THE SUPER MODELS
Every year, Sports Illustrated magazine publishes an entire issue devoted to color photographs of gorgeous women in tropical settings wearing scanty strips of flimsy fabric. The editors at SI coyly call it their “Annual Swimsuit Issue,” but their armchair sports fans know, as do seething feminists, that it is not concocted for swimmers or seamstresses. And because of the massive sales at newsstands around the world, the issue affords professional models the type of exposure some would endure torture for. Monika Schnarre, the 15-year-old Supermodel from Scarborough, Ont., literally did.
“I fell asleep in the sun on location,” she said,
“and my bottom blistered.” After having to try on “about a hundred bathing suits” and clamber partway up a palm tree for one pose, she says, “I’m in one picture. But each year you do it, you get more pictures in.”
The six-foot-tall brunette from southern Ontario is at the top of the heap and can enjoy the glamor, the money and the adoration. She has in her grasp all the fruits of a series of genetic coincidences that caused her to grow up not only taller but more beautiful, more alluring, more desirable than almost any woman most people have ever met or can even imagine. Since she eclipsed 50,000 other young women in the 1986 Super Model of the World/Face of the Eighties contest and was crowned on U.S. network television, she has been on the covers of nearly all the major fashion magazines and is in constant demand for appearances. Last month she was a hit at a major fashion show in Moscow. But for
every Monika Schnarre who reaches the summit of her fickle industry, there are thousands upon thousands of other models who suffer indignity, despair and even destruction. And even for the winners, in an industry that treats beauty and youth as inseparable commodities, careers can be breathtakingly short.
Lurks: That, at least, is something that Monika Schnarre understands and, although she is still too young to drive a car, she has her second career firmly on the planning board. When other Supermodels have taken her place in the sun, she told Maclean's, “I
want to deliver babies. Also, I’ve heard that there’s a lack of women gynecologists. By the time I’d become a doctor, I’ll have stopped modelling. Modelling doesn’t last that long.” But behind that adult sense of realism, there still lurks the heart of a child. She added: “I’d also love to make a movie. I love horror movies.”
Meanwhile, the schoolgirl from an unpretentious background—who excels in math and science and speaks En-
glish, French and Germantravels after class to her part-time job by limousine and can easily earn $3,000 a day for having her picture taken. In the curious galaxy of haute couture, in which it seems no more than six stars are allowed to outshine the rest during any season,
Schnarre is a Halley’s comet, a once-in-a-generation phenomenon. Other Canadian models are getting more exposure in the prestige magazines of the United States and each makes well over $300,000 a year. But for now, Schnarre is alone in the public eye and likely to remain for a time the newest, brightest shooting star.
Curvaceous: Beauty does not entirely reside in the eyes of the beholder: Supermodels have traditionally set the standards of what constitutes beauty. And the last two decades have seen a shift from skinny, static, mannequin-like models to women who are more curvaceous, animated and athletic—like Monika Schnarre.
One of the most memorable models of the 1960s was Lesley Hornby, a cockney matchstick of a girl who set what was then known as “Swinging London,” and eventually the entire Western world, aglow under the nickname “Twiggy.” Beneath her cropped blonde hair, her limpid eyes gazed vapidly out from magazine covers all over Europe and North America. Another sensation of the 1960s was Jean Shrimpton, whom celebrity photographer David Bailey made over into what became known as the “mod,” for modern, look. Her doe eyes framed by wispy false eyelashes, her full, pouting mouth and her penchant for miniskirts
and boots captivated millions.
Another image of the 1960s whose commanding presence etched itself indelibly onto the contemporary scene was Vera Lehndorff. There was a certain special splendor in her professional name, Veruschka, which means “little Vera,” because she reached her full height of six feet at the age of 14. Fashion photographer Richard Avedon called her “the most beautiful woman in the world” and movie audiences had abundant opportunity to witness her rapport with photographers in a fa-
mous scene in the 1967 Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up. While actor David Hemmings, playing a character much like photographer David Bailey, relentlessly urged her on, she lay on the studio floor and writhed in convulsions of sexual ecstasy.
Exotic: Now in her mid-40s, Veruschka still practises her craft. In collaboration with German artist Holger Triilzsch, she produced a portfolio of photographs, released last November, called Veruschka: Trans-figurations.
