London-based Union Models has morphed into Wilhelmina London.
This story first appeared in the January 6, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Wilhelmina International, the large model-management company, completed the deal Monday to acquire Union Models for an undisclosed cash sum. The two parties entered into a definitive agreement last month, as reported.
Rachel Du Preez, 42, founded Union Models in 2005, in East London. The agency represents more than 100 models, including Jessica Gomes, Sora Choi, Elisabeth Erm, Charlotte Carey and Sung Hee.
Mark Schwarz, chairman of Wilhelmina International, praised Union’s team and reputation, adding, “After great patience and perseverance in seeking the right opportunity for Wilhelmina, we believe Union will be a perfect fit and natural complement to our ongoing record of successful growth.”
Alex Vaickus, chief executive officer of Wilhelmina, said, “It is an exciting time to establish a physical presence in Europe. We see London as the foundation to further enhance our brand recognition in key international markets and continue to establish Wilhelmina as a global player in the modeling industry.”
Du Preez said she has been working with Wilhelmina’s bookers in New York for the past three or four years. “Six months ago, we talked about the possibility of Wilhelmina coming to the U.K.,” said Du Preez, who started Union with the aim of being “a boutique British agency focused on fresh, unique models.” Of the models Union represents, about 30 percent of them are British, and the rest are international, she said. Du Preez will continue to provide guidance and consultation to Wilhelmina London during the transition, and for a period of time after.
Schwarz explained that Wilhelmina has the status but no physical presence in Europe, unlike its competitors Elite, IMG and Ford. “It represents a first for us in that way,” he said. He said that Du Preez’s forte “has been her focus and selectivity,” with “a nice balance between editorial and commercialism.” Union Models doesn’t have a men’s or celebrity division, an area Schwarz said Wilhelmina will look to develop. “We are leveraging what we do here over there and investing in areas that a small entrepreneurial business couldn’t do,” he said.
As for her role going forward, Du Preez said, “I hope to keep the agency very image-driven, and operating at the highest fashion level. We have a good core group of commercial girls, and I want to beef up Union Models to make it bigger and fatter.” Du Preez described her direct competition in London as Storm, Elite, IMG and Next. “When I opened Union, we were obviously small and new, and I wanted to compete against the major players from Day One. I wanted to be considered a player,” she said. “We’re a massive, major player with Wilhelmina. London is a perfect point to start in Europe.”
Day-to-day operations will be directed by Victoria Rich, who has been the creative director and head of image at Union Models for the past three years. Also part of the team is Annette Koonjean, who heads the women’s board and has 14 years of experience in the industry, developing and representing models, photographers and stylists in both London and Sydney.
Wilhelmina, headquartered in New York, was founded in 1967 by Wilhelmina Cooper, a fashion model. The company has grown to include operations in Los Angeles and Miami, as well as a network of licensees comprising leading modeling agencies in various markets across the U.S. and in Thailand, Dubai, Vancouver and Tokyo. The agency was listed on Nasdaq in August. Wilhelmina’s trailing 12-month revenues, as of the third quarter ended Sept. 30, were $76.6 million.