Modeling teens, in Chicago at least, isn't about sexing them up, says Koniar

A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“I start the careers of young models, many of them as young as 12 and 13. I’m involved in building their books, which means that I set up tests for them with photographers. They’re learning how to move, how to emote. They need to learn how to be models; they can’t just be beautiful.

“The models need to be at least five-foot-eight for print work, preferably five-ten to five-11 and a half. We don’t weigh them—we look at their measurements. Hip measurements are anywhere from 34 to 36. Waist is 23 to 25. It’s all about fitting sample sizes.

“Our models are between size two and size six. Our plus-size division starts at size 12. We work much less with the size zeros; that’s more of a New York, Paris thing. Our clients in Chicago want a smiley, healthy, approachable beauty. Size eight and ten don’t really work in our industry. If a girl is a size eight or ten, we’ll say: ‘You know whether your body is able to come down to a size six or come up to a size 12.’ Obviously we don’t want girls to be unhappy and doing extreme things. We need you to be healthy with gorgeous skin and a sparkle in your eye. That’s part of beauty. That’s part of business.

“What really gets them booked is personality. Being shy or introverted will stop you in this business. You have to have some sort of personality. It could even be a dark, broody personality, but at least it’s something.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of some of the laws that passed recently. The industry is much more regulated. Girls younger than 16 can’t really work in New York anymore, and it’s the same in Paris. I don’t know that women want to see a 14-year-old wearing a Balenciaga outfit anyway. Here in Chicago, we have a lot of work for teens, but what they’re shooting is clothes for their peers. They’re not all fierce and sexed-up.

“We hold open calls. Anybody who wants to be a model can come in, and we’ll take a look at them. A girl may not look like a model to somebody who’s not in the industry, but we are trained to know that she has the right proportions, her face is symmetrical, maybe she has a specific look that we’re looking for. We can take a girl like that on and work with her. Maybe she has skin problems or she has to get a trainer.

“It’s my responsibility to never forget that I’m dealing with human beings. I say no to a lot of people, but I’m always very nice about it. We would never just say to a model we’ve signed, ‘You’re out of shape. We’re dropping you.’ We help them. We have trainers. We have nutritionists. We’ll say, ‘OK, what do you need, what can we do?’ You’re handholding all the time. This is a very protective environment, and we’re very proud of that.”