He may be known as the man who helped make Stella Maxwell and Irina Shayk famous, but Iranian-born Ali Kavoussi teems with humility. There's a sense of compassion and simple human decency in his soft-spoken voice. Those are the qualities that color how the managing partner of The Lions Talent Management views the models who work with him. They're not just clients. They're also friends and family.
"I don't really want anything from these women aside from them being really successful," he explains, revealing that much of his time is spent building up the confidence of young models who have been bullied and beaten down by others in the industry. "I've never seen so many beautiful people that are insecure. So really you have to be there. It's almost like you have to instill them with so much self-esteem for them to get to where they need to get in their careers professionally."
Changing the way people are treated and how business is done in the fashion industry were big factors in the creation and evolution of the Lions.
"We wanted to do what inspires us and create a change in the world. And those two things have been the driving evolution at the core of the agency's vision, which is to empower our clients in fashion and amplify their voices to make an impact in the world."
Aside from a small group of people he doesn't name, Kavoussi notes the "fashion industry has always been a little behind" when it comes to cultural change, but he's also encouraged by what he says is the "new paradigm" of social media providing a means for fans to express their advocacy for an inclusive runway that features models who represent a wider array of people.
"When I first started in the fashion industry, you would see runways and there would be one Black girl," he says. "And so yeah, I think the fans wanted things that are more relatable." That includes embracing queer models like Maxwell.
Kavoussi's own life is a remarkable story. He was born in Iran in 1975, a few years before the country's tumultuous Islamic revolution. Sensing the inevitable, his father was able to safely move his family to a new home in New York City, where he bought a gas station to support them. Things turned south when his father became trapped in revolutionary Iran from 1979 to 1984, and life wasn't much better for his family in New York, as Kavoussi recalls.
"There's four of us, me, my brothers, and my sister. She was now stuck in Long Island with four kids and my dad was there [trapped in Iran]. And the man he put in charge of all his stuff ended up being a real crook and somehow tied to the Mafia."
His father's unscrupulous business partner made his mother an offer she couldn't refuse. She was forced to sign away the home and business to save their lives, and the family then fled to Miami, where Kavoussi's father had, unbeknownst to his corrupt former associate, bought a condo. Kavoussi spent the rest of his childhood in Miami until he left for college.
Once there he started work toward a degree in broadcast communications, but eventually stopped his studies and focused his efforts instead on breaking into the fashion industry.
"I always dreamed of managing models, you know. It's like my purpose in life."
His business and purpose have taken a hit this year. The pandemic is changing how the fashion industry works and how people live, but this new reality is something Kavoussi embraces personally and professionally.
"During the lockdown, there are no shoots, no travel, and very little work in general. So what is left for us is imagination and creativity. And that's what we've been using."
Where others see disaster, Kavoussi sees yet another opportunity to adapt and thrive. In other words, change is good. (@TheLionsNY)
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