Lunch with Fashion Agent Liz Bell
It’s impossible to slouch when you’re around Liz Bell, the former model who has been an agent for hundreds of models and actors over the past two decades in B.C. The svelte six-footer – sans vertiginous heels – sits ramrod straight throughout our crab-cake lunch, with a chin so elevated she could be mistaken for being a little on guard. Refreshingly, she is anything but.
“What – do you think I’m nuts?” she lets rip when we talk about the price of haute couture. “I make fashion; I don’t necessarily buy fashion. I’m far more interested in accessorizing a simple outfit to make it look like a million dollars, and using money to travel.”
Along with safaris in her native South Africa, Bell is indeed a frequent flyer to New York, London, Paris and Milan. Sharing de rigueur cocktails with the beautiful people at shows and international agencies such as Elite, Ford, Next and Storm is all part of the networking, and she opines that’s at the crux of her success. (She unaffectedly drops names, including Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino and prolific stylist Tracey Pincott throughout our conversation.)
Generally, the industry never hinges on securing capital up front, she stresses; it’s all about being able to connect with those people who you trust to employ your roster of clients for shoots. “And most importantly, who trust you to send them the right person,” the 51-year-old adds. “If you have an amazing girl at a two-bit agency, she’s never going to be a star because she’s not going to be managed properly. An agency is only as good as its models, but its models are only as good as its agency.”
Bell has called Vancouver home since her 20s, after visiting an aunt who lived here. While working as a server at Bisaro’s, a long-defunct restaurant downtown, she was scouted to walk the runways of Europe and the U.S. They were busy times for Bell, who even worked during the pregnancy of her first son.
Once the modelling was over, it was obvious to her that the next phase would involve using her connections and skill at finding faces for the industry. She says she has spotted potential at swimming pools, at concerts and even in line-ups for Starbucks. Her most recognizable recruits include Rachel Roberts, who headlined with Al Pacino in the movie S1m0ne, and Noah Mills, the Dolce & Gabbana model who landed a sex scene in Sex and the City 2.
She laughs, however, at the idea of ever composing a business plan. “The language of fashion is different. This luvvie, mwah-mwah stuff may seem superficial, but it really isn’t; it’s how it all works,” Bell says. And there are plenty of unglamorous moments in her day: take negotiations, for example (she enjoys them on the whole), and the necessary paperwork (not so much), which is why she routinely deploys her greatest weapon. “Delegation – love it,” enthuses Bell. “I don’t scan anything, I don’t size anything and I certainly don’t know how to do the blog,” she says, laughing with a well-rehearsed flick of hair. “I let everybody else do that. It’s all about working with your strengths.”
The ability to delegate is at least part of the secret to her growth from model agency to a full-service setup, she says. She now has divisions for artists, such as stylists, and actors, run by her partner David Burns, with whom she lives in Lions Bay. There is also an upcoming venture with a health-food company.
Pressed to confess a weakness, Bell says she never focuses on the small print. “I love the big picture too much,” she says, adding that it leaves little time for her other loves: gardening and cooking.
As we wrap up our chat in the 1927 lounge at Rosewood Hotel Georgia, she reflects, “This is an exciting but odd business; I always say that my life depends on a bunch of teenagers who don’t always get it. They are real people who can put on weight, chop off their hair or have boyfriends who don’t want them to model anymore. All you can do is nurture.”
Although she may scoff at forking out for top-end fashion, Bell is no stranger to star treatment, as evidenced by the hotel’s insistence on driving her back to her Gastown office – in its Bentley.