Downwards-pointing arrow
Pivot Pointe
November 15, 2023

In Conversation With The Fashion Composers

Pascalle Paerel, Director & Co-Founder

The Fashion Composers is the leading modeling agency for elite dancers and movement directors. They are a new breed of models with more reach, look, feel, personalities, and realness. They turn posing into composing and move to the rhythm of the shutter, opening up on film like no other. They don't just move; they start a movement.

Founded by former ballerinas Pascalle Paerel and Hannah de Klein from the Dutch National Ballet, The Fashion Composers represents the world's most talented dancers and movement directors in the industry. They provide high-end representation to clients, helping them compose their professional goals.

Their motto is "Stop posing. Start composing." The Fashion Composers strongly believe that the zeitgeist demands more than just posing for a camera. They form a diverse group of elite dancers who bring their artistry and unique identity into modeling. They are experts in elegance and discipline, thriving in the spotlight and having been trained to control every muscle in their bodies. Whether it's a photo shoot, runway show, or video production, they turn movement into emotion and transform raw images into art. The Fashion Composers are dedicated to paving the way and keeping on moving.

As a niche agency, we value modesty and authenticity. We never boast or create something just for the sake of it. We aim to collaborate with artists on an equal footing, without any hierarchy. Our ultimate goal is to support and promote the talent.

Four years ago, before the pandemic, you and your co-founder Hannah de Klein established The Fashion Composers. I understand that both of you were dancers at the Dutch National Ballet during that time. What motivated you to make a career transition, particularly a challenging one like starting your own agency?

Pascalle Paerel: Yes, that's correct. We were both already with the Dutch National Ballet for over 10 years at that time. There were two main reasons why we decided to start our own agency. Firstly, we felt that there was a lack of representation for dancers in more commercial and fashion-oriented ways. There were modeling agencies for regular models and freelance dancers or dancers signed with companies. However, we noticed that some individuals who had the potential to be models faced difficulties with traditional modeling agencies. In our dance scene at the Dutch National Ballet, dance was the main priority for everyone due to the intense training. While ballet remained the main focus, we believed it would be beneficial to explore other opportunities on the side. We observed numerous ads featuring dancers that didn't showcase their full potential. It was a pity because we knew many talented dancers in our own country who could also shine in front of the camera.

Secondly, we noticed a rise in advertisements featuring people involved in movement or sports activities. We felt that it was a missed opportunity because we knew we could elevate the quality of these campaigns. If only they were more flexible with dates or knew where to find the right dancers. In the Netherlands, there was only one agency for dancers, but it primarily focused on the commercial side. It didn't meet our criteria for providing a platform highlighting the talent and skill level of dancers while supporting them in different directions.

Additionally, during the years when we were at the Dutch National Ballet, Instagram became increasingly popular. Many people were focused on posting and collaborating with others. However, dancers often lacked knowledge about their rights. Having a strong Instagram presence became important for their careers, and photographers sometimes took advantage of their lack of knowledge. They would sell pictures or work with photographers who were still amateurs, resulting in subpar quality. We wanted to assist dancers in navigating these challenges. This became another major reason for us to establish The Fashion Composers.

As ballet dancers, we understand that we are pioneers to some extent. In the ballet world, we have a limited say, and that's understandable because we chose this path. However, both Hannah and I strongly felt that if we were going to transition careers, we wanted to create something for ourselves. We desired control over our schedules and the ability to express our personalities and perspectives. As we grew older, we felt the need to embark on our own ventures. While ballet had been our sole focus since we were 10 years old, we wanted to explore new opportunities and make our mark in a different way.

Photo by Valentine Bouquet

We value diversity and inclusivity in all aspects, but it's important to note that certain fashion clients may have specific requirements, such as height. However, we do not let this hinder us from presenting talented dancers who may not meet those specific criteria.

How did you begin building The Fashion Composers? Did you work on it while continuing to dance for a few years, or did you dive in headfirst?

Pascalle : There were many things to learn, and Hannah still wanted to continue her professional dancing career. I understood the demands of dancing six days a week and the limited time for other pursuits. Personally, I wanted to stop dancing while I was still happy and performing well. I also knew that opportunities in the dance company can be unpredictable, so I wanted to leave at a high point.

