Monday, December 6, 1999

Maria-Lana Queen tried modeling for some extra cash while in college in the late 1980s. What was to be a brief experiment has turned into a second job and her own business.

The 30-year-old housing revitalization specialist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development runs Catwalk Fashion Series, a modeling agency and finishing school in Southwest D.C.

“This was just a hobby. I did not intend for this to be a business,” she said.

Ms. Queen was 19 when she won model of the year in a regional modeling contest.

She continued doing runway shows around the country until five years ago.

Ms. Queen realized there were no modeling mentors, where girls could get honest advice and guidance.

“Many businesses are interested in it for the dollar,” Ms. Queen said. “I just got tired of seeing that.” So, she started her finishing school and eventually began using her contacts, everyone from photographers and makeup artists to designers and production people, to manage models as an agent.

Ms. Queen meets about 100 girls a year, managing 25 and training about 30 at a time. “I give my honest opinion,” she said. “I’m going to manage your product if it’s worth it.” The six-week seminar meets once a week and costs $200. The classes used to take place on Eighth Street in Northeast, but Ms. Queen is looking for another studio for her spring classes.

Parents often ask Ms. Queen to help with their teen-ager’s development by enrolling them in the class. But, Ms. Queen said, she makes it clear to the girls that the class will teach them poise, but it will not guarantee them a job in the industry.

“You have to be a minimum of 5 feet 9 inches in your bare feet with a maximum of 36-inch hips at the largest part of your behind to be a fashion model,” said Tricia Erickson, owner of the Erickson Agency, a modeling agency in McLean. “Those are just the basics.” Ms. Queen said she won’t tell her students to starve themselves or to spend thousands of dollars on photographs. She just wants to develop them and help them carve out their own identities even if she decides not to manage them.

“I don’t want models being taken advantage of,” Ms. Queen said. She emphasizes the self-esteem and lessons in etiquette that comes with the class.

Ms. Erickson, a 20-year veteran in the modeling management business, agrees that telling girls upfront whether they have a chance to work as a model is essential. Too many girls are cheated because they don’t know the industry standard and where to start, she said.

“I believe in training,” Ms. Erickson said. “But the schools usually take anybody and everybody. In my opinion it’s a rip-off” Ms. Queen said she does turn people away, unlike too many agencies that are not honest with models about their chances.

“That is what distinguishes a real agency from a fraud,” she said. “They are going to get an honest direct opinion from me.” Not all of Ms. Queen’s models have taken her class.

Ashanda Guice, 18, was working as a sales associate at Victoria’s Secret in Pentagon City Mall when Ms. Queen approached her about modeling. Ms.

Guice, who is six feet tall, had worked for C-9 International Models and Givenchy Parfum. To avoid a modeling scam, she did some informal research on Catwalk Fashion Series.

“I asked around and all I kept getting was positive feedback,” Ms. Guice said. “That put in my mind that yes she is someone.” Soon after accepting Ms. Queen’s offer, Ms. Guice was sauntering down the runway at a fashion show for the Congressional Black Caucus.

Too many girls go into model searches paying hundreds of dollars for photos with nothing promised in the end, Ms. Queen said.

Women with potential working with Ms. Queen can have a professional portfolio made for about $250. “I work with professionals that I know, and these guys have good rates,” she said. “We look at the cheapest and the most professional.” Ms. Queen said that $250 is for a basic portfolio, but the girls that show potential to advance and find more work usually upgrade that portfolio.

“My suggestion is not to invest quite a bit of money in the beginning particularly if you’re a beginner model with no experience because the agency does not know the full potential, nor does the model,” she said.

Ms. Erickson questioned the value of Ms. Queen’s portfolio package. To be managed by reputable agencies, girls should generally be prepared to spend nearly $2,000, she said.

“I’m talking about the real industry standard,” Ms. Erickson said. “I’m not talking about somebody’s neighbor that is a photographer.” Ms. Queen’s repertoire of models range in ethnicity and style and even size.

“I focus on their current attributes,” Ms. Queen said. “I’m not going to tell a teen-ager to lose a few pounds.” Mimicking the advice of Ms. Queen, Ms. Guice said although she would love to become a supermodel, she realizes she must have another plan.

“Like Maria tells me, ‘If you want it too bad, it won’t come to you,’ ” Ms.

Guice said. So, Ms. Guice will be studying marketing at the University of Maryland next fall. Meanwhile, she will continue to walk the runways at some of the city’s biggest shows.

“If anything happens, if God hasn’t put modeling in my future, then I would like to become an agent like Maria.” The company does mostly runway shows which include the NAACP, Questers and the Minority Business Administration, among others. The company also does beauty expositions.

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