Carole White: ‘Yes, I do swear a lot.’ Photograph: Matt Writtle/Eyevine
Model agency boss reignites the size zero row by admitting fashion designers ‘want young, flat-chested school girls’ with ‘straight up and down’ measurements
Carole White founded London-based agency Premier Model Management
64-year-old launched the careers of Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer
Said top designers wants the ‘very skinny’ girl with ‘no boobs’
Interview with Carole White
By Elizabeth Day
Your autobiography, Have I Said Too Much?, has the best excuse I’ve ever read for only wearing cashmere . You said your boarding school uniform left you with an abiding hatred of cheap wool…
I really don’t like wool. It was in the 50s and no one knew about wool – it probably just came straight off the sheep’s back. It was scratchy and horrible and it itched all day. Then it would go in the school laundry and come back all shrunken.
You also talk about your short stint as a model in the 1960s. What is your best tip for posing for a photo?
It’s a hard one. I was going to say: “Get drunk” [laughs]. Basically, you have to lose yourself in the moment in the story of the pictures and become very inventive. The more you do, the easier it becomes.
Is it true Linda Evangelista once said she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day?
I think she said it, but it was taken out of context. She was joking. She said it to Chris [White’s brother, with whom she runs Premier] and he’s right here. Did she say it, Chris? Chris: Yeah, but the press took it very seriously. It was definitely tongue-in-cheek.
Do you regret turning down the chance to represent Kate Moss?
It was my mistake. I’m sad about it. She’s had a wonderful career. That said, I’ve had every other supermodel on my books so it’s not bad.
You were Naomi Campbell’s agent when she became the first black woman on the cover of French Vogue in 1988. Has the fashion industry’s relationship with race changed since then?
Not a lot. It’s still hard for black models. There are some beautiful black girls around but it takes double the time to get them off on their career path. You have to be perfect as a black girl. There’s not the willingness – if a fashion editor is doing a story, they don’t automatically think it could be either a black or white model. They’re very specific about the look they want. They have to think to do a story on a black girl rather than accepting that a black girl could be in any story. That’s quite difficult for bookers, and that’s sadly how it is. It’s still tough.
You opened Premier to a camera crew in 2010. How did the resulting TV series, The Model Agency, change your life?
It was scary but I loved it. It was exceedingly accurate. We didn’t realise how famous we’d become. It was crazy! I’d be outside having a fag and a dustman would shout out: “Hey Carole! I saw you last night.”
Do you still spot girls on the street who you want to sign?
Yeah. Often at airports there are parents with their young daughter, and I give them my card. Often nothing comes of it. It’s the girls who are so beautiful but don’t know they’re beautiful – they’re the ones you want. One girl, I scouted her in Waitrose in Hythe in Kent when she was 13 – Phillipa [Hemphrey]. She’s now been in Vogue, after a few years being trained by the agency and turning 16, and she finishes school in June. It’s like hunting for treasure. It’s hard to find.
Do you worry that models are getting younger and younger?
You’re wrong there. Five years ago, the girls in New York walking the catwalk were 13. I think that’s bad, I really do. But the climate’s changed a lot now, so in the UK we don’t let girls go on the runway until 16 and we can prove it to the BFC [British Fashion Council]. It’s supposed to be the same in New York, France and Milan but they all cheat. Sometimes, a 13-year-old will crop up. I think it ruins the girl, in a way. It’s too soon. Sometimes, their features change by the time they’re 16 and sometimes their body shape can change. The ideal age is really 17 or 18. If they start too young, they’re finished by 18. The fashion business is cruel. It eats you up, swallows you down and spits you out… Everyone is greedy for the new face.
Is it true one supermodel insisted you order her llama curry on a foreign shoot?
I’ve had to get some very odd things. You could be asked to get, I don’t know, Chinese food when you’re in Prague or something. You were very tested by these girls. I’ve had to get reindeer ornaments and candles from Paraguay.
It sounds like The Devil Wears Prada…
Sweden’s Chloe Memisevic hit headlines for her incredibly thin frame while walking on the Erdem catwalk in front of a star-studded audience that included Samantha Cameron
It is! Models leave school and no one’s educated them in the value of money and everyone does everything for them because it’s so pressured and everything is on a plate. It doesn’t mean they’re spoilt but time is of the essence for them. Their career span is not that long. So everything is done for them by the agency or the client – dentists, private doctors – because they just don’t have the time. It’s a bit like being a queen, isn’t it?
You fell out with your protege Naomi Campbell over a disputed perfume contract. Are you friends now?
I don’t see her very often. I bump into her occasionally and say hi, but we don’t have tea. I looked after her for 17 years and we were very close. But life moves on. I missed her a lot in the beginning but it’s OK now.
You testified at the trial of the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, claiming he had given Campbell blood diamonds at a 1997 dinner in South Africa. What was that like?
At first I thought it would be a doddle. It was quite naive of me because anything to do with court and being a witness – you’re actually grilled. I’d forgotten that bit! So I went feeling confident and I didn’t realise it was live TV and I really wasn’t prepared for the grilling I got. To be accused of being a liar was just vile. It was very, very stressful.
You’re known for swearing and smoking. Which one do you do more of?
Oh, probably eat! I do swear – I am horrendous and it’s not something to be proud of but my job is quite stressful. I’m one of those people who, if you have an argument with someone, I don’t harbour it. Swearing is a bit like that. I guess it gets it out. It makes me feel calmer, but my dad would turn in his grave. And smoking is smoking, I’m afraid.
Who is the most beautiful person you’ve ever met?
Christy Turlington and also Susie Bick, who was one of the best models I ever had. You know who was a lovely girl? Amber Valletta. She was really bright and kind. The most flamboyant was obviously Naomi. She had great character and was very strong. I loved Linda [Evangelista], she was quirky and kooky. I always thought she’d end up the fashion editor of French Vogue.
Carole White’s memoir, Have I Said Too Much? My Life In and Out of the Model Agency, is published by Century, £20.Share