Model of success
Linda Layman-Hull reflects on her career in the fashion industry.
Linda Layman-Hull with grandson Caleb and husband Don.
Linda Layman-Hull has led a beautiful life.
She built a lengthy career in an industry that can be as fickle as fashion itself while also helping thousands get their starts in modeling and acting.
Perhaps most remarkably, she ran the internationally acclaimed Linda Layman Agency in Tulsa — far from the bright lights of New York City, Los Angeles and Paris.
“I wanted to help build something here in Tulsa,” she says. “It’s my hometown. I love Tulsa. I just wanted to make a statement.”
Layman-Hull started modeling in her teens, but her path to success was somewhat circuitous. After graduating from Will Rogers High School, she attended what is now Missouri State University before returning to Tulsa. She worked as a house model for upscale clothing stores, including Miss Jackson’s, before she was given an assignment that changed her life.
Miss Jackson’s owner Bill Fisher asked Layman-Hull to pick out models for an upcoming show that featured Bill Blass designs. It was particularly challenging because, she recalls, “I knew hardly any” of the young women she approached.
The show was a hit. With the encouragement of Fisher and Blass, Layman-Hull began a modeling agency in the 1970s that also branched into finding and developing talent for film, television and commercials.
Layman-Hull initially ran the agency from her home before its success led her to open a midtown office in the 1980s. Working alongside her husband, Don Hull, and a few full-time employees, Layman-Hull says the job was all-consuming.
Hull remembers his wife “waking me up at 4:30 in the morning and asking me, ‘Hey, did you call so-and-so?’”
“Those were crazy, busy days,” Layman-Hull recalls. “We had a ton of things to do every day. I had to prove myself over and over again.”
Hull says the job was particularly difficult in the pre-Internet days because the couple used answering machines, Rolodexes and spreadsheets to keep everything organized at a small business that had dealings all over the world.
But the hard work paid off. Layman-Hull says she didn’t have to travel overseas often because European fashion scouts would visit Tulsa to see the world-class talent her agency featured.
Layman-Hull’s most famous discovery, Amber Valletta, just wandered into her office with her mother one lucky day. Layman-Hull says she had no doubt Valletta would go straight to the top of the modeling industry.
She remembers the only moment of uncertainty concerning Valletta came when Valletta’s mother moved not long after that fortuitous first meeting. In those pre-cell phone days, Layman recalls she had to scramble to track down Valletta’s new landline.
However, the Valletta situation was not typical. Finding the right talent to match the right opportunity was a skill Layman-Hull forged over years of experience.
Even three years into retirement, she can spot flaws that only someone with her background would notice.
On a recent morning at a local coffee shop, Layman-Hull was asked if she thought a beautiful young blonde woman seated across the room had modeling potential.
“Legs are too short,” she replied.
She says part of her job involved giving people honest appraisals of their strengths and weaknesses.
“I prided myself on being honest, ethical and having high standards,” she says. “Not everybody is right for everything.”
Layman-Hull’s candor and good advice were apparently appreciated by many of the thousands of veterans of her agency.
“She still gets letters from people who say she changed their direction in life for the better,” Hull says.
Layman-Hull says she began thinking about retiring several years ago. She selected Wendy Johnson, who has known the couple since the 1980s, to continue the Linda Layman Agency.
Layman-Hull describes hers as a “soft retirement” and says she talks with Johnson regularly. Today, Layman-Hull’s life is more about her grandchildren, redecorating her house, church involvement and perhaps eventually doing some of the traveling she didn’t have time for in the past.
“I don’t miss the stress,” she admits. However, she is obviously proud of what she built.
“I wasn’t in this to make a lot of money. I just wanted to have something good.”