Photograph by Bonnie Nichoalds
Why Mother Model Management?
MC: There’s a term in the modeling business called a “mother agent.” It’s basically the agent that launches the model. We just take it way further. We have an ongoing relationship with the model. We travel with them; there are some other agents who do that in other parts of the world, but not so much here. Years ago, a friend of ours in the business said, “If I ever have a business, I would call it Mother.” When we moved to St. Louis in 2001, we called and asked him if we could use it, and he said by all means. It’s been interesting how it’s snowballed and captured how we really function. It’s kind of the perfect name.
How does the dynamic work between you and Jeff?
JC: Mary is more, “Let me walk you through the steps,” and I’m more, “Let’s get down to business.” If it weren’t for Mary, we’d have no models because I’m like, “Nice to meet you. You’re leaving for New York in two days.”
MC: And if we didn’t have Jeff, they’d be saying, “Where are my details?” and I’d be responding, “Let me get back to you on that…” It’s definitely about balance, and we balance each other out.
Who travels with the girls?
MC: When our kids were younger, it was too long for both of us to be gone [long], so we started doing New York together. Then he would go to London and Milan, and I would go back home. Then I’d meet him in Paris… We’re communicating 24 hours a day and FaceTiming and texting, but it’s still a long haul.
JC: Even at Next, the agency in New York that most of our girls are with, I’m the only one who does the full circuit. Some people from New York might go to Milan and then a different agent will come to Paris. I’m the one who literally goes the whole circuit.
MC: It’s good, though. It gives the models assurance and peace of mind, and it gives the parents assurance, too.
JC: No matter how tough the days are, those models know that at any given point, I can be there in two seconds.
This season, you had several success stories, including Alanna Arrington.
MC: We’d been working with Alanna for about three years. We felt we should do something different with her hair. That haircut made a huge difference, and we just did it—we didn’t talk to anyone about it. She wasn’t even in the show package for New York at that point, but we kept thinking she could be ready. Then, when she met with us before casting, we shot video and digital, and we said to each other, “She is so ready.”
The first show, BCBG, she closed. Then, the next day, she opened Altuzarra. It was one of those things, like a Karlie Kloss moment, where you’re like, “This girl!” We knew that something special was unfolding. Then the following day was DVF, and she wasn’t even scheduled for it. She was at a casting for Rodarte, and the DVF show was that night. We’re having a bite to eat, and we get the call that they’ve requested she get over there ASAP. So she goes in for the fitting and is sent upstairs to meet with Diane [von Furstenberg] personally. She tries on one look, and Diane asks her, “Do you like that look?” Alanna was kind of like, “Yeah, I like it…” She said she wanted to try her in something else, and she put her in that jumpsuit. Alanna came out dancing in it, which is so Alanna, and Diane fell in love with her. They confirmed her for the show, sent her down to hair and makeup. Jeff and I rush over, and she’s in hair and makeup with all the supermodels. We didn’t know she was going to be in that group until it happened—I don’t even think she knew. When it was done, Alanna came out literally shaking and saying, “What just happened?” She just rose to the occasion. It was career-defining, and then it kept snowballing. Jeff would call and say, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
When you usher a new girl to success, is it overwhelming, like giving birth?
MC: Yes! We experience everything that’s going on behind the scenes. It feels like a traveling circus; you know everybody so well. It’s indescribable.
What’s your secret for spotting talent?
JC: We don’t sit behind a desk or wait for a great girl to walk through our door. We’re active scouts.
MC: A million years ago, a mentor told me the biggest problem in not being a success is this desk, meaning you have to get out there. I used to sit at Barnes & Noble with him, and we would look through all of the fashion magazines and not discuss the clothing; we’d talk about the girls. We’d say, “See how wide set apart her eyes are?” or “Look at the angle of her nose. See her jaw line?”
Then, when I met Jeff in 1997 and we quickly fell in love and knew we were going to start this business together, we would study the business from the perspective of models. As hard as it is to find these girls—and it is hard to do, especially the way that we do—the real challenge is developing them. One of the advantages we have is that scouting can be really lonely, but we do it together, so it’s become this fun thing, now that our kids are grown.
What is it about the Midwest and finding talent?
MC: Honestly, when we first moved to Missouri, we were like, “Is this still going to work?” You refine your eye and put yourself in places where potential models could be, but you can also find somebody in the most random places.
In the Midwest, there’s height and natural beauty. We met with a girl yesterday who is so naturally beautiful and she has no idea, which makes her even more beautiful. Years ago, a woman who used to scout for IMG told me there was lots of Scandinavian blood in Iowa, because I kept finding beautiful people there.
We’ve also started venturing to other locales outside the Midwest. We love Louisville. We go down to Gulf Shores. We spend time in Nashville. We find little cities we love to hang out in.
And we’ve been lucky in that we’ve been overwhelmed with press. In 2015, we got a lot of unsolicited press. The more that happens, the more people from around the country submit directly to us. We were recently scouting in Charlotte, and somebody saw us and said, “Hey, you’re Mother!” The power of social media and the press has been good to us. The Nightline piece really captured us, and Vogue Magazine, vogue.com, and Teen Vogue have all been kind to us.
For years, in telling the story of Ashton Kutcher, the press just referred to his discovery as “a scout found him,” and we would joke between ourselves that they were never going to say who had discovered him. Then there was a shift. Teen Vogue acknowledged said we were “legendary scouts,” and we were like, “Wow.” It was such a humbling thing to have the editor acknowledge our work. We’re totally cool with being behind the scenes, but it’s still nice to have the recognition.
JC: It is very validating. Most mother agents, you’ll find one great girl who goes on and does great things. Maybe. But for whatever reason, we continue to find star after star, which is overwhelming sometimes. We’ll look at each other like, “What is happening?”
MC: It is crazy—we work from our basement and are in our pajamas half the day! It’s cool, though, because we are so dedicated; it’s just an extension of us. The lines are very blurred between work and play. This is fun for us; it’s rewarding. The girls are so sweet and appreciative. You literally watch them change in real time.
What’s the most important thing that you impart to these young people?
JC: One step at a time.
MC: We’re constantly telling them to not over-think.
JC: I saw something that said, “Over-thinking: the art of creating problems that don’t exist. See also worry.” I told a model recently, “You’re not allowed to over-think.” This was a girl at a big job with a great photographer and great gig, and she was already worrying about tomorrow. I told her, “Let’s just focus on where you are at today.”
MC: It’s the same thing we have to teach the parents. In this business, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day. It can be really exciting or really difficult. We try to tell people, “You are going to learn patience, or you will go crazy—those are your two options. You’re going into the unknown in a business where things change every day.” We’re very spontaneous people, and this business is like that, too. You have to be OK with that.
We joke that we come into people’s lives and rearrange them. We have a girl in Iowa whose parents are both police officers and are very organized. They know what’s happening six months from now. The plan was she would go to college for four years, then settle down in Iowa. We’ve come along and changed that plan. Again, here is where Jeff and I work so well together. When we’re developing these girls and Jeff is the point person, the logistics person and getting them from point A to point B, I can come in at those times when they need there actual mothers and provide that for them; so they are getting continual support from the both of us.
Many girls not with us have come up to us over the years and said, “I wish I had someone like you in my life.” These girls are thrown very quickly into a global industry with people from all over the world and all walks of life, and they have quickly adjust to that.
What’s next for you? A television show, by chance?
JC: It’s funny you say that about television…
MC: Over the years, we’ve had more than 25 production companies approach us to varying degrees, and the funny thing is they want it to be us yelling at each other and the models. We just say, “You’re talking to the wrong people.”