When Union City modeling studio Le Modele closed two summers ago, many of the model-hopeful girls – and their parents – kept in contact with a former instructor named Loraine Abreu. Parent after parent, she said, called her with a familiar refrain: “Open up the school, Loraine. Open up the school.”
This year, Abreu decided it was time to bring the runway back to Union City. With a background in fashion, she knew she could make it happen. And she did. On March 20, she held the grand opening for La Belle Talent School, and has already booked over 30 girls for modeling and dancing classes.
‘Our main goal is to have something for the youth in the community to do something different.’ – Muhammad Kazlak
By day, Abreu works for the city in the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP). But when 5 p.m. rolls around, you can find Abreu in her new modeling and dance studio, La Belle Talent School, located at 1303 Summit Ave.
For Abreu, the idea to open her own modeling school was just a natural progression of what she’d accomplished up to this point.
In her late teens, she had been an assistant for Le Modele, the modeling studio that used to occupy a space at 32nd and Kennedy streets. After graduating from college, she returned to Le Modele, this time as an instructor.
She had pageant experience, too, participating in several of her own, as well as organizing the Mini Modela Latina pageant while working at Le Modele.
And the kids adored her. As the president of a youth group at church for seven years, she knew how to interact with teenagers, and how to listen attentively to their problems.
So when Le Modele closed its doors in July of 2009, it seemed only natural that Abreu should take the helm of a new talent studio.
“I kept in contact with a lot of the girls, and they’d say ‘Please open up the school, open up the school,’ Abreu said. “And a lot of other parents kept calling me that they had been seeing a change in their daughters [through talent training], and to please open the school again.”
Open for business
On Feb. 1, Abreu started her talent business in her house. But operating out of her house wasn’t enough for her, or the parents.
So she continued the search for her own place, which she found on Summit Avenue.
Like any owner of her first place, Abreu took pride in creating a space uniquely her own.
“I opened [La Belle] from scratch,” she said. “I did it my own way. I opened it the way I liked it.”
On March 20, the remodeled space opened its doors as La Belle, the go-to place for modeling and dance training in Union City.
Already over 30 girls, ages 5 and up, are enrolled in weekday night and weekend classes headed by Abreu and two assistants.
In the twice-a-week modeling classes, the girls learn “basically everything in the fashion industry, Abreu said, from runway modeling, protocol and etiquette, to make up, skin care, and photo shoot modeling. Those enrolled in the once-a-week dance classes are privy to instruction in hip hop, salsa, merengue, bachata, belly dancing, and ballet.
But it’s not just an instruction-and-fend-for-yourself kind of place.
At La Belle, the girls perform fashion shows every three months, with the first one at Coco Bongo, 429 North Broad Street in Elizabeth, on May 15.
“Every group is going to be learning something to perform at the fashion show,” Abreu said. “They’ll learn how to model different types of clothes, do an opening, choreography…”
In addition, La Belle has pledged to help them secure jobs and auditions for commercials, magazines, and Internet sites.
La Belle, though, is about much more than primping and performing.
“Our main goal is to have something for the youth in the community to do something different,” said Abreu’s husband, Muhammad Kazlak, who is the public relations manager for La Belle. “[The girls] love it. We try to make it a fun environment, but at the same time, educational.”
But Abreu knows it would be a disservice to just teach the girls the technical details of modeling; personality development is also important.
“It’s something that would help them…how to behave and gain self confidence,” she said, noting that it’s great training for shy girls too, not just outgoing ones with a penchant for the talent field.
Abreu also credits her experience as president of a church youth group as helpful in relating to the girls and serving as a role model.
“My relationship to young teenagers is very strong,” she said, “When they have problems at home, they relate to me a lot [and look to me] to give advice.”
So what’s the future look like for this young talent school? The number of enrollees speaks for itself.
“We’ve gotten very good feedback from parents and students,” Abreu said.
Deanna Cullen can be reached at email@example.com.