‘My Friend Ned’ is redefining what it means to be a model today

Everything around us is changing. America, for one, is gradually changing from a Super Power to a Super Spectacle while the world becomes smaller thanks to popular apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Consequently, the definition of beauty is broadening and diversifying (thank God!), just like the definition of who a model is – this too is starting to include faces and voices who wouldn’t have had a place in the industry between ten to twenty years ago.

One of such brave persons championing inclusion for nonbinary (genderqueer) models is Candice Hatting, whose agency My Friend Ned is expanding the definition of what a model is in South Africa. Through My Friend Ned, Candice Hatting and her team are gradually dismantling the classic notion of a model, that is, the incredibly thin frame, long willowy legs, etc. while trying to build something real and tangible.

In an accompanying editorial, exclusive to A Nasty Boy, photographer Ashley Marie captures this changing face of modeling with My Friend Ned’s models Brandon Browne and Fani Segerman, with styling by Romy Alfino and hair & makeup by Sam Ellenberger.

(A Nasty Boy): Your agency caters to a variety of models, some of whom are quite atypical to what the fashion industry is used to. Can you shed more light on this and why you saw the need for an agency like yours?

(Candice Hatting): Yes, as a casting director by trade, the need for an agency that focused on the unusual was desperately needed. We were getting more and more briefs requiring a more authentic person, less smoke, and mirrors. We were bored with what the traditional agencies were supplying and I think the industry is bored too. We want things to feel less vacuous. The idea of beauty is changing because people are changing and there is a huge shift in how we see ourselves. We are being more honest, stripping out what isn’t relevant and keeping just the truth.

(ANB): Wonderful, and how has the industry responded to the agency?

(C.H.): It’s been a slow burn in. [We were] founded in 2008 [and], initially, other agents weren’t threatened by us as we were in our own category altogether. However, the advertising industry and casting directors were incredibly supportive. As we were a breath of fresh air for the creative industries. Unfortunately, clients are not as brave. So it’s been extremely rewarding on a creative level, but financially tough as our people are specific, like one-offs…and South African markets are very conservative still.

(ANB): I completely agree, beauty, as we knew it before, is changing to something truer and more personal, as I imagine everyone to be their own beautiful, but how has your agency empowered the models you represent? Do you feel that they feel more validated or appreciated and is South Africa ready for diversity in beauty?

(C.H.): The models have definitely felt validated, [it’s] like feeling: Finally! Someone gets it! Also, it’s nice for non-binary models specifically, as the step to create a space for people between genders has created much-needed awareness around that topic. South Africa still has a long long way to go, but yes, it’s got to get ready because its youth is the future and they need to be heard and understood.

(ANB): Beautifully said. Do you, however, feel that the mainstream industry (fashion weeks and high fashion brands more specifically) are accepting of this change, because I realize how establishments don’t accept change so easily. Also, how have they embraced this change?

(C.H.): Unfortunately, it’s not coming from a conscious place. Mainstream fashion shows still love the restrictions that make fashion models, and this is a root issue. However, high fashion brands are definitely changing for the better and finding new meaning, which is amazing. They are really responding to the changes in the world and ideals in beauty.

(ANB): In this changing order, what do you predict is the future of typical models? Also, can you comment on the types of jobs that your models are booking? And what has been the highlight for you thus far?

(C.H.): Lately, Ned has been booking some serious international campaigns [and] Louis Vuitton is the most recent. The future is not looking good for typical models in a classical sense. You need to be more interesting to survive.

(ANB): Amazing! Are the models booked directly through you or are you affiliated with any agency abroad?

(C.H.): [They are] booked directly through us and we are the mother agency of 95% of the models we represent. We do work with international agencies, sending ours abroad and bringing in a few from abroad too.

(ANB): Beautiful. If you could paint a perfect picture of beauty, what will it be?

(C.H.): Such a hard question. I guess for me, it’s only beautiful if it makes you feel something, feel a connectedness. And perfect for me isn’t always beautiful.

(ANB): What would you say is next for ‘My Friend Ned’? And why that name?

Candice Hatting: First off … like now we taking out male and female and non-binary all together .. so everyone will just be displayed as one. No more gender categories, opening shop in Paris or even Nigeria?

You know, opening shop in Nigeria would be revolutionary! Why ‘My Friend Ned’ as a name?

Basically, random selection. Opened up a magazine, closed my eyes and pointed to any place on the page. It said ‘My Friend Susan’ but Susan wasn’t right … so Ned was someone we felt was universally likable and it had a nice ring to it.

To keep up with My Friend Ned, follow the agency on Instagram and Web.

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