Field of Schemes

Mary and Jeff Clarke feed beauty to the tough world of high fashion. Hard to do from the cornfields of Iowa. Harder still in St. Louis, where too many parents and kids have their dreams exploited for money.

The Berquists met Mary in Marion, Iowa, and attended a Genesis show. "We thought it was really awesome," says Joan.

Joan keeps a close watch when Elizabeth is being fitted with a new wardrobe. "We're very conservative," she explains.

Joan admits she's concerned about food issues and modeling, but since Elizabeth has been pursuing the idea, she says, "She's given up pop and junk food. In many ways, this is good for my daughter. She's not eating crap; she's eating nutritious stuff."

Jennifer Silverberg
Mary and Jeff Clarke and Aaron Kirchner, the three person team that runs Genesis, now dubbed MODELTRUTH
Jennifer Silverberg
Mary and Jeff Clarke and Aaron Kirchner, the three person team that runs Genesis, now dubbed MODELTRUTH

Joan betrays anxiety over the whole situation: "It's a matter of how hard Elizabeth wants to pursue it. I really don't know what to expect if they get signed. I'm not in my comfort zone, but then I used to be like that with ballet: You go where your kids go."

But Joan isn't too sure how far she and her husband can afford to go. Later in the weekend, when an agent tells the girls about the importance of finding part-time work -- they're not going to live off modeling earnings for a while -- Joan says it is the best advice she's heard. She hopes her daughter hears it, too.

Out on the runway, another blonde sways out from behind the partition like an expert driver accelerating on a curve.

Some of the clothes have yet to be pinned, so the girls must hold them together as they walk before something embarrassing happens.

A call goes out: "Has anybody got any black hotpants?"

Sherri Evans and Julie Bliss sit together in the warm morning sunlight coming in the east windows. Their daughters -- Aubrey and Amanda, respectively -- are both "pros," laughs Julie. Both mothers are of that obviously Scandinavian strain of Iowan that seems to produce models.

Aubrey is tall, slender and remarkably pale, with long wheat-blond hair. "Mary found my daughter in a drugstore when she was 12," recalls Sherri.

She still doesn't know what Mary saw in her daughter, all wet and tired from a swim meet, but since turning 16, Aubrey has appeared in Seventeen and worked in runway shows in New York and Italy.

"She was a very shy person before this," says Sherri. "The work has given her confidence and self-esteem. Mary and Jeff are wonderful. They encourage kids to be drug-free, alcohol-free. I like that they add a mothering aspect to their work.

"If we stopped today, we'd be happy."

But there's not much of a chance the Evans family will be stopping today. The apartments the agencies provide in New York and Milan and Rome are not rent-free. Debts accrue. The agencies make an investment and expect a return.

Mary stops the rehearsal. She's pissed. She gathers the kids together for a rant.

"Give me your all today," she barks. "Stay focused. Be here. Be positive."

She pauses, looks over the now-silent teenagers: "You guys all have to change again, and I don't want to hear anybody complain. Wardrobe fees need to be paid. Nobody sees an agent until that is paid."

She hits what is obviously a sore spot with her. "No editorial comment about how your hair is done or what you're wearing -- and that includes parents," she admonishes. "We know what we're doing. Trust me and be there for us.

"Whoo," she sighs, and the tension goes out of the room. "I feel like my mom's talking to me."

As Mary goes over the music list -- "Vehicle," "Renegades of Funk," "Ode to Billy Joe," "Somebody to Love" -- Julie says the rant is typical at this stage of the day: "I've never seen a problem with the show."

This is the third Genesis event for Amanda. She and her mother have been to New York twice and have signed with Tony Perkins at Next. Amanda has frail, waifish features and reddish-brown hair. "We've gotten some traveling out of it," her mother says.

The Iowa moms laugh about their experiences with New York rats, New York mice and New York roaches. "For Aubrey," says Sherri Evans, "the hardest thing for her was seeing people sleeping in the streets and people begging on the subway."

Both mothers stop to listen as Mary calls out some directives. "Mary is giving orders," says Sherri. "That's a good sign."

The agents arrive and sit down at round dining tables in the Genesis office, on the sixth floor. They begin filling up on spaghetti, chili, fried chicken, green salad and a wide assortment of cookies.

Mary interrupts the luncheon chatter to say a few words, and a couple of the agents chuckle at the idea of Mary speaking just a few words.

She talks about how ever since she and Jeff came to St. Louis they've heard radio ads calling for models "ages three to 70. The challenge is that here, everyone knows about modeling scams. It's been harder to gain trust here."

Then she announces that this will be Genesis' last event: "We're not going to give another one."

The jovial air in the room stills. "No more events," says Mary, "but we're not stopping. We're working on a video to tell the truth about what should and shouldn't be happening in the industry. Our new goals are to create the video, sell it over the Web site, speak in schools.

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