LONDON — When Duncan Heath launched ICM Models, this city’s newest — and most unusual — modeling agency last month, he was thinking of the late actor Sir John Gielgud.

“We were getting him work until about three weeks before he died — at the age of 96,” says Heath, chairman and part-owner of the talent agency ICM here, with clients including Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sam Mendes. “You can see that ICM believes in the long-term management of people’s careers. Pretty soon we’ll be opening the toothless old hag division.”

This story first appeared in the November 13, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sitting around him, over coffee and croissants one afternoon at the company’s new, boudoir-like headquarters in Soho, are his partners in the new venture: Gavin Myall, Tori Edwards, Fiona Ellis, Lyndsey Posner and Samira Higham. Together, they plan to take a similar, long-view approach to their models’ careers.

ICM Models’ goal is to manage clients on the catwalk and beyond, which means treating them as brands, rather than just bodies, and exposing them to new opportunities — which may or may not involve acting. Clients already include Helena Christensen, Erin O’Connor, Alek Wek, Vivien Solari, Elizabeth Jagger and James Gooding. Earlier in the day, Claudia Schiffer signed on.

“We’re living in a moment when Rupert Everett is doing ads for Yves Saint Laurent, when the worlds of fashion and cinema are getting closer,” says Heath. “And the great thing about acting and modeling is that you never know what is going to happen, who is going to become a star. Look at Cameron Diaz, I don’t believe she was a huge success as a model, but as an actress, she’s a superstar.”

But Heath is quick to add that ICM Models isn’t about turning models into Oscar winners. “Sometimes acting can be the worst possible thing for a model’s career. Not everyone wants it, either. Helena Christensen has become a photographer, Erin wants to do more writing and Alek is designing bags. We look at how these crossovers can happen. We’re surprised no one’s done this before.”

Instead of bookers, ICM Models has agents who try to focus on the big picture. “Timing is so important in this business. A girl can shoot herself in the foot by working too early with a great photographer, or taking high-paid catalogue work over an editorial shoot with a photographer like David Sims or Craig McDean,” says Tori Edwards.

Heath says the same rules apply to models as to actors in this age of celebrity, where the threat of burnout is always looming.

“It’s like telling a certain client who’s just made a successful film to spend a year at the Royal Shakespeare Company or do the art house film, or telling him to follow the gig, not the money,” he says. “And we’re also applying the same criteria to whom we choose: We’re looking for excellence — and for excitement.”

Although Heath won’t talk numbers, he says he believes the business can be as big as ICM’s entertainment agency, which has 60 employees. (Last year, ICM in the U.K. was bought from its Hollywood parent via a management buyout).

Heath, who until now has worked with actors and directors, sees ICM Models as a great adventure. “It’s like when I met Erin O’Connor. I got it — I got her — right away!” he says. “That’s the exciting bit for me.”

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