In 1979, the world renowned European modeling agency City Models Paris was seeking to place a group of their models in Miami. The owner of City Models tapped Irene Marie, a former model and fashion columnist in Europe, for assistance. City Models was dissatisfied with the regional scope of the agencies they visited in Miami, and proposed to Irene to open a branch of their agency in South Florida.
In 1980, Irene opened City Models Florida in Ft. Lauderdale as the first full-service exclusive model and talent agency in South Florida. Irene's contacts in Europe allowed her to persuade foreign photographers and designers to produce their campaigns in Florida, from Palm Beach to the art deco oasis of Miami Beach. This included mega-fashion photographer Steve Hiett who shot Kim Harbour for ELLE - Irene's first cover booking. For the first time a Florida-based agency was taking an international approach to the fashion industry. In 1983 the name of the agency was changed to Irene Marie Models and by 1988 had outgrown its location. It was during this time that Irene made the biggest discovery of her career, when a 13-year old Niki Taylor walked in to her agency's open call.
Having realized Miami Beach's potential as a fashion production superpower (unpopulated beaches, vibrant colors, unique lighting), Irene decided to move her agency South to the relatively undiscovered South Beach. Irene was one of the first real estate investors in South Beach to purchase and renovate an original ocean-front building. She moved her agency to 728 Ocean Drive in 1989 and was quickly joined by industry friends and icons Bruce Weber and Gianni Versace. Over the next decade the influx of photographers, models and productions transformed Miami Beach into the third fashion capitol of the world.
The agency continued to grow during the early 1990's with the discovery and development of talent such as David Fumero, Amber Smith, Shana Zadrick, Garcelle Beauvais, Brandi Quinones, Tom Pricone, Gilles Marini and Britt Bradford. In 1992 Forbes magazine listed Irene Marie Models as one of the top 8 most successful modeling agencies in the world. The following year Irene opened agency branches in Atlanta, Tampa and was the first Florida-based modeling agency to ever open in New York. During this period top models and agents flocked to I'M New York including Marcus Schenkenberg, Cynthia Bailey, Shemar Moore, Kimora Lee, Beverly Peele, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and rockstar Brett Michaels.
In 1997 after giving birth to her fifth child, Irene decided to consolidate her agency branches into one entity, again based out of her Miami Beach office.
Over the next decade, Irene continued to discover and represent top models and actors including Cindy Taylor, Bar Rafaeli, Melania Trump, Heide Lindgren, Vinci Alonso and Brett Novek. The agency expanded with the development of new divisions including Irene Marie Creative Management (an artists' division), IM Publishing, and IM Sports and represented athletes and celebrities such as Harry Wayne "K.C." Casey of KC and The Sunshine Band, Shannon Briggs, Ricky Williams and Jay Howard.
In 2006, Irene along with MTV launched the reality television series 8th & Ocean which chronicled the lives of ten models and their relationship with Irene and her staff. The show was a world-wide hit and helped to put the fashion spotlight back on Miami Beach. Soon after, Irene launched an extensive online initiative to utilize new media to further her brand name and to scout for new talent. The agency which was first to launch an online booking system was now the first to effectively harness the power of online social networks such as MySpace, FaceBook and YouTube.
In recognition of its 25th anniversary and outstanding achievements, December 13, 2008 was declared ‘Irene Marie Models Day’ in the City of Miami Beach.
728 OCEAN DRIVE
In 1989 Irene Marie Models relocated from Fort Lauderdale to 728 Ocean Drive in South Beach, then known as the Sunray Apartments made famous by the chainsaw scene in the movie Scarface .
The three year renovation was overseen by legendary architect and preservationist Les Beilinson and included converting the first floor apartments into The Booking Table restaurant. This fine dining location, visited by Gianni Versace each morning for its famous Belgian waffles, remained open until 1998 and is now the location of Ocean Drive's iconic Johnny Rockets.
Over a 25 year period, hundreds of models and celebrities graced 728 Ocean Drive for castings, open call and the set for MTV's 8th & Ocean. The building housed iconic features including the glass Comp Room adorned with walls of over 500 model composite cards and the 30 foot tall Covers Wall which featured 50 of Irene Marie Models' most iconic magazine covers.
"I’m not pretty. The truth is I didn’t think I could be a model at all. I was looking at some of the guys on the walls at Irene Marie and I thought to myself- Jesus Christ. I can’t do this.
I don’t look anything like these guys".
- Channing Tatum
Today, Ocean Drive is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world- much of this success is thanks to the cultural and economic boom started by Irene and her agency. Although Irene Marie sold her iconic building in 2011, it remains one of most recognizable locations in the world.
December 2008: Irene Marie Models celebrated 25 beautiful years at the Fontainebleau hotel, hosted by Michael Yo and featuring an All-Star Rock & Roll performance and retrospective fashion show styled by Danny Santiago.