Meet Victoria Duruh, co-founder and Chief Talent Officer of UpStaged Entertainment Group.
Victoria is a renowned fashion and model industry talent agent, casting director and producer. As a former Elite Model Management senior director, Victoria was responsible for scouting, booking, developing, casting, managing and publicizing premier talent, celebrities and athletes with top branded clients, including Lancôme, L’Oréal USA, L’Uomo Vogue, Teen Vogue, Reebok, Sports Illustrated, Maybelline, Harper’s Bazaar and many others. She has produced fashion shows, film screenings, Oscars events, the U.S. Sports Film Festival and other premier events.
Hailing from Michigan, Duruh shares her career path, biggest influences on her journey, and how she has used her talents to create more opportunities for other African Americans.
What is your professional background?
I have been in the entertainment business for almost 25 years. I went to Auburn University (War Eagle!!) for pre-Med then transferred to major in Fashion Merchandising. Such a change was unheard of and unpopular with my very traditional and very, very profession-oriented, educated Nigerian parents but I stood my ground, headed on my own path and I never looked back!
I had an amazing internship while still in college and eventually went to work with the BEST – Elite Model Management. I learned every aspect of the modeling business from digital photography to editing to scouting, developing, booking, casting and finance; but the most important skill I learned was communication and developing strong relationships with people.
My time at Elite helped me to develop a sixth sense about people. I have been especially good and helping models find the right match and to sense their inner feelings about jobs and career paths. I can identify individual mannerisms and see beyond the surface to read their personality and see what they need. I was very successful — strict but kind and the models loved me because of it.
What led you to co-found UpStaged Entertainment Group?
After awhile I decided to take another path and so I transitioned to focus on casting for more broad talent – models, celebrities, promotions, operations, etc. I took all of the skills I had developed at Elite to tackle the unknown and it was amazing.
This experience, and the people I met in this much bigger world of the performing arts led me, along with my partner Steve Hartman, to yet another path to incorporate my expertise and my experience into a new company that would profoundly change the world of young performing artists. It was the best of both worlds for me when we founded Upstaged Entertainment Group in 2019 to help empower student performers to be stars!
Who were the biggest influences on your career?
My biggest influences in my career were my mentors/my bosses/my friends – Marcia, Karen Lee and Lois at Elite Model Mangement – they believed in me and predicted my success. Of course, my dear parents who taught me that I must excel in whatever I do. They always encouraged me to do my best even when I would get discouraged. They discouraged me to be the best – they wanted us to succeed ABOVE the best!
How have you leveraged your career to create more opportunities for African Americans and other minorities?
I was a Senior Director at Elite and established international clients and models during my time there. I challenged myself personally to scout and produce more model/talent of color for mainstream clients. I broke barriers and negotiated trailblazing contracts with
- the first African American model for Lancome (International)
- the first African American model for J. Crew Bridal
- one of the first African American models for Abercrombie and Fitch
I also casted and booked all African American models for Revlon and many more. I scouted and developed the first South Asian model for Vogue India, Sports Illustrated and Laura Mercier during her time studying at Harvard University. I also championed an African American curvy supermodel who is now one of the most successful models in the world. She started with me while still studying at an HBCU. I could go on and go with my stories, but the bottom line is that it’s important to be a leader and create pathways for others to follow. It’s part of the reason why we founded UpStaged, we have a passion for creating a pathway for high school and college performing artists to be the ultimate BEST and create their own legacy.
What message do you want to share with African Americans that are reading your profile?
My aspiration is to encourage African Americans and people of color; my motto is do not let obstacles define you — instead challenge yourself with friends/family/mentors who will encourage you to be the GOAT!