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Model Citizen - Colleen Thaler
10/20/2010 - By Gayle Davis
Photo: McKay Imaging (mckayimaging.com)
Keeping it in style...Meet Colleen Thaler. She is poised, articulate and gorgeous! That's because she's a model - in many ways. In an industry that worships youth, Colleen has beat the odds and sustained a career for nearly 25 years. Colleen credits her mother for keeping her grounded while entering a career where most might become “over-confident.” Throughout the years it became apparent that just about every pageant or contest win was meant for this Parsippany, New Jersey native. With no formal training, Thaler has garnered several acting credits and has donned a couple of crowns.
Thaler’s mom encouraged Colleen to start dancing at a very young age something that she attributes her confidence to.Doors began to open for Colleen as she started to audition for Broadway shows in Manhattan.Although she did not land any major roles, everywhere she went people asked if she was a model or had any interest in becoming one. As luck would have it, she got a break that gave her a start in the industry. Thaler has been represented by two of the top agencies in the world, Ford and Elite, and has worked with numerous celebrities and iconic fashion designers such as Valentino, Calvin Klein and Arnold Scassi to name a few. Colleen is presently with Decorum Model Management in New York City.
Throughout Thaler’s career she has earned the titles of Miss New Jersey USA, Miss Meadowlands, and Miss English Leather. She has cheered for the New Jersey Nets and danced with the New Jersey Ballet not to mention the various print and television commercial ads she has also appeared in.
Living In Marlboro got the chance to sit down and talk with Colleen, who is entering a new era in the modeling world and has no plans of stopping anytime
LIM: You have been modeling for more than twenty-four years. Please tell us what you were doing prior, and how you first got your big break into the industry.
CT: I was dancing for 17 years, and did that in the city by 14 years old. Through that, a woman came up to me at a dance convention and asked me if I was interested in modeling. At that age I was like, “Yeah, definitely!” So I came home and said to my mother, “I’m gonna be a model!” I had never taken anything but a school picture. Oddly enough, it worked out that the woman who stopped me also owned a catalog company that provided costumes for dancing schools. So I modeled for the costume catalog and took those pictures into the city and more or less started modeling.
LIM: You have been represented by two of the biggest modeling agencies in the world, Ford and Elite; tell us the process you went through to secure working with them.
CT: Ford was my original agency.When I first started modeling I was with Paris USA, which is no longer around. I used to take a lot of test shots with photographers and I went on an open call with Ford and they called me back. I was with them for about five years and then I was represented by another agency for a few years before I went to Elite, where I was for about 10 or 11 years.
LIM: Did Elite come knocking on your door?
CT: The modeling industry is a small world. An agent I knew had moved from Ford to Elite, so I went there and was fortunate to sign with them. At this point in my life I feel so privileged to still be doing what I am doing.When I had my first child I thought it would be over! But Elite worked with me and kept me on. When I got pregnant with my second child, the agents who I was working with had left while I was out on maternity…not that such a thing really exists in the business! So I left Elite and now I am represented by Decorum, which is a big agency.
LIM: Did any of these agencies place any certain type of “stereotypical” demands on you such as certain weight guidelines, hairstyles, etc?
CT: I was young when I went to Ford, so it was pretty easy back then. They did tell me how they wanted my hair and that I could lose five pounds. I remember one of the biggest concerns when I went to Elite was my height, because I am barely five foot nine. I am five feet eight and three quarters. They actually measured me, but there was nothing I could do about it! Luckily I haven’t had a problem.
LIM: Do you remember your first big modeling job?
CT: I originally started modeling more body wear, like jeans and swimwear. But my first big fashion break was with Arnold Scassi, who was a big designer. He was designing for the Red Carpet at the time. I was in his showroom doing a show and I came out in a jump suit with really wide legs…I was in the back and I was so nervous while I was getting changed. My heart was pounding! I got into one leg, and the other leg was hanging off to the side (laughs)! Arnold said to me, “What are you doing to my clothes?” I felt so ridiculous! That was in the very beginning. Now if that happened I would laugh about it, but back then it was so embarrassing! I also remember at one of my first photo shoots, they didn’t like my hair, so they just came over with scissors and cut it! I was like, “This is what you do?” You know in this business you learn as you go!
