AN ICON INTERVIEW WITH PEGGI LEPAGE: "THE ART OF MODEL SCOUTING."
BY ROBBIE MCNAMARA
Interview Photos by Alissa Baltazar
Very few have achieved the level of success and longevity in the fashion industry as Peggi Lepage has. Based in Toronto, Peggi is one of the city’s premier model scouts and has overseen the careers of countless young talent over the years. She brings a great sense of relatability to the job based on her time as a model and goes the extra distance with her own models. Her job does not end after scouting them but continues with her developing and managing their careers.
Zolota Magazine had the privilege to sit down with Peggi (along with her dog, Diego) earlier in the fall. With a subtle wit and charm, Peggi opened up about her experiences in the fashion biz, from her formative years in front of the camera to her present day behind-the-scenes position.
ZOLOTA: Thank you for joining us! 2020 has been a crazy year and it isn’t over yet. How has it been for you?
PEGGI: Well, right now we’re in COVID, so there’s all kinds of protocol in place. Agencies are very cautious about taking on new talent. Companies are bubbling models. Models that they do know a little and do trust. It’s a bit of a tough time. Hopefully this doesn’t last forever. But the industry has changed a great deal recently … Black Lives Matters. It was long overdue and super important and I believe it’s here to stay. We’re seeing a lot more diversity in the industry and yeah, just really proud to be part of the industry at this time.
ZOLOTA: In what specific ways has COVID affected the fashion industry?
PEGGI: Travel is difficult and we live in a smaller market, so Canadian models do travel significantly (for work). We have to sign waivers to go into the studios and you want to make sure that you can trust the young people are being somewhat isolated in their lives. You know, I started to see some of my kids talk a little about their mental health and how this has been challenging for them. And so you’ve got to be open minded to that too, right? So, it’s finding the balance. Providing some opportunities, but safe opportunities. A lot of my development, at the moment, have been park shoots. You’re going to meet a photographer at Trinity Bellwoods, you’re going to have your mask on until it’s time to shoot, and at that point you’re going to take yours off, the photographer will keep theirs on and you guys will stay six feet apart, two meters apart. And that’s sort of the only way we’ve been really able to do any development, and like I was saying, that’s okay. Today’s beautiful, but tomorrow’s meant to be nine degrees, so we’re coming to the end of park shooting.
ZOLOTA: Winter is coming.
PEGGI: Winter is coming. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had the best pandemic weather. Since March, we’ve had good weather. Hopefully we find a way to do more shooting with physical distancing. As soon as you bring studios into the equation, there’s going to be fees. And when you’re first starting out with a model, I try to make sure we do as many things as possible while they’re learning to model that don’t cost them much. Hopefully, we’ll have a vaccine soon. There’s no magic answer here for that. It’s so multifaceted between the kids that are getting depressed, staying at home, you know, feeling cooped up and detached from their friends. I mean like everybody, but some kids are having a hard time.
ZOLOTA: Tell me more about the kids.
PEGGI: I have probably had well over two hundred and fifty models under my umbrella. Right now, I think my roster sits about ninety. At the moment, people are pretty grounded. But Janessa’s just come back from Berlin where she had a really beautiful run. She did a lot of work for an e-commerce company called Zalando. She was very busy with them. Alice has just come back from New York and she’s done many beauty brands of late. Ty was recently in a kids show in New York. Oh, Ariel just did something for Shoppers Drug Mart. Jude was just the face for an American jewellery company. I think Gio has done a fair amount of Harry Rosen during quarantine. And Becca! I should mention Becca because she’s just had a beautiful run. She and her mother have done something together for an upcoming Roots campaign. Yeah, so that’s just a few things off the top of my head. The kids are working.
PEGGI: Yes, your Barbara Walters question. Has it changed me? I think that the kids keep me young. Because I’m constantly being made aware of new young upcoming trends and the humanity of this generation too. A lot of this Black Lives Matters movement has been youth driven. And I think that’s pretty awesome. What else can I say… I don’t over-the-moon love social media the way that some of my models do, right? Because I’m from that time when we still really liked a little bit of privacy in our lives. Do you know what I mean? I do understand that Instagram’s a really good tool for me and I, of course, have two accounts and so I’m on top of that. But kids see it differently than we do. They don’t seem as troubled by their (lack of) privacy as I am. So the kids keep me young.