To create them, the two painted her
naked body in a bizarre series of ways and installed her in a variety of exotic settings, some quietly pastoral, some grotesque, before Triilzsch began snapping his shutter.
But for most models, careers are short. Youth remains a premium, fashion editors and the public remain fickle. Many famous models disappear back into the real world; others, such as Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley, parlay modelling into careers as retailers for fashion lines or cosmetics. Still others, including Cybill Shepherd and
Lauren Hutton, turned to acting. Some have achieved notoriety by association: Cristina Ferrare with automaker John De Lorean, Jerry Hall with singer Mick Jagger. The saddest case of all is that of Ivy Nicholson, a Supermodel of the 1950s. Earlier this year she turned up in San Francisco—a 53-year-old bag lady.
Monika Schnarre’s reign has just begun. What she has accomplished in just over one year of catalytic fame is to focus the attention of fashion-industry soothsayers from Paris through New York and Los Angeles to Tokyo on Canadian models. The industry experts are finding that, although the Great White North is not teeming with Schnarres, Canadian models have what the model agents call the “in” look or, ironically,
“the California look.” In the jargon of people who pay top Canadian models top U.S. dollars, the word “healthy” attached to “look” becomes a superlative.
Shape: In interviews conducted by Maclean's in five Canadian cities from Vancouver to Montreal, there was not total agreement on who Canada’s top model is, although Dominique Bertrand got several mentions, and there were strong opinions against the foreigners’ favorable assessment of the Canadian look—or, rather, shape. Dick Walsh, a Montrealbased fashion consultant, said bluntly: “The models in Canada are too fat, too big in the hips.” Walsh was the producer of a $500,000 international fashion show during Quebec City’s Rendez-Vous 87 festival, in which European haute couture was the bewildered bride of Canadian hockey. Of the 50 models required for the show, Walsh hired 22 Canadians and imported the rest from Japan, Milan and New York. Asked why he imported so many when Canadian models are in such demand elsewhere, he said: “In Montreal, there are about six excellent girls, maybe a few more in Toronto.”
Walsh referred to the handful among North America’s 10,000 wellpaid high-fashion models who can aspire to appear, like Schnarre, on the covers of Vogue and Mademoiselle magazines. Such an appearanceknown in the trade as “editorial
work”—nets the model the strikingly small sum of about $200. But once her face has been on the cover of Vogue, a model is on her way to being able to charge $6,500 a day for a commercial shoot, or to signing a $125,000 advertising contract with a cosmetics manufacturer. After that, she can say goodbye to the local newspaper fashion editor, for whom she probably posed free, and never set foot on another store’s fashion runway at taxi-meter rates.
Climb: It is the lure of that golden triumph that keeps bringing youngsters back to the humiliation of what they describe as “cattle-call” audi-
tions, and forces them to endure once more a starvation diet. The climb to the summit of fashion modelling— Vogue's cover—is agonizingly steep and, on it, Canada’s so-called “healthylooking” models have one incantation pounded into them: “Lose weight.” François Guenet, co-owner with his wife, Paulette, of Montreal’s Best Models agency, agrees with Walsh about fat. “When Pierre Cardin came here,” he said, “he couldn’t believe the size of our models. Big hips, big busts. In Europe they have smaller bums and weaker hips. Here, the models are usually five to 10 pounds too heavy for Europe.” But, Guenet added, the European agencies prefer Canadians for “their fresher, less made-up look than Americans, but with the same good body.” And their height—most agen-
cies set an optimum of five feet, 10 inches—is usually just right. Most Canadian model agencies actively discourage any applicant under five-feeteight from pursuing a modelling career, although some modelling schools suggest that short girls sign up at least for self-improvement (page 42).
