Olga Shvets, who runs leading Siberian modelling agency, defends recruiting children to the modelling business. Some see this as highly controversial, even sinister, but Olga is adamant that by going to responsible agencies, the girls have a brilliant chance to shine in the world.
'It's better for a child to grow in this atmosphere from a very early age'. Picture: Olga Schvets
I must be honest - I think that the younger the kids are when they get into this industry, the better it is.
We take children starting from the age of 4 and even younger sometimes.
We just had some children from our agency participating in the contest Little Top Model in Moscow and a girl who is four years old won a prize there.
But, then, she's been modelling for the last three years.
It's better for a child to grow in this atmosphere from a very early age. Because if the child is talented if she enjoys the process and looks good, then why should she waste time? One of our girls who is now five will appear on the cover of the Vogue magazine.
Isn't that something special? Something to be proud of? It's not some nonsense. It's Vogue!
'I must be honest - I think that the younger the kids are when they get into this industry, the better it is'. Picture: Olga Schvets
I can't share the name and details right now but once we get the scans of the cover of course we will share the success story to inspire others.
Some parents send their children to study choreography or the circus but I think it's better do modelling because it's less dangerous.
Plus it's good if your girl learns to be a girl, to put on make up.
As for grown up models, it's hard to tell. If the girl is 175 cm at the age of 12 she can work as model: why not? It's not always about the age of the model.
Yes, Nadia Belova is a good example and she is still the youngest professional model in the world (see story about Olga's agency star Nadya Belousova).
I think she should be in the Guinness Book of Records. Her career went well, she worked in Taiwan, Singapore and now is taking a small break because she gained some weight. I think it's just the process of growing and she will lose weight soon.
We decided to give her some time off even though she has a contract signed with the IMG modelling agency in New York.
This is success. IMG works only with top models and stars and they are willing to wait for her because they are interested in her very much.
She is now 15 years old and is 183 cm.
In our agency we have a standard application form. The girls have to fill out a form on our website, and send in her portfolio and if we find her interesting, we ask her to come for an interview. Definitely she needs parental agreement. We do not organise beauty contests to search for the girls. We have beauty contest but they are for our girls and they are targeted at professional growth. We organise press conferences, and introduce the Press to our girls.
Actually I'm rather sceptical about beauty contests.
Professionally, they are not much of a help except the cases when a girl wants to get married to someone from Rublyovka (the most elite residential area of Moscow). But beauty contests don't help to find new faces. Talented girls come to us at the age of 10-to-14 years, and beauty contests are held for girls from 16 which is slightly late. The girl will have little time to prepare for modelling career.
'Some parents send their children to study choreography or the circus but I think it's better do modelling because it's less dangerous'. Picture: Olga Schvets
It is difficult to say when is it necessary to begin attending a modelling school and how long it takes for the girl to prepare.
Each girl has her own way. If the girl was doing sports, or dancing, it will be easier for her. These girls usually know how to be disciplined, and can work hard.
Sometimes we get a very good girl but if she cannot work hard enough, we wouldn't push her. It happens with the girls without preparation. And if it does not work out we can do nothing about it.
This year we will hold a professional models competition. Representatives of the region will be selected and will go to Moscow.
But the competition is aimed at obtaining contracts and further work and not for the prize and the crown. We do not give out awards for no reason.
Our girls go abroad take part in the contests and win prizes, but it is not that important for the model.
The main thing for a model is the attitude and understanding of why she came into this business. The model can be any girl who has some brain. Sure she should be tall enough and have proper weight. But here the beauty is less important then personality. It's not about the shape of the nose, eyebrows or lips.
'If girls grow up in a modelling environment then they have a very different attitude to many things. They are well-trained'. Picture: Olga Schvets
Look at Natalia Vodianova, she is only 174 centimetres tall. Natalia was an ordinary girl. No outstanding appearance. In Paris, she spent three years without work. But she did it, she knew what she wanted to be. And now is not only a great model but also devotes herself to philanthropy.
The main thing that a girl wants to work, and is disciplined. If girls grown up in a modelling environment then they have a very different attitude to many things. They are well-trained, and they do not go crazy when their picture appears on the cover of the magazine.
They understand that this is normal, it's just another step ahead and just keep working. But the girls for whom this is the first time begin can get overwhelmed with the sudden fame. They do not understand that much of it is not their doing. They take time off from school or university and do what they were told. But it's those who help them to move, who did most of the work for them.
Another thing is that we too often see the girl coming to a model school thinking they will definitely become at least Natalia Vodianova. But it's like any other school. If you go to art school, you do not necessarily become Picasso. And the girls get frustrated and give up.
Modeling doesn't prevent our girls from becoming educated. Some even began to learn better after they started a career.
During all the shows you have half a day when you're sitting and waiting for the make up artist to put up the make up and make the hair.
This is the time many people use to repeat the material, read something or listen to lectures, but again it all depends on the person.
Smart punctual and loyal girls are valued in the modelling industry but it is the same as in any other profession.
Everyone would like to work with such a girl. The rest depends on hard work and character.
'Girls are just the bodies, and it takes a lot of work of the agent to make a model from a girl. They usually don't appreciate this'. Picture: Olga Schvets
The model's work is no harder than any other business. Of course you need to work hard, but it is everywhere, if you want to be successful.
There is no special pressure, but naturally the girls do get stressed. Especially when they travel abroad, for the first time.