Moreover, I always had a desire to do something after dance and didn't want to start a new venture too late in life. Therefore, I made the decision to stop dancing at the age of 29. During the last six months of my dance career with the Dutch National Ballet, we started working on the agency. At that time, it was still in its infancy. We built the website ourselves, researched contracts, and gradually learned how everything worked. We began by collaborating with people we knew.

I initially pursued a law degree, but I eventually found it challenging to juggle my studies with the rapidly growing demands of managing the agency. There were two main reasons for starting The Fashion Composers: the desire to be our own bosses and to create a platform that supports dancers in various ways. We wanted to bring our vision to life and provide support across different aspects of the dance industry.

Currently, the agency represents over 70 dancers in the Netherlands and internationally. Has this expansion been a result of the limited availability of full-time employed dancers? Particularly considering their demanding schedule of 5-6 days a week with an ever-changing weekly schedule.

Pascalle: Yes, indeed, as you mentioned, we initially started with dancers who were exclusively signed with companies. However, we soon encountered a problem that other modeling agencies had faced before. Clients showed great interest in working with us, but the dancers' schedules often posed a challenge. Artistic directors were not always open to granting them time off for shoots, which is understandable given their need for dancers.

To tackle this issue, we realized that we needed a larger and more diverse pool of dancers. We sought dancers who were freelancers and had more flexible schedules. This not only expanded our talent pool but also exposed us to a new world of freelancers, which was personally interesting for me as a dancer. Freelancers often have more artistic freedom but also face more challenges due to less job security.

We began looking beyond the ballet and contemporary world by exploring other types of dance companies, mainly in Europe. This was exciting for dancers, and we attracted them through scouting and numerous applications. We continue to do so to ensure ongoing growth. To have a sustainable future, we recognized that solely relying on dancers signed with companies was not viable. While we still sign those we believe in, we need a diverse range of freelancers as well. This allows us to expand and thrive as a company.

Of course, we encounter scheduling conflicts. We cannot risk jeopardizing performances that dancers are committed to. We work around this by being aware of their show schedules and avoiding conflicting dates. In some cases, we can negotiate date changes with clients who are eager to work with our talent. With larger productions, availability determines the feasibility. Thankfully, our diverse dancer board now allows us to propose alternatives with more flexible schedules.

Photo by Lara Ohl

I deeply admire The Fashion Composers' commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the fashion and dance industries. It is remarkable that you and your co-founder have made a pledge from the very beginning to refrain from providing negative feedback on talent, which sets you apart from others in the industry. Could you please provide more information about the onboarding process for new talent and how you sustain representation and manage talent in a more positive manner?

Pascalle: Certainly! Our team initially consisted of just myself and Hannah, but with Hannah still dancing full time and the agency growing rapidly, I soon realized I needed more people working with us for me to continue working on having the agency grow instead of working mostly ‘in’ the agency. 

We now have a team of four, which has been immensely helpful in effectively managing everyone.
We prioritize maintaining personal contact with each member of our team to ensure that they feel supported and can trust us, regardless of what they may be going through. We strive to create a Fashion Composer family and unity among all of us.

We have a WhatsApp group for all the dancers, where we discuss various matters. Due to the volume of messages, we use a laptop instead of a phone to effectively manage the group. In terms of talent, we work with individuals whom we believe in and consider to be great artists with photogenic qualities. However, it is natural for some individuals to perform better than others. We make it a point to communicate this to everyone from the beginning. Our goal is to support and push everyone equally, giving them the best chance to create an outstanding portfolio. Ultimately, the decision lies with the client as to who they choose for a project. While we can offer our recommendations, the final choice is out of our hands. As an agency, our focus is to ensure that we have the most diverse and inclusive talent pool possible.

We value diversity and inclusivity in all aspects, but it's important to note that certain fashion clients may have specific requirements, such as height. However, we do not let this hinder us from presenting talented dancers who may not meet those specific criteria. We have dancers with various attributes and personalities, catering to a wide range of clients. Our niche agency for dancers allows us to offer a diverse selection of talented artists. We handle commercials, high-end projects, dance performances, and a mix of other opportunities, ensuring that there's something for everyone within our agency.

As we continue to grow, we are expanding our agency to Madrid and working with clients in different countries. Our aim is to meet a diverse range of clients and expand our horizons. While we maintain a focus on high-end projects, we also explore various directions within the industry. We believe that exceptional talent deserves to be paired with high-end clients across different fields, providing a dynamic and exciting experience for everyone involved.

Photo by Marie Wynants

What has been your most valuable learning experience since starting the agency?

Pascalle: In the beginning, we put a lot of effort into working with people. We consistently communicate upfront that we cannot guarantee results, but when we have faith in an artist, we go to great lengths to provide equal opportunities to all. In cases where an artist doesn't perform as expected, we continuously explore strategies to improve their performance. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the best outcomes for everyone, although regrettably, not everyone may excel as much as other talented individuals.

As a niche agency, we value modesty and authenticity. We never boast or create something just for the sake of it. We aim to collaborate with artists on an equal footing, without any hierarchy. Our ultimate goal is to support and promote the talent.

Now that our agency is growing, we have acquired more clients, expanded our international presence, and have a larger roster of models. It is crucial for us to protect the agency and ensure the success of our movement. We manage these jobs because we have firsthand experience as dancers ourselves. We feel responsible for explaining to clients why certain dancers may not align with their concepts. We are the go-to agency for dancers and are working towards being a worldwide monopoly in this field. 

I am truly impressed by the agency's consistent integrity and dedication. How do you maintain smooth and ongoing communication with each artist while also prioritizing talent management? How do you match fashion composers to the ideal project and client, creating your own Fashion Composers Family?

Pascalle: Our primary booker manages options, supervises travel arrangements, and maintains ongoing communication with the artists. Additionally, we have a dedicated team member specializing in international placements and talent scouting, closely collaborating on artist management. Hannah, who recently retired from her dance career, now oversees our financial operations and contributes her creative expertise to our marketing initiatives. Regarding my role as the leader of the modeling agency, I am responsible for establishing and driving our overall business strategy and vision. I coordinate our activities, including maintaining personal contact with key stakeholders such as the models, as well as direct client interactions.

Photo by Desiree Mattsson

If a dancer is seeking representation as a fashion composer, what advice do you have for someone looking to join the agency?

Pascalle: To join our agency, first visit our website where you'll find an application section that requires pictures and dance videos for submission. Once we receive your application, our team will thoroughly review it. We receive numerous applications and have to maintain strict criteria, but we also consider the potential for success. We only sign dancers whom we believe in and think will work well. We avoid signing individuals who may not be a good fit in the long run.

We have recently introduced a new feature on our website called the "Main Board." Additionally, we are currently developing a section called "Commercial and Hidden Talents." This section is specifically designed for dancers who may not fit the high fashion criteria but possess exceptional skills. It's still a work in progress, and we're determining the best approach to make it successful. This section will cater to job opportunities that we are not currently involved in. We believe it's essential to provide representation for dancers in this category as well.

Everybody in our agency is a Fashion Composer no matter what section. We carefully review all applications, assessing various factors such as beauty, strong personality, and artistic ability. Ultimately, our decision is based on a feeling we get from the videos and pictures submitted. However, please note that due to the volume of applicants, we cannot sign everyone. We have to make choices and select dancers who stand out.

One necessary requirement is a professional dance background, regardless of the style (e.g., hip hop, contemporary). It's crucial to have dance experience at some level, even if you stopped dancing a few years ago. We don't expect extravagant performances or extensive credentials; we simply value your dance foundation. Feel free to apply, and we will carefully consider your application.

Can a Fashion Composer be both in front of the camera (operating interchangeably) and behind the camera as a movement director?

Pascalle: Yes, it is definitely possible to be both. Some people enjoy transitioning between these roles.

Many individuals aspire to become movement directors because it requires not only being a skilled dancer but also the ability to understand the client's needs. Movement direction is an emerging field, and dancers with the right personality and understanding of both the client's and the dancer's needs are highly valued.

If someone is interested in pursuing both roles, we would advise them to start developing their portfolio for movement direction as well. Gaining experience in this area is important, as there is currently a demand for it. Representation for movement directors is still relatively new, so it's a perfect combination of skills to have.

Photo by Alek

Top Image: Photo by Valentine Bouquet

Let’s bring your idea to life