“I’m gay, I look at men, I appreciate them, but it has to be really different because you’re looking at someone you could be mentoring and managing – you just can’t look at them in that way. If you’re walking up to someone on the street and you’re giving them your card, sometimes it’s a bit more uncomfortable for a gay guy to walk up to a guy. You think they’re going to think something, and that’s totally in my head. It’s never held me back from going up to anyone, but it makes me walk up a bit slower”. Dean McDaid is a model scout and agent for Not Another, the agency he set up in 2015 with Emma Fraser.
“Not Another came out of necessity. We were booking models for Nine Crows [Dean and Emma's lifestyle brand] and, at that point, Emma had just been to L.A and I had just been to London working with really good models and we just noticed a gap in the market here. More so for an agency that is run well and actually treats people with respect”. It's safe to suggest there's cynicism to the name, “[it's] a response to something. It wasn’t ‘to be alternative’, and that’s something we’ve had to fight for just because we had one girl with tattoos [!]. The industry here, some of it, is a little bit slower and they kind of looked at us in the wrong light at first. So, there’s not a Not Another look? “I wouldn’t want there to be”. That said, one glance at Not Another's board is enough to make clear that there is a distinct space the agency wants to occupy in terms of looks.
A stylist and photographer also, Dean's experience in these roles has given him something to define his own agency against, “[Not Another] was also about how other agencies dealt with their clients. They were completely rude – not all of them, obviously – but any dealings we had with them were really negative”.
Dean recounts stories that would give Tyra at her best/worst in an episode of ANTM a run for her money, like models being refused their allowance until they drop a hip size. Tales of this extremity are few and far between in Dublin but they exist, “girls have been told they’re fat on set by an agent or have been told to get surgery”. By comparison, Dean says, “we aren’t like ‘you need to be like this!’ Instead we say, ‘you’re like this’”, and they go from there. Of course, this breaks down at the upper end of the industry, such is its nature, “for our girls who want to work internationally we need to prepare them for that. We wait for them to come to us and say ‘that’s what I want to’ and then we can be a little more real with them. Obviously we try and protect them, and its fine for [Ireland], it doesn’t really matter here once they’re fit and healthy. But sometimes girls might have dreams that aren’t really realistic”. That Dean feels tasked with a real duty of care comes as a relief, particularly when you appreciate that Not Another have girls as young as thirteen in development.
Despite a relatively ethical approach, I ask Dean how it feels to be at the centre of one of the most literal instances of looks-based hiring, and he laughs, “I enjoy it. It’s a thing. It’s just like any other job – you need to have something to get in there. Some jobs you need a degree for, some jobs you need experience for, or you need to be able to build things. It’s just like that. These people need to be in shape and have an interesting look”. He continues, “a lot of people in Ireland confuse what a model is and they think they have to be pretty and that’s not it at all. Generally, a good model has grown up feeling very ugly, feeling quite tall next to everyone else, and generally has been bullied quite a bit”. I get a sense from Dean that he really wants Not Another's models to feel empowered in their appearance in a way that many of them may never have felt, or may never have been allowed to feel, amongst their peers.
With sizing only one dimension of what it takes to make it on to Not Another’s boards offline, any slack is taken up with a model’s life online, “your social profile is currency as a model, it’s a way of showing your personality and your work. Clients look at likes and follows and it’s another way to advertise and get their product seen. Some people are really strong on social media and that is why they are there. They are booking lots of work because people listen to them and they have an audience”. This also means access to a large network of friends and followers, ready to be mined for new talent – models tend to hang out with other models or, at least, model potential, Dean implies.
I'm curious as to whether non-straight guys might bring it in a way that straights just can't, "Yeah, I think there is a difference in what they can do, in terms of movement". His concerns about differences between straight/not straigh models run a bit deeper than mine – namely, that there are none. "We did a model training day where we had all the boys in one room, and I was really really keeping an eye on how the straight guys were being to everyone else, but everyone was so good and lovely and inclusive. There wasn’t anyone just sat around. I thought there could be because some of them have pretty drastic looks some of them are quite feminine".
I finish up by asking Dean what being gay has meant for how he does his job, and it's reassuring to learn that model [as earlier defined by Dean] and model agent aren't so different, “growing up in the country, I grew a very thick skin which has helped me in what I’m doing and not in not getting too overemotional about things, because there’s a lot of rejections for our models. And you could really let that hurt you. I’m quite persevering. I think it definitely has shaped who I am – I don’t think you can pinpoint every little bit but I think I am a better person because of it. It has helped me get where I am and be happy in what I’m doing”.