For all fashion models, past and present, height is a one-time consideration but the struggle to keep their weight down becomes in some cases an obsession that long outlives the glory days. Many Canadian women who have survived the rigors of modelling impresario John Casablancas’s opera-
tions, either in New York or in one of his eight franchises in Western Canada, recall with shudders the emphasis put on weightloss and control. Casablancas himself has recruited teenagers to go to New York to be groomed. There are weigh-ins, and gaining weight is one of several major offences. Expulsions are as gentle as possible—one girl whose bottom resisted reduction said that she was told she was “just a tad too pear-shaped”—but those expelled for being overweight tend to count every calorie they consume for a long time after. Pains: Monika Schnarre is also beginning to watch her diet— she passes up her favorite peanut-butter sandwiches and pizza with double cheese, pepperoni
and mushrooms—but now is more concerned with her height, and is bothered by growing pains. “I’m still growing,” she said, “and I often feel sore in my arms, legs and back. I can sometimes feel the skin stretching tight over my bones. It’s very painful.”
Just as painful emotionally are her memories of the loneliness of growing up—and up, and up. In Grades 1 through 6, Schnarre says, her abnormal height intimidated most potential friends. And after she won the Super Model of the World contest, Scarborough’s public-school trustees clearly had mixed feelings: a motion to send a letter of congratulations to Schnarre carried only by a vote of 7 to 4. Trustee David Horrox went on record as saying that beauty contests and modelling competitions do not represent the val-
ues and strength of character the Scarborough school system tries to instil in its students. But that did not matter to her fellow Grade 9ers at Woburn Collegiate, where Schnarre is the tallest girl on the basketball team and, boasts vice-principal Bill White, “a straightA student and a courteous and bright young girl.” Overnight,
Schnarre became all of Toronto’s sweetheart.
The Toronto Star and the tabloid Sun that week treated Woburn Collegiate to coverage worthy of a royal wedding and, less than a month later, even the sedate Globe and Mail devoted most of a page to Schnarre, including a Niagara of lyricism about the girl “who has cheekbones like the white cliffs of Dover, a mane of brunette hair as thick as a coat, a complexion as clear as rain, tumescent lips that make you think of tropical rain forests, and a six-foot-tall body from which any outfit hangs as if it grew there.” The writer never reached what Schnarre says she considers her worst features: “They’re the hugest, ugliest feet you’ve ever seen. Size 10!”
The Schnarre parents are divorced and Monika and sister Doreen, 18, live with their mother, Pauline, in a house whose backyard overlooks their school—a convenience, says Schnarre, on mornings when she might otherwise be late. Schnarre’s 22-year-old brother, Rick, lives with the father, Dieter, a 51-year-old heating contractor. Local celebrations to mark Schnarre’s victory on television took place in her father’s home; her mother had accompanied her to the Hollywood ceremony, she said, “in case she lost.”
Whisked: Two days later in Manahattan, Schnarre started her first working day—15 hours of it—as a world-class Supermodel. She began at sunup with an interview on Good Morning America, was whisked in and out of the editorial offices of fashion magazines all day and was guest of honor at a dinner in Maxim’s thrown by sponsoring model agency chief Eileen Ford who introduced her find to the fashion world. Earlier, Schnarre met Vogue editor Pat Henry and the New York editor-in-chief of Parisbased Elle magazine, Karen Anderegg. The immediate verdict of Lacey Ford, vice-president of the model agency
that has helped establish such names as Brooke Shields and Cheryl Tiegs, was: “Elle will be using her.”
One of Schnarre’s new-found friends was 24-year-old Richard Ross, already a legend in a city that abounds with
success stories. Ross is the man who cornered the U.S. jellybean market just before Ronald Reagan became president and displayed a bowl of the soft candies on his Oval Office desk. That bowl made Ross a millionaire at
age 19. He had obviously done his homework on Schnarre. He presented her with chocolates from his own exclusive boutique—and a Teddy bear. The 15-year-old’s bedroom back home in Scarborough is a zoo of stuffed-toy animals, and she takes her favorite Teddy, Beatrice, on road trips as her security blanket.
So far in Schnarre’s career, Beatrice has been on her hotel bed on jobs in New York, London, Bali, Thailand, Singapore and most recently Moscow. She was one of 20 international models at a fashion show in the Soviet capital to launch the Russian-language edition of the
West German fashion magazine Burda Moden. Schnarre’s looks añd height captivated Muscovites on the street, although at the show the Russian preference for bulkier women drew more applause for a larger-size model than Schnarre.
