“There is now a wider definition of what we call ‘beautiful.’ We are all part of the change, and it supports the industry to transform our notions of beauty.” – Harriet Kelly Gibbe
The life of a model isn’t all glitz and glamour, and the skill set required reaches far beyond striking pretty pose. As we ogle the runways and glance through the glossies, our burning question is always: What’s the story behind the scenes?
Welcome to Face Time. DFW Style Daily’s exclusive series gets up close and personal with top Dallas models. Today, we feature model, producer, and mentor Harriet Kelly Gibbe. After gracing runways for the likes of Gianni Versace and John Galanos, this Texas native transitioned to producing haute events. Also passionate about cultivating new talent through her company, Model Citizen, Gibbe offers a unique perspective on the industry. Not to mention, she also has some star-studded tales to tell. Click here for more Face Time model interviews!
Name: Harriet Kelly Gibbe
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Agency: Kim Dawson Agency
Notable Clients: Chanel, Neiman Marcus, Armani, Donna Karan, Stanley Korshak, Zales, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Versace, Valentino.
DFW Style Daily: At what age did you begin modeling? Tell us about your first job.
Harriet Kelly Gibbe: “I got the ‘bug’ when I posed in a picture holding a white rose at five years old. In that moment, I felt that I was visiting a familiar wonderland. I started acting on stage around age eight, and after hearing an audience applaud, I knew I wanted to do something to generate that kind of energy for the rest of my life. I started modeling professionally in college at the University of Texas at Austin. I majored in Radio-Television-Film Performance, and modeling helped pay for my clothing fascination.
“One of my first jobs was for a new store opening at the Galleria in Houston. Several Kim Dawson models had been flown in for the opening, and the producer had booked these big jungle cats to be part of the show. I love new experiences, so when asked, I raised my hand and volunteered to model with one of cats. I was too young and naïve at the time to understand that they had drugged the cat for the show. Everything was fine until they brought up the lights as I walked down the runway, and the audience exploded in applause when they saw a baby ocelot in my arms. At that point, the cat came out of its drug-induced stupor, looked up at me and bit my face out of sheer terror! We were all lucky to have survived almost unharmed – me, the audience, and the cat. I learned a lot about show producing that day.”
As both an experienced model and an expert at cultivating new modeling talent, have you seen changes in the industry through the years? If so, what prompted these changes, in your opinion?
“There have been enormous changes in the expansion of the business. More retailers, more big design houses, more niche designers of varying influence, more modeling agencies, and more widely defined lines around what constitutes beauty. There is also a greater need for young, fresh talent to fulfill that aesthetic.
“When I started modeling at Neiman Marcus in the 1980’s, there were just a handful of ‘Neiman’s Girls.’ We did every show and event, and we all had a similar look. The only differences were whether you were blonde, brunette, or a redhead. There is now a wider definition of what we call ‘beautiful,’ and that is at it should be. We are all part of the change, and it supports the industry to transform our notions of beauty.”
An agency may specialize in editorial, runway, or commercial models. Can you describe the differences between these main categories?
“Editorial models work in an artistic category. The photos and shoot design have been styled to reflect the editorial aesthetic of a publication. Fashion editorials will have some narration or theme that ties the flow of the series of photographs.
“Runway models are the athletes of the fashion business. I equate live runway shows with a competitive team sport. Everyone is focused on his or her own performance, but you have to work together to get to the finish line. Runway models typically have long legs and lean bodies, love to strut, and have worked hard behind the scenes to be ready for the moment.
“Commercial models are like actors, but they are working in print. They pose and lend credibility to the client or the product being photographed. They may be featured in everything from bank ads to billboards. Usually they are selling ‘happy,’ so in their headshots, commercial models are almost always smiling.”
Describe one of your most memorable experiences as a model.
“Gianni Versace was in Dallas interviewing models for his upcoming show at the Dallas Apparel Mart. The industry buzz at that time was similar to the recent excitement about Karl Lagerfeld’s visit to Dallas. Versace was traveling, as he usually did, with a large entourage. Included was a very quiet, very sweet woman in her thirties who complimented me and asked if I would consider working and traveling with her brother. I didn’t really know what to say since I had no idea who her ‘brother’ was. I told her I was flattered, but would need to speak to my agent. The show became a huge success for Dallas, and provided me the opportunity to work alongside Cindy Crawford, Iman, and Linda Evangelista. The ‘sweet woman’ turned out to be Donatella Versace. Her brother had brought her along to orient her to his business.”
What prompted you to make the transition from modeling into other aspects of the fashion business?
“I had won awards as a writer and producer in advertising before moving to Dallas. After a few years of modeling, I began to think I might have something unique to offer as a fashion producer. Most of the producers I had worked with were not especially kind or inspiring, and I thought there was place for that in our business.”
Do you have a personal role model? What have you learned from her example?
“Kim Dawson was an inspiration and a real friend. She offered me my first job as a model and actress in Dallas, and supported most anything I wanted to do. If she didn’t agree with my ideas, she was honest about her opinion, but she continued to offer me new opportunities to grow and expand my career. She introduced me to many of the clients I work with today, but most importantly, she told me I reminded her of herself. Kim might have said that to a lot of young models over the years, but it gave me an image and a trajectory to follow that has served me my entire career. She truly loved what she did, and enjoyed sharing the adventure. She would always ask me, ‘Are you having fun, Harriet?’” Kim was a force of nature who spread good will everywhere she went.”
Finally, if you had a free afternoon in Dallas, how would you spend it?
“I would share stories with girlfriends over almond lattes at Number One in Highland Park Village. We’d talk about dating and other shenanigans, and would be laughing so loud I’d have to wonder if [owner] Joe was going to kick us out!”
All photos courtesy of Harriet Kelly Gibbe.