Winston with his parents Daren and Dusti Relph. Photo by Jason Selby
Winston Relph sits with his back straight, seeming a bit uncomfortable in his own skin. It’s easy to imagine why his parents didn’t know what to expect before his first high school play.
Years later, in early January of 2014, Winston and his parents flew to California so he could attend the International Modeling & Talent Association event in Los Angeles. It was a journey that six months ago would have been difficult for any of them to believe. When they left Iowa, it was around negative 10 degrees. When they landed, it was 65 and sunny.
“It really was something for us,” Winston’s mother, Dusti Relph says. Dusti is an attorney for the Chambers & Relph Law Firm in Corydon. “It was like in high school when we went to Winston’s first play, and we didn’t know what to expect, because he’s a quiet guy. He seems to blossom onstage. And that happened in modeling, too. We know Winston’s very handsome, but then we got there, and he really made an impact, and we were like, wow, this is our son. To us, this is Winston. But there, he had girls coming up and taking pictures with him. We were very proud and excited for Winston.
“We said, ‘Wow, he really is good at this.’ It seemed very natural to him. He looked pretty impressive. Of course we had never seen him on a runway before.
“His father and I have no experience in that field. So we learned a lot. Winston has a fabulous agent and coach.”
A shot from Winston Relph’s portfolio. Photograph by Ben Easter
The journey for Winston began when he submitted a few photos to The Peak Agency in Des Moines last August. Owner and Agency Director Steven Myers saw talent in the young man, and took him under his wing. Myers began grooming him, along with 11 other young men and women, for the IMTA. The idea of the competition was to get in front of the 140 agencies looking for talent. Getting callbacks from agencies was the real goal.
It was Winston’s first trip to the west coast.
“It was a pretty simple thing,” Winston explains. “It started with me emailing a few pictures. A few days after that, I got an email back from Steve Myers saying, ‘Hey, we’re interested, we’d like to represent you.’ A week later, I got in a meeting with him, and we talked about the industry and what to expect. He said. ‘We really like your look, and we think you’ll do well in this industry, but the thing is, Iowa just isn’t a big enough market for someone your age. We’re going to encourage you to go out to Los Angeles to compete in this convention.’”
“We were just along for the ride,” Winston’s father, Daren Relph says. Daren is the CEO of the Wayne County Hospital. “We got to see everything from a distance.”
Winston stayed at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, where there is a revolving restaurant on the 35th floor.
“L.A. was huge and sunny,” Winston says. “The traffic was something to behold.
“Besides the actual competition, they had several seminars and workshops. They had a runway seminar, where they had hundreds of people practice walking down the runway. Part of it was that they were looking for people to participate in the Macy’s Fashion Show.”
From around 1,200 contestants, 25 women and 11 men were selected for the show. Winston was one of them. Not only that, but he finished as the first runner-up male model of the year, and placed third as most sought after male model, to go along with numerous other honorable mention awards. Though he still works nights at East Penn Manufacturing and days at Hy-Vee, he now has a bag full of trophies at home.
“I get kidded at work a little, but it’s all positive, in good humor. It’s been fun.”
After being selected for the Macy’s show, Winston had to prepare himself with a new wardrobe.
“I walked down to a Macy’s store in downtown L.A.,” Winston says, “and I got fitted for all these clothes for this fashion show with all these other people. It was good exposure for me. It was fun. We met a lot of beautiful men and women from all around the country, and a few from outside the country, as well.”
Winston graduated from Wayne Community High School in 2012.
“Some people had told me I should consider modeling, but I didn’t really think about it seriously,” Winston says. “There was a time when I just wanted to look at something different from what I’m doing now, which is working several jobs, saving money to go to school. I had the idea of going into dental hygiene, or maybe personal training. I was just trying to figure things out.
“I submitted the pictures to The Peak Agency without a whole lot of thought beforehand. It’s kind of amazing. I didn’t know I’d be going this far.”
“Winston is like most of the other young adults around here,” Dusti says. “He’s grown up here in southern Iowa, and obviously we’re very rural. So it’s a little bit frightening for us to send our young son—even though he’s an adult—clear across the country.