For the Canadian, by then a seasoned traveller, the Moscow visit was little more than another job on foreign soil. Her mother says that she is proud of the way her youngster handles herself in adult situations, and Monika declared: “I’ve learned a lot about people and how to take care of myself at a really young age. I don’t think a lot of my friends at 13 could have taken care of themselves if they were alone in a foreign country and they missed a plane, which happened to me. I took a cab to the nearest posh hotel and charged it to my Visa.”
Teeth: Schnarre says she had no “really close” friends until about a year before she started modelling in March, 1985. And her closest friend has always been her mother, who was with her on holiday the previous Christmas in Mexico when Schnarre’s new life as a model began. A female employee of the hotel at which they were staying asked the 13-year-old to take part in an amateur fashion show. She did, she enjoyed it and, on her return to Toronto, with only lukewarm encouragement after preliminary objections from her mother, Schnarre started calling model agencies for an
interview. The winner was Judy Welch, a former Miss Canada who now runs a Toronto agency under her name. Recalled Welch: “When she came in, with her healthy skin and her basic square jaw and her blue eyes and small nose, I tried to pick her apart. Then she opened her mouth and I saw her fantastic, full, perfect teeth. I couldn’t believe it. She was perfect.” Schnarre was then, at age 13, five-foot-nine.
When she won the Super Model contest, on Jan. 13, 1986, she was a shade over five-foot-10 and is now half an inch over six feet. Welch said that her protégé is “almost too tall. But she is Monika Schnarre. She’s already a star.” The Toronto agency helped get Schnarre’s picture into Vogue that first summer, and arranged for her entry into the Super Model contest which, for the winner, includes a contract with the Ford agency guaranteeing earnings of more than $330,000 in a year. It is that contract that will bring Schnarre in face-to-face competition with Canada’s top-ranking model in the New York-Montreal-TorontoLos Angeles circuit. Said fashion consultant Walsh: “Dominique Bertrand is Canada’s best model. She is it."
Montreal-born Bertrand, 29, took up modelling only when she was 23, but she has been in such demand during the past six years that she can afford to spend the work week in New York and commute back to her boyfriend in Montreal on weekends. She flies out to Los Angeles on a job about once a month. Like Schnarre, Bertrand recalls that neighborhood kids and then classmates made her childhood miserable by teasing her about her great height and skimpy frame. After reflecting on her ugly-duckling childhood, she said: “Every night my mother would sit on the end of my bed and tell me that one day I would be happy to be this way. In a sense, I am enjoying a little revenge. I never thought I would make money with the things I hated most about myself.”
Lucrative: Additional fame but not much fortune came in February when she was featured on the cover and in an inside fashion spread in Town and Country, one of the toniest society magazines in the United States. Bloomingdale’s department store has used her recently for advertisements in The New York Times, and her most lucrative single assignment to date was a $13,000 photo session for a Revlon ad campaign. At first, she said, “I felt guilty about going into the business. But nowhere else could I make so much money so fast. I like the fact that I am in contact with very talented people all the time—photographers,
designers, artists. I know that when I retire I will miss it.”
Above all, she says, she considers herself a businesswoman. “As a New York model, you are a businesswoman, you’re treated with respect. I am so busy there I do not even have time to exercise. I go home at five or six in the evening, take a shower, eat and go to bed. I have never been to a single party there.” And she says that she sometimes feels guilty about all the money she makes. “I am very conscious that I make a lot more than people who work much harder than me,” she said. “When you think about it, it is pretty awful.”
Indignant: Schnarre’s mother and agent Welch dislike talking publicly about money. Pauline Schnarre said sharply: “I believe that everyone’s income should be private.” And she becomes indignant when she sees the semieducated guesses about her daughter’s income in magazines and newspapers (People magazine reported last June that Schnarre’s fee is as high as $13,000 a day). Welch sticks with the $3,000 daily figure. Said Pauline Schnarre: “People forget that she is fulltime in school. If she were a fulltime model, then those figures that the papers print would be accurate. But since she is only doing it on a part-time basis, they are highly inaccurate.”
