HER LIFE IS HER ART
Photos Myrna Suarez | Words Tamara Rappa
IMG Models Vice President Lisa Benson grew up in Pennsylvania and traded golf to pursue her creativity and love of fashion. A star player on the Division I golf team at Penn State, Benson decided that after studying in London she would move straight to New York, where she would intern at Saks Fifth Avenue in the buying department. Ultimately Benson found that the buying side of fashion wasn't creative enough. So when she was connected to IMG through her father's friend, golf legend Arnold Palmer, who had been signed to the agency, she decided to go in for an informational interview. She was living in New York City and needed to find a job. With her sights initially set on working for a designer like Versace, Lisa knew she had to get her foot in the door, and "begged" for the position that was open: receptionist. She met with one-time Creative Director and now President, Ivan Bart, and knew instantly that she wanted to work for him. She adored him, and loved the fun atmosphere, describing it as "chaotic, in a good way". Like the star of rom-com, she fell straight into the fast-paced world of not just fashion, but of modeling, and worked hard learning the ropes while working the buzzing switchboard at IMG. One day, she asked to sit at Bart's assistant's desk while he was away, determined to work for Bart some day. The rest, they say, is history. Today Benson oversees the careers of many of the modeling industry’s top names, and has turned many of them into brands, including Chrissy Teigen, Lily Aldridge, Chanel Iman, Georgia Fowler, and more. She's secured countless covers for her clients in top publications like Vogue, V Magazine, Sports Illustrated, CR Magazine and Vanity Fair ,and has worked on countless brand deals including Victoria’s Secret, Estée Lauder, H&M, Google and Bobbi Brown.
What is your version of a t-shirt and jeans? I like to keep it simple; a simple white t-shirt and a ripped jean. I do like my black skinny jeans though too. I love Citizens Of Humanity jeans, and J Brand. Especially the jeans I'm wearing today, that my client Elsa Hosk designed in collaboration with them. They actually fit amazingly well. She's a supermodel but I'm a little bit curvier, and they fit me. One of my best friends used to work for Citizens, and we do a lot of business with them. And I love Good American too. I'm lucky because someone will usually send me a free pair to try. And I just recently started wearing a lot of different jewelry. My clients probably influenced me... I'd see them wearing a t-shirt with a really cool pair of earrings.
How is your job creative? My job's really creative. Everyone thinks it's so business, but it's really not. When you sign talent, you're in charge of how they're perceived, and you have to have a vision. I like to keep my talent mainly who they are, and not really change them, so to speak. I give them guidance on their style, and make them more of who they are.
How do you get your best ideas? My ideas can come at random times. Even at 3 o'clock in the morning, and I'll email someone! I daydream a lot. I listen to music or work out and ideas come. It's hard to do, but I try to set time aside to daydream and create vision, create vision boards for where clients are going. I had a clear vision of Chrissy Teigen on tv and doing cookbooks...
Instagram has almost replaced the traditional model's portfolio in a lot of ways, and it's a huge part of your client's lives. What Instagram tips do you have, knowing all that you know? Keep it as real as possible. Don't do too much Facetuning or editing. You need to be relatable. It's a different time. Forget too done, too perfect. It's about embracing who you are, imperfections and all. People are more successful doing that. You can see what's been photoshopped. The industry is smart, they can see it. If you're a girl who is known for being sassy and fun, show that on Instagram. If you're serious and style-minded, then yes, everything should be stylized; make that extra effort. Don't be afraid to show your personality. And present a variety of posts. Show all that you are and all that you can do. Put it out there.
What do you love about Instagram? I love keeping up with friends and family. And for work, I love keeping up with what's out, whether that's the magazines or news. I can also spot talent on Instagram, and learn about what other people are doing. It's a quicker way of doing research, as opposed to researching online. It can be a way to identify what you need to work on---what other girls are doing; who's working with what brand. In the morning, it's just an easy scroll to obtain a lot of information.
What do you do when you're stuck? It's happened to me many times. I go to my mentor [Ivan Bart], or I talk to someone else in the office for inspiration. I voice it. I say I am having a lack of inspiration, and I'm stuck. I ask for a pep talk. I'll also go to Maja [Chiesi], she's amazing. Maybe we'll have a glass of wine, or just sit together. Or I'll go to a totally different kind of manager than myself to get their perspective.
What's the most challenging thing about what you do? Managing time, handling all of it, and being calm. The hotter it gets, the cooler you are. And, it took me a long time to take time for myself.
You work within the heart of pop culture, it's all around you, so how do you shut off from work? ...and you love it! I make time to work out in the morning (or at night) and zone out. One or two nights a week, I'll do something for myself like go home and cook, do something normal, and be away from it all. And on the weekends sometimes I'll take a 30 minute break and think about what I'm doing for myself in the next week, I'll set a schedule. I work better that way now---by being prepared. It makes me feel calm and ready to tackle everything. For example, on Sundays I've started cooking my lunches. I enjoy that.
Are you afraid of anything? I'm pretty fearless. I'll go into something and not think about things too much. If they say 'you're flying to Tokyo', I don't ask too many questions. I'll figure it all out later. I was always scared of failing, and then you fail and realize it wasn't so bad, and you learn from it, and it makes everything better. Sometimes I'll go through periods when I wonder whether I'm working too much. Will I have balance? When am I having a family? As long as you're happy and you're doing what you love, the other things should fall into place. But my new thing in my older age is that I'm a hypochondriac!
What does a model need to possess to become a brand? What has to be there? What can't you teach? They have to really want it. They have to have that desire, the desire to take it to the next level. People say they want to do it, but they don't understand it's a full time job. I can put girls in the room, but how will they run with it? Are you staying in contact with those relationships? Do you take them to lunch? Do you send flowers to the intern? It takes a lot of work. How are you connecting with others? Are you supporting your fellow models? Are you supporting the Editors-in-Chief? Are you studying: do you know fashion? Do you have an understanding of what you're doing? Have a moodboard or a vision board? The Lily Aldridges and the Chrissy Teigens knew what they were setting out to do, and they were calm and patient about it. They take their relationships and commitments to another level, and think outside the box more than others do.
What is your most amazing recent discovery? I didn't travel from January through July 2019, because I thought I needed to slow down my travel for six months. And my recent discovery is that I have to travel to be inspired. It doesn't have to be all the time. But it's important for me to connect with people and see other cultures, see different walks of life. I rediscovered travel as a way to connect and be mindful, be present.