EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Marie-Josée Trempe, President of SPECS Model Management

This year, the Montreal based model agency Specs celebrates its 25th Anniversary!

We’ve partnered with them since the very first Télio’s Canada’s Breakthrough Designers Competition and we feel they’re an extension of the Télio family! We’re very proud to call Specs’ president Marie Josée Trempe our friend.

We caught up with Trempe last week for an Exclusive Interview! Read our chat below.

Why did you decide to start your own modelling agency? What did you want to do differently?

When we started the agency in 1990, we weren’t yet a modelling agency! We represented make-up artists, stylists and a few photographers. After working with agents myself in my career as a make-up artist, I knew I could offer something different for my peers, something better, which was the initial goal for the agency. 

Only in 1991-1992 did we start taking on models as clients. We wanted to put the emphasis on the relationship between the agent and the talent, to offer a personalized experience and service, as well as bringing forth our models’ personalities and letting them shine. We feel that’s a very important aspect of modelling that not everyone understands. It’s not just about pretty faces.

Where does the name Specs come from and why did you choose that as the name of your company?

My business partner at the time used to work as a buyer for an American designer and she would always talk about specs in terms of garments. When we would talk to our customers we noticed that everyone was also talking about specs in regard to talent as well, so we thought it would be very fitting for the name of our company, that and the fact that it’s bilingual!

Marie-Josée Trempe

Credit: Vincenzo D’Alto/Télio

Do you remember the very first Specs model?

Yes! Her name was Roberta and she was a McGill University student from Western Canada. She was part of the first crop of about 15 girls that we scouted! A lot of them were from McGill, which has proven to be a really good source of talent for us over the years.

What are some things that are different in the modeling world today, compared to when you started the agency in the early 1990s?


The first thing would be the age of the models. When we started, we only hired girls of 18 or 19, girls who had already finished growing and developing. These days, some agencies hire girls as young as 13, 14 (at Specs, we don’t hire girls younger than 16 at this time). With this comes a lot of new issues, like anxiety, which definitely wasn’t as prevalent in the 1990s. A lot of teenagers suffer from it now and the immense pressure of the fashion industry does not help.

The democratization of fashion is another new aspect. There are more models, more agencies and because of social media and the internet in general, it seems everyone knows a model. It doesn’t have that far away, dreamlike, unattainable quality it once had.

In the same vein, because of the offer being much wider than the demand, and jobs being scarce, models are being paid less than they were before. That and the culture of working for free, in exchange for either credits or exposure has changed the industry a lot. 

Blogs and social media have also brought in a completely new animal that can yield talent, but that needs to constantly be managed and supervised by the agencies.

Changes in the way people buy clothes has affected the modelling world as well, when I started the agency, fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara didn’t exist. Their size and power has affected all of us in a variety of different ways.

What sets your agency apart from other modelling agencies?

Our integrity, our professionalism and our company values. Our clients and the people we work with know us and work with us for those reasons. With Specs, you know what you’re going to get, there are no surprises.

We respect our competition tremendously. We know them and we respect their work, we just like to do things a little differently.

We’re also different from most of our competitors in the sense that we’re more of a boutique agency, we represent no more than 100, 120 models at a given time. This enables us to have a more hands on approach.

At Specs, we pride ourselves in educating our models. We train them, we do workshops with them. We tell them all about the ins and outs of the business and make sure that they’re ready, physically, emotionally and psychologically for demands that will be put upon them.

We’ve always said, we represent not only models, but personalities, and for a person’s true personality to shine through, they need all of the tools available to them. At Specs, we do our best to provide them with those tools.

Shoot Studio Specs Models Vimeo

Credit: Shoot Studio/Vimeo

In addition to the recent personalities division, you’ve also set up a coaching/conference division, can you tell us a little more about that?

Yes, this is something we’re very excited about. I’ve always been fascinated by image, particularly the image we project of ourselves out in the world. When I met with Luc Breton, who is an analyst in clothing behaviour, I had the idea of offering workshops and coaching in that field, for anyone who is interested. They help people to figure out things about the way they view themselves and how that will affect their relationship to clothes and how they dress. It’s very fascinating stuff!

I will also personally be doing conferences (I studied coaching for three years) on our relationship with image and our knowledge of ourselves and our bodies. I want to help people work on themselves, and that doesn’t necessarily have to mean beauty, I want people to feel good and realize their full potential. This is where I see Specs going in the future.

What role does social media play at Specs?

It plays a very important role. Obviously, we’re promoting models, so image is important. Instagram is definitely our favourite app at the moment. It’s a great way to showcase our talent and communicate with our clients and followers, even though sometimes, a more formal approach is still required.

While social media is great and innovative in many ways, it always has its negative aspects. Since our models are representing brands and are sometimes involved in top secret projects, it’s imperative for us to teach them the dos and don’ts of sharing on social media. They need to be careful, and understand the boundaries of the industry. It’s a work in progress, we’ve actually added a social media workshop for our new models. Information is key!

You’re very much associated with the public image of the Specs agency, was that a conscious choice or did it just sort of happen?

No, it wasn’t really a conscious choice, and it’s funny that you mention that because up until only two months ago, my profile photo on Facebook wasn’t even of myself. I understand what you mean though, compared to our competitors in the industry, I am very much out there and I like doing interviews and voicing my opinions on things relating to the industry. I enjoy it, I consider myself privileged to work in this field and I am proud to talk about my work and my company to the media, I don’t shy away from that. It’s not all about image for me, I like to show that there are real people behind Specs, that’s very important.

Marie-Josée Trempe Denis Lévesque

Credits: Specs Models/Instagram

You’ve been a very active member of the Québec Charter for Healthy and Diverse Body Image since 2009, does that ever clash with what your clients are asking for?

At the beginning, it did a little bit, but now everything has fallen into place. Even our competitors are jumping on the bandwagon. It was a choice we made for Specs and we are very proud of that choice. We’re advocating a healthy society and healthy living. We know our clients requirements and we work to fill them, if they want a size 2, they can still hire a size 2, but she will be a size 2 naturally, and healthily.

Overall, this has been a positive thing for our company.

Lastly, who would you say is your most successful client to date?

That’s easy, Coco Rocha! She’s been with us since 2004, and although she has been successful all around the world and is an incredible talent, she has stayed with her two Canadian agencies and we have a great working relationship!

Coco Rocha Ogilvy

Credits: Specs Models/Instagram

One of our male models has recently garnered a lot of attention as well. Matt Carson has appeared on the HGTV show I Wrecked My House with his brother! We’re very excited to see what the future holds for him!


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