Millie Lewis Studio and its owner and director, Annie Guarcello, aim to help girls and women feel confident.
Appearances aren’t everything – even during classes which can seem like it’s all about appearance.
“That’s not what you look like. It’s not trying to be someone you’re not. It’s being happy with who you are,” says Guarcello.
Millie Lewis is known throughout the South East as a modeling agency founded in 1976 and named after its founder, a successful model.
In Greenville, Millie Lewis Modeling School and Agency has become synonymous with Barbara and George Corell. The couple bought the local business in 1982 and began guiding customers to fame on stages, sets and runways. They also taught etiquette, balance and confidence; advanced classes have added training for budding models.
For Guarcello…Millie Lewis wasn’t part of his plan – until it was.
“People tell me that Millie Lewis is a cornerstone of the community. I didn’t have to grow up in Greenville to understand that,” says Guarcello, whose family lived in four different cities before heading to the ‘Clemson University.
“Millie Lewis touched me in a different way. It helped me through some of the darkest years of my life.
Despite her passion for the studio – and her striking looks and bright smile – Guarcello had never modeled before becoming part of Millie Lewis.
She and her husband, Don, are architects who met as undergraduates at Clemson. They took jobs in New Jersey before returning to earn a master’s degree from Clemson in 2006. After graduating, they chose to stay in Greenville.
“We decided Greenville was big and fun, and we pursued our careers in architecture,” Guarcello says. “Then in 2008, the market changed. We both lost our jobs.
She had just given birth to their first child. “I was fired during my maternity leave. I was desperate. Nothing was coming in. No one was hiring for anything. Nothing,” she said.
“My daughter was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I said to myself: ‘What if she could become a model?’ »
The ensuing interview with Barbara Corell set Guarcello on a path she never imagined.
“She said, ‘We don’t represent babies. But we could represent you,” Guarcello recalls. “I had never been a model. I had never participated in a contest. I was a bookworm.
On the way home, Corell called her and offered her a job as an instructor.
Guarcello agreed and received more than a paycheck.
“The instructors welcomed me like a sister,” she says. “The warmth I felt was something I didn’t want to be without for the rest of my life.”
The girls Guarcello taught could be rebellious and difficult. “They didn’t want to be in etiquette school. But on the last day, they were writing notes telling me that I had made a difference in their lives.
“I was like, ‘I don’t care what’s going on in my life. I need to have this.
She stayed in touch with Millie Lewis, even after finding a new job in architecture.
Guarcello’s life was turned upside down again in 2019 when she learned that her office was closing and her “dream job” in architecture was being cut.
The next morning, she heard that the Corells wanted to sell the school part of Millie Lewis Greenville.
“I felt like the universe was talking to me,” she says. “It’s an opportunity that will never come again. It was very scary. But I wanted to continue to share the school with the community.
In January 2020, as she was settling in as the new owner of Millie Lewis Studio, COVID-19 made its way to Greenville.
“We have been swept away. We were in our first class session and had to close for about three months,” says Guarcello.
She gave up distance learning. “Millie Lewis thrives on human contact. A lot of these kids’ interactions are with screens.
The studio offers comprehensive introductory classes for girls ages 5-11; 12 to 17 years old; and adults, from 18 years old. The following courses are for those who want to learn more about modeling as a career.
Instructors help students build self-confidence, discover who they are and what their goals are, and “show themselves in their best light, express themselves, respect others,” says Guarcello.
Girls receive age-appropriate lessons on clothing and hair care, as well as hygiene, table manners and etiquette. They learn how to protect themselves online and on social networks. Older girls are taught to wear makeup if they wish. All classes involve a photo shoot – plus tips for posing and walking a track.
“These introductory classes help with the feminine stuff, but it’s more about personal development and learning independence,” Guarcello says.
Students are encouraged to accept themselves, rather than comparing themselves to others – or an ideal – even if they pursue modeling or pageants.
For those who want to take it a step further, the school offers advanced and professional modeling courses, as well as private lessons for men and women.
Advanced classes include a modeling “mission” with one of Guarcello’s sought-after boutiques. Students model two or three outfits for photos that appear on social media pages or the store’s website. “Shop owners love it. The students love it. »
Guarcello cannot guarantee success. Classes provide tools and preparation, but students are on their own if they want to find representation through an agency.
As for her future, she thinks she has the tools to introduce Millie Lewis Studio to new generations of students.
“It’s not the easiest chapter of my life. But I’m confident it will get better,” says Guarcello, who now has a daughter and a son, as well as a part-time job in the architecture. Her husband has a solid job in the field.
She is committed to progress – so that she can help students progress.
“I hug these girls and tell them it’s okay to be different. I tell them it’s going to be okay. I help them feel more confident.
“It’s my goal.”