The Clarkes may be located far outside the world’s fashion capitals but they are among the most successful independent scouts, occupying a vital link on the fashion industry food chain. Top agencies in New York and abroad rely on the couple’s uncanny ability to identify beautiful people at gas stations, Dairy Queens and high school gymnasiums and make them into high-fashion models. One of Ms. Clarke’s early discoveries was Ashton Kutcher, then a teenager.
Since 2005, when the Clarkes discovered a 13-year-old girl named Karlie Kloss at a model search for a charity fashion show in St. Louis, they have been fashion week regulars, often acting in loco parentis as their clients travel the world. “We’re the ones in the background, wearing jeans and tennis shoes,” says Ms. Clarke.
Now the face of Christian Dior and the muse of its designer, John Galliano, Ms. Kloss is one of the most successful models in the world. Though still in her senior year of high school, Ms. Kloss, now 18, earned in excess of $1 million last year, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Clarkes teach models how to walk, pose and dress to show off their best angles. “First they need to be comfortable just walking in heels period,” says Ms. Clarke. Some of her model clients do laundry and other chores in heels to master the art. The Clarkes help models pace their walk and keep from striding too long and wide, as long legs—and nervous girls—tend to travel too fast for the runway.
If necessary, they talk with models about their weight. The typical runway model is about 5’10” with 34″ hips. “We say to each girl essentially ‘Here are the industry standards, here is where you are,'” says Ms. Clarke. “We are careful that these girls are healthy and balanced and the family is involved.” Some models even live with the Clarkes during the preparatory process.
About a dozen times a year, typically in the spring and summer, they go on scouting road trips concentrating on Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. They hit concerts, malls and high schools to seek out kids with the right look—a highly subjective matter, but the Clarkes say they know it when they see it. They then persuade kids’ parents to give modeling a shot.