Since Bill Wackermann joined Wilhelmina Models as CEO in early 2016, his mission has been to bring the company into the 21st century, while remaining true to its original philosophy: Flawed beauty is the most beautiful.
Today, being a model is about so much more than taking a good picture; it’s about being a real, interesting person, Wackermann said. People, and brands, are demanding authenticity.
“Brands want to know who the person is — there’s an authenticity they’re trying to tap into and a relevancy with consumers that wasn’t asked for 5 years ago,” he said. “I think it’s great for the industry. The deeper we go into who people are and what makes people beautiful, I’m all for it.”
In this week’s episode of the Glossy Podcast, Wackermann discusses why Instagram followers should be more about quality than quantity, how consumer demand is shaping the industry and why his company has turned its focus to Snapchat. Below are excerpts from the conversation, edited for clarity.
Being a model is more than being an Instagram star
“We’re able to find talent and access them through Instagram, or other ways we couldn’t reach them before — but training someone to be a model and making them want to do that? You’re like a machine; you’ve got to be turned on. It’s not just taking one Instagram picture a day and thinking, ‘I look really pretty, I could be a model.’ It’s managing expectations, I think — that is the biggest challenge for the millennial generation that may have always been told that everyone on the soccer team is a winner. It’s not that you’re not a winner, but at the end of the day, you have to really work at it.”
‘Authenticity’ may just be another fad
“I think things always go in cycles. Having worked in the industry for 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of fashion cycles come and go. I think we’re in a cycle now where we’re saying authenticity, but what we mean is that we’re selling authenticity. We’re doing it because consumers want to see that, and they are relating to it. But the second they stop relating to it, those brands will move on to another agenda or some other cycle that’s in at the moment.”
Consumers may not really want to see themselves reflected on covers
“If we’re really being honest, I think consumer behavior is what’s holding us back. If I go back to my days in the publishing world, it’s what people say versus what they do. We would do tons of consumer insights into this, and we would ask people on the street, ‘Do you want to see an attractive but average-looking guy or girl?’ And the feedback would be, ‘Absolutely! Yes, that’s what I want!’ Then you put it on the cover, and it doesn’t sell. So there’s this dichotomy between what we speak and want, and what we actually purchase and buy.”