For a recent photo session for a Toronto magazine, Schnarre arrived, by limo, at the Karl Richter studio by 10 a.m. A makeup man applied the basic cosmetics, then the hair stylist, also a male, put Schnarre’s hair in hot rollers. For the next four hours, they alternated, fussing and brushing and styling. Meanwhile, photographer Richter supervised lighting of the set. Classical music on a sound system was changed to Schnarre’s favorite group, Eurythmies, and for hours she sat still, speaking only when spoken to, which was seldom. Countless clicks of the shutter later, at 5:30 p.m., Schnarre’s working day was over. Everyone else had taken a lunch break; she had eaten only a carrot muffin. Gone are the days of pea-
nut butter and honey on toast for breakfast, a sandwich lunch and a hearty German dinner. Now it’s a pink-grapefruit morning, no lunch “and sometimes,” she said, “I don’t even feel like eating dinner.”
Scouts: An authority on the “today’s look” of Canadian women is
Heinz Holba, a 38-yearold bachelor who has dual residence in Calgary and Los Angeles and owns the Casablancas modelling agencies and schools in Winnipeg, Edmonton,
Calgary and Vancouver.
The Pacific Northwest, he says, is a prime area for talent scouts: “There’s that west-coast, healthy, sporty lifestyle, but not too much sun.” And not enough work in Vancouver itself, where 30 or 40
fulltime models compete for assignments paying around $50 an hour, $400 a day.
Canadian pilgrims to the mecca of Manhattan, Holba says, often leapfrog New York and head for Europe first,
where there is a models’ market of 300 fashion magazines, compared to fewer than a dozen in North America, an imbalance that Holba finds “really amazing.” That has created a European pool of photographers and creative talent employing 80 per cent of their models from North America. Holba said that
“Canadian girls do well for a number of reasons. They’re a little more appreciative. They are a little better behaved. And,” he added, “they seem to have a better attitude.” Aspiring models from Western Canada who have had time to estáblish themselves and convert that reputation into steady work in California are fortunate indeed. There now seems to be a bureaucratic roadblock
these days at the U.S. border. Nina Blanchard, who owns the most successful modelling agency in Los Angeles, says the flow of Canadian models to California has been cut off suddenly because it is “virtually impossible” to
obtain American work visas. She blames it on a new official at U.S. immigration, and appears unconcerned about how long the problem will last. “The United States,” said the owner of the 25-year-old agency, “is hip-deep in models. Schools are graduating them all over the country.”
Commercials: One successful Canadian in Blanchard’s Los Angeles agency is Kimber Sissons, ash-blonde, green-eyed, five-foot-eight and a model for five of her 24 years. She arrived in Los Angeles 18 months ago after working as a model briefly in Vancouver followed by two years in Paris. Right now, she says, she is on a roll, doing network commercials for such products as Burger King and Lean Cuisine. Said Sissons: “I found that acting was a lot of fun—more interesting than just being a model.”
Sissons talked about the perils of agency parties, drugs and associated recreational activities, and, across a continent and a nine-year age gap, she offered Schnarre some advice: “Don’t let anyone sway you into what you don’t believe in. You don’t have to do any of those things. Hang on to your morals and what you believe in.” Hungry: At home in Scarborough, banter between Schnarre and her mother had made it clear that the 15year-old is not a party girl. She will not even admit to dating, and there is certainly no sign of a steady boyfriend. She said that her idea of a good time is “jogging in the rain in winter. You get all cold, wet and hungry. Then you come back home, have a hot chocolate, take a bath and then watch TV in a comforter.” She added she “likes Oriental food, Oriental guys, being alone, being with people I love, doing well in school,” and then, evidently realizing that she had begun to sound like the common public perception of the model as airhead, she interrupted herself and said: “I understand that because of the stereotypes, people do get the impression of models as being ditsy.”
Her mother said that she considers Schnarre unlikely to fall into the traps that festoon the celebrity merry-goround. “I think she’s got a very good head on her shoulders,” she said. “She is aware of what happened to Boy George. I don’t think she would be so stupid as to take the first sniff.” At that, her daughter corrected her: “Sniff? Sniff? It’s ‘snort,’ Mom.” But sister Doreen made it clear that her sister’s pastimes are still as harmless as the foibles that troubled the parents on Leave it to Beaver. “She’s always on the phone,” Doreen said. “And we have great mashed potato fights.” Replied Monika: “Yeah, it makes a great blobby mess on the walls.” □