Central Models has a beautiful history of vision, longevity, modernity and professionalism. The country’s largest modelling agency was the starting line, pacesetter and the pulse of the story of fashion in Portugal.
It was there in September 1989 that the sought-after models Tó and Mi Romano, as they were so affectionately known in fashion circles, created Central Models. The creative and expressive euphoria born of the 1974 Carnation Revolution was still resonating, and with it was a flourishing of new looks and professions, modernity and the desire to express it. It was fertile ground for fashion, that was about to come out of the domesticity of family seamstresses. The first fashion shows were mostly promoted by the textile industry, and took place at fairs such as Portex, Fil Moda and Mocap, which welcomed international clients: the same ones who brought moulds and manufactured in our factories. At the end of the 1970s the textile sector was important for Portuguese exports, which resulted in the appearance of some brands; but while there was production, it was not supported by design, let alone Portuguese design.
The first generation of fashion designers did not emerge until the 1980s, with the birth of the first fashion schools — Citex, Civex, Citeme and later Magestil, IADE and Gudi. These “stylists” were a welcome breath of fresh air, for all sorts of reasons, including the loss of foreign investment as the money was beginning to move to cheaper markets in Asia, which led to a crisis in the industry and the closure of many clothing factories. The creatives began to gain a voice, which is when the memorable May Manoeuvres took place on the Rua do Século in Lisbon. This was a gathering of more modern artists who came from all over the country to meet up in the Bairro Alto and dream the future. Stretching their wings were Ana Salazar and, more discretely, Manuela Gonçalves, who were followed by José António Tenente, Filipe Faísca, Lena Aires, Pedro Lata, Manuel Alves and José Manuel Gonçalves, Mário Matos Ribeiro and Eduarda Abbondanza. It was thanks to the efforts of the last two that Moda Lisboa was born in 1991 — the first fashion week that was a stage for that first generation and also for those who followed: Luís Buchinho, Maria Gambina, Miguel Flor, Dino Alves, Anabela Baldaque, Osvaldo Martins, Katty Xiomara, Nuno Gama, Paulo Cravo, Nuno Baltazar and many more. And at the same time, some creatives — José Carlos, Augustus, Manuela Tojal and Paulo Matos — claimed Portuguese couture for themselves.
It was at the height of all this energy that Central came into being, professionalising the role of models. “There were already some agencies, but they had no connection with the rules and conditions of contracts that were in force in international markets,” says Tó, continuing: “One could say that we were our own agents. There was a group of around sixty models — forty five women and fifteen men — whose main job was to walk the runway. We operated almost like a family and we were close to the promoters of these jobs, who were mainly textile entrepreneurs, choreographers, fashion designers, photographers, film producers and advertising agencies. We recommended each other directly and established the prices to be paid. It was normal back then to have months in which we worked twenty or more days.” Tó and Mi travelled a lot and during their trips around the world they realised they could help “shape the world of fashion and advertising in Portugal” and that “there was about to be a big boom.”At that time they specialised in runway models, but they had also realised that the future would be in images: photography and photogenics. At the same time, they wanted “to drop anchor, marry and have children,” so when they became agents, the began refusing paid modelling jobs. The agency began, then, with their best former colleagues. Of the 50-or-so models working at the time, Central Models had signed up a number of the most famous, including Ana Borges, Elsa Gervásio, Sofia Aparício, Vanessa Neffe, Xana Nunes and Nayma, as well as João Carlos, Miguel Blanc, Paulo Macedo, Pepe and Victor Hugo, among others. Tó and Mi conducted the castings and interviews themselves, and the world they had travelled taught them to “see in a face, despite its youth, the fundamental photogenic beauty traits needed for success in this business.”
This was also the golden age of women’s magazines, when Marie Claire, Máxima and Elle all carried their first fashion editorials, as did the Independente newspaper and Kapa magazine. At the beginning of the 1990s, fashion photography began appearing in the press and in collections of Pedro Cláudio, Inês Gonçalves, Isabel Pinto, João Silveira Ramos, Paulo Cristóvão and Carlos Ramos in Lisbon, and José Luís Dias, Cassiano Ferraz, Óscar Almeida and Paulo Neves in Porto. At the same time there emerged a new generation of specialist make-up artists and hair stylists like Cristina Gomes, Antónia Rosa and Paulo Vieira, and producers of fashion who have been indispensable to this day, including Isabel Branco, Paulo Gomes, Isabel Escaja and Sum Sum Avillez.
