Capitalizing on beauty

  • 2002-05-23
Paolo Moglia is the pioneer behind the Estonian fashion industry and model market. He was the guy who set up the modeling agency that discovered homegrown supermodel Carmen Kass. Stefano Triolo talked to him about his fascinating business and life in Estonia.

Paolo Moglia came to Estonia almost a decade ago. First he opened an Italian restaurant. But his real passion lay in looking for models in the then-unexplored field of natural Baltic beauty. He had worked as a casting agent's assistant and photographer since he was 12.

Now his typical working day consists of meeting dozens of girls who dream of strolling down the catwalks of Milan, Paris and New York.

Estonia has no lack of beautiful women, and Moglia's experience shows that "real pearls" can be found in the clothes shops of any mall.

Moglia took time out for the interview during a busy casting session for a modeling agency in Milan.

What was your job in Italy before you came to Estonia?

In Italy I was the owner of a restaurant and during my free time I collaborated with a photographer. He worked with models, doing tests and taking photos. I like to photograph people, not landscapes. I've worked all over the world, in North and South America, Africa and Eastern Europe because my dream has always been to work somewhere outside Italy. In 1993 I arrived in Estonia, went round the country by car and loved it. The beautiful Old Town, with its warmth and harmony.

Looking around I noticed there was nothing here on the business level, no restaurants, no photo studios, and that was the reason I started working here. I went to the Italian Embassy, but they had just arrived too, and they couldn't give me any advice. So, it was a risk for me to move here, but I was really determined.

How often do you go back to Italy?

Four or five times a year, on business.

What changes have you noticed over these 10 years?

In the construction sector and the economy there have been many, many changes. But what hasn't changed are the people. They are still the same as 10 years ago, and believe me, this is not good for business. I think in the next two generations they will really change, but now they still have an old-fashioned mentality. Young people are a little different, but those over 30 are the same as 10 years ago.

Do you speak Estonian?

Yes, but it must be the most difficult language in the world. Every-where I was before, after one month I could understand 50 or 60 words. Here in Estonia it took four years before I started to understand the language. I learned Estonian day-by-day, working and going around the country. I never studied Estonian out of a grammar book.

Do you feel a little bit Estonian?

Absolutely not. I feel 100 percent Italian.

So, how did you discover Carmen Kass?

One day I was in (the central shopping area of Tallinn) Kaubamaja and I saw this girl in the perfume section. I thought "Oh, she's beautiful!" and just a few seconds later I was already talking to her. I immediately asked if she was a model. She said no. At the time I only spoke English and it was difficult for me to communicate with people. So, at first she was very suspicious of me.

Anyway, I left my visiting card and told her to call me at my new modeling agency if she was interested in studying to be a model. It was 1994. After a month she called me. She came to my agency, and I did the first photo test with her. In a few months she started working on TV shows and after that I presented her photos in Milan.

But nobody wanted her because, they said, her face was too classical. Even my ex-partner in my old agency was not optimistic about her. But I was absolutely sure she was the right girl at the right time, so I decided to invest in Carmen and paid for her first flight to Milan.

I was right. In a few days she started working for very important names. She worked hard. She then went to Japan and after that to Milan again for a very important job for Marie Claire. Her next experience, in France, was short but very lucky because they immediately chose her for the cover of Vogue. After that she flew to New York, where she lives and works today.

Do you still keep in touch with her?

Not for the last two years, because we decided not to work together anymore. In New York her personality changed, and I was not happy about it because, you know, I respect people for what they are and not for what they have or for their wealth. We had such different ideas about work and how to run a modeling agency.

Are any other Estonian models on their way to matching Carmen Kass?

I now have two girls who are working a lot. But it takes time, they are still young. It took three years before Carmen became famous in the world of fashion. She started when she was 16 and became famous after 19. These two girls are 15.

Do you work with men, too?

Last year I opened a section for men in my modeling agency, and now I have four men working as models. One of them, Margus, is famous in Milan, and he's doing very good work. But you know, here in Estonia there is one handsome man for every 10 beautiful girls. This is the real proportion.

Do you look for new faces in all three Baltic countries?

Eighty percent of my work is here in Estonia, but I often go to Riga, where I now have two new models, and soon I'll start going to Lithuania again, where I once had an office, which I want to reopen.

What does a girl do from the moment you contact her to the moment of the first fashion show?

It's a long process. After meeting her in the street, at a concert or a casting, I try to convince her to come to my agency - if possible with her parents because if she's under 18 I speak with the parents so they know who I am and where their daughter is going. If she accepts my invitation, she starts attending a school where they teach her how to walk and carry herself. She starts taking part in castings and photo tests. When I go to Paris, New York or Milan I present her photos to foreign agencies, and if they ask me for more material I take more photos and maybe make a video of her. Then she has her first experience abroad, but only after getting some experience in small fashion shows here in Estonia. These steps usually take more than a year to complete.

There are now strict rules about the age of models taking part in fashion shows. Do you agree with these new rules?

They're very important. In Paris, for example, a girl under 16 can't take part in a fashion show. In Italy, they had no rules for a long time, until recently. Now everybody who wants to work seriously has to follow these new rules.

Is the fashion industry in Estonia doing well?

It's a static period. The market here in Estonia is very small, even if conditions are now generally improving in the east and south of the country. But in the past there seemed to be more fashion shows, all around Estonia. The Baltic Fashion Fair was twice a year, then once a year and now it's not organized at all. It can't be done anymore on a professional level because of high costs.

How many modeling agencies are there in Estonia?

In 1993 there were seven or eight, and also many schools for models. In all, more or less 15. But over the years a lot have closed, because in this field if you don't work well you have high expenses to pay. Now there are only four important agencies here in Estonia.

Do you have any other businesses in Estonia apart from fashion?

I own two restaurants. My brother runs the first and my girlfriend the second. I am like Figaro - sometimes here, sometimes there. I also represent a famous Italian coffee company and a famous Italian beer here in Estonia. I import them from Italy and sell them to restaurants and hotels. I have many different activities in my life, because when I came here I came to work. I don't have much time to have fun.

Do you have any advice for people thinking of going into the same business in Estonia?

First of all you have to know that every morning, when you open the door, there is something new. Expect the unexpected. You'll never have the day you planned the day before.

A couple of funny things have happened to me here. According to the media and the newspapers, I have got married many different times in the past. I don't know who decided to publish this news or why. Anyway, every time they're wrong.

Another weird thing that's happened to me is that I've been called up for military service in the Estonian army. They've called me many times, so I went there asking for explanations. They told me I had to spend two months in the army.

But I've never had an Estonian passport, and I've never asked for Estonian citizenship. They didn't believe me. "Maybe you have some Estonian relatives?" they said. "No, I'm 100 percent Italian, I'm sure!" Maybe there was a computer error. But it was very funny, and very strange, to be asked to do military service with 20-year-old boys.