ZURICH - Swiss modeling agency chief Ursula Knecht, who has groomed some of the world's top runway models, says good looks alone are never enough to make it big in the business. Indeed, a proper high school education helps.
At the end of middle school, students in Switzerland are separated into several sections, according to their capacities and career intentions. Talented students who aspire to an academic career enter high schools called gymnasium to prepare for further study and complete their matura, the equivalent of a high school diploma. Students intending to pursue a trade or vocation complete only three additional years before they enter vocational schools, which offer apprenticeships combined with schooling.
"Every year, I advise one or two promising girls to end their apprenticeship early and to join us as a model, says Knecht, whose agency has represented some of Switzerland's top models, including Nadine Strittmatter, Patricia Schmid, and Julia Saner. "In Switzerland, there's no real way to integrate an apprenticeship with modeling work."
When Knecht discovers a young woman with great potential who is in an apprenticeship, she speaks with her adviser to find a solution that works for everyone. If we're lucky, we can reach an agreement that allows the girl to return to her apprenticeship if her modeling career fails, says Knecht.
Knecht cites 16-year-old Lejla Hodzic, winner of the last Elite Model Contest, as an example of the benefits in removing an up-and-coming fashion star from the apprenticeship track. To her, one thing is for certain: the gymnasium is the best place for ambitious models. There, unlike in apprenticeships, young women have enough free time to gain experience in the modeling business, walk the runway in small shows and do photo shoots.
But there are other reasons why future runway stars often choose this path before starting their careers. Average models are just pretty, but super models exude intelligence, says Knect, citing examples such as Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington. They all successfully completed high school; Crawford landed a biochemistry scholarship and Schiffer flirted with a law degree. "Only intelligent models can effectively assume the very different roles into which they are cast by designers and advertisers, says Knecht.
The success of Julia Saner, who completed high school in Bern last year and now successfully walks the runways of Milan, Paris and London, is a good example of how versatile women need to be to compete in the international fashion business." The gap between modeling and acting is much smaller than is often thought," says Knecht.
Good knowledge of English is also mandatory for anyone working in the international world of fashion. Most successful supermodels often begin their careers around 18, after several years of preparatory studies, which offers a timeline that fits perfectly with the gymnasium path.
Of the 12 finalists in the upcoming Swiss Elite Model Look contest, the six high school graduates have the best career prospects. But what about the cliché that models are just pretty faces only interested in shopping, jet-setting, and make-up? Our society has trouble grasping the idea that someone can be both beautiful and smart, says Knecht. Ultimately, it's probably just jealousy coming from those who can't do it themselves.
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