meet dutch #girlboss marit simons
The head of Amsterdam’s top boutique modeling agency talks to i-D about founding her own company at 18, scouting on MySpace and being a work mom for some of the industry's freshest faces.
Kiki wears dress Haal, ring Nektar de Stagni
Think back to middle school. At 13, an age when most of us were just trying to make the boy in front of us notice us, Marit Simons was already teaching herself how to build websites. At 16 she was employing those skills for a modeling agency. And by 18 she had founded her own company, Code Management. Eight years later and Simons has built the agency into one of the most stable and successful in the Netherlands, and she personally represents some of the most sought-after models in the industry.
i-D sat down to talk with Simons while photographer Ruben de Wilde captured two of her agency's freshest faces, Kiki Boreel and Kim van der Lann, as well as one of her greatest success stories, Nimue Smit.
You left your hometown, Oud-Beijerland in the west of the Netherlands, moved to Amsterdam and started Code Management when you were just 18. How did that happen?
I found out about scouting when I was really young and an acquaintance put me in touch with an agency when I was 16. They asked if I would be willing to scout for them and I jumped at the opportunity. Then I got the chance to build a website for a different agency and I really got the itch. Through the internet, I was able to gain a good insight into the business and I started figuring things out for myself - how I wanted to build up my own agency and what I would do differently.
Where did your ambition come from?
When I was about 13, I began taking photographs, building websites and downloading music by obscure bands. Then I discovered the world of fashion and began to track the development of young creative talents via MySpace, models.com and thefashionspot.com. I began fantasizing about what else was possible. And to really achieve something I knew I had to move to Amsterdam, so that's what I did. I'm a really hands-on-person and I dream big, but I also just love working hard.
Nimue was Code's very first model — how did you find her?
I spotted her on Hyves, a social networking site, where I could only see one picture. I sent her a message and a week later both her and her mother were sitting in my office. All I could think was, "Holy shit, what a special girl!" And it wasn't just her face - we immediately hit it off. From there, we took things step by step and a year later she was booked to appear in the Prada campaign. At the time we were both so young - I was 19 and she was only 16 - that when we went to New York for the job we weren't even allowed to check into a hotel!
How did Code grow from there?
Being a new agency and having your first model book a Prada campaign set the tone. But it was also a high standard to live up to.
Has it been tough?Yes, having your own business is a 24/7 job. A lot of people liked the fact that I was so young and ambitious but they also questioned whether or not I was serious. There are so many people in this business who come and go that it's important to stick to your guns and show persistence.
You still scout yourself. What do you look for in a model?
Of course size and height come into it, but what attracts me the most is inner strength. The girls I scout need to be cut from a certain stone. It's important that they have personalities, passions and interests outside of modeling and that they stay grounded. A modeling career has ups and downs, which as a model you have little control over, so you have to have a strong backbone.
Is that something you actively push for?
Yes, I try to make the girls aware of the things that are important in the long run and guide them through the whole journey. I still have personal conversations with all of them at home at my kitchen table. And the same goes for the models who work abroad: Last week I went to visit two of the girls in London. We had a good conversation with their agents over there and discussed future plans. We're a team.
Do you feel responsible for them?
Yes, very much so. They're like my babies! Haha.
Diversity in the modeling industry is a hot topic right now - race, age, size… Where do you stand on all of this?
I think it's really important that people realize that there isn't just one beauty ideal. It isn't merely about blond hair, blue eyes and a certain kind of body shape. It's important that diversity is visible. With every change people will get inspired to let go of what exists and start doing things a bit differently. There's a lot of discussion about the size a model should be. It still seems to be the case that designers primarily look at girls who are 5'9" and have 33"-wide hips. But models have recently appeared on the cover of Vogue that embody something completely different.
Are you starting to notice changes?
Slowly, yes. High-end Scandinavian brands especially are gearing more and more towards girls with character. They want something more than a girl with a pretty face.
So many new modeling agencies are emerging at the moment, and they aren't all success stories. Why do you think Code stays is managing to stay ahead?
I believe in a small, boutique agency with a select few models. People often think that it's just a matter of scouting a pretty face on the streets of Amsterdam who then goes on to book magazine covers, but that is definitely not the case. There is so much more to it. A successful career is a matter of personal management, you have to have enough time to give all the girls the attention they need and to steer their careers in the right direction. Quality above quantity.
How did you first meet Kim van der Lann?
Funnily enough, Kim was the only girl that I did spot on the streets of Amsterdam! I was walking one day and just came across her. She had such a presence, she shined. I started chatting with her and her mother and I immediately knew that she was special - she sang soprano in her school's theater company and already had ambitions to study in New York.
And what about Kiki?
Kiki I spotted years ago on Hyves. She came by the office but she wasn't tall enough yet. However, during the conversation I had with her and her parents, we really hit it off and so we agreed to wait. A year later she sent me an enthusiastic e-mail to tell me she'd hit the target height. From there, we started to build her career.
What's next for Code?
At this point, I need assistance - it's a whirlwind. I need to start delegating, however hard that may be. But I also want to stay true to the vision I started out with: a small agency with personal management. I don't want an agency with fifty models. I want to maintain personal contact with every model. And I only want top-notch girls - and those are the girls with interesting personalities. I'd rather have ten girls who are unique than fifty models who aren't.
Text Channa Brunt
Photography Ruben de Wilde
Styling Hannah van Well
Hair and makeup Eva Copper for House of Orange with La Mer and Shu Uemura
Photography assistance Ferdi Sibbel
Styling assistance Nadie van Gemert
Models Nimue, Kim and Kiki with Code Management
With special thanks to NLstudio's