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.

A mom asks, "Who pays for what?"

An agent from IMG responds: "It's not free. They [the agencies] get you an apartment, but it's taken out of your account. We're not making anything off the money we advance."

It's not all beauty, Hollinger tells the rapt audience. He emphasizes personality: "If you start out naturally as a shy person, are you going to work at it? Can you push yourself? Clients need to hear a girl who is outgoing and willing. There's a significant charm factor in the business."

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

To close the panel, a mother asks -- but gets no answer -- "What happens when you're overweight and old?"

In the Clarkes' airy three-story home in University City, Jeff talks about Matt Sheldahl -- a gaunt-looking, Scandinavian-faced Iowan -- who just got back from New York. "We placed him with Q in New York and in LA and Why Not in Milan, just to start."

Chris Merkle, a quiet teenager with a Beatle haircut, "needs to trim down a bit," but he's receiving a lot of interest.

Mary arrives and is asked about Jefferson Peak, the guy Jeff chased down at Mizzou. Peak couldn't afford the evening runway show and couldn't come to the one-on-one callbacks with the agents.

"Jefferson didn't do as well as we thought," she says. Mary thinks things might have turned out differently if he could have met with the agents. "He'll have to learn how to hold his mouth. He has a slight overbite, which is something you notice on film. He could work maybe in Chicago and Atlanta, but not New York. New York's the hardest place."

Tony Perkins of Next met with Peak. "He liked him, but he wasn't 100 percent sure. Tony is a nose guy. The nose is always the deciding factor with Tony, and Jefferson's nose is on the pug side."

Elizabeth Berquist didn't get a single callback. "I'm telling Elizabeth's mom you've got to be patient," Mary says.

But Joan Berquist has other concerns. She doesn't like hearing how much weight the agents think her daughter should lose.

Mary goes through a group of swimsuit shots of Rebecca Toben to send to New York.

Mary says Rebecca, a striking brunette with a heart-shaped face, "has hung in there. She got braces at 19. They had to pull her eyeteeth down."

She holds a photo up for Jeff: "How's her body look there?"

"Her stomach's pooched out."

Aaron and Jeff are constantly getting e-mails from agents, requesting photos of models. Jeff talks to one agent and then another without pause.

Mary's relieved to be approaching strangers as a scout without talking up a Genesis event. She admits she felt somehow culpable in the less appealing aspects of the business.

"I used to think having a great little event would affect the big picture, but we could only affect the people we came in contact with. Our new goal is to be more vocal, to blow the roof off," she says.

Genesis will become MODELTRUTH.

"Genesis was the event company," Mary says. "It was a great ride, one that was needed, but we know our real ultimate vision has always been to lead us to this place."

They intend to continue scouting, developing and placing models. They're good at it. They're successful, and the industry always needs new faces.

But now Ashton Kutcher has offered to produce a video for them, one that shows how the fashion industry works, and doesn't work, one that exposes and informs.

"We're going to launch the MODELTRUTH concept in New York during the IMTA," Mary says, grinning. She repeats a line a hotel doorman once told her: "It's not sneaky. It's savvy."

She can't believe her good fortune, the way this has fallen on her.

Like the way beauty befalls an unsuspecting girl, too innocent to understand its power and its danger.

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