Just as the modelling business was poised to get bigger, models got smaller.
The waifs, as the new generation was called, seemed like both a reaction to the excesses of the supermodels and a perfect reflection of a time of diminished expectations-in fashion and life.
“The movement happened because we needed a change,” says Polly Mellen, who’d moved from Vogue to a new beauty magazine, Allure. And just as in the sixties the signs of changing times first appeared in England.
Sarah Doukas was a teenager, working in an antiques market on London’s King’s Road in 1972, when someone took her picture and sent her to an agency. For three years she modelled and sold antiques in London and Paris, before changing careers and managing a punk rock band, The Criminals, at the end of the seventies, when punk rock swept England.
A few years later she met and married an American musician, the lead singer of a band called Earthquake. They moved to San Francisco, where they had a child and lived until 1982.
Earthquake had disbanded, and Doukas needed a job. A photographer friend sent her to Laraine Ashton. In six years there she rose from junior assistant to running the place, booking models like Jerry Hall and David Bailey’s then wife Marie Helvin.
Then, with the help of the rock band U2’s lawyer, she put together a business plan for her own agency and began seeking backers, including Virgin Records tycoon Richard Branson, whose brother was one of her friends. In 1987 he agreed to give her interest-free loans until the agency, which she called Storm, got on its feet.
Working out of her bedroom, she recruited two bookers and began searching for girls. She found many of them on the street.
“Wherever I was going, I was looking,” she says. “I found a great girl outside a garage in Battersby, in her school uniform.”
Another discovery had pink and green hair. Clearly Doukas had a different kind of eye.
Once she’d gathered seven girls, she took their test photographs on a trip to Paris, Milan, and Japan.
“So things progressed,” says her younger brother, Simon Chambers, who joined the company, computerised its accounts, and acted-he laughs-as “a reluctant babe magnet.”
Fashion editors soon came sniffing around. Harriet Jagger of British Elle lived a street away, “and she would walk by on her way to work and come in and see who I had new, nearly every day,” Sarah says.
Sarah and Simon were on their way home from a scouting trip to Los Angeles and New York in 1988 when Sarah spotted a scrawny fourteen-yearold at Kennedy Airport.
Kate Moss, a schoolgirl from Croydon, and her travel agent father had been waiting three days for standby seats back to England, where they were expected at a wedding.
Kate’s father was arguing with people at the counter when Doukas spotted them. Luckily they made the flight.
“As soon as the seat belt sign switched off, we rushed over,” Sarah says.
Kate’s father had seen Doukas on television and knew she was legitimate. The next day Kate’s sceptical mother agreed to accompany her to Storm.
“She thought it was major con,” Kate recalled.
“I didn’t think I was going to change the face of modelling,” Doukas says.
“But I’d found this amazing-looking girl. She came into the office, and she did a job immediately.” Doukas called all the magazines and faxed photographs of Moss to everyone she knew.
“Nobody was interested,” she says.
Moss was only five feet seven inches. Her career started slowly.
“She was in school, and I don’t ever agree with taking anybody out of school,” Doukas says. “We worked on the holidays and stuttered along for a year. But she wasn’t greatly interested in school, and then she left, and then we started. Every day I said, ‘I’m going to make you a star.’ I didn’t know I was going to make her a superstar.”
Excerpted from Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women by Michael Gross with permission from HarperCollins.
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