In an Art Deco setting, surrounded by calla lilies, the stunner in the bugle-beaded evening gown and diamond-studded pumps reclines on a lacquered couch. Her lips luