Poles and the Mexican ad industry
Mexico is the largest advertising market in Latin America. Models from all over the world come there in search of work. “Mexico City is called the New York of Latin America”, claims Dorota Żmijewska, a Polish model who has been working in the country for 10 years. She believes that she wouldn’t have made a career if she hadn’t decided to leave Poland.
Wake-up call at 3 a.m.
Dorota came to Mexico to join her Mexican boyfriend, whom she met while travelling in Germany. At that point she had just finished her studies and could not speak Spanish.
“Friends of my boyfriend persuaded me to start modelling”, she recalls. “They said that I could stand a chance in this profession. I was also lucky because they knew a very good agent and gave me his contact”, says Dorota.
Her first modelling job was for a famous Liverpool department store. Not knowing the world of fashion and learning the ropes of modelling, she felt stressed. Then she started to receive more jobs. She would get up at 3 a.m, go to another city to walk on the catwalk. Immediately after work, usually in the middle of night, she came back home. She would only receive a meager pay for a job that left her tired.
“This was not how I imagined it”, she admits. “After a few such gigs I ended my cooperation with my agency. I decided to start teaching French, which I was qualified to do, but after some time I found out that this is not my vocation. I decided to give modeling one more try. I changed the agency and it was a very good decision because my career has developed from then on”, she recalls.
From space station to modeling agency
Robert worked as an engineer at NASA space station in Houston when a colleague persuaded him to take part in a men’s beauty contest. He won one organised in Texas and, after a year, he became Mister Man International in the United States. In the next editions of this contest, organized in India and Australia, he ended up third. One of the awards was a three-month contract with a modeling agency in Singapore.
“They are fascinated by people from our ethincal circles”, he says. “In their ads, they like to show tall models with bright eyes. I got several jobs there, including a nude session for a men’s clothing chain. These were artistic photographs taken by a talented photographer and I was not embarrassed at all. A good photographer has charisma, energy can guide you, talk in such a way that you feel comfortable. You know that he will take great pictures, so you don’t have to worry about yourself.
After returning to the United States, Robert was given an offer from a local agency. At that time, he was still working as an engineer but whenever he could, he took vacation and went to model for a catalogue or advertisement.
“After a few years I wanted to take a break from my engineering job for a year, maybe two”, he recalls. “I was working fixed hours and did not feel exploited but this work became monotonous. Every day I saw the same faces in the elevator. Besides, in the United States I only received two weeks of holiday a year and I wanted to go to Poland more often. That’s why I decided to see if I can make a living as a model”, he says.
At that time one of the agencies in Mexico City offered Robert a contract for several months. “And what is there in Mexico City?”, he asked his agent. “I don’t know but they cover the cost of your flight and the apartment”, he heard in response.
“It turned out that, although I have a different type of beauty, Mexico is a very good market for me. The initial three months turned into 18 years and counting. I’m also still working. There is an abundance of boys and girls in their twenties but the older youg get, the fewer of your peers age well. In addition, men can work in this profession longer than women because, in our case, age does not matter. My agent says: “Every wrinkle is a thousand dollars more for your work”.
Advertising banks and wine
Robert made a career on the commercial market. He appeared in advertisements of banks, creams, wines, cars and pharmaceutical companies. He has also received small roles in soap operas and TV series. Recently he was cast as Robert Redford in the Netflix production set in the 70s.
“Mexico is home to over 120 million people who buy a lot so advertising is everywhere”, Robert explains. “This country is the largest market for models in Latin America. Mexico is often the set for photo sessions which are then used in the United States, South America and sometimes in Europe”, he claims.
Dorota’s first work experience in Mexico was on the catwalks. Later, photos of her were featured in fashion catalogues. After a year and a half she won the first casting for a TV commercial. Then she would get more and more often in front of a camera. She advertised tequila and hotels. Recently she appeared in a music video of a Ricky Martin’s song called Fiebre. It was shot in Mexico.
“Everything comes with time, you shouldn’t give up”, she explains. “Perhaps they won’t choose me for the 49th times but on my 50th try I will succeed. I didn’t lose hope, I knew that it would be easier for me when I get featured”, she says.
According to Robert, if a model who starts his modeling journey does not receive an offer within first months, it does not mean that there is no demand for him. He himself has an Argentinian friend, Pablo, who could not get an interesting job in Mexico for two years. Later an Italian agency invited him to come to Italy. After a year he took part in one interesting photo session. Then he started receiving proposals from the best magazines.
Mexican mother and child
Dorota played the role of a Mexican mother with a child in a commercial of one of the department stores. She was also the face of a tourist campaign promoting the state of Chihuahua. For ten days she travelled to the most beautiful corners of the region where her sessions in the costumes of local designers were made. The photos appeared on billboards and in the magazines distributed on planes.
“It may seem funny that although I am Polish, I play the role of a Mexican but it’s a matter of luck”, she believes. “My beauty sells well here. Especially on the commercial market, because I don’t look like a typical Latino with a pale complexion but neither am I white European”, she claims.
Dorota is tall and slim but she also has feminine curves. However, this did not prevent her from working on the catwalks of well-known brands.
“There are no strict size requirements in Mexico because typical Mexican women have wider hips and are more corpulent. Femininity is valued here”.
Three castings a day
Dorota and Robert go for up to three castings a day. Most of the models who take part in them come from other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Venezuela. There are also some Europeans, mainly Spaniards.
“In Mexico even 1000 people can come to take part in an interesting casting while in Poland it varies between 40 and 200 people”, says Robert.
Although Robert believes he does not have a big competition, he does not get too exciited about the castings. He believes that the phone will simply ring if he is the man for the job.
“Knowing people in the business sometimes helps, because if a photographer or director you know knows that I would be good for a session, they can recommend me to their client”, he admits. “Mexico is the so-called aspiring market so they look for models who not necessarily bear resemblance to other people, but which have a coveted type of beauty. What counts most, however, is your portfolio and your performance. When a few people are shortlisted, in the final stage, everyone can actually get the job”, he says.
Robert takes good care of himself, gets enough sleep and is always on time. He knows he cannot party until four in the morning and end up with bags under his eyes, if he has a casting for a gig the next day. Robert also keeps his promises. If he resigns from a project because he suddenly got a better job, the organizer may be offended and stop inviting him to castings. He also understands that people are less organized in Mexico. Sometimes he reads newspapers on set, because the producers did not come on time.
“In Poland the organization of work is better. In the United States it’s even better, because people there are often paid by the hour: when I enter the set, everything is ready to go. In Mexico people are paid for each project: sometimes you have to be available all day long and finish the work at three o’clock in the morning”, he says.
Bread with background music
Every year Robert spends a few months with his family in Poland. He has also found an agent in his homeland and gets jobs there. Recently he appeared in the advertisement for Zlota 44 skyscraper in Warsaw and was featured in a commercial of Namysłów beer. In Mexico, apart from modeling, he conducts yoga classes and bakes Polish sourdough bread for individual customers and restaurants (using his grandmother’s recipe). He learned to make baked goods in the United States where he could not find good bread. He would like to open his own bakery in the future.
“Sometimes people ask me if I will work in Mexico in 10 years’ time”, he says. “I have no idea. Years ago I was an engineer and then my life took a completely different course. My life has nothing to do with planning, that’s why I prefer not to do it. In general, my life is much better in Mexico than in the United States. A lot is happening, it does not get boring here. Besides, people are similar to Poles, they treat their families with great respect. I feel at home here”, he says.
Dorota also settled in Mexico. She has a boyfriend, friends and her favourite places. She thinks that Mexicans are cheerful and helpful. What she also enjoys is the sunny weather.
“Modelling is a temporary job for me”, she says. “Many of my friends treat it as a trampoline to other professions. I always wanted to sing, I even graduated from a music school. Now I have returned to my passion. I created a duo called with my male friend and we have been singing jazz for some time now. I receive invitations to give private performances in different places. I would like to develop further in this direction”, she adds.