The making of a runway model

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Bhumika Arora, a runway model from Karnal, India, is having a breakout season.

The 27-year-old has paraded the catwalks in New York, London and Milan in recent weeks. She landed a few big gigs including Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs in New York, Gareth Pugh in London and Bottega Veneta and Salvatore Ferragamo in Milan. She is expected to take part in a few shows at Paris Fashion Week, which is currently underway.

Many models walk in fashion week. Only some make a name for themselves. Ms Arora’s New York-based agency, Society Management, has been preparing for months for Ms Arora to be noticed by influential casting directors, fashion stylists and other industry taste makers.

Ms. Arora’s model exhibit card, which has been sent to those attending this season’s parades.


Photo:

Matthew Priestley

“It’s really important to lay the groundwork,” says his New York agent, Christopher Michael. “Once you’ve built that, you can move on to the other arms of his career.” The agency was behind the 2014 push to have Kendall Jenner of the Kardashian clan taken seriously as a high fashion model.

“I want to make a name for myself by doing a good job,” says Arora. “No matter how hard work I have to do, I will and hope for the best.”

Over the past few seasons, many influential shows have mixed their lines to sprinkle more models that have a distinctive look or are worn strikingly, rather than being interchangeable blank slates for clothing.

Ms Arora’s arrival comes as the industry continues to try to respond to criticism that there are still not enough women of color on the catwalks. When it comes to diversity, the conversation usually centers around adding blacker models or Chinese models. Although there may be a few working models of Indian origin, a model born and raised in India is very rare.

Alexander Wang’s show had “a very strong point of view and one that Bhumika was a key part of,” casting director Anita Bitton said.


Photo:

Getty Images

Growing up in a small town in Haryana State, Ms. Arora was a tall, skinny girl. While some people teased her because she looked like “a guy,” she said, others said she looked like a model. Ms. Arora sometimes started watching fashion shows but then changed channels. “I thought I was really, really ugly,” she says. “So modeling couldn’t be my thing. In her town’s conservative culture, nice girls were not role models. Her parents objected every time she brought up the idea.

After moving to a bigger city, Chandigarh, for college, she fulfilled her modeling fantasies through selfies. A friend submitted pictures of her to the “Model Watch” section of a publication called “Cafe Beat” distributed at a local cafe. Ms Arora was surprised to learn a few months later that the magazine had published her photo, placing her alongside three other young people he dubbed “hot on steam”. It convinced her – and helped convince her parents – that she could try modeling.

Ms. Arora started to pursue an MBA, but soon a photographer who had seen the published photo offered to take her first professional photos. Armed with these, she moved to Delhi and was a model there for a few years. She started sending her photos to agencies in Europe, including Elite Paris, in December 2013. The agency signed her soon after. Elite Paris and Society Management are part of Elite World, a global network of agencies. The following February, Ms. Arora paraded her first fashion show in Paris, for Dries Van Noten.

Ms. Arora at the Marc Jacobs Fashion Show in New York City.


Photo:

Marc Jacobs

Ms. Arora’s decision appealed to Mr. Michael from the management of the company. He also cited his work ethic, his desire to receive feedback – good or bad – and his travel from India.

An agency team that includes Mr. Michael, the executive agent of Society Management, helps Ms. Arora and other models with their personal development, including finding a personal style and dressing for castings. The team also advises her on things like getting around cities. They also guide her and other role models in social media activity. Ms. Arora currently has a relatively low social media presence, with an Instagram account that lists nearly 1,700 followers and 63 posts. The agency hopes to increase its interaction with its audience.

While in Paris last February, Ms. Arora did not have a visa that would allow her to work in the United States. But his agency was preparing the groundwork for a future move. He introduced him to Anita Bitton, a famous US-based casting director who was in Paris. “We’ve kept it on our radar of the people we love,” says Ms. Bitton. The agency regularly updated Ms Bitton and let her know when the model got her U.S. visa.

As the fall 2015 shows approached, the agency’s first big step was to target a few big, high-impact shows for Ms. Arora. For its first New York Fashion Week, “we didn’t want to have an anti-climatic start,” said Mr. Michael. “We were really very focused on where we wanted to start with her in terms of our shows and where her first appearance would end up.”

Ms Arora walked for designer Jonathan Saunders in London.


Photo:

Catwalking.com

Ms. Arora kicked off New York Fashion Week with flying colors, making her runway debut at the Alexander Wang show, one of the week’s must-see events. The casting director was Ms. Bitton.

Ms Bitton’s team requested that Ms Arora not appear on any other runways before the show, which took place on February 14, two days after the start of fashion week. Ms Bitton said the show had “a very strong point of view and of which Bhumika was a key component. We wanted to preserve that moment until she was on our show.

Mr. Wang, the designer, says: “She embodies a unique look and she immediately convinced me.

The usually serious Ms. Arora says she jumped in excitement when she learned she’d landed the Alexander Wang show. “I actually had a little tear in my eye,” she says. “It was such an amazing time for me.” After the show, she says, she “actually ran” from the show to her agency’s office. “They were so happy, they all congratulated me. They all kissed me.

Ms. Arora’s appearance on this show sparked the interest of other casting directors, Mr. Michael said. Three days later, Ms. Arora entered the Vera Wang show. Vogue.com named her # 3 in their “7 Things We Loved Today” article, writing: “Our hearts have been stolen by a new face on Vera Wang’s catwalk: the brooding look, sensual lips and envious angle Bhumika.

Ms Arora then walked the Anna Sui runway and closed New York at Marc Jacobs, one of the most sought after fashion shows for a model. Ms. Bitton, the founder of New York-based Establishment Casting, also chose her for this show.

Next stop was London, where Ms Arora appeared on shows for Daks, Gareth Pugh, Jonathan Saunders, Preen and Simone Rocha before heading to Milan, where she landed a coveted spot on the Fendi show, marching for Karl. Lagerfeld.

Mr Michael had sent Ms Arora’s model introduction card – which shows her photo and details such as the size and shoe size – to stylist Charlotte Stockdale while Ms Stockdale was in New York City.

“She just blew me away,” says Ms. Stockdale, who styled the Fendi show and played a role in the model selection, working with the show’s casting agent. “She looks different from everyone. It is brand new. In a way, she looks powerful but sultry at the same time. Her face is kind of a classic beauty, but it’s not a classic beauty. At the same time, she also has an incredibly sweet personality which really helps. Ms Stockdale says she put Ms Arora in one of her favorite outfits for the Fendi show.

After Fendi, Ms. Arora took part in six other shows, including Roberto Cavalli, Emilio Pucci and Missoni.

With the show season over, Michael hopes Ms. Arora will make “an impressive impression” in magazines and advertising campaigns over the next few months. Mr Michael, who is in Paris, meets clients and supports models there, said several of the shows Ms Arora had attended provided “a stamp of validation.”

Write to Ray A. Smith at [email protected]

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