Posted by: Singh Is King | Saturday, August 4, 2007

Lions on a Catwalk

Lions on a Catwalk
By Henna Singh

There is a new modeling agency that’s making waves on the Indian fashion scene. To say that it’s different would be an understatement. In fact, to call it just a modeling agency would be an understatement in itself, but we’ll get to that later. I’m talking about “Launchers the Modeler” modeling agency in New Delhi, India. The twist? All the models are Sikh men – that is, they sport turbans and unshorn hair.The agency’s founder, Gurmeet Singh, is only 26 years old and says that he started the agency after his own negative experiences. His father passed away when he was only 22, and so he was forced to enter the workforce and seek employment. He decided to try his hand at modeling but every agency he entered took one look at him and asked him to cut his beard and then come back. Financial pressures almost caused Gurmeet to consider rejecting his Sikh identity, but in the end his conscience would not let him make the monumental sacrifice.

He felt that he shouldn’t have to let go his articles and symbols of faith in order to work as a model. Furthermore, he was sure that there were other men like him who were interested in modeling but weren’t given the chance.

So, he decided to start his own modeling agency.

Gurmeet didn’t know anything about modeling. He went to Mumbai – India’s glamour capital. There, he worked as a model coordinator so that he could discover the ins and outs of the modeling world. As a model coordinator, he had a wide variety of responsibilities that included everything from picking up lunch orders for his office to attending photo shoots. Not only did he learn the tricks of the trade, but most importantly, he also learned what a model needed to make it in the industry.

In 2003, Gurmeet started his own agency. He placed ads in all the major Indian newspapers. A flood of responses poured in, at times as many as 800 in a single day. It was, needless to say, a little overwhelming.

But in selecting the models, Gurmeet wasn’t alone. He had hired a professional photographer and stylist to help him. The two assistants were veterans of the fashion industry and knew what to look for when selecting the models.

The team decided to pick the models based solely on how well their face photographed. Then, they trained the models. Once deciding who was “in” and who was “out”, the models were put through a training program of sorts – a model boot-camp, if you will. The group of men were awoken at 5:30 am and taken to yoga class, followed by running. The workout was accompanied by classes on nutrition and diet. They were also educated on the latest fashions and even took dancing classes. All this was topped off with visits to exclusive clubs and hotels around Delhi where the models had a chance to interact with the movers and shakers in the fashion industry.

Although Gurmeet hadn’t had the support of modeling agencies when he wanted to model, he found that the media was more than welcoming of Launchers the Modelers. Immediately, Gurmeet found work for his models and they were sent to do photo shoots with designers all over India. The models have a presence on the runways and some have even been invited to appear on TV serials and in movies.

While the models have been successful, it’s the training that has really helped Gurmeet make a name for himself in the business. His modeling agency almost seems to have a sort of etiquette school on the side, aimed exclusively at men. Once people saw the interpersonal skills that Gurmeet’s models had developed, he began to receive calls from men who wanted Gurmeet to coach them as well.

Some of these men were about to get married and knew that they were going to attend a multitude of functions where their every move would be watched and photographed. Other men were much older and wanted to catch up on popular culture. They realized that the era they were in was much different from the one in which they had grown up and suddenly found themselves without the skills or knowledge that would help them network and establish important relationships. It was imperative that they look their best and be confident, and so they turned to Gurmeet. Gurmeet would train them the same way that he trained his models. He taught them about fashion and what to wear to look good, depending on the event. He trained them in taking better care of their health and diet. He turned them into more polished versions of themselves.

Today, Launchers the Modeler agency is highly successful and so is Gurmeet. Being a fashion stylist of sorts has provided him with many opportunities in the media world. He has decided to create his own designer clothing and turban line which will cater to Sikh men. The line will feature sherwani kurtas and interesting designs of turbans.

Gurmeet also has a TV show called Sanjog on the Alpha ETC Punjabi channel. The show visits single men and women and makes them over. Gurmeet then asks them what they’re looking for in a mate and provides viewers with an email address where the subject can be contacted. Sanjog has been so successful that ETC Punjabi has asked Gurmeet to make more episodes and the show now airs twice a week.

Through his all-Sikh modeling agency, it appears that Gurmeet has started a revolution: its message being that it is important to ensure that people of every ilk are represented in the fashion world, and therefore have a noticeable presence in the media and public imagery.

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