ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – In the late 1970s, Billy Jones embarked on a career as an actor, but soon discovered he had a talent for something else: modeling.
Within a few years, “I was one of the top models in the country,” he recalls.
Raised in New Jersey, Jones decided early on that he wanted an exciting and flashy career. He got it.
“I told mom and dad that I didn’t want to go to college, but I wanted to go to acting school,” he said, and he enrolled in the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts.
One of his teachers felt he had better options than hunting for off-Broadway roles.
“My teacher said ‘Bill, actors are the most unemployed people in the world. Why don’t you go into modeling?’, “ he said, and he followed that advice. And while his career turned out to be a very successful one – he was soon gracing the covers of popular magazines like Ebony – he had one problem: the clock was ticking. Back then, he said, the life of a model could be cruelly short.
“They want you up to (age) 25,” he said.
Today, Jones is still in the field of modeling, but in a very different way. He now has his own fashion and photography studio at Uptown Altmonte, where he recruits modeling talent and helps them grow their careers. What changed for him is that as the modeling field began turning its back on those getting too old to go in front of the cameras, Jones began observing the people who worked with the models in different ways: photographers and makeup artists in particular. He began studying what they did … and proved to be a very fast learner.
“I got behind the scenes and started doing makeup,” he said. “Most top models are always around photographers, makeup and hair people. We know how to put people together. I understand hair, I understand makeup, I understand lighting.“
Jones went on to develop his own line of photography and makeup services, creating his own brand. He now has Billy Jones designer lipstick and lip gloss, among other products.
“I want to launch someone else’s career through my products,” he said. “I’m here to put images together. We do hair, we do styling, then we create the look.”
In his Altamonte Springs studio, “We not only do photography, we submit layouts,” he said. “Because I’m doing beauty, I’m always submitting beauty layouts. Back in 1979, I was just starting out, but the things I’ve learned about this industry is it’s always changing and you have to keep ahead of it.”
Walking around his studio, where the walls are adorned with framed photos of his work, Jones said, “These are all the things I learned behind the scenes doing modeling. My studio is set up for beauty and headhsots. I control everything in this studio.”
After ending his modeling career in the late 1980s, Jones made a smooth transition into professional freelance photography.
“I learned how to become a photographer’s assistant,” he said. “I started shooting pictures that got published in Ebony, Essence, and other magazines,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of Salon posters. The photography has taken me all over the world.“
Despite his success in the Big Apple, Jones eventually migrated to Central Florida, and has been here ever since.
“I left New York because I needed a break from the hustle and bustle and I wanted to come to Orlando to become an event photographer,” he said. He did some work for the YMCA, which helped him make crucial contacts at Walt Disney World. The theme park giant liked his work and began using him. It led to gigs with the Orlando Magic and Universal Studios, among other big name clients.
“From that one job at the YMCA, it opened doors for me,” he said.
Today he uses his new studio to recruit models – of all ages. He said the industry has evolved, so that it’s no longer limited to teens or men and women in their early 20s.
“Being a model starts young, at age 8 or 9,” he said. “It’s what you wear. It’s the makeup you put on. It’s your hairstyle”
Today, magazines are also interested in more mature models, he said – a far cry from the 1970s when he first got into the business.
“There are other magazines out there now that want men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” he said. “There’s a market for that now. I’m preparing to deal with women in their 40s. I’m looking for moms, too. Now you’re going to see a lot of magazines out there for women who are older, and I am on it. I also shoot a lot of designer eyewear. We use all different ages, all different nationalities for our lip gloss. Anything that has to do with health and fitness I’m all about.”
He works frequently with men as well.
“The industry is changing,” he said. “Most people think beauty is only women, but men are more invovled in beauty decisions now because they’re behind the camera.”
In August, Jones also plans to launch his Back to School with Billie tour, visiting local schools to recruit new talent and introduce young people to the field of modeling, makeup and photography.
”Billie is the nickname of my granddaughter,” he said. “Someday I hope she can run my company.”
In the meantime, “Over the next 90 days I’ll be touring high schools and colleges looking for talent,” he said. “I’m looking for people who have never done modeling before. They are the best ones to work with.”
To learn more about Bill Jones Cosmetics, call 407-394-6264.
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