The Industry’s New Model

BY LINDA MARX | PHOTO: CARLOS HIDALGO

DAS Model Management in Miami Beach offers clients an interactive and boutique approach to the cutthroat business using compassion and New Age philosophy. 

After discovering a hole in the modeling industry, former model Rasheed Alli decided to fill it. To do that, he created DAS Model Management, an agency that takes a personal approach to managing its portfolio of international models and roster of corporate clients, which includes companies like Kohl’s, The Bon-Ton and Belk department stores, Colgate, VENUS Fashion, JD Sports, Nike and Bonprix, a retail chain from Germany.

Instead of repeating the same mistakes made by other agencies, many of which have closed their doors, Alli and his two partners have launched a new type of agency making the most of the model’s talent and using high-tech platforms to produce results. “DAS evolved last summer after I had meetings with people in the modeling industry and discovered there was a need,” says Alli, 31, who was discovered in a mall at age 13 and worked as a runway and catalog model for eight years. “I learned that some models were not vetted properly, others would come to shoots late or hung over, and many did not get paid on time. There was a huge lack of professionalism.”

So Alli set out to change all that. He believed that Miami had fallen off the map because of a lack of professionalism in its modeling agencies. After more research, he decided to base DAS—named for the initials of his agency partners’ last names, Spencer Dienes and Jake Silverstein—in Miami Beach, where it could do the most good from the very beginning. “When the big German clients left Miami, there was a hole that didn’t get filled,” he explains of that decision. “I was living in San Francisco and wanted to create a bespoke approach to handling clients in a beautiful place.”

DAS is a full-service independent model management firm with about 240 models from around the world. The company was conceived and developed with a broad strategic vision to create a targeted mentoring program for its models. Some are already established and looking to elevate their brand to the next level, while others are just entering the industry. “Our mentoring program is based on the fundamental principle of investing significant time into the person and professional brand development of that person signed by the agency,” says Alli, who handles men, women and is considering adding dogs to the mix due to corporate client requests. “This is a core practice we believe has been forgotten or ignored by the industry.”

DAS is competing against larger agencies but is offering a unique boutique environment that is appealing in a special way. “We have an interactive program, we are personal, and we have good software,” says Alli, who has a broad background in the software business as well as in fashion and modeling. “All of this has been lost, and we are bringing it back in a newer and more powerful way.”

Eliminating the poor practices that have been plaguing the industry is one of the main objectives of DAS. And, of course, the models must know how to pose, show up on time and always be courteous—with no exceptions. To enforce this attitude and discipline, Alli has hired people who know what they are doing. In fact, all enlisted industry pros who work for DAS are highly skilled. Paulo Buonfante, a native Italian who was responsible for the early careers of superstars like Claudia Schiffer, Eva Herzigova and Heidi Klum, is Vice President of Operations. Anton Urusov, a former Serbian model who handles the corporate brand campaigns in the agency’s commercial division, is an agency director; he was onboard when Kohl’s brilliantly introduced celebrity lines by Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Vera Wang and Lauren Conrad. And style maven Lana Yakoby is a DAS mentor for the models, focusing on developing and improving their positions. Even modeling expert Michelle Pommier, the well-known Miami modeling guru, has been a consultant to the agency. “Modeling is a great industry, and I want it to have a positive image,” says Alli. “I want it to positively reinforce all of our lives.”

Alli is no stranger to hard work and discipline. He was born in Columbia, MO, to a pair of Olympians who were educated at the University of Missouri. His father, Yusef, is still the Nigerian record-holder in the long jump and won a gold medal at the 1990s Commonwealth Games; his mother, Rosalyn Dunlap, was the world record-holder in the 400-meter sprint in the 1980s. After living all over the country, getting an education, modeling and working in a variety of professions, Alli settled in Miami Beach and opened DAS. (He loves the winter and overall weather and beauty, but summers in San Francisco and Europe.)

As models have started hearing of DAS and its new approach to the industry and their welfare with innovative ways of building their careers, they’ve begun to jump aboard. As of this writing, famous names who have signed on include Samantha Hoopes, an American Sports Illustrated model; Ditta Kucsik, a Hungarian catalog model for Victoria’s Secret, and Michela Begal, the Italian winner of New Models Today, a prestigious European competition that launched the modeling career of actress Charlize Theron. Young, less established models like Alexandra Klakar of Serbia, Chris Shelton of Oakland, California, and Alexis Marie of Boca Raton are eager to put their careers in the hands of Alli and his partners because they see unlimited growth potential in all areas of modeling and brand management. “I was impressed with this new agency and its international scope of work,” says Marie, 22, who was discovered by Buonfante in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. “I liked the energy and motivation I felt from Paolo, and the challenge of rising to the top. In a short period of time, I was in front of the camera for a photo shoot as a new face for the Italian retailer Vetrine and its summer catalog. From day one, I received encouragement and drive from the entire team.” Marie was also given a casting opportunity for The Little Mermaid, a modern-adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. She was chosen out of 200 candidates for her first acting role with William Mosley in a Netflix movie being released this summer.

Chris Shelton, 17, is impressed with the “exceptional guidance and personal mentoring” she gets from Alli and his team. Learning how to remain natural and allow her personality to shine in front of the camera has been an important step for this young model. “When I heard about my first booking for Kohl’s, I couldn’t wait to put all I’ve learned into practice,” says Shelton. “Modeling has given me a new passion, and seeing myself represented by such an incredible company is an exciting first step.”

Criteria for models is different for each client. At the moment, some clients are requesting Asian women with short hair, mixed Mediterranean tones with curly hair, and men with tattoos. But needs change constantly, and DAS scouts look at all types to accommodate their clients and potential clients. It also helps immensely if models have or can cultivate a social media following and are able to articulate meaning behind the brand they are promoting. The more social media followers they have, the better, and the more maturely a model behaves, the better it is for the brand. “Models today must have influence,” says Alli. “Instagram, Facebook likes and Twitter create a sphere of influence, which will ring in sales.”

The challenge DAS faces is to get its name out so that others can learn about the operation. The partners built a big and beautiful office with its own photography studio, high-tech portals and top-of-the line software. Future plans include opening more offices around the world (Alli now travels 80-90 days a year) and growing organically. “The modeling industry is changing due to influences like social media,” says Alli. “Models need more than a pretty face. They must be articulate, and they cannot be controversial because everything appears online.” The industry is getting smaller even though it works on a more global scale. In 2017, DAS has got the memo: topnotch models and model behavior go hand in hand—and they’ve got a running start.

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