A Role Model for Model Management
Donna Models Founder Junko Shimazaki
Junko Shimazaki runs Donna Models, one of the leading agencies of foreign models in Japan, and is mother-agent for Japan’s international supermodel, Tao Okamoto. She promotes Hoorsenbuhs jewelry and also co-owns Asian eatery PINGTUNG Eat-In Market, Los Angeles, where TJ sat down with her to talk modeling.
TJ: How did you get into the modeling industry?
SHIMAZAKI: I met a woman in the fashion business who thought I would be good at it, and I thought, “Why not?” Once I started I loved it, and decided, “Forget about everything else. This is the job for me!” That was almost 29 years ago. I tried a couple of agencies before starting my own - Donna Models - in 1995. In the beginning it was just my friend and I, but it’s been 18 years and now it’s one of the biggest foreign model agencies in Japan
TJ: How do you find your models?
SHIMAZAKI: We go all over the world scouting, once we find someone that we like we provide a minimum guarantee covering airfare, accommodations, and maybe money for food. We take a lot of time and effort scouting so that by the time the models get here, we know that they will be able to get work.
TJ: How does the modeling process work?
SHIMAZAKI: Companies tell us the type of model they want. Our usual is about 10-20 casting calls a day. Sometimes we get five casting calls a day, but at peak times maybe over 50! Our drivers take the models to these casting calls, and then we wait for a call telling us when, where and for what, before negotiating conditions and guarantees.
TJ: How did you become manager for supermodel Tao Okamoto?
SHIMAZAKI: Tao was working in New York about five years ago but her agency wouldn’t book her with Japanese clients. So I went to her and said, “Tao, you should work with me. I am the only one who can handle your career all over Japan and around the world.” During our second meeting, she said, “Ok! I’m with you.” We trust each other 100 percent. She has agents in New York, Los Angeles, Milan and Paris, but I’m the mother agent and control her career and her schedule. Before, she was doing bits of everything, but these days we only pick the best work and photographers.
TJ: What is Tao’s greatest strength as a model?
SHIMAZAKI: She never gives up. Once she told an agency in New York that she didn’t like a job, and they said, “Anybody can take your place.” That’s when she decided she really wanted to be a supermodel, different from anybody else.
TJ: Some of the models in Japan seem very young.
SHIMAZAKI: They are. Japan is the only place a model can work if they are under 16. Sometimes they have their parents with them, but either way we make sure to take extra care of them, since they are so young, we want to make sure that they are safe while they are working here.
TJ: This is a tough business!
SHIMAZAKI: Yes. It’s unpredictable because if a model gets a big job in New York or Paris they suddenly leave: the Japanese market does not come first.
TJ: Is it difficult to start an agency because big companies don’t want competition?
SHIMAZAKI: They don’t like it, of course, because it’s competition for them, but there’s nothing they can do. This business is always going to be very competitive and that is understood between all companies.
TJ: How is the international market for Japanese models?
SHIMAZAKI: There’s still plenty of opportunities here; however, it is getting harder, since the competition with other countries is growing. Recently companies have been focusing on the Chinese market.
TJ: What kind of models are you looking for now?
SHIMAZAKI: Now, Russian models are popular, but at different times it’s been Brazilians and Eastern Europeans. If you go to Fashion Week in New York or Paris, you’ll see what’s popular. Right now it’s all about looking innocent – very pale, and not too exotic.
TJ: How long do models usually stay in Japan and how often do they work?
SHIMAZAKI: They usually stay only 30 to 60 days, and on average work four or five days a week.
TJ: What’s the ideal height for a female model?
SHIMAZAKI: I’d say the average is 5’9”. For shows it’s 5’10” but for pictures 5’8” or even 5’7” can be fine.
TJ: Did the 2011 disaster in Japan impact your business?
SHIMAZAKI: Yes. At the time we had 25 models. The earthquake happened Friday afternoon and by the following Monday, everyone left Japan and nobody wanted to come back. I felt isolated and starting thinking, “Maybe this is it. Maybe we have to change the business.” But after about two months models starting coming back and six months later things were much better. One Russian model stayed with us the whole time. I will always appreciate her and what she did for us.
TJ: What’s most important for young people trying to get into modeling?
SHIMAZAKI: Of course, having a good figure and looks is crucial, but so are ambition and the belief that you can make it. Models should know how to pose for the camera, speak English, keep promises and appointments, and know what to do and not to do.
TJ: What advice do you give to Tao most often?
SHIMAZAKI: I don’t really need to. She’s so professional and knows what to do. I really feel we are connected. She’s my girl, my baby. I cry every time I see her in a movie or on stage. I’m always thinking about what’s best for her and I’m always happy for her. tj