ZOLOTA: How do you find new models?
PEGGI: You know what, I don’t do a lot of scouting on social media. A little bit if somebody tags me on somebody and I think that person’s great, I might go in and have a bit of a conversation or maybe the person that works with me, my assistant, might go on and have that conversation. I’m more of an industry kind of person, if I see somebody I’ll give you a card and say ‘hey, look me up and if you’re interested, give me a call’. So, I’ll still go out to malls, and less so during the pandemic and in Canada that’s always hard during the winter because once they get their parkas on, you have no idea. And this year, between the parkas and the masks, I mean, you’re looking at their pretty eyes. I’m better at scouting kids when they’re not on their own too. I feel like when I end up with a kid and it’s just me and the kid, it doesn’t feel as good to me. I would rather speak to a parent at that point. Once a grandmother hit me with a bag because her granddaughter was only fourteen. I mean, the granddaughter was five ten, so how was I to know (laughs). So, you really have to be conscientious of what you are doing. You’re coming into someone else’s space and you are offering up something that may or may not work out. And at the same time it’s an industry that has a big spotlight shining on it.
ZOLOTA: What inspired you to make the jump to model scouting?
PEGGI: Well, I didn’t want to leave the industry, if I’m being truthful. I wanted to forge a path for myself. And it’s taken a long time. It’s very competitive. There are a lot of us out there. I wanted to do things in a way that I felt was helping models find their voices. Also, I had dated a big scout in the industry, I didn’t always like the way he did things. I guess, to put it into a nutshell, I think that because this industry works with so many young women, I feel there should be more women than men in the industry. And I was very fortunate along the way. I hear a lot of stories about all kinds of sexual harassment. I was very lucky, I experienced very little of that kind of thing. I would say that I experienced more of that as a teenager growing up north of Sudbury, if I’m going to be really honest. I had a lot more of a hard time with pervy drunk boys in high school than I ever had as a fashion model (laughs). But I really do feel that there’s got to be a lot more women looking out for young women in this industry. And that’s really important to me.
ZOLOTA: When did you start scouting?
PEGGI: I started model scouting when I first came back to Canada, really. Kind of in a casual way. Ford Models had me doing their open call, so I was kind of that person that screened you and if I saw any kind of potential I would go get one of the bookers from the table. But people would ask me, you know, I modeled a really long time, I mean, I was always just a working girl, never by any means was I a great model, but I worked for a lot of years and met a lot of people and people started to ask me ‘do you think my daughter or my son could model’? And I started to think that this was an industry that I’ve been in for a long time and probably one that I wanted to stay in.
Peggi is being modest when describing her time as a model. She began modeling when she was eighteen years old and worked full time into her forties before moving on to scouting. During her modeling career, Peggi did very well and posed for numerous magazines including Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire. She was represented by Judy Welch in Toronto, WE in Paris, Premiere in London, Gunns in Japan and many more over the years.
ZOLOTA: Where did it all begin? PEGGI: I was living in Hamilton, Ontario, and I was working in the Cotton Factory, night shifts, actually. They hired students to do these two night shifts a week and if you didn’t miss one of your night shifts, you got a bit of a bonus every month. I didn’t last very long. Somebody at that time gave me a business card for a photographer in Toronto and they suggested I call him and get some pictures done. And so I did, and he sent me to Judy Welch the day that we took the pictures and they took me. He just sent me with what was called PolaPan at the time, it was sort of like these transparencies that you can see through. And that’s sort of how it started and really it was pretty fast back then. I mean, it was the late eighties and the industry was hopping and within the year I was living in Paris. So it was pretty exciting but pretty scary too. Ultimately, I’m a small town kind of girl and I struggled that first year. I had a hard time. I learned that there were things missing in my education. As far as cooking for oneself, figuring out where to do one’s laundry. Mom had been doing quite a lot for me. The first trips were hard, but there was something about it I really liked. I think I was always really drawn to the travel. I found it hard, but at the same time I kind of found it exciting and eventually that excitement shone through and became more important than the anxiety I was feeling.
ZOLOTA: Then, as they say, the rest is history. You embarked on to a successful modeling career around the world.
