How do models like Gigi and Bella Hadid, and Taylor Hill achieve superstar status? Talent and gorgeousness aside, they owe no small debt to Lisa DiRuocco, a longtime agent at IMG Models. She fosters new talent like it’s her job—and it is!
What’s your background?
I grew up in Middletown, New Jersey, and went to school at FIT, in New York City, as a fashion marketing major. I’ve always loved the industry—when I was a freshman in high school, I did a report for my English class about models and their agents. I got an A!
How did a Jersey girl end up at IMG?
After college, I heard about a job as a receptionist at a modeling agency. I was interested in styling, so I thought it would be a good way to meet photographers. I walked into the interview, and the girl from HR had dated my cousin five years before. She didn’t recognize me, but I said, “I’m Leonard’s cousin!” I got the job.
It’s all thanks to cousin Leonard.
How did you transition to an agent role?
At the time, Maja Chiesi was [former president of IMG] Chuck Bennett’s assistant, and she was ready to move on to become a manager, so it was a natural move. I learned a lot working for Chuck.
How did you move up?
David Cunningham, who was running the development division, said he’d love for me to work in development, and I jumped at the chance. IMG was much smaller then, and everyone wore a lot of hats. We had some top models, but not as many as we have now. The phone didn’t always ring, so you’d have to make it ring.
Who were some of the first models you represented?
Erin Wasson, Gemma Ward, Sasha Pivovarova, Daria Werbowy, and Jessica White. Some of them started when they were 15 years old, and most of them are still on the board.
What do you enjoy most about development?
I love starting from scratch and working from the bottom up. I take them shopping and teach them to walk, which is all we’ve been doing for the past two weeks leading up to Fashion Week. I love using great new photographers to put together a book, and then coming up with a plan to strategically promote them.
Do you cook? It seems like someone in development would be a good cook.
How’d you know? I cook a lot of Italian food. The development division is always fishing for invites to come to the DiRuocco house for a full-on meal.
Of the girls you’ve developed, is it hard to let them go to another manager?
Yes! We go through so much together. Sometimes the girls are with you for three years before they’re ready to go. With Misty Downs [who DiRuocco discovered at a Target store in Brick, New Jersey] it would be like giving up my child. But even when they move to the main board, we’re still involved.
How long is a model typically under your wing?
Sometimes I’ll get a model who’s 18 and ready to go, and if she does really well her first season and starts getting editorial, she might move to the main board. I started Taylor Hill when she was 15, and she wasn’t living in New York full-time. We took baby steps, and waited until she was ready to go.
How many girls do you work with now?
About 20, but not all of them are in New York. Some of them are developing in other markets, or in school or awaiting visa.
What kind of tone does Ivan Bart set in the office?
He’s very excited and passionate about what he does, and he wants his team to be that way too. We had a meeting recently, and he was saying things like, “I’m going to be there! We’re all in this together! No one is at an assistant level or a senior level. We’re a team!”
What was Gigi Hadid like when you first started working with her?
At first, she reminded me of Michaela Bercu, whom Anna Wintour put on her first cover of Vogue. Once I got to know Gigi, I saw her charisma. She has an amazing work ethic, and she’s so professional.
Kaia Gerber is another IMG superstar in the making, and you developed her. Thoughts?
She’s just amazing. She and Cindy Crawford came in for a meeting, and she was so young—she’s still so young—but she was so mature and poised. She’s a lovely person. She’s also just so good. Her mom was obviously a supermodel, so she was taught some tricks of the trade, but she’s going to be, no doubt, a supermodel.
These girls are teenagers when you meet them. How do you connect with them on a personal level?
We find things in common. For some, fashion is an instant connection. Others like to talk about cooking. They all keep me young.
How have teenagers changed over the years?
A lot. Teenagers are a lot smarter today. They have more access to information. Social media changed everything. Maturity-wise, things haven’t changed much.
What excites you in a model?
Personality and passion. Those qualities usually make a model successful. At the beginning it’s nice to have your own personal style, but you want to listen to people with experience who can direct you to the next level. It’s harder for girls who aren’t into fashion—they are there to inspire the designers and stylists. It’s a craft.
How do you deal with parents?
I’m really strong in that area. Most of the time, I love a model’s parents. I always keep them in the loop; I’m motherly! I have a little boy who will be 5 this month. I love every minute of being a mom.
What does he think of your job?
I don’t think he fully understands it. At some point, I’ll probably be the cool mom. I brought him into the office once when Gigi was here, and he wouldn’t give her the time of day.
He’ll regret that someday.
I’ll remind him!