Staying in an apartment with more professional models can be stressful after seeing their portfolio or listening to their conversations. But again, all start modelling the same way. There is nothing special. I compare it to a race. Everyone is starting to run but someone comes first to the finish and others give up.
We are currently working with all the international and local agencies. Large foreign agencies come to us. Our girls are in demand. When we opened in 2000, then indeed we were looking for partners. Staged shows when someone would come to town to see our models. But now we have moved to a higher professional level.
We work only with the proposals that are interesting for us. Now Asia is economically more profitable. First of all only one flight to Moscow costs 30,000 roubles and if you add the price of the ticket to New York then the flight alone is already very expensive for our models.
Besides, no-one tells you that the majority of shows in New York are not well paid or not paid at all.
In Europe they have huge competition, models who already have travelled the world go there.
Asia is closer for us. Our girls are well received there. It is also a known fact that all the international brands move the advertising companies of most of their collections to Asia, which is also very good for us.
This is a big mistake that many beginning models make thinking that being in Europe one can make a career easily.
The girls engaged in the modelling business can tell you it is beautiful but very hard. We had a fashion show a couple of days ago in a shopping mall, so by the end of the 40-minutes, just two girls were is good shape, smiling and walking but they have been in modelling for last three years.
Today we have gone through the photos and most of girls looked tired, they didn't control their moves, legs and hands.
Just 40 minutes of walking on 10 cm heels is already a hard work. I tell all my girls that there are no miracles. It is a beautiful but difficult business.
'Asia is closer for us. Our girls are well received there'. Picture: Olga Schvets
Yet it's hard not only for girls but for the agents too.
The biggest disappointment comes when you face the ungratefulness of the models. The agent tries to do everything for the girl, finding a better contracts, cheaper options to make the portfolio but the girls often just take this for granted. Some of my friends who are ex-agents left the job because of this.
We would take some older girls at the age of 19 go step by step through the whole process and would never hear a thank you.
Girls are just the bodies, and it takes a lot of work of the agent to make a model from a girl.
They usually don't appreciate this. When girls have too much ambitions they are an easy target for the agencies that just make money by 'stealing' models. Of course when a girl just begins her career and no-one knows about her, these agencies will not be interested.
Then the 'mother' agency invests a lot of time and effort to help the young model. But once a girl appears somewhere these agencies offer her a contract promising her heaven, but often they use her for a season or two then discard her. We do take care of our girls and even if they leave modelling we can still offer then a teaching position in the agency.
For example, I work 24/7. The agent has to be a psychologist and a mother and everything else. You work during the day and then when you just go to bed you get a phone call from a European agency or New York and there is something urgent to do. It's like this all the time. But that's the way the work is in this sphere.
We have a modelling school and a model agency. It's a normal practice for any good modelling agency to get the girls and train them first, to teach them how to put the make up, and walk properly on high heels. It all started in 1994 when I was organising the beauty contests, which later became modelling courses. We still don't have a 'model as a job in our employment legislation in Russia but back then especially in Angarsk it was really hard.
But I saw that there was a demand; we saw many beautiful girls and wanted to help them become professionals.
'I saw that there was a demand; we saw many beautiful girls and wanted to help them become professionals. Picture: Olga Schvets
So in 2000 we opened model agency ModelPro which later in 2006 grew bigger and became the fashion corporation Model Pro and Baikal Stars.
But now everyone knows us as Baikal Stars so we stick to that. We have around 10-to-15 girls in the school.
In the modelling agency we have 30 girls. They are not only the girls from Siberia, we also have girls from St Petersburg, Novgorod and, of course, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and Angarsk. I don't like the attitude of some agencies that have lots of girls on their books. Every girl that works with me gets a personal attitude, we are like a family here.
They all are different so they understand that they are not rivals, and again modelling is exclusive work. We may not have many but ours are only good models who don't just work with anyone. It makes me laugh when I see agencies that have hundreds of similar looking girls. In total over the years I think we had maybe about 1,000 girls who went through our school and modelling agency. We don't count them actually.
When we first started we did promote our girls as the most beautiful trying to build up the concept of the girls from Angarsk being the ultimate beauties.
But then we soon realised that beauty doesn't play that much role in modelling. The symmetry of the face, charisma, and character are the most important things for models. So I wouldn't even talk about the beauty in the context of modelling.
Besides what about Siberian beauty? Yes, we genetically have beautiful girls in Russia but to say - as some do - that the most beautiful girls are in Siberia is nonsense. Have you seen Brazilians? They grow up by the ocean swimming and sun bathing.
And here in Siberia with -40C and lack of vitamins, what kind of beauty are you talking about?
'And here in Siberia with -40C and lack of vitamins, what kind of beauty are you talking about?' Pictured: one of Baikal Stars models
The legend about Russian beauties breaks down just looking at Victoria Secret shows: there are barely any Russians there.
There are five Russians in the top 20 of the world's most beautiful girls and not a single one of them is from Siberia.
Another thing that I would point out is that Siberia has a lot of interesting faces.
We have so many nations living here, Asians and Europeans. A lot of ethnic groups moved from Europe like Germans and Latvians, so it gives some remarkable faces but then again as I said before it's not about the face. Just last summer I got a girl who is not a looker at all. As a child she had her nose injured but she was so hard working that went up very fast and started working professionally and got into the top 10 at a beauty contest.
Olga Shvets is Director of 'Baikal Stars' Model Agency in Siberia @ http://baikalstars.com/
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