PEGGI: Yes, and then I started to make pretty regular trips. Like once a year for three or four years I went to Tokyo and then I included Osaka in that mix. And you know, those were safety net trips because I was always a little on the commercial side and definitely never really fit in during the heroin chic stage. I was not able to keep myself that thin. So, I counted on those trips to start to put together a little nest, financial nest, so that I could go to more obscure markets. And then, I went to Taiwan early on when Asia was still very much emerging as a market. There was really only Japan (at the time), now all of Asia is open.
ZOLOTA: How has the business changed from when you were modeling to scouting?
PEGGI: This industry has changed a great deal and really for the better from when I was in it. As I said, I modeled during the heroin chic period and I mean the girls were scary skinny, right?. Super scary skinny. Now I see a lot more diversity with ethnicity and sizing and age. It’s a much more open industry. But it’s also tighter in some ways because you can only have so many models in each category or nobody works enough to make a living. So agencies are specific. They try to hit all kinds of different looks and sizes but at the same time not take on so many people that you’ve created a lot of competition for the talent. When there’s too many people, there’s just too many people.
ZOLOTA: Favourite cities to work in?
PEGGI: I get asked that question a lot! Sometimes I feel like it must be Paris because Paris was incredible. It’s a city where I found out that even if you’re having a dry month, you can still have quite a lot of fun. Once you live in Paris, you find that the parks are beautiful and the espresso never costs as much. You can be social on a dime. But I really love London. And London is probably the city I miss the most. And then Tokyo, as well. But Japan was never somewhere I really saw myself living, although I did stay once for several months longer than my contract. Those three cities forged a place in my heart. But there are other cities that I love too. I loved New York. You know, the thing about New York was the rich and poor always felt really like in your face in that city. There’s the halves and the halves not and I really felt that in New York. And it was something I wasn’t really accustomed to, so I struggled a bit more with that. But I did love New York and I thought if you were a person with a lot of drive, a lot of hunger, I can see why that could be the right city for you. I loved Milan. Like, Milan was fun. They made it easy for us to party. Someone was always willing to take you dancing and buy you a plate of pasta. It wasn’t easy to make money in Milan but it was quite the adventure. I spent some time in Australia. That was a beautiful market. I did a short little season in New Zealand, I thought that was pretty awesome. I spent a couple of winters in Miami. I mean, it really just sort of made the whole planet available, at least we felt that way then. And now thinking about it, it’s even more available now because now are many more markets that didn’t exist when I was modeling. China, Singapore, Los Angeles, those weren’t really markets back then. They’re very viable markets now.
ZOLOTA: What does your crystal ball predict for the fashion biz in 2021?
PEGGI: I think that it’s going to be really good! It’s going to be a very good year, just to be the beginning of better years to come. I think that people are going to be a little bit choosier about the models that they take on, a little bit more careful and have smaller pools of talent, so that there’s more work for everybody. Maybe there was a little bit of saturation, you know, more models than work. I mean, saturation is a problem everywhere these days, but I’m sort of hoping that the fashion industry will be a little bit more refined coming out. All the lessons learned this year will be with us moving forward. All the protocol for cleanliness on set. All the diversity on set. Bring it on. It’s all beautiful.
ZOLOTA: Lastly, what is your advice to all the aspiring models out there?
PEGGI: Ask yourself why you want to do this and it has to be more than about being beautiful. If it’s just about beauty then it’s probably not the right match. If this is about validating your beauty, that’s not a good reason to want to model. If it’s just for content for your Instagram account, it’s not a good reason to want to be a model. If it’s about work and really wanting to be a part of this art? That’s a better reason. If it’s about a love of fashion? Great reason. Wanting to travel and seeing this as a good vehicle for making that happen? Great reason. A stepping stone to something else? Another great reason. There are all kinds of good reasons for wanting to get into this industry. And … don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t work out. Maybe your beauty just wasn’t the right fit at the moment because there’s also some trends involved here, you know what I mean? Sometimes it’s just not your time. I’ve been a model scout and modeled through periods where it felt like everybody’s eyes were off to the sides of their heads and then all of sudden everybody’s eyes came in closer again and then cheeks were kind of full, there was a gap in the teeth and all of sudden cheekbones were sharp. There are trends. You know what I’m saying, right? There are trends. And, you know, if it’s not your time then … we’re not saving lives here. Go do something else.
ZOLOTA: Thank-you very much.
PEGGI: Your welcome. I hope that last bit wasn’t too harsh.
ZOLOTA: That was a wonderful answer.