Fashion: The survival of the quirkiest

Storm, the agencywhich `discovered' Kate Moss, is best known for signing unusual-looking models that the rest of the industry might ignore. Ten years after its founding, Tamsin Blanchard reports on an unlikely successppetite for new faces. Tamsin Blanchard met its founder
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Back in 1987, Sarah Doukas, one-time model and a "booker" for the Lorraine Ashton agency, decided to go it alone. Using her south-London bedroom as her office, and with financial backing from friend-of-the- family Richard Branson, she started her own agency. Most such ventures wither on the vine, but Storm (named, says its founder, after her own "unpredictable, energetic nature") would be different. For, just a year after setting up shop, Doukas spotted a young 14-year-old walking through New York's JFK airport and signed her on the spot. Today, Kate Moss is the biggest earner on any British agent's books, and Storm - 10 years old on Friday and with Elle MacPherson, Rachel Hunter, Marie Helvin, Carla Bruni, Eva Herzigova, Sophie Dahl and Iris Palmer under its wing - is a fashion force to be reckoned with.

The agency moved out of Doukas's bedroom in 1990, and now resides in a slick, beechwood-and-glass office off London's King's Road. Its walls are hung with framed magazine covers featuring Storm models; beneath their perfect smiles are three large doughnut-shaped desks, around which sit teams of bookers chattering into telephone headsets. One desk is for male models, one for female, one for "new faces". All are doing the kind of business that reflects Storm's increasing international profile.

Despite her company having an annual turnover of pounds 6.6m and a new branch opening in South Africa, Doukas, who is 43, doesn't have her own office. Instead, she still spends a large part of every day on the phones with the rest of the bookers, setting up deals for her "girls". From her seat she can see every young hopeful as they arrive at reception; she says she can tell immediately if they have potential, or if there are "problems" in the girl's life. An all-too-common problem with the wannabes is anorexia - Doukas says she can spot it "a mile off", and spends much of her time replying to anorexic's letters. Only if they put on weight, she tells them, will she see them.

But if Doukas, currently pregnant with her third child, is to steer her company safely through the next 10 years, she will need to do more than simply play Samaritan. This is where her eye for a face comes into its own. Doukas trades in beauty, and scouting for it is her raison d'etre. She can't even go for a drive without checking out the dollar-potential of the driver in the car next to her, or some lanky, truanting schoolgirl on the street. And scanning the rows of new faces on Storm's books, one sees how many were scouted by Doukas and her staff. The Clothes Show Live is fertile ground: Doukas counts about nine new girls, most of them still at school, who were spotted at the Birmingham NEC show last year. There is Louise Cheung, who was put on option for the Chanel Allure campaign (mega bucks and major visibility) and who has already featured in a Kenzo Jeans campaign; Chloe Webb is another, who has just shot her first ad campaign for Vivienne Westwood.

Some talent, of course, just walks in off the street: like 14-year-old Hannah Ware, who arrived with her mum. A pint-sized 5ft 3ins, she is too short to be traditional model material. But she has a luminescent grey-eyed beauty that has already won her a contract with Polaroid. And ice-blonde, blue-eyed Amber - what the bookers describe as a "guaranteed winner", so genetically perfect that she cannot fail - walked into the office less than a month ago and is already set for the catwalk and stardom.

Where Storm excels, however, is at finding something other than physical perfection. Lara Belmont and Devon are two girls who, like curvy Sophie Dahl and even vertically challenged mini-model Kate Moss, do not conform to the modelling stereotype. Lara is 5ft 6ins with a 32D chest, and by no means a string bean. Devon is also 5ft 6ins, with a face that can only be described as odd; but when Doukas signed her up, she knew that Devon had a niche in the market place. Alexander McQueen loves her look. And where there's a market, there's money. That's business. !

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