WHAT KAREN AND ERIN DID

The model Karen Elson is already a star; her friend Erin is about to become one. This is how they spent Fashion Week in Milan

Erin O'Conner, 19, was spotted two years ago at the Clothes Show Live exhibition by a representative from the Models 1 agency. Since then her career has blossomed; this year saw her first appearance on the catwalk at Milan Fashion Week. As well as being Erin's best friend, Karen Elson (above left), 18, is both the magnificently 'jolie-laide' star of the current Versace Jeans ad campaign and the latest face of Chanel. This was her second season in Milan.

ERIN: "I really didn't think I would do many shows. In Milan the number of girls in a show is very small and hundreds of models go for castings. Gucci had 13 models and Prada had only 15. I was lucky, though. I went to Prada and Miu Miu for fittings and they booked me almost straight away. I also got the Gucci show.

"In the end I was booked for 18 shows in six days. I only know that because I've since seen it on paper. It was my first big season so it was very important to do the right shows, and get the right exposure.

"It is so nerve-racking doing catwalk. I had to arrive for each show at least two hours early, and most would run late. Every morning I would be up by six and back at the hotel by maybe one or two in the morning. Having hair and make-up done can be so annoying too, with people prodding and poking. I've had glue stuck to my face and scalp, even a false nail that wouldn't come off. When I did Alberto Biani's show I arrived five minutes before it was due to begin and was literally attacked by everyone. One person pulled my clothes off, while another slicked back my hair and yet another slapped on make-up. That was so stressful. I cried afterwards, but after five minutes I was okay again and it was on to the next show.

"It's so amazing, really. Sometimes I can't believe it. Here I am with Kate Moss, Amber Valetta and Shalom. Naomi Campbell even knew my name, and that was weird. I do get nervous in their company. I look in the mirror and think I'm just this weird-looking teenager. But the good thing about fashion models at the moment is that it's so much about looking individual. That's why Karen has done so well, too.

"There is absolutely no time for fun and socialising when you're working 20-hour days. You're in the middle of all this madness and it's impossible to think of anything but the next show, the next fitting; it's such a high, you just go, go, go. I suppose it's just like any job: I must be on time for all my appointments and keep my cool. But I do love it, I feel so lucky. Generally though, in Milan I didn't know what I would be doing from one day to the next. I would usually find out late at night via a fax from Beatrice, my agent.

"My favourite show was Versace. When I found out I had been booked for it I jumped for joy. It was at the end of the week and by then I had begun to find my catwalk style. I looked at Amber and Shalom and thought, 'Right, I will do a bit of both' - but with a bit of me thrown in. I've been dancing for 10 years, so my posture is very upright: during Versace, Shalom said to me that I walked like a swan. That was so cool.

"Next I'm going to New York, where Karen and I have just got a flat together. It's strange being a model sometimes. One minute we are normal teenagers, the next minute we're flying Concorde and running our own business. I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts."

KAREN: "This is my second full season of shows. Each city is very different: London is great, it's creative and out there; in Paris there's always a bit of time for yourself; but Milan is different. The designers pay much more money, so most of the models are eager to pack in as many shows as possible. I think I did about 17.

"Basically Milan is hectic, the busy models don't have time to think about anything apart from getting to and from shows. I did all the big shows this time: Dolce e Gabbana, Prada, Miu Miu, Jil Sander, Blumarine, Molinari and Versace, which was really intense. I think my favourite clothes are by Jil Sander - they're so wearable. I also really like Prada, but I'm not obsessed with fashion. In my home town, Oldham, I didn't really know what 'fashion' was: I just went to my local high street and bought the things I liked. I understand now it's our job to sell clothes, so we have to be involved to a certain degree, but I still like shopping in thrift stores.

"I'm used to the modelling thing now, but only just. I moan when I'm tired, but it's fun. For Erin it's manic because modelling is still fairly new for her.

"I'm so used to having hair and make-up done now I switch off, and I don't mind catwalk because I do my own thing. It's part of the job isn't it? But I do want to be a bit more chilled. I noticed other models sitting quietly reading books and generally being on their own, so I began to read The Shambala Warrior. I didn't get past the first page because I was too busy. I guess I'll read it as soon as I have more time."

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