The new romantic: why Felicity is the face of 2006

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The Independent Online

When Felicity Gilbert decided to make her career in the fashion world she expected a long fight to gain a toe-hold in the notoriously competitive industry.

But within an hour of inquiring at the Storm modelling agency she had been signed up. Seven days later she was being photographed by Mario Testino.

She has now been picked by the fashion bible Vogue for the "Class of 2006", which showcases 21 of the world's most promising models. The "Class of 2005" included the likes of Lily Cole and Gemma Ward.

Since October, Gilbert has been photographed for an advertising campaign by the fashion house, Chloe, worked with the models Christie Turlington and Malgosia Bela, and featured in British, French, Italian and Japanese Vogue.

Gilbert, 20, who lives with her mother in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, follows in the footsteps of iconic predecessors who were discovered by Storm, including Kate Moss.

Sarah Doukas, the owner of Storm, who spotted Moss as she waited for a flight at JFK airport in New York nearly two decades ago, was struck by Gilbert's "exquisite" look.

Victoria Inman, a booker at Storm, said: "We see hundreds of girls each week and we could all immediately tell she was something special. We took photos of her and within the hour, we told her that we would like to represent her. She looks very interesting and is also extremely beautiful and has a real aura about her."

Her delicate, romantic features could indicate a move away from last year's look, dubbed "freak chic" by the fashion press, led by models including Erin O'Connor and Karen Elson, for a return to a more classic image.

"There seems to be an interest in people looking more beautiful these days, and fashion is much more feminine at the moment," Ms Inman said.

Although Gilbert had no modelling experience and was 5ft 7in tall - petite in the fashion industry - she was sent to meet Testino. "She and Mario Testino gelled immediately. She was really happy to meet him, she's a very unassuming girl, as well as being very polite and intelligent," Ms Inman added.

Sophie Baudrand, the fashion bookings editor at Vogue, said Gilbert had been chosen as one of "fashion's freshest faces" by Prada's casting director, Russell Marsh, who is known for setting trends in the modelling world.

"Felicity is quite little but has an exquisite face. She looks lovely. She is in the February and March issues of Vogue and she has done a Chloe advertising campaign. She seems to have a Sissy Spacek look, sort of on the cusp of womanhood. She is in-between, neither a girl nor a woman. She is quite ethereal," she said.

Ms Baudrand said the models in Vogue's "Class of 2006" were showcased because fashion editors noticed "a whole new wave of girls" on the fashion scene.

"We don't do this every season. We happened to do it this time because we just noticed these faces. Until four or five years ago, there were either the Kates or the Naomis and people knew who they were, or there were those where it didn't matter who they were. Now modelling has become more collaborative and we are asking a lot more of them, so today's models have developed more personality," she said.