#WeWantToKnow: Elmer Olsen


I have a really great story for you today! It’s all about a boy who was raised on a farm in rural Saskatchewan and grew up to become one of the leading talent agents in the modelling industry. I’m referring to Elmer Olsen, founder of eponymous agency Elmer Olsen Model Management, a man who is possibly the greatest combination of kind, warm and quirky, and I had the great pleasure of meeting with him at his downtown Toronto office for what was a really fun chat. I’m so pleased to introduce you to Elmer! 

From left: a young Elmer Olsen; his father Walter; a farm manager,;his mom Margaret; and Bobby Hull, who visited their farm to purchase a steer from their farm's cattle sale

From left: a young Elmer Olsen; his father Walter; a farm manager,;his mom Margaret; and Bobby Hull, who visited their farm to purchase a steer from their farm's cattle sale

It might seem unlikely for a farm boy who spent his childhood milking cows in the early hours before school to end up in the fashion and beauty industry, but Elmer’s path to where he ended up was actually quite organic. He spent his entire life around farm animals and as a teen he got into 4-H for livestock, specializing in showing and grooming cattle at competitions, and he excelled at this, winning the award for best steer every year. He really enjoyed the grooming aspect of livestock competitions, and this prompted him to want to become a hairdresser. It was an unexpected interest for someone who grew up on a farm, but his parents were extremely supportive, and after high school he went to beauty school and then worked at a salon in Regina. He joined the competition scene once more, this time for hairstyling, and his big moment came when he entered a competition held by L’Oréal Paris, who were introducing a new colour to Canada. The hairstylists were judged 75% on the hair colour they created and 25% on the total look (model’s hair + outfit) — Elmer had a knack for putting the entire look together, and he won the competition for Saskatchewan. This win took him to Montreal to compete as the Saskatchewan representative in L’Oréal’s national leg of the competition, which Elmer also won, taking him further to compete in London and Paris representing Canada. While in Montreal, Elmer fell in love with the city and its beautifully made-up, fashionable women, and he moved there to work in a hair salon, eventually making the move to Toronto to open up his own salon. 

Elmer (left) at a L'Oréal competition in 1974

Elmer (left) at a L'Oréal competition in 1974

Elmer loved hair and fashion and how it changed a woman to make her feel good, but he realized he wasn’t as in love with cutting hair as much as his colleagues were, and wanted something else. An opportunity presented itself when he was asked by Wella International to represent them at a hair show in Las Vegas, and Elmer needed to look for models to be in the show and discovered he was extremely good at seeking out the best talent; realizing this, he at last made the move out of hairstyling and into model management, and he went to work for a modeling agency run by someone he knew, 2 years later he branched out on his own and has been managing models ever since. He’s so good at spotting talent that others in the industry will hire models sight-unseen just because Elmer recommends them. 

Elmer on the cover of Toronto Life magazine, March 2007

Elmer on the cover of Toronto Life magazine, March 2007

Elmer is friendly, kind, warm and respectful — his small-town farm upbringing never left him — and I think that these characteristics, combined with his eye for discovering talent, contributed to the long and successful career he’s had. He loves what he does, and it feels so rewarding for him to transform a girl and give her confidence. It was a great honour and a lot of fun getting to know him, he's one of those people who exudes a brilliant energy. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about him, too! 

Want more? Here’s what #WeWantToKnow about Elmer: 

I can't start my morning without...taking my dog for a walk, going across the street to the coffee shop and having an extremely strong latte with 3 shots of espresso, and reading the papers. 

I have a weakness for...dessert. Especially pie — there isn’t a pie I don’t like. 

Most people don't know that I...am addicted to crime stories.

Currently reading… World Gone By by Dennis Lehane. 

An important lesson I learned...my parents always said be nice to people, you never know where you’re going to meet them again. 

I want... to have good health and enjoy everyday. 

Thanks Elmer, for participating in #WeWantToKnow! I really enjoyed our chat and hope to see you again soon!