Amid the forest of polished hair, the enormous eyes stare out from magazine covers and television screens. They belong to the Supermodels, and those eyes have seen glamor, romance, adulation—and wealth. But among the millions of men, women, boys and girls who stare back, there are thousands, most of them young women, who imagine that they see themselves on those magazines and TV screens. They have read short stories, Harlequin paperbacks and fan magazines—and they have also read advertisements for modelling schools, which tell them that there could be, just could be, a magazine cover or a TV spot in their future. But the greatest triumph that lies in store for most graduates of such courses, typically, is a low-paying assignment to be photographed for a store catalogue. Modelling for low-echelon fashion showrooms may pay nothing at all, apart from some of the clothes the
models have worn. In the world of modelling, few are called and fewer are chosen.
Winners: Every major city in Canada has several modelling schools, often owned by model agencies. Said Montreal-based Kevin Johnson, president of Model’s World agency and its modelling school: “The course is our farm system.” But many courses are more than that: in fact, they subsidize the agencies. Courses cost from as little as $250 to as much as $3,000 depending on their length and the amount of individual attention instructors devote to students. In return, the would-be Supermodels receive varying amounts of training in makeup, posing and walking. But some critics insist that the schools also provide too many promises about models’ chances for even limited success. And even some owners of modelling schools admit that many successful models have never received any formal instruction before an
agency signs them on.
One of the judges who chose Canadian Supermodel Monika Schnarre as winner of the Face of the Eighties contest in 1986 is Hollywood model agency owner Nina Blanchard. One of her early discoveries was Cheryl Tiegs, but when Blanchard first went into the business more than 25 years ago it was as the operator of a modelling school — which went bankrupt. In large part, Blanchard says, the reason was that she did not have the heart to profit from young women who she knew were doomed to failure. “I was very tempted,” said Blanchard. “There is a lot of money to be made in a modelling school. But I just couldn’t take it.” She added that many school operators “see the color of your money,
and suddenly the girls look prettier.” Vancouver’s Lara Grescoe, 18, is part of the wave. She is a tall, striking brunette who is studying business administration to hedge her bets. But she paid $595 for a short course from a local school affiliated with the Ramona Beauchamp agency. She said that she and her fellow hopefuls received little more than the “basics” of makeup and wardrobe advice, some black-and-white photographs —and advice from an agency booker to sign up for more courses at about $900. “She told me that she thought I had potential,” Grescoe said. “She told basically the same thing to my friend and, as I later found out, to just about everybody else.” Grescoe is now enrolled, for $1,200, in a course run by the local John Casablancas agency. So far she has had one assignment: a bridal fashion show, for which she was paid nothing.
Idolize: The owner of the Casablancas franchise in Vancouver, as well as those in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, is Austrian-born Heinz Holba. He had known Casablancas socially and when the franchises became available nine years ago he bought them. Holba admitted that the number of modelling-school graduates who manage to sign on with an agency is “probably as low as 20 per cent.” Among that group, most will be lucky to earn some part-time income posing for catalogues. It is, said Holba, “very difficult” to make a living as a model in
Vancouver. He added that most young women who take modelling courses do not intend to model as a career. “It is more of a self-improvement program,” he said. “They may idolize top models, but they don’t want to be their idols. They just want to know what they know and emulate their style.”
‘Long legs’: In any event, according to François and Paulette Guenet, the coowners of Montreal’s Best Models agency, a modelling course is not a necessary stepping-stone to a modelling career. In fact, Francois Guenet said that few of the 30 models in the Best stable took such courses. “I do not believe in courses,” he said. “You either have it or you do not.” The Guenets watch for prospects in restaurants and Paulette said that she likes to prowl the streets outside high schools in springtime for likely candidates. The Guenets found their leading male model, Francois Bazinet, in a Montreal restaurant and one of their top female protégés, six-foot brunette Alexandra Aubin, riding in an equestrian competition in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Said Paulette Guenet: “We could see that she had long legs and a great profile as she rode. We knew right then we wanted her.”
Kevin Johnson, 41-year-old president of the Model’s World agency, also in Montreal, agrees with the Guenets that modelling courses are not absolutely necessary. But he runs a modelling course as well, and added that modelling does require some skills. Said Johnson: “You can’t just go in front of a camera and model. You have to learn how to pose, how to apply your own makeup. Whether it be through a course or informally, a model has to receive some initial coaching and guidance.” His prices are relatively modest:
$350 for a 30-hour course for teenagers from 13 to 17, $800 for a 40-hour course for older students. As well, said Johnson, “we insist on an interview with every applicant to make sure they have the facts straight, to avoid anyone having a false dream about the whole thing. A girl five-foot, four inches, will be told that her possibilities as a model are extremely limited.” And, agreeing with Casablancas’s Holba, Johnson said that “60 per cent of our students take the course not with a view toward modelling, but for self-improvement.” But there is always the dream—so difficult for many young women to dis-
miss as they stride down a rehearsal fashion runway, piped-in music crashing above them, their gowns swirling, their heads high, their hair a jetstream behind them—that they will some day be a Monika Schnarre, not just a Jane Doe. One who had high hopes and even some success is Leigh-Anne Franklin of Vancouver. She went through the mill of the John Casablancas network four years ago in New York, and modelled there and in Europe. Now she is back in Vancouver worrying about next month’s rent and next year’s tuition at Langara College where she is studying philosophy, literature, French, anatomy and physiology. “My cat just had kittens,” she said, “and now the big decision is whether to buy people-food or cat-food.”
Game: And she says that she is bitter and disillusioned. In New York, she said, “I was supposed to be the next Kim Alexis, and at first they couldn’t do enough for me. And I thought, ‘Great, I’m special.’ But after a while I began to see it differently. It’s like you’re in a herd of cattle, and they pat you on the head and tell you all the same thing. After a while you start noticing your vocabulary is down to ‘pantyhose’ and ‘lip gloss.’ I just didn’t want it badly enough. To play the game at all those agency parties. To sleep with someone for a job.” So rather than join the also-rans and almostweres, she quit. Said Casablancas’s Holba: “She just didn’t have the drive.”
Monika Schnarre is 15. Leigh-Anne Franklin is 23. □
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