Advertising also gained a major boost, and new private television channels kick-started campaigns, consumption and audiences. Contracts with Central Models multiplied. By then, the agency represented one of the most extraordinary faces of the time: Miss Portugal. It was the era of Ana Cristina Oliveira, Anna Westerlund, Evelina Pereira, Júlia Schonberg, Paula Raposo and Kátia Pessoa, and also Paulo Pires, David Simões, Pedro Lima, Afonso Vilela and Miguel Teixeira. The modernisation of communication in Portugal took a giant leap with the arrival of European funds and the organisation of Expo 98 that opened up many new doors. Meanwhile, television ventured into national productions and was on the lookout for new actors. Many models tried their luck and Central Models opened a new department to help guide them: Central Movie.
At the same time, it negotiated with the legendary Ford agency and acquired the rights to “Super Model of the World,” the 1996 finalist of which was the fourteen-year-old Portuguese model, Diana Pereira. After her, thousands of youngsters signed up to chase the dream, and Central Models organised the 1997 world final, which took place in the Coliseu dos Recreios in Lisbon. The winners of this event were Luísa Beirão, Sofia Baessa and Joana Freitas, and later Alice Contreiras, Miléne Veiga and Sara Sampaio, as well as Ricardo Claudino and the twins Jonathan and Kevin. Central Models was then working with agencies all around the world. Paulo Pires appeared in a campaign by Christian Dior, while Júlia Schomberg, who signed for Marilyn Gautier in Paris, became the muse of Christian Lacroix and Jean Paul Gaultier. Other models followed in their footsteps and appeared regularly in Madame Figaro, Elle, Arena Homme Plus, L’Uomo Vogue and Wallpaper, all photographed by the best photographers, such as Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel and Mário Testino. In 1999, they came to Lisbon to photograph a 24-page fashion editorial for L’Uomo Vogue, using twelve Portuguese models who were all represented by Central Models.
With its eyes fixed on new markets, national fashion kept up with the times and modernised. ModaLisboa joined Portugal Fashion in Porto, and the first decade of the new century saw a massive growth in women’s magazines with Activa, Lux Women and a number of international titles, such as Cosmopolitan and the iconic Vogue, the former dedicated exclusively to fashion. By the turn of the millennium there were no longer any supermodels. More and more young girls dream of the flash of the cameras: according to Tó, being a model “became a luxury hobby more than a profession,” which resulted in the competition becoming stiffer. It was also the beginning of a time of greater sobriety in consumption following the events of 9/11. The focus was now on the clothes while the ideal of beauty became more gritty: “Common faces, groups of people — even crowds — street events and everyday life. There was a constant demand for new faces, more extras, fewer protagonists. Fashion had entered a democratisation phase: the shows got closer to the final consumer, taking place in shopping centres and large stores, and promoted by local authorities the length and breadth of the country. The number of agencies operating in the market specialising in extras multiplied, representing hundreds or thousands of people.”
Nowadays, the cult of celebrity and beautiful people puts models, TV presenters, actors, musicians and even sportspeople in the same bag, all mediated through and trumpeted by social networks. Agencies now have digital departments that “represent influencers with strong and often very particular communications skills. Analysis of the changing market is a constant and the agency booker’s contact and involvement with those they represent each day is quite close and intense. However, the objectives remain the same: to help our clients achieve their goals and contribute to promoting the image of fashion and advertising in Portugal.” No-one doubts their vision any more, especially since they fulfilled the old dream of “discovering and projecting a national model, Sara Sampaio, to the status of a top international model, who has now been joined by Francisco Henriques.” On the Avenida da Liberdade, in the heart of the city, for ten years now, Central Models no longer wants to simply mirror the faces of each time. It is “convinced” it can “be involved in building images in Portugal,” create a Central Portugal and continue paving the way to the future.
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