Monday, September 26, 2022

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    Want to Get Big in Modeling? Start a TikTok Account

    In 2014, Désiré Mia started a YouTube channel, posting everything from skating videos to gaming tutorials to cooking 101s. Though he attracted a small following at the time, his primary motivation was the joy of filming and editing as a creative outlet. Three years later, when he turned 18, he embarked on a modeling career, making a name for himself by working with brands like Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein. As Mia’s talent for video production and performance grew more closely intertwined with his career, he found a new way of expressing himself when he made a TikTok account in 2019. In less than a month, he’d gained close to 200,000 followers. A fun hobby quickly turned into an invaluable tool for his job—the more people seeing him on TikTok, the better chance he’d have of being booked for big modeling gigs. And it started to look like something else, too: part of a career he’d forged outside modeling, as an influencer, or a content creator, or—why not?—an actor.

    Mia isn’t alone in finding a special kind of success on the platform. While the archetypal model has long been seen as a passive vessel for a designer’s vision, many are turning to TikTok to showcase their personalities and content—and finding their careers skyrocketing as a result.

    “Our digital space is so saturated with words and images and videos and sound,” says casting director and artist manager Kevin Chung, who frequently works with models known for their social media presences. “There needs to be depth beyond the surface, beyond the boring IG outfit of the day photo, whether that’s in your captions or your stories.” Or, of course, on TikTok.

    Through a mix of comedy sketches, dancing, and glimpses into his personal life, Mia uses TikTok, where he now has over 750,000 followers, to brand himself as more than just a pretty face. He considers his job as a model distinct from his role as an influencer on social media: “Same as when someone is a highschool teacher and DJ on the side.” But he knows the two are symbiotic. Mia’s popularity on social media is a draw for casting directors who want to boost a client’s profile by hiring him as a model, and the travel and lifestyle associated with modeling give him plenty of novel material for creating content. He likes to incorporate the different locations he visits into his videos, like one where he dances to “Say So” by Doja Cat on a CCTV screen in a crowded Tokyo subway station. In another, he coaxes an airline employee into dancing alongside him at a boarding gate.

    While a large following can help get a brand’s attention, originality and consistent engagement remain more valuable than sheer numbers. Georgia Makely, head of the newly created Influencer and Digital Partnerships division at Ford models, says that her most frequent requests from clients are for “great storytellers who create impactful and thoughtful content rather than someone who boasts large follower numbers.” One of her clients, the model and artist Tyler Omeed Mazaheri, has something of a cult following on TikTok. His warm personality draws in an especially committed audience of fans who seek to emulate his visual style, a mix of languid Californian haze and Gen Z e-boy. One of Mazaheri’s fans I spoke with told me that she liked how “the way he presents himself feels gentle and soft and pretty.” Mazaheri got his break on Instagram. “If it weren’t for the offers I received through Instagram, I would never have considered modeling in the first place,” he told me. “For kids like me, it’s virtually the only way to break into the industry in this day-and-age.” TikTok lets him show off something a little different—that “gentle and soft and pretty” quality that’s proving catnip to fans and fashion houses alike.

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