Next generation of supermodels parade in Geneva

Naomi Campbell's 15-year modelling career is an exception - most models land on the scrapheap within five Keystone

One of the worlds's most prestigious modelling contests is being held in Geneva this Saturday. Three girls will win two-year contracts with the Elite Model Group, which represents the likes of Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelista.

This content was published on September 8, 2000 - 09:35

This is the 17th edition of the competition, which used to be called "Look of the Year". Some 400,000 girl's worldwide put their names forward this year in the hope that it would be a springboard to glamour, fame and untold riches.

Of those, 62 made it to Geneva. These will be whittled down to 15 finalists, who will demonstrate their catwalk skills on Saturday at Geneva's Forces Motrices building. The selection process is made by a team of professionals from the fashion world.

"Their opinion is not just based on their physical or aesthetic potential, but also on their psychological temperament," Christian Larpin, chairman of the Elite Model Group told swissinfo. "All of the young ladies here are beautiful, but not all of them have the brains or the strength to do the job.

"Being a model is a very tough life: you travel a lot, you have no social life and no family life. You spend many hours in aeroplanes and hotels. It can be very lonely. The ability to cope with these pressures is something we try to evaluate during the course of the contest," he says.

The girls themselves are winners of regional and national competitions organised by Elite and its partners in around 50 countries. The Elite Group, which is the largest modelling agency in the world, organises the contest to ensure a fresh supply of talent to strut along the catwalk.

The fashion world - and Elite in particular - has frequently come in for criticism over its use of super-thin models, who perpetuate the notion that women should be of a certain shape.

"You get ladies of 35 and even 65 who are thin," Larpin retorts. "These girls are not selling an image. They are selling dresses and accessories."

Larpin also insists that, while none of Elite's models begins work until they are 16, a career in modelling has to start at a tender age.

"They have very good skin, which is good for photography, and they are available: they don't have a family life, apart from their parents, and they don't have much of a social life, so they're able to travel. And they are in good health."

Models like Naomi Campbell who have been at the top for something like 15 years are an exception. Most models are on the scrapheap by their mid-20s.

"A young lady who reaches 22 or 25 wants to get married and have babies, which is quite normal. She can't possibly carry on a career in this condition. So they have to start very young," Larpin says.

While some of the girls may have a burning ambition to be on the cover of the glossies, others have a more philosophical attitude.

"I'm just taking it as it comes. I'm having a great time here. If it goes well, then I'll carry on. But my education is the most important thing at the moment," says Katie Simmonds, 17, from London, who has been a part-time model for two years.

"I think a career in modelling will give me a lot of connections, I'll meet a lot of people, and hopefully make some money, so that I can pay to go to university," says 17-year-old Christine Marzano from New York.

Elite itself was caught up in controversy last year when the BBC screened a documentary criticising the practices of some of the company's agents, including allegations of drug-pushing and sexual exploitation.

Larpin dismisses the programme as nothing more than a "stitch-up" and says the agency has not lost any models as a result. Elite is taking no chances with the girls in Geneva. They are all chaperoned and are only allowed out of their hotel for photo-opportunity trips.

The final of the Elite Model Look will be broadcast live on the Internet at www.msn.fr/elite, and later this month on Swiss-French television.

by Roy Probert

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