By Natalia Zurowski
A strong portfolio is a crucial component of a model's career. Your pictures help sell you to a client and showcase your potential when you're seeking agency representation. The stronger the book you have, the more likely you are to get those lucrative jobs or to get signed by that top agency. The Business Model regularly receives emails from readers asking, "Where can I build my portfolio?"
Even if you live in or near a big market, tear sheets are usually hard to come by for a new face. In big markets such as New York, and small conservative markets such as Toronto, tear sheets are almost always necessary for a model to book jobs - especially lucrative ones.
Fortunately, there are a lot of markets where models can go and build their portfolios.
Note: Our rating system is based on number of publications (local and international), image quality, likelihood of obtaining tear sheets, market competition, and language of publication.
Athens, Greece - Athens has been a book-building market for years, if not decades. Before models began going to emerging markets, such as Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul, Athens was the main market that models would travel to to build their portfolio. Despite the economic hit Greece took in 2008, magazines are always shooting and models can still book great editorials. Book-building isn’t about short-term earnings, after all.
Bangkok, Thailand - Bangkok (BKK) is rising up the ranks. Although most of the magazines are in Thai, the market has a lot of local editions of international publications, such as L'Officiel and Harper's Bazaar, that shoot models who are on stay in BKK. It's also not uncommon for a model to shoot for one of those publications more than once.
Beijing, China - As a general rule of thumb, China is not known for great photo quality. Beijing, however, can be an exception to the rule (although this still doesn't always hold true). The city has the most talented photographers and is the home to top magazines like Madame Figaro China and Vogue China. Vogue China usually shoots top models but it is possible for contracted models to book jobs for the magazine. When you're modelling in China, being a good poser is of paramount importance; if word gets out you're good, you can bet you'll end up shooting for a top magazine.
Hong Kong, China - Trying to collect great tears in Hong Kong (HK) can either be a swing or a miss. There are many magazines, but the quality of images is varied. Because there are so many publications, including local editions of Cosmopolitan, More, Bazaar, and ELLE, there is a fairly high opportunity for many models to book at least a couple editorials which may help them build up their book. Although some of the photos won’t make the cut in a tier-one market, they will still benefit models visiting other Asian markets.
To learn more about the HK market, check out The Business Model’s Guide to Hong Kong.
Istanbul, Turkey - With local editions of magazines, such as ELLE, Bazaar, Vogue, GQ, it's no wonder that new faces and top models alike are descending upon the Turkish capital. Although most tear sheets are in Turkish, the photos are of top-notch quality and any agency would gladly use the photos in a model's book. Since the market is close to so many European markets, it's common for models in Europe to take a short, month-long visit.
Jakarta, Indonesia - Jakarta is an easy trip to make after a visit to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. A trip to the market could tack on some extra tears without another huge international flight. Although the quality of photos isn't as high as KL or Singapore, there are still many good publications in the market, such as Elle, Cosmo Girl, and Maxim.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - KL has to be one of the most underrated markets in Asia. In terms of tear sheet quality, it's a close second to Singapore. The city is a hotbed of talent that has yet to be recognized on an international level. With nationally renowned photographers like Eric Blink, Aaron Lee, and stylists like Calvin Cheong and Sarah Saw, the editorials in KL always impress. European clients are often surprised by how beautiful a KL-shot portfolio is. Most publications are in English and even those that aren’t, will be very well produced and surely will be put in a model's book.
To learn more about the KL market, check out The Business Model’s Guide to Kuala Lumpur.
Milan, Italy - One of the first major markets models will go to is Milan. It's a great market for models to get experience in and build a portfolio. There are a lot of talented photographers in the city that are always looking to test with models. If you are interested in obtaining tear sheets, Milan is not the best. The competition is very high and if you are not signed with a top agency like Elite or Fashion, and haven’t done the shows, your chances will be slim. However, a model can go to Milan and build their book up with a lot of gorgeous test shoots to get started and gain exposure.
To learn more about the Milanese market, check out The Business Model’s Guide to Milan.
Mumbai, India - Mumbai tends to fly under the radar of most models and agents. The market is growing steadily and is sure to become a popular book-building destination in the coming year. Although it can be more difficult in Asian markets, models of colour can truly thrive in Mumbai and work very well. Although celebrities are often favoured, India is home to local editions of publications like Vogue, ELLE, Grazia, and L'Officiel, and it isn't uncommon for models to end up with gorgeous tear sheets.
Stay tuned for an exciting new piece on Mumbai, set to be released next week!
Singapore - As far as building a portfolio goes, Singapore still holds the number one spot. Coco Rocha, Sigrid Agren, Jac Jagaciak, Melissa Tammerjin, Alyona Subbotina, and Sasha Luss all began their careers in Singapore. The portfolios they built helped launch their international careers. Publications range from high fashion heavyweights L'Officiel and Style, to commercial magazines such as Shape and Female. Singapore is also home to some world-renowned talent such as Chuando & Frey, Wee Khim, and more. Many stylists and editors also work with major Kuala Lumpur publications, so there's a chance to book jobs for those magazines as well.
To learn more about the Singaporean market, check out The Business Model’s Guide to Singapore.
Seoul, South Korea - Seoul is a market fairly similar to Tokyo except with a less pervasive influence of kawaii culture and generally less competition. Along with Korean editions of Harper's Bazaar and ELLE, Seoul has many of their own local publications including Noblesse, Secreto, Sure, Avenue L, and Galleria. Most tear sheets are in Korean but the quality of images - above all else - is the most important, and publications in Seoul deliver.
Tokyo - If a model is placed with the right agency like Bravo, Donna, or Stage, they can get some great tear sheets; or they need to be a top model. Vogue Nippon (Japan), ELLE, and Figaro, are some of the top local publications that models in town can have the opportunity to shoot for. Otherwise, most shoots will be catalogues or for more commercial magazines like Safari, Glitter, and Fudge. If a model's focus is working primarily in Asia, tear sheets from Tokyo could be of great benefit to them, especially because many Asian markets take style cues from Japan and love the culture.
To learn more about the Tokyo market, check out The Business Model’s Guide to Tokyo.
Traveling to these markets, won’t guarantee you a new portfolio. Sometimes, only certain agencies have the right editorial clients. And, if an important client really likes a model, that client will book that same model for countless jobs. This excludes many other models from a share of the work. Sometimes magazines will only run one or two full-page editorials a month, and sometimes they'll forgo a local fashion story in favour of a celebrity editorial or a story submitted from a top photographer and/or model. Luck and above all else the whim of an influential client, can seriously determine a model's editorial success in any of the markets mentioned above.