An odd thing happened to me one day when I was living in Hong Kong. I must have been about thirty or thirty‑one. A friend of mine had come from the United States in pursuit of a modeling career, having heard quite correctly, that there was a demand for striking Western models in Asia. He had the typical GQ look that you see in those chic, elegant fashion magazines. He was about six‑foot‑three with a lean, straight frame, and stunningly blond hair (if only from a bottle). The affect was impressive nevertheless.
I agreed to set up interviews for him before his arrival. Having no experience whatsoever with modeling agencies, I simply called and made arrangements for him to show up with his portfolio of photographs that showed him in flattering poses, along with his tear sheets that were examples of his likeness already in print.
When I saw the tear sheets, I was a bit concerned. He had modeled primarily swim suits and very youthful trendy "California" style clothing, taking advantage of his blond surfer look. However, being familiar with what the more sophisticated regional market, I couldn't imagine anyone in Hong Kong ever wearing those clothes. So, I suggested that he buy a business suit.
He dutifully went to a local tailor friend of mine, who produced a very nice-looking Wall Street style suit for him. Even though it fit to a T, I have to admit, it just didn't quite go with his image. Nevertheless, I promised to pick him up and escort him through Chinese traffic to his interviews on the following day. That was when my surprises began.
There is no doubt that he was a "headturner." People would always take a second look in restaurants and even on the street. Now that I had remade him a bit, I thought he would be a shoe‑in. We went into the biggest and most well‑known Hong Kong modeling agency first. It had accounts with all the big Asian corporations.
"You're perfect!" was the immediate response the minute we walked through the door. "You have the exact right look for our market." I was proud of my efforts at remodeling him.
"Great," I replied. "And he has a portfolio and tear sheets too!"
"No, not him!" they intoned. "YOU!" I distinctly remember looking around behind me, thinking someone else must surely be standing in the doorway.
"The suit, the brief case, the salt-and-pepper hair... You are the frequent flyer!"
I learned that day about commercial modeling. Selling swim suits requires a certain look, to be sure; but selling airline seats and hotel rooms requires another. I moonlighted as a frequent flyer model for several years after that, and saw myself in all sorts of airport kiosks in Tokyo, Taipei, and Singapore. I guess it's all in the look.