The It Girls: The next supermodel may be coming from a high school near you

Karlie Kloss has sauntered down innumerable Fashion Week runways in impossibly high heels. She has grown accustomed to walking past a newsstand and seeing her face on the cover of a glossy magazine. Some say she could be the next American supermodel. But she's still a sixteen-year-old girl from Webster Groves, and if there's a trampoline in the back yard, she's going to jump on it.

View a Slide Show of the Photo Shoot.

On a hot and sunny August Saturday, Kloss has come to Dardenne Prairie to spend a few hours with her agents, Jeff and Mary Clarke, and three other St. Louis models: Katie Fogarty, Cat McGrath and Kayla Travers. The four girls spent the morning eating sausage-and-mushroom quiche, comparing notes on the first week of school and commiserating with Fogarty over her "devil child" yearbook picture. The photo, they agree, is an aberration, and they blame the photographer.

Jennifer Silverberg
Karlie Kloss, 16, has just begun her sophomore year at Webster Groves High School and her third season as one of the world's top models.
Jennifer Silverberg
Karlie Kloss, 16, has just begun her sophomore year at Webster Groves High School and her third season as one of the world's top models.


Click on the photo for a slide show.
View photos of the girls in New York for Fashion Week.

Soon all of them (save McGrath) will be in New York for Fashion Week. They'll spend their first few days in a flurry of casting sessions and fittings, and another week modeling the spring collections. Depending on how many casting directors they impress, they could find themselves working sixteen-hour days.

"I can't believe it's already here again," exclaims Kloss, a veteran of three seasons on the modeling circuit. During Spring Fashion Week in New York last February, she walked in 31 shows. "I just try not to fall," she says.

This will be Fogarty's first Fashion Week: "I'm pumped," she declares.

It's been just a few years since Jeff and Mary Clarke discovered these girls in St. Louis supermarkets and shopping malls. The girls were tall and gangly. Fogarty and Travers still had braces. The Clarkes groomed them for the New York modeling market. "We have a talent for spotting talent," says Mary.

After nearly twenty years in the business, they've built an extensive network in the fashion world and a reputation for taking good care of their girls.

Mary emerges from the house, where she'd been chatting with the girls' mothers, and watches as Kloss, McGrath and Travers continue jumping and shrieking. Their long, skinny arms and legs flail through the air. "They're kids," she says. "Tall, beautiful kids."

She considers it her job to make sure they stay that way.

It is no accident that the Clarkes named their agency Mother Model Management.

In the modeling industry, a mother agent is the scout who discovers a model, usually in her hometown, and then introduces her to bookers in large fashion markets. The bookers arrange the girl's work schedule — everything from magazine spreads to fashion show appearances — while the mother agent remains chief advisor and collects 10 percent of her earnings.

Jeff and Mary Clarke, though, take the term "mother" more literally than most other agents. "You get the sense that each girl is a part of their family," says Stephen Lee, a booker at Next Models, a well-respected New York modeling agency. "Jeff and Mary nurture their girls."

"I was a little hesitant when I first met them," recalls Fogarty. "You hear all these horror stories, how agents rip you off. But Jeff and Mary really care. They took an interest in me beyond wanting to get their cut. They're almost like family."

Mary, 46, and Jeff, 34, have been married nine years and have four children and a granddaughter between them. They work out of an office in their basement. She deals with other agents, the clients and the parents, while he handles the scheduling and travel arrangements. They communicate in verbal shorthand, almost like code, and at times through apparent mental telepathy.

Most other agents in St. Louis concentrate on providing models for local advertisers. The Clarkes, says New York agent and producer Michael Flutie, are the only agents in the Midwest who scout models for the international market.

"Jeff and Mary may live in St. Louis," he says, "but they represent the eyes of global beauty."

"There's a great desire for American girls," Mary explains, "and not a lot of good, reliable sources. Most agents don't understand what the New York agent is looking for. They send typically pretty girls. We're looking for someone beautiful, with an edge. Our girls wouldn't be the smiley girl in the Sunday supplement."

Kloss' androgynous face and McGrath's curly auburn hair, for instance, are distinctive enough to attract attention in New York, but too offbeat to get them much work closer to home.

"She doesn't have the Midwest look," notes Mary McGrath, Cat's mother. "In Chicago, they're looking for blonds, the classic girl next door."

Mary Clarke has spent fifteen years honing her eye for beauty, first in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and then in St. Louis, where she and Jeff moved in 2001. Before Kloss, her most celebrated discovery was Ashton Kutcher, whom she met in a bar in Iowa City in 1997. Originally the Clarkes, like most traditional agents, arranged photo shoots and fashion shows, but they realized their true talents were elsewhere. (See Eddie Silva's "Field of Schemes," May 8, 2002.)

"We scout and manage," Mary says. "That's our thing. We're not meant to book."

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