I’ve always been into fitness but I suppose when you know you’re on show you want to be able to feel good about yourself,” she explains.
Modelling wasn’t something Mary had intended doing and laughs that she was often seen as a tomboy.