LIM: Your resume boasts almost 20 top fashion designers and department stores…Valentino, Calvin Klein, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s just to name a few. Can you highlight what it’s like working with the best of the best?
CT: Oh, it’s amazing! I worked with Calvin Klein for eight years. They took me all over the country and the world! It’s great. It’s interesting meeting them all one on one. He was a terrific man. I also worked with Michael Kors who will tie your shoes for you if you need them tied; just a real nice person. I worked closely with Isaac Mizrahi for years who is just a brilliant and talented, funny man. And then there are designers who I have worked with who aren’t so wonderful.We won’t name them! A lot of times you work with the people who work under the designer and you don’t see the designers at all.And sometimes they float in to give their approval and the aura just changes.
LIM: Do you get to keep the clothing after you do a show?
CT: When I first started modeling some designers would ask if I “worked for clothes” and they would then “pay me in clothing.” It was never the current runway stuff. But that was okay, at the time. I was a clotheshorse back then! Then I got a little older and began to realize “working for clothes” wasn’t going to pay my rent.Alot of times you really don’t get to keep anything, like people think we do.
LIM: People have their own preconceptions of what it’s like in your business…
CT: I won’t say it’s not glamorous, but it’s not what people think.
LIM: One stereotype is that models live on coffee and cigarettes. Is this a thing of the past?
CT: I definitely think it’s a thing of the past. I am not saying there’s not still an issue to be thin, but I think things have completely changed. I think models are healthier. In the 80’s models always graced the covers and girls looked up to them. Today it’s “Hollywood.” You see all the stars on the covers and in the makeup ads. The “Supermodel” doesn’t really exist like it used to. Some of the girls I work with are half my age and they are smart. They are doing things other than modeling, and they are healthy.
LIM: But do you think there is still pressure from the agencies to be thin?
CT: I think there still is, but what’s nice is that I think back then it was considered to be more of a “beauty standard,” but today there is more freedom to beauty. It’s not just about being blonde and blue eyed and skinny; now it’s diverse. It’s old, it’s young…I was just looking at Vogue with a whole layout of a plus-sized model and you would have never seen that years ago. I think we need to embrace all sizes and shapes.
LIM: You had just touched upon the “celebrity factor”… magazines seem to have switched gears. We now see the faces of people like Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts and so forth on the cover of fashion magazines. What do you attribute this to and what effect has it had on your work?
CT: Well, it hasn’t really had an effect on me. There are not too many levels of modeling. There’s the supermodel and then there’s the level right below that...the working model, and I have always been the latter. It’s not that I have graced the covers of Vogue, but I have done a lot of ads, I am in showrooms, and I have done runway. I have been really, really fortunate that I have lasted as long as I have. The work is still as good…it’s just different. I think that if the model is a supermodel today, she is also a celebrity like Heidi Klum. I think it takes more than just being pretty. There are so many young, talented, beautiful people. It’s a tough market!
LIM: You just mentioned Heidi Klum.You have had the opportunity to work with her and a few other celebrities and top models. Can you share a couple of these experiences with us?
CT: I actually worked with Heidi, who is hysterical! She has a funny sense of humor. I modeled her jewelry line, which was exclusive to Neiman Marcus. She had just come froma photo shoot, looking glamorous as ever, and she kind of let out that she was pregnant at the time, before anyone else even knew. So I kind of had this little secret that nobody else really knew! She was a really nice, down to earth person. And of course working with Calvin Klein…Christy Turlington and Kate Moss were his print models. So I used to “fit” for both of them. I was kind of the in-between size for both of them. So a lot of times they would come in and we would work together. I did something for “Saturday Night Live” once! I don’t know if you remember the model Frederique?
