The right look to sell the dream
Behind the scenes at a casting call, we learn that a fashion model is less about glamour, more about selling that dress, those shoes
Girls wait in line for their chance to audition for Ford Models at the Discovery clothing store on Belmont in Chicago. (Brent Lewis/ for the Tribune / June 24, 2011)
In a few cases — very few — that's true. But, mostly, modeling is a job. And that job is to sell clothes.
"It's selling a dream," says Shannon Lang, director of scouting for Ford Models Chicago, an agency that provides models for Sears, Kmart, Target, Lands' End, Kohl's, Discovery Clothing Co. and others.
"I look at that item of clothing and I want to buy it because I want to be her. I want to look like her. I want to look like her wearing that," explains Lang.
I recently went behind the scenes to look at the process of finding models to sell the dream — at a Ford "open model search" at a Discovery store on Chicago's Northwest Side.
For the 125 girls and young women of vastly varying sizes and shapes, it involved a lot of waiting, smiling, vamping and bubbly enthusiasm as each hoped to be selected to model in a Discovery photo shoot and, perhaps, be signed by Ford for more modeling assignments and a long-shot chance at global fame.
But first things first. "We want somebody to sell our clothes," says Andrea Mattea, the marketing manager for Discovery, a chain that that sells low-price, trendy fashions at 27 stores in the Midwest and Florida.
"We've got a lot of customers who inquire, 'How do I become a Discovery model?' " Mattea says, so this event — and seven more at other Discovery stores (www.discoveryclothing.com) through July 9 — is one answer.
And what does a Discovery model look like? Good question.
"The Discovery girl is fun, energetic. She likes to go out. She's very social. She likes all the trends but doesn't want to spend a lot of money," says Mattea.
A successful model, Lang says, "has great personality. She knows how to move in clothes, knows how to show the clothes in their best light, looks like she loves the clothes even though she might not."
In other words, these experts will know her when they see her.
Most Ford clients want models who are 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 11 inches tall and size 4 (14 for plus size), says Lang. But to model for Discovery and some other companies, dimensions are flexible.
For instance, Carolina Ortega, 25, the manager of the Discovery store where this search was conducted, 3348 W. Belmont Ave., has modeled on TV and online for the chain and she's only 5 foot 3.
Jeff Goldman, who owns Discovery with his brother, adds, "They don't have to be gorgeous. They have a sense of style. We want to show you that you don't have to be tall and skinny. We don't like the really skinny, tiny, emaciated girl. Not 5-11, 100 pounds. Someone who can wear fashion and feel comfortable in what she's wearing."
Among those "someones" is diminutive 16-year-old high school junior Lola Garcia, who showed up for her interview dressed in a skirt, top, belt, ring, necklace and earrings all from Discovery. "I go to Discovery every weekend!" she says. "And I'm in the National Honor Society. People say, ' How can a smart person be so outgoing?' "
Another aspirant, Morgan Reid, 19, towers over Garcia. At 6-1, she, too, is not your average model's dimensions but she might merit an award here for holding on to the dream the longest.
"Since I was probably 5," she explains. "Our house had this really long hallway and I put on my mother's clothes like it was a long runway."
"I came here to be discovered," announces Juni Park, 20, of Skokie. Her qualifications? "I am tall. I am confident. I love clothing. And I love walking in front of people."
One Ford expert confided that Erin Crawford, 14, showed "sparkle. Lots of style. Lots of energy."
But, for the most part, the panel of three Ford judges remained noncommittal, telling the would-be models, "You look great," before quickly moving on to the next and the next and yet another hopeful with a big smile.