When it comes to The Beautiful People, Texan-turned-New Yorker Neal Hamil has an eye for true talent. As the founder Mix Model Management, his job defines the standard of model beauty for the rest of the planet to enjoy. Tough job? You bet it is. In an exclusive to The Society Diaries, Hamil reveals the inner workings of the business of supermodeldom to determine who’s got The Look and why.
By Lance Avery Morgan Hamil portrait
photography by Dustin Mansyur
His office is exactly what you would think a top modeling agency would be. A stone’s throw away from the hipster private club, SoHo House, Neal Hamil’s new incarnation is bustling with phones ringing regarding a potential job for a client, stunning young women and men sashaying in and out who are looking to fill time in between gigs, and photographers sharing their portfolios, hoping to land a gig shooting the agency’s models. All the while, the clean, white space is peppered with the constant chatter of Hamil’s colleagues discussing what is the business of beauty and how the can fulfill its hungry needs daily. Hamil can easily be defined as the patriarch of his ever-growing beauty kingdom. He has just sailed through Fashion Week where many of his talented clients walked runways based on Hamil’s connectedness and flawless sense of whom the Next Big Thing might be and what she (and he) looks like.
At dinner with Hamil later in the day at the scene-stealing Mr. Chow in Manhattan’s Sutton Place, the model mogul has just had a tough week battling the beauties and well, the beasts. At a corner table, we are seated in between the tables occupied by “Sex and the City” star Kristen Davis on one side and on the other, fashion journalist Michael Gross, who coincidentally, wrote the 1996 book, Model, a tell-all about the modeling industry. It is the story Neal Hamil knows well, as he has lived in this realm for his entire career. Beginning his career in front of the camera as a model, he eventually started, then sold, the eponymous Neal Hamil Agency, joined and ran major modeling agencies in New York, then after a brief sojourn in Houston, he is back in the saddle, behind the reigns of creating Mix Model Management, and the world has never looked so gorgeous again. “There was a time, when Neal was 25 when he was always considered to be the most beautiful man in any room,” shares Becca Cason Thrash, Houston philanthropist and Hamil’s longtime friend. Possessing that kind of beauty has helped Hamil determine it in others during his successful career.
HOUSTON TO MANHATTAN
Hamil, a native Houstonian who has retained those model good looks, lives a charmed life in New York, where he now lives. He often dashes in between his many cameo appearances on Tyra Banks’ “Top Model” series on the CW network and has guested on NBC’s “The Today Show” on such topics as racism in the modeling industry. Still, representing the most stunning creatures on the planet is all in a day’s work for Hamil.
“I have the best job on earth,” Hamil states emphatically as appetizers are served. “I love what I do. It’s such a fun business, always challenging and of course, every day is different. There’s never a dull moment.” Hamil is the kind of guy who jumps on an internationally-bound jet, ready to sign the next big thing in the form of a goddess who can transform the way we all view beauty. His quest is not without its perks. “I have had meals with Nelson Mandela at the Presidential Palace in Cape Town and have met the most famous and fascinating people everywhere,” Hamil reveals in between stories of luminaries he’s stewarded like Jerry Hall and so many other bold-face pop icons.
As we dine on the spicy entrées, the restaurant begins buzzing at a higher pitch and Hamil shares his global experiences, Hamil reveals that with his world travels, sometimes the best finds can fall right on the front doorstep at the offices of Mix Model Management. What sounds like a Hollywood Cinderella story can be an exhilarating reality. “The United States of America has the most beautiful girls,” Hamil opines. “We are ushering in the return of The American Beauty. Second to the U.S., it’s Brazil, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, and now, China. And yes, I go to all of those places regularly.”
“I know it when I see it, but still that’s just one-quarter of the whole equation,” Hamil comments when asked how he discovers The Look. “A top model needs personality, an agency that believes in her (or him), and even a great deal of luck.” The Look the world seeks is transforming, according to Hamil. “It’s all transitioning from robotic, super-thin, and being expressionless on the runway,” states Hamil. “It’s moving toward a healthier, friendlier, more glamorous beauty, again—with personality. It’s day-break on the return of the supermodels and because I believe that our new Mix agency can deliver that, I am eager for high-noon.”
Hamil has worked with nearly every supermodel of the last great model era, the 90s, including Naomi Campbell, Christie Brinkley, Stephanie Seymour, Veronica Webb and many more. He has the stories about them all, but his sense of propriety constrains him from revealing all the secrets yet. He’s likely saving that for a book that will definitely be a page-turner. When asked about the stereotypical IQ of a model. Hamil is quick to contend, “Yes, I have managed some people who will never win a Nobel Prize, but that’s most of us, right? Veronica Webb is one of the most delightfully intelligent people I know. She’s a brainiac and represents how much I love smart people.”
Neal Hamil is very much in the thick of the bold and the beautiful, creating a new agency instead of making time for inking tomes. He believes some of the most beautiful women on the planet are Texans. “It’s all that sunshine, bluebonnets, and big sky,” he quips. “Then there’s the Tex-Mex food and margaritas mixed with friendliness, fearlessness, and real beauty. Also, most of the model agents in Texas are very good and highly respected—people such as Page Parkes, Lisa Dawson, and Dan Hollinger. I like to think I have played some small role in creating that perception.”
As dessert magically graces our table, Hamil is candid about the mechanics of the business and how relationship-based it really is. “I have only had a very few bad moments, but everyone with whom any challenges have happened has apologized and made it up to me,” he explains. “So we are all still friends to this day with a single exception and it is too painful to discuss in detail,” he discloses. “I got really upset when a client I was negotiating a contract for a million dollars ran into the designer personally and instead accepted $25,000 and did the job. So, I fired her as a client, even though she is one of the most famous women in the world.” Hamil has a zero tolerance policy for unethical behavior. “Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything, which is why I keep the fashion business at arm’s length,” he asserts. “It’s a job. It’s business. Yes, I have been hurt and burned and done wrong and disappointed and all, but I have learned and have found greater happiness because of it.”