Real Lives: I'm gonna make you a star

The woman opposite was a dental nurse - then she was 'discovered'. URSULA KENNY joins the model scout who found the new face of Calvin Klein
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I am standing in the street trying not to stare too intently at an apparently average and certainly spotty German teenager. She has just been stopped by the woman I'm with, and now she has a camera shoved up in front of her face. There's a click and a whoosh from the Polaroid camera and suddenly the plain girl is transformed into an angular beauty. Looking at the print as it becomes clearer in the sunlight, I suddenly see what Chrissie Castagnetti, co-owner of Select Model Management, has been raving about.

Jacqueline, 15, "has a strong Slavic look suitable for say, iD coupled with enough classical beauty for the likes of Elle," says Chrissie, as though describing the engine power and breaking facility on a new car. This sort of crossover appeal is unusual and highly desirable because it's more likely to lead to big bucks. Also, Jacqueline has a new look all of her own. "We've done fallen angels," says Chrissie. "We could call this the Bauhaus look. Or what about Russian peasant?"

The spots, by the way, aren't important. "Bad skin doesn't matter, because we can advise about diet and exercise, or even see a doctor if necessary," Chrissie explains. "But there's nothing you can do about weak features."

Such is "scouting" - also known as pounding the nation's pavements looking for the next Naomi. Let's face it: modelling isn't exactly skilled work. Either you do photograph like a dream and fit in to designer sample sizes or you don't. But finding a model in the first place is an altogether trickier business.

Chrissie Castagnetti made headlines last month when she discovered a dental nurse called Lisa Ratliffe, who was almost immediately picked to replace Kate Moss at Calvin Klein. Many moons ago Kate Moss herself was discovered at JFK airport by Sarah Doukas from the model agency Storm. But scouting is not simply a case of knowing a pretty girl when you see one. We can all do that. Shadowing Chrissie for the day, it becomes obvious that, bizarrely, models do not actually look like models when you see them in the street.

"They tend not to be girls the average person would think of as gorgeous," agrees Chrissie. "Neither are they overtly sexy women. Male friends of mine are forever wanting me to meet a girlfriend who they think has got model potential. It's usually a disaster. What they find attractive tends to have little bearing on what's happening in the industry."

An eye for features that work well on film is equally important. Beyond that, Chrissie says that fate does play a part in bringing a possible model to the attention of an expert scout. "I think it is destiny in part," she says. "When I spotted Lisa we'd been out all day and everyone else had given up on finding anyone. I was just saying, look, 'she' will appear and 'she' did, out of the blue. This face just came up and at me - all bones and a steely Charlotte Rampling look."

Destiny has just smiled on Norwegian art student Andrew, 25, who has been approached by Chrissie's head booker Sarah Leon. "He's pale," Sarah observes. "But there's a move towards white blonds at the moment. He looks like an alien, which is good - because it works with the new millennium mood." Meanwhile, Andrew is wondering what the hell is going on. He's not even sure he wants to be a model. Nevertheless, while the Polaroid's developing, Sarah is planning. "He'd do strong editorial but he's not very commercial. We might shave his head or something to make an even bigger statement for the style mags. Men need to make a strong statement for editorial." Then, hey presto!, the Polaroid does its trick again and even Andrew is impressed.

Peter, 20, works for a computer shop and is on his lunch break. He has never thought about modelling but "if it was a real offer I'd be interested". He has an altogether more accessible look than Andrew. "Not too quirky," murmurs Sarah approvingly. "All sorts of girls would find him attractive. The thing is there are plenty of looks that are quirky but they last one season and then they're out. The cream of the modelling crop are the ones who can turn quirky into classical beauty. That means career longevity."

Final catch of the day is Helle, 24, also Norwegian, also a student, also six foot tall and ridiculously slim. "I'd be lying if I said that being around models all the time doesn't affect you," Sarah concedes. She sees bookers start work at the agency. Within weeks they're going to the gym obsessively and losing weight. "It's bound to get to you. Our reality happens to be really amazingly beautiful girls with amazing figures. I started going to aerobics recently and was stunned to see a cross-section of normal bodies."

Meanwhile, Chrissie is getting most excited about Helle. "She's fantastic. Look at her bones and her eyes. She's animated and intelligent; she's got real attitude, an aura that attracts. She looks like Shalom, only better."

Helle is unfazed; it transpires that she has already done some modelling in Norway when she was a teenager. Still, she is ready to do some more. "But only if I can fit it around my studying." Numbers are swapped and, as we walk away, Chrissie talks about the need to be able to spot future potential. "It may well take three years for a model to reach her peak; by then she's got all the right angles for posing and she's got her own style together. Plus her skin and hair are being looked after and she's seen herself looking beautiful in photographs. It all helps her to be more beautiful."

Chrissie practically invented scouting in the Seventies. "At that time we were a baby agency. Everyone else was well-known and models weren't approaching us so we had to go out and find them. In those days it was mostly posh girls who made it as models and our approach was considered to be pretty radical."

These days, our ideas about what beauty should look like have expanded, if only slightly. There aren't quite so many modelling rules anymore. For one thing it is no longer absolutely essential to be a certain height. "Kate Moss and Devon have changed all that. It's proportion that is important. For example, Kate Moss has very long legs." It is also no longer necessary to have even features, or for black women to look like white women with dark skin. (Witness Erin O'Connor and Alek Wek.) "These days I make sure that 50 per cent of my girls have strong, individual, quirky looks," Chrissie continues. "'Unusual' faces used to make up less than 10 per cent of my models."

And apparently London is now the best place in the world to kick off a modelling career. "If you can crack it here and back it up in Paris, you'll have New York eating out of the palm of your hand," Chrissie explains. "You don't make big bucks here, but you can get your book together and develop a style and image. Because our magazines do such creative editorial you really get the chance to experiment. The US is a great place to do the last leg of your career when you're already established in Europe; they tend to play safe. They don't take chances, but they pay a lot."

Nowadays agency employees never stop scouting, such is the industry appetite for a new look. Sarah has found girls inside bakeries, outside Pizza Hut and, on one occasion, mid-argument in the Arndale Centre. Another girl was on her way to visit Liam Gallagher's house because she was a huge fan of Oasis.

For anyone who secretly sits at home pouting in front of the mirror, Chrissie is currently looking for early Rolling Stones-style androgyny. "You know girls who look like pretty public schoolboys." She also needs ultra feminine/Italian starlet types and she gives pounds 400 to anyone who scouts a model who gets signed to Select - "once the model has made her first pounds 1,000, that is". In the meantime, keep an eye out for Helle.