Model Behavior

Teenage dreams of a glamorous life on the runway

“It's the same group of girls that always feels they've got to jump in front of the camera,” Kymalainen's friend sniffs while rolling her eyes. “Like that's what's going to help them win.” Kymalainen herself takes a more tactful line: “Some of us are just a little more laid-back. I mean, I'm a surfer. But a lot of these other girls are into beauty pageants, or they've already been modeling for a while. They like the glitz and all the glamour.”

A few minutes later the hunt begins and the squads of girls are tearing up and down Lincoln Road, dashing in and out of stores to receive clues, answer riddles, and perform appropriately goofy tasks. Despite the blazing 90-degree midday heat, Kulchur tries gamely to keep up with the sprinting Kymalainen, as does a huffing and puffing veteran New Times photographer. (“This is worse than Belfast,” he grimaces as sweat drenches his shirt.) Even the Elite staffers -- supposedly judging the girls on their “charisma under fire” -- are left behind. As one team rushes past the event's coordinator, she worriedly calls out after them: "Where's your chaperone?"

Kymalainen's cadre expertly runs through the assignments: putting makeup on a boy (an obliging Marilyn Manson fan who happily accedes to mascara and rouge but draws the line at toenail polish), dressing up a dog (a homeless couple cheerfully offers their puppy), assembling a skateboard (“I know this,” cries Kymalainen, “my whole crew skates!”), sleuthing out the photographer behind the cover shot of this month's Vogue ("Steven Meisel!" yelps one girl clutching the magazine, undoubtedly the most excitement anyone's attached to that shutterbug's name in ages), and convincing a visiting tourist to mimic a runway strut. His Italian machismo seems to prevent any convincing sashaying until the girls -- watching precious seconds slip away -- begin ferociously barking orders: "Move your hips; give attitude!"

Ready for our closeup: Anna-Maria Kymalainen (left) and friend  competing in the Elite Model Look 2000 search
Steve Satterwhite
Ready for our closeup: Anna-Maria Kymalainen (left) and friend competing in the Elite Model Look 2000 search
Meet this year's girls: The Elite modeling agency's crop for 2000
Steve Satterwhite
Meet this year's girls: The Elite modeling agency's crop for 2000

Soon enough the hunt is over, and celebrating her team's victory, Kymalainen and Kulchur retreat to Starbucks for a triumphant latté and a look to the future. “My mom's a little worried about me going off to Europe to work,” she admits. “There's all the parties and older men.” Indeed. The last several years have seen the modeling industry beset by tales of strung-out fourteen-year-olds and the sleazy geriatrics who prey upon them, stories that have particularly dogged Elite (to which Kymalainen is contracted for the next two years regardless of the Model Look 2000's outcome) and two of Elite's co-owners, John Casablancas and Gérald Marie.

Responding to a BBC documentary from last November in which hidden cameras captured the fiftyish Marie making plans to bed a string of underage Elite models (as well as bookers procuring drugs for other clients and then pimping them out), the paunchy Lothario was unapologetic. Speaking to the London Times, he claimed his filmed comments were taken out of context, and besides, all his paramours were more than willing -- regardless of their age.

The 57-year-old Casablancas, who recently took a house in Miami with his 24-year-old wife and claims to be semiretired, also hedged at sounding a note of contrition, telling the Times that while he'd certainly been with scores of underage women, he'd never "knowingly" slept with anyone under sixteen. “I'm not seeking redemption. I'm proud of the story of my life,” Casablancas crowed. “I had a lot of fun, I made money, I had prestige.”

Confronted with the dubious honor of working for bosses like Casablancas and Marie, Kymalainen remains unfazed. "They're males!" she laughs, "What do you expect?" Not that she's much surprised either. “I've met a lot of models here who would be happy to sleep with those guys if they thought it would help their career,” she says offhandedly. And, ahem, what about her? “Ew!” she gasps, wrinkling her nose with a tinge of nausea. “That's not the way I was brought up. I have morals.” She is, after all, a punk rocker.

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