“But we’re really excited for him. Winston doesn’t have anything holding him back right now, so this is the time to do that. Beforehand, they told us that he’d go to Los Angeles and sign with a great agency that’ll take him under its wing and train him. But they’ll often send them out to Asian countries to ‘build their books’ in places like Bangkok or Hong Kong. Their magazines over there come out every week instead of every month, so there’s more of an opportunity to get ads in.”
Winston is currently in the process of signing a contract. Of the six agencies Winston is considering, his favorite also represented Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood and Seann William Scott, who were discovered at the same event, the IMTA, as Winston.
The expectation is for Winston to eventually work in Los Angeles or New York City, or overseas in such locales as Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France or any number of Asian countries. Three or four months working in the same place is typical.
“This is one of those areas where you don’t know where you’ll be working at, or how you’ll be compensated,” Winston says. “It’ll be interesting. I’m really looking forward to the traveling. I don’t have a lot to take care of, except for myself.
“I’ve been told that I have more of an editorial look—that’s the kind of look that you find in magazines. It’s more fashion oriented. Looking serious and fashionable—I think that’s more my strong point.”
Winston will most likely work in high fashion, as opposed to modeling for food or consumer advertising.
“We’ve tried to provide a lot of support,” Daren says. “We’re just very proud and excited for Winston. We’re blown away by how it went for him. Most of the competitions were closed, so we were only able to go to runway type events and to the award ceremonies. The groups that wanted to see him were some of the top modeling agencies, like Ford, Vision, Wilhelmina, and Click, to name a few.”
“They were all sitting in this room at these tables, and you had to go up to them and see them personally,” Winston says. “And there simply isn’t enough time to visit them all. So they advised me to hit them in a certain order, so that I could get the good ones first.”
At first, Dusti and Daren did not know what to expect when Winston was waiting for callbacks. They noticed a few of the other models’ cards, and generally only saw three or four names of different talent agencies.
“When Winston’s agent was passing out the callbacks,” Daren says, “most of the models had a short list. And they hadn’t gotten his yet. We were pretty sure—we were hopeful that he got some callbacks.”
So the Relphs were surprised when Winston’s list came in, and he received the third most callbacks of any male model in the competition.
“After those callbacks,” Dusti says, “we got to know some of the young adults out there. And they said, ‘Oh, you should’ve been out there, you should’ve seen Winston in that room.’ He was up there, and they had him take his shirt off and turn, and they were taking pictures and everything.”
A natural transition that many models make, including fellow Iowans Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood, is to step out into acting.
“In this industry, it’s not uncommon for a lot of models to make that transition,” Winston says. “Depending on how well I do, or how long I last, it’s definitely something I need to consider. You only have a finite amount of time before someone else replaces you—although men can work into middle age, where women don’t last as long, typically.
“My manager said to definitely consider it, but don’t focus on it right now—get your modeling set up first, and then worry about [acting] later.”
From Wayne High School to the Peak Agency in Des Moines to Los Angeles and beyond, Winston is open to every possibility. It all started with a few simple photographs sent to Steve Myers of The Peak Agency.
“Winston came to me about six months ago with an interest in pursuing the modeling and acting industry,” Myers says. “I felt he had a marketable look and a ton of potential to work in a bigger market. We trained him to compete at IMTA, where he did very well and has multiple contract offers with agencies in LA. He will continue to be represented by us locally, of course, but this is a huge opportunity for anyone.”
“I had no idea it’d turn out this big,” Winston says. “There’s still a lot to be seen—how well I’ll do once I get out there. But I didn’t expect to get this much recognition out of it. Beforehand, I was just a bumbling young guy, just working—here I am now getting all this attention from 30 different agencies.”
When asked if it has gone to his head yet, Winston says he still feels like the same guy, a kid from smalltown Iowa.
“It’s hard for me to let it get to my head. I’m still in the same reality. I know the same people. My experiences are still the same—you can’t just forget 20 years of your life.
“The main thing for me, I just see it as a great opportunity. I’m not sure what I’d be doing—or what my plans would be, now—if I hadn’t decided to post a few simple pictures to this agency in Des Moines, which would lead me to L.A. in the span of five months. It’s all just been an amazing experience.”