Mary joins in: "I said to Jeff, 'Look at that little girl walk.'"

Jeff rubs his arms. "I have goose bumps now just thinking about it."

Says Mary: "We said to her, 'Don't change anything.'"

Kloss was a natural in front of the camera as well. "I don't have any training," she says, bending over to shake out her dark blond hair before straightening up and striking another pose. "I just do it."

But there are plenty of tall, beautiful, photogenic girls who can walk down a runway, including the three currently sprawled on the Clarkes' trampoline. No one, least of all Kloss, seems to know what makes her such a star.

"She's a classic American beauty," Mary ventures. "And she's sweet. The business is full of self-centered people. It's refreshing to be around her."

"Her timing is impeccable," says Michael Flutie. "Fashion is about a moment, a season, and you jump on that moment. She came in at a time when the photographers, the hair and makeup people, the stylists were looking for a 1960s English/French kind of girl. She portrays that girl. She's lanky and tall and has a non-intrusive, quiet beauty that's more subtle.

"And she's loved by the photographers," he continues. "People like Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, they all talk to each other. It's a small group, but they have a lot of influence. The casting directors say, 'We like their judgment.' And then suddenly you have a new 'It' model."

Kloss is uncomfortable discussing her It-ness. Ever so tactfully, she avoids demonstrating The Walk and deflects compliments on her outfit, a gray tunic belted over black leggings. "This is my sister Kimby's," she says. "I stole it from her. She's so stylish. Every interview I go to, I'm wearing something of hers."

She will allow that modeling has taught her some useful things, like the best places to find hot chocolate in Paris and Milan, and that she's a sucker for gift bags. But she doesn't get to attend many industry parties. Everywhere she goes, she is accompanied one of a rotating assortment of relatives.

"My family is so supportive," she says. "There's nothing they wouldn't do for me. I'm very lucky. I don't know anyone with a family like mine, except for Jeff and Mary. I've talked to other girls and they say it's difficult to find people to go with them. I have a surplus."

Someday, when her modeling career ends, Kloss wants to open her own bakery.


Every week or so, Jeff and Mary Clarke go on a scouting expedition. The food court at West County Center is one of their favorite haunts. "At lunchtime, you see a lot of girls in their school uniforms," Mary explains. From anyone else, this might sound vaguely unsettling.

The Clarkes peer into a few stores where teenagers tend to hang out, like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle. They're looking for a head that towers high above the racks.

The Clarkes zero in on very specific things: A girl should be between five-nine and six feet tall. She should be thin, no bigger than a size four. She should be young, between thirteen and nineteen. And she should be photogenic — that intangible quality that Mary describes as looking comfortable in her own skin.

And, at least in recent years, she should be white.

"I don't get it," Jeff says. "As a person of color, I find it frustrating. We've found great black girls, but if they're not mixed or don't have light skin, no one wants them."

"In the '90s, we could find girls who were really unusual-looking and quirky," says Mary, "but after 9/11 there was this big shift. Maybe it was the economy, I don't know, but people were less willing to risk using an exotic girl. But these things are cyclical. The pendulum is swinging back the other way now."

"I've been hearing from New York that there's a desperation for black girls," Jeff adds, "ever since Italian Vogue did that all-black issue last month. And if you can find an Asian girl who's five-ten, you've got it made."

The Clarkes won't recruit anyone they don't think can make it as a model. "We don't want to give anyone false hope," Mary says.

"The girls have to know what we want and if they can fit in a healthy way," Jeff explains. "Some girls who are a size nine will never be a size two and be healthy."

"A curvy woman can be just as beautiful," Mary continues, "but modeling requires a certain body type. It's like the NBA. A long, elegant woman's body with extended arms and legs is like a sculpture. You want to capture that long, beautiful line. It looks really pretty."

The media never tires of discussing anorexia among models. This past summer, eighteen-year-old model Ali Michael wrote an article for Teen Vogue about how she stopped eating in order to stay thin. Her hair fell out and her period ceased. After she gained five pounds, the casting directors Paris shows refused to hire her because her legs had gotten too plump.

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