Enter Emma Blocksage, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Hastings. Modelling has always been her dream, and on 20 July she had her first taste of glory. That day she beat 11 other hopeful, and very young, model wannabes to win the Elite Premier Look of the Year competition. The 12 finalists were picked from more than 1,000 entrants from around the country who had responded to promotions in teen magazines such as It's Bliss and Mizz, as well as the Daily Mirror.
On Monday, the world finals of the Elite Model Look for 1995 take place in Seoul, South Korea. This is where it really matters. More than one hundred girls, all winners of their national or regional heats, will compete in the hope of winning a year's contract worth $800,000 with Elite, the agency with the highest concentration of top models in the world, and placing their size sevens on the ladder to success. It is the culmination of a frenzied two weeks, during which the girls are primped, preened, cajoled and put through their paces.
Emma Blocksage has, potentially, the world at her feet. She is five-foot-ten, perfectly proportioned, with good skin, and a winning smile. Minnie Ng, the new faces booker with Elite Premier in London, describes her as "very striking, not structurally beautiful, but quite amazing, she has the proportions of a Barbie Doll." Still at school, she lives with her father, a taxi driver, and her mother, who works in a shop. She is thinking about leaving school to pursue her modelling career without having completed her GCSEs.
Emma was already on the books of Elite Premier before the competition. And interest was already building. Corinne Day, the first to capture Kate Moss's gawky beauty, photographed Emma for the Italian magazine Donna just three days after she first walked into the agency. She has also worked for Italian Vogue and the American make-up bible Allure.
It all sounds like a classic fairy story - beautiful girl gets plucked from obscurity and makes it to the top. Minnie Ng is crossing her fingers. "Emma has got all the qualities to win, she will stand out from the crowd, she's confident, and extremely brave travelling all the way to Korea without her family."
But previous winners of the London leg of the competition have failed to cut the mustard at the international finals. Helen Millett, who won the London heat in 1992 at the age of 16, found most of the work she got was for the teen mags such as Just Seventeen, Mizz and More!. Now 19, she, and her booker, Steven Parker at Boss, have decided it is time for a little reinvention. So her long blonde locks have been cut and lightened, the gym has been visited, and, in Parker's words, "it was time for her to become a woman".
Emma Blocksage will skip this interim stage. Without make-up and finery, she is simply a normal teenager, but her bleached blonde hair, pouting lips and flashing eyes have taken her straight into the "woman" market. With luck, by the time she reaches the ripe old age of 20, her career will be well established. Whether she goes on to be one of the biggest names on the catwalk is a different question.
In supermodel land, the biggest names are not the girls who won competitions. Cindy Crawford, for example, got nowhere in the Elite world finals but has made it to the very top of her profession. Karen Mulder won her heat in Holland but only came second in the finals. Linda Evangelista and Stephanie Seymour failed to get there at all. Yet their faces are among the most recognisable in the world.
Modelling is not an easy business. Emma certainly has the right look for now, but it takes a special kind of determination and self confidence to overcome the constant scrutiny involved when physical beauty is your main commodity. Success at competition level may have eluded Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Stephanie Seymour, but this simply hardened their resolve. They have worked hard at their jobs, and approached them as careers to be built upon. And it was their early failure, perhaps, that helped them earn such rich rewards