Look,” says a diminutive dynamo known as Zoli in a faint Hungarian accent: “I’m not saying dot Sandra Dee and Doris Day aren’t pretty. But there are other kinds of beauty, and my taste runs to the more exotic.”
Of course, Zoli is not only an amateur appreciator but also New York’s leading purveyor of exotic flesh. Running the town’s “biggest little” modeling agency, Budapest-born Zoltan Rendessy, 34, bills $1.5 million a year supplying fashion photographers and ad agency casting directors with a vogue’s gallery of fresh new faces, especially the freaky, funky, far-out varieties.
“A lot of people say I have all crazies,” admits Zoli, and, to be sure, his roster of unusual flipped-out types has earned him the title, “Svengali of the Strange.” Yet Zoli also represents some wholesome, long-stemmed beauties among his 80 models, like classic Town & Country cover person Serena Rhinelander. In defense of his taste for those he calls the “more interesting,” he argues. “There’s no set standard of beauty. Remember that between the ’40s and ’60s all the great beauties were brunettes with very white faces—sophisticated with an air of mystery. For the past five years, the blond, relaxed Lauren Hutton type has epitomized beauty. But I smell a change coming.” As of yet, though, the move has not spread beyond high-fashion magazines to, say, Pepsi commercials, and the male half of his stable tends to be strong and virile rather than bland “pretty boys.”
Zoli started himself in the conventional genre. He came to the U.S. with his mother at 14 but soon dropped out of school when he found his European preparation put him three years ahead of his New York classmates. So he drifted into the model agency business. Eventually, he found repping the standard all-American beauties “so boring I wanted to take some of the ones who didn’t fit the mold and work with them. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something more with the times.’ ”
With the help of his longtime pal, former model Benny Chavez, and the $20,000 she loaned him, Zoli formed his own agency in 1971 signing those disaffected with the bigger, more establishment agencies. A Hair-inspired group portrait of his stable, all in the skinny, made the name of Zoli Inc., but no money, until the arrival of a Eurasian beauty named Elnora. “She was just too unusual for the other agencies,” he says. “She needed someone to work very hard selling her. I did, and I eventually got her onto the cover of Bazaar. Then others came to me, figuring that ‘If he can do this for her, he’ll do something for me.’ ”
Zoli’s relentless hawking of his models knows no business hours. His headquarters and home is a five-story brownstone in Manhattan’s East 60s, which also serves as bunkhouse for models when they first land in New York. There is no Playboy mansion messing around, though it is the setting for some of Manhattan’s trendiest parties with a duke’s mixture of mannequins and anyone from Woody Allen to Bianca Jagger, Robert Altman to Faye Dunaway, Paul Simon to Sue Mengers.
The entertaining is deductible, naturally, but Zoli really seems to care about people and especially his clients. Pat Cleveland, who left a superagency for Zoli and is Halston’s favorite, exclaims, “He’s my guardian angel! He’s a person-agent, for human beings.” Concurs Apollonia: “It’s hard to find a friend in this tense, harsh business. And Zoli, he’s absolutely a friend.”
If the boss has his way, Zoli Inc. will stay small, special—with each model one of a kind. “There’s no room in New York for another big agency,” he says. And anyway, with his 15 percent cut of billings that could hit $2 million next year, Zoli can listen to his own favorite advice to his models: “Not to worry.”