The glitterati will converge in Scottsdale on September 20 to celebrate the FORD / Robert Black Agency’s 25th Anniversary. Founded in 1987, the full-service modeling and talent agency is the largest of its kind in the Southwest and undeniably Arizona’s most successful and influential modeling agency.
“With a reputation for professionalism, integrity and valued relationships FORD / RBA has been a visionary in the Southwest’s fashion modeling and talent industry since the late 80s,” notes Sheree Hartwell, FORD / RBA owner. “Robert put Arizona and the Southwest on the map and for that we are very grateful.”
In 1977, at age 17, Robert Black graduated from Scottsdale High School and entered the fashion industry as a model and later agent for a local agency. Ten years later, Black and a colleague purchased the company and renamed it the Robert Black Agency. Black became sole owner in 1990 and in 1994 partnered with world-renowned FORD Models Inc. to form the FORD / Robert Black Agency.
Founded in 1946 by Jerry and Eileen Ford, Ford Models Inc. is the pre-eminent New York agency responsible for launching the careers of Lauren Hutton, Christie Brinkley, Brooke Shields, and Candice Bergen. “We pursued the deal with Robert Black to build up FORD’s nationwide agency network,” recalls Joey Hunter, former president of FORD Models Inc. and founder of Model Wire, Inc. “Robert Black represented quality kids and ran a fabulous agency. He was the most professional out there with a great record identifying kids who could make it in New York. The Robert Black Agency began as, and continues to be, an important part of the FORD worldwide network. It has been super working together. In my eyes FORD / Robert Black Agency is still the best in the area.”
Hartwell purchased FORD / RBA in 2005 after spending half her life with the Agency. She began modeling with the Robert Black Agency in 1990 at age 12, which when a teenager took her to New York and Europe. While enrolled at Northern Arizona University she interned with the Agency and upon graduation in 2000 she accepted the position as Women’s Director at City Model Management in San Francisco. Hartwell returned home in 2004 to become managing director and ultimately owner of FORD / RBA.
Black believes owning the Agency was Hartwell’s destiny. Upon signing the 12-year old to a modeling contract he recalls asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She replied, “Someday I want to own a modeling agency.” Fifteen years later Hartwell’s dream came true, as have thousands of others who have passed through the FORD / RBA doors.
Collaborating with agencies in every major fashion market, FORD / RBA models can be found in nearly every industry related city and country around the world. This summer FORD / RBA models are working in Milan, London, Barcelona, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Australia, New Zealand, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, and Dallas.
Hartwell estimates FORD / RBA has extended more than 10,000 contracts to local men and women ranging in age from 13 to 80; changing lives for those who aspire for a career in front of the camera. The Agency continues to represent some of its original clients who signed in 1987, like ultra marathon runner Scott Alan and commercial photographer Brad Reed. Many others have been with the Agency for five, 10, 15 and 20 years.
FORD / RBA models become passionate when talking about Black and Hartwell. The enthusiasm for the opportunities these models have been provided evokes strong feelings of trust, devotion and gratitude.
Alan credits his successful 25-year international modeling career to FORD / Robert Black’s reputation and the agency’s vast network of contacts. He recalls, “Shortly after I signed with Robert I appeared in a national commercial for Big Red Chewing Gum, then when FORD partnered with Robert Black it really broadened my opportunities. Over the years I have appeared on numerous magazine covers including Men’s Healthand Outside and have traveled the world many times. The best part is I’ve been able to do all of it based here in Arizona.”
Relative newcomer to modeling is 17-year-old Jeanne Johnston who was discovered by a FORD / RBA agent at Scottsdale Fashion Square when she was 14. A few weeks after being signed by the Agency, Johnston walked in shows at New York Fashion Week. Six months later her very first editorial job was a photo shoot for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Since then she has appeared on eight international and domestic magazine covers, was in an international Lanvin campaign, walked in shows for designers like Christian Lacroix and Vivienne Westwood, been in Vogue Italia sp, and lived in Tokyo. Johnston gushes, “I’ve traveled the world, met fashion icons and really lived the dream. I owe it all to a chance encounter with FORD/RBA and now they are like family.”
On the talent side, SAG franchised FORD / RBA is only local agency with a strong focus on models and actors. According to Matt Englehart, lead agent for the Agency’s TV/Film department, FORD / RBA has identified and developed numerous actors who have moved on to bigger markets including Garrett Hedlund (Tron Legacy, Country Strong), Kellan Lutz (Twilight, Immortals), Max Adler (Glee) and Felisha Terrell (Social Network, Get Smart). “We understand Hollywood is Hollywood, but we create that commodity and are thrilled when our actors succeed,” says Englehart.
Looking to the future Hartwell is driven by the desire to position Arizona as a known source for the model and talent industry. She is on a quest to continue booking local models and talent for national and international opportunities; living her dream same as the thousands that have been represented by the FORD / RBA powerhouse.