Upon walking into the underground bar on the backstreets of central Manchester, I noticed the exposed brick walls and graffiti style murals; it’s exactly what I had in mind when I clicked the ‘attend’ button on my Facebook invite to ‘VauHaus’ Second Birthday Party’, a boutique model agency based in Manchester.
Once inside, it became obvious why Toria Brightside, founder of VauHaus chose this place. The heavy beat of the Arctic Monkey’s ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ batters my ears as I take in my surroundings. Tall, slim and striking individuals who are quite obviously models mill around the venue. In the back room, I find more models casually playing ping pong, taking command of three of the six ping pong tables. The further I walk, the more strange this setting gets. From the ping pong tables and the choice of drinks to the old boiler room style toilets; its raw, unscathed and is yet to be discovered by the throngs of commercial clubbers in Manchester.
The setting quite obviously reflects the company. In short, Toria describes VauHaus to be “an agency that’s unique, chaotic, brash, bold and beautiful”. If you’re still sat there completely baffled by who and what VauHaus is then don’t worry, all will be revealed.
Before embarking on her Photography degree at Leeds College of Art, Toria noticed that actresses and TV personalities were frequently gracing the cover of fashion magazines in place of supermodels. It was clear to her that readers were interested in the personality and style of their cover stars but this was something that was becoming decreasingly provided by the model industry. Throughout her studies, she found herself using individuals in her fashion photography who inspired and interested her. According to the modelling industry at the time, these people were often of atypical ages and unconventional measurements.
Toria says the drive to start her own model agency originated from an absence of influential organisations for these unique models to work with, even though there was plenty of support for individuality from what was essentially the consumer. The simple magazine covers and ‘coat hanger’ catwalk shows suggested that the modelling world had lost track of where it could have been heading, and a preconception had evolved that models have to be raw, skinny, and under 23.
With such a unique outlook on the world of modelling, Toria’s ‘VauHaus’ has led the way for unorthodox models. At the beginning of its creation two years ago, Toria tells me “There used to be nothing like us at the start – we were unique, I mean how many agencies do you see who are presenting pink haired, half shaved headed models in a fashion and editorial context? Really? I love that things are changing now universally.”
The boutique modelling and creative agency is now based in Manchester, London and Birmingham. The team’s work has been published internationally in magazines including ‘Vogue Italia’, ‘C-Heads’ and ‘Noctis’. VauHaus’ perception of what makes a good model focuses on individualism and personality, rather than confining factors such as age and height. In Toria’s words, “The market of today identifies with people’s personal style, the media can dilute the unique charisma that makes models interesting and appealing, and I wanted to change this”.
When asked that all important question that seems to be at the forefront of the modelling world about ‘plus sized’ models and VauHaus, Toria batted away any dated misconceptions, stating that “Plus sized is an interesting definition, I hate the term in conjunction with what it gets used for. If they fit the norm, then I don’t understand why they should be referred to as plus sized. Our agency is not measurement restricted. At VauHaus it’s a lot simpler, even from a financial point of view it’s about whether we can sell what they’re doing”.
Words: Ella Walker
All images: Authors photography