Sarah Doukas was waiting in the departure lounge to catch a plane at JFK airport when she noticed a waif-like 14-yearold girl with the most amazing face. Doukas gave her a business card and told her to call if she would like to become a model. The girl’s name was Kate Moss. She joined Doukas’s agency the next day, within four years had secured a worldwide contract as the face of Calvin Klein, and is now one of the most successful models in the world.
Doukas has always done things her own way. Sent away to boarding school at the age of seven, she quickly learnt to be independent and self-reliant. Her parents had hoped she would go into a ‘proper’ profession, but Doukas flunked her exams and escaped to London to become a model. She says: ‘I was put under a lot of pressure from my parents to be academic. As far as my father was concerned, unless you followed medicine or law or a conservative profession you weren’t going to have a reasonable life. But I thought, to hell with it, I’ll do whatever I want. I completed one A level and walked out of the rest. My father was furious. He didn’t speak to me for two years.
’ 127 128 How I Made It In between modelling assignments, Doukas started selling antiques from a stall in Chelsea and embarked on a series of adventures. She went to live in Paris for a couple of years to sell antiques in flea markets and then returned to London to manage a punk band. She says: ‘A friend in Paris wanted to sign the band to his record company and had nobody to look after them in Britain so I started managing them. I did everything from driving the van to loading the equipment to set up their gigs. I didn’t get any sleep but it was a lot of fun.’
While managing the band, Doukas met and married an American singer. They went to live in San Francisco, where she set up a children’s clothing company. When they returned to Britain four years later in 1982 she got a job as a trainee booking agent in a modelling agency. She says: ‘I had always thought it might be quite fun to do. I was delighted not to be modelling anymore.
I never enjoyed being in front of the camera, I was always panic-stricken.’ Sarah Doukas 129 After seven years there she realised she really wanted to start her own agency even though it would mean becoming a rival to the company she worked for. She says: ‘I knew my boss wouldn’t like it but I had a burning ambition to have my own company. I felt bad about it but I was getting frustrated because there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go within the company – and I knew I couldn’t stay there forever with someone in a more senior position to me.’
However, she deliberately took no action to set up her agency until she had actually left her old job. ‘It was a mad thing to do’, she says, ‘but I couldn’t go to sleep at night or look at somebody at work and think I was organising something behind their back.’ Once she had left she asked some accountants to help her draw up a business plan. After much effort, she found a backer who would lend her some money.
However, just before the deal was finalised, the brother of an old school friend called to say he had heard about her plans and would like to get involved. It was Sir Richard Branson. It was not a situation most other entrepreneurs are likely to find themselves in.