Looking for the Face

2009-10-23 11:44

FIRST there was Oluchi, and then there was Oluchi. The inaugural winner of the continental model search has managed to create a niche in the modelling industry which seems to be unassailable by the rest of the winners the competition has churned out.

There was Nombulelo, Ramatoulaye, Venantia and Kaone. Remember them? Probably not. The competition is starting to look like another run-of-the-mill reality TV show that is more about TV ratings than it is about models.

The new season will see world-renowned model Iman offering her cosmetics range to the contestants throughout the 17-part series which comes to end in February next year in Lagos, Nigeria.

The format for the contest is reality TV, nothing we have not already seen before. There is “boot camp” in Kenya, where 20 of the girls live together. Week by week a girl will be eliminated.

The yearly competition scours the continent for the best in beauty, personality and brains to launch the career of one successful African model.

The idea is to launch these women into the glamorous world of international modelling so that they can represent the continent. This is what sets the competition apart from any other modelling contest.

Theoretically the competition should work. Acclaimed fashion designer, David Tlale sees it as a “great launching pad” for models. “...but it is the responsibility of the model to sell themselves and take their names forward. They need to understand the power they have as brands”.

However, the parade so far has not been world class when you consider that some of these winners end up based in South Africa and land retail campaigns for shops like Foschini and Mr Price.

One would have thought that winning the competition meant a chance at international supermodeldom and not the local seasonal calendar circuit.

A few years back South Africa’s only winner Nombulelo Mazibuko from Cape Town was sent packing in New York as she was considered, at size 30, too fat. She has since shun the spotlight and quit modelling. Last we heard, she was working as a booker for a Cape Town agency.

Perhaps stronger grooming and mentoring for the girls would ensure a higher success rate internationally. It comes as a welcome relief that in addition to the $50 000 (about R363?000) prize money, the winner will get to spend a day with the iconic Somalian-born supermodel Iman in New York. If Iman is pairing up with the contest, even for just 24 hours, surely this says something about the connections Face of Africa has.

While the new crop of wannabes is being finalised by M-Net, it has been announced that previous winner Kaone Kario from Botswana will serve as a scout to choose the girls while they are in Kenya. Kario, who won the competition in 2005, admits that the most she’s done since winning the competition is work on retail campaigns for Foschini.

She says: “I don’t have any expectations of the new contestants. The longer they stay in the competition the more they will come out of their shells. I want the girls to believe the impossible. That’s what this contest is about.”

Kario says there is still a need to showcase successful African models to the world. But is it really so? Can women from Africa, particularly in the southern region, the majority of whom are built with perfect curves, really take on the ramps of the world? Well, judging by Mazibuko’s experience, it will be a difficult one.

On the other hand if these women are “representing” the continent globally, waifs who look like they can be blown over by the slightest breeze do nothing to represent Africa.

Lerato Moloi, who was a contestant on the show 10 years ago, suffered the same blow with Mazibuko when New York rejected her because she was “too fat”, but her career has taken a turn for the better and has become one of the most successful Face of Africa ­contestants.

She has landed a lucrative contract with top cosmetics house Elizabeth Arden. To top that, she is the first black face to represent the brand and only the second after Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The humble Moloi, who is pregnant with her second child, says: “When it happened it was like a prayer was answered. I think it’s every model’s dream to land a major contract like this. I always felt like I was not famous enough?– and when I say famous, I mean money-wise. But one day I put it out there to God asking for something major and it finally happened.”

In 2005 Adeola Ariyo?– half Ghanaian, half Nigerian model?– took part in the competition and wowed audiences. As a firm favourite in the competition, despite having been given the boot in the semi-final, her career took off.

“The Face of Africa competition opened a number of doors for me, but more than that it made me more confident, which meant more jobs for me. Which helped my family back home in Nigeria. I deal with people better now. It made me realise what I really have to offer.”

The 23-year-old full-time model, who gave up her dreams of studying at university to pursue her career, has since moved to Cape Town. She has walked the ramps of London and New York fashion weeks and has worked on a number of retail campaigns here and abroad.

She says: “Being on Face of Africa doesn’t necessarily mean you are famous instantly. You need to want it and to work for it.”
She adds that if new model wannabes want to be successful at this job they need to be themselves.

“You need to let your personality shine, and you need to be beautiful on the inside and out. It really is true. The viewers will love you, the judges will love you and there’s no need to be a prima donna because it will work against you.”

Ariyo attributes her inspiration to Oluchi, who also hails from Nigeria.

“She has been in the industry for so long and somehow she keeps getting better. Again, it is her personality and ability to think which has made her such an important person in the modelling industry. The best part about her is that even though she is such a superstar she is so humble and down-to-earth. It always feels like I am on the same level as her when we work together.”

The current winner, Kate Menson who hails from Ghana, went on to sign a three-year ­contract with O Model Africa agency.
“The competition changed my life. I never thought I would be a full-time model and the competition helped me to establish my career. I have travelled, met great people and most of all I’ve learnt so much about the modelling industry.”

The 23-year-old who has worked throughout the world since winning the competition, says: “I’ve only technically been in the industry for eight months and feel that I’ve already achieved a lot, but not enough of course. The whole ­experience has really affected my personal life. I was a typical Ghanaian girl who only spent time with my family and friends, and now ­everything has changed but I am not ­complaining!”

Let’s see which face will stand out this year.

The new season of Face of Africa starts on M-Net on October 31 at 5pm.

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