LIM: Yes, the Victoria’s Secret model!
CT: Yes! So Frederique and I did a scene together one time on “Saturday Night Live” which was a little spoof on JFK Jr ., may he rest in peace…it was a beach scene. She was very nice and funny.
LIM: Do you have that taped?
CT: Yes, I do! The process of “Saturday Night Live” is wild! They overshoot scenes during the dry run for the studio audience and then the scenes that don’t get great reaction get dropped for the live show. It’s a really long day! But it was really interesting.
LIM: You have stated that you are fortunate to still be modeling. Not that you are “old,” but it’s rare that someone “your age” is able to stay employed in this business. What is your secret?
CT: I wish I had a secret. Part of it is that I like what I do and I am happy that I can still do it! I think showing up for work and still having that positive energy has a lot to do with it. I have worked for designers… I worked for Calvin for eight years, Isaac for five, and I am currently with Eileen Fisher. I’ve been with her for three years. So these stints have been long term.You know, I started modeling when I was very young and my mother always kept me grounded. I think those values still stay with me.
LIM: You must have seen a lot of your peers in the business come and go. That must be disheartening to see…
CT: Yes, it is. Some of my old friends get in touch with me and say, “You are still modeling?” Yeah, there aren’t too many of my original crew left!
LIM: Let’s take a walk down memory lane…you were a cheerleader with the New Jersey Nets…
CT: Yes, in 1985. The Nets had had cheerleaders years before, but they had stopped and were starting up again. I was driving in the car and heard about an audition for “The Jersey Girls.” They were looking for dancers…so having been a dancer all my life, I went down to the Meadowlands and auditioned and was signed with them for three seasons!
LIM: In 1988 you were named Miss New Jersey USA and went on to compete in the Miss USA pageant. That had to have been an amazing time in your life…
CT: It was amazing! I had been doing preliminary pageants and someone had scouted me and said I would do well in the Miss USA Pageant. So I ran for Miss New Jersey USA and won and then went on to compete in the Miss USA Pageant in Texas, which opened up a lot of doors for me. It gave me a lot of confidence. Believe it or not, I was really shy growing up. It was on T.V. and some of the judges were agents…so I landed some Soap work. I was on “Ryan’s Hope” and it really gave me the fever, so it was great!
LIM: What other television work have you done?
CT: Well I was Amber Cross on “Cable Crossings” on NBC Universal’s America’s Talking Channel in 1994 and worked with Daisy Fuentes on that show.
LIM: It seems like everything you set out to conquer you have landed or won…but yet you never really had any formal training. Do you consider yourself a natural?
CT: I would like to think I am a little bit. But there are plenty of things I did try out for that I didn’t get! Rejection is a big part of this business. It takes a lot of self- confidence. But the Pageant, as I said, led to other opportunities for me. I don’t know that I would have gotten the chance to do “Ryan’s Hope”…which led to me doing a Lucille Roberts commercial and Flemington Furs, who was one of our sponsors. I did an ad for them which ran for years!
LIM: You also earned the title of “Miss Meadowlands.” Do you want to tell us about that (laughs)?
CT: It all comes full circle. Cheering for the Nets, they were holding a pageant for the Meadowlands and they asked me to run, knowing I had pageant experience. That year the Indie 500 was being held there, which was a big deal at the time, and they had wanted a “Miss Somebody”…at the end. Actually, I met Paul Newman there because he was racing. There was a V.I.P. booth…I was lucky enough to be there, “I earned my honors!” I was sitting there watching in the front row, right in front of what was the pit for his race car. He was sitting a couple of seats away from me and there was a woman sitting in the back of the stands knitting. She was shouting, “Paul…Paul…” He didn’t hear her but I did, and I turned around and it was JoAnne Woodward, his wife! Donald Trump was there, too. It was quite a celebrity event.
LIM: Prior to this interview you had mentioned a story about Mario Andretti…
CT: At one point I had to be picked up to take pictures with some of the race cars… It was a four-day event, and on one of the days, Mario Andretti had crashed on one of the turns. Luckily he wasn’t hurt, but we happened to be near that turn, so we had to go pick him up. So we went and here I am in the car in my “race-suit”…he was upset, and cursing that he was out of the race. He looks up to his left and looks at me and says, “Who is she?” Like what was I doing in the car (laughs)!
LIM: That is so funny!
CT: Yes it was! Another thing to do at these races was to collect pins, like Valvoline® and Pennzoil® and I had every race car driver sign my banner and put the pins on it…now I understand this banner that I have is worth a lot of money, but I don’t really want to give it up!
LIM: You mentioned that you had danced for 17 years prior to getting into modeling. Tell us about that - and I understand you were with the New Jersey Ballet?
CT: I think my mother put me into dance initially because I was shy and quiet. I still love dance.
LIM: Do you still do it?
CT: I don’t. Other than tap dancing in the kitchen with my daughter! I was with the New Jersey Ballet for three years, when I was 9 until 12 or 13. I love ballet, but tap was my thing. I was hitting the pavement and going to Broadway for auditions during high school.
LIM: Did you land anything on Broadway?
CT: I replaced an understudy for a chorus position with “42nd Street.” Everywhere I went I was asked if I modeled or if I wanted to model; so when I started to model, there were a lot more opportunities for me. But dance, I feel, has given me the confidence and poise to do pageants and to model. It got me to try out for the Nets.My daughter dances now and I feel it’s important.
LIM: Last, but not least, on your “resume,” you also served as a Flight Attendant with International TWA… So you’ve had the opportunity to see the world through two separate careers!
CT: I have been lucky. I have traveled pretty extensively between everything that I have done. I have been to Israel, South Africa, Madrid and Rome…some through flying with TWA and some with modeling. I flew from 1987 until 1990. Flying is fun. It gives you a little taste of the world.
LIM: You have been married to your husband,Doug, for 16 years and have two children, Shannon, who is 11 and Ryan, who is 8, and call Marlboro your home. Modeling and being a mom and wife must not be an easy feat. How do you find balance?
CT: Well, I don’t work every day. It’s a nice balance because I get to work, but I get a lot of time to spend with my family. Of course when I am working a lot, it can be a little stressful.
LIM: You are currently working with Eileen Fisher?
CT: Yes. I am starting market next week. (This interview was done in early September.) I am doing runway and showroom for her. In the Fall there are a lot of shows…so things pick up.
LIM: So are you part of Fashion Week?
CT: It’s starting next week. I am in the showroom and it’s exciting! It’s fun. My work has changed. I just did an ad for Ethan Allen. So now that I am “aging,” I am going to try to work in the commercial end of modeling.
LIM: Obviously age is a concern in the industry. Have you discussed the path you would like to take with Decorum?
CT: Age is a concern and when you are with a young agency, meaning the agency itself is young, they want to represent the young, up and coming models. I think I still have the “fashion years” left in me but there are agencies that represent women over 40 and are more commercial-geared rather than fashion geared. I love it, but it may be time to move (laughs). For years I was Barbie® for Mattel®. I would do Toy Fair, or model as Barbie® exclusive to Bloomingdale’s… I would go to these shows…I was Donna Karen Barbie® once…I always say it’s only fair that Barbie® should age with me. Oddly enough when I dressed up like her I became “Barbie®!” In fact I collect dolls. Barbie® is one of my favorites.
LIM: What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
CT: I love to “TAKE” pictures. My subjects are usually my children and my dog. I really enjoy photography. I like to cook and I am a big scuba diver. I like to work with charities. I have worked with Big Brothers/Big Sisters in the past. I like charities that deal with children. Now that my kids are getting older I would like to find a charity I can focus on.
LIM: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
CT: I still want to be working. I don’t think I will have to stop. If there is work out there, I will be hoping to still be doing it.
Salt Creek Grille
“The Blind Side”
Three people you would like to have dinner with:
Sean Connery, Bill Maher, and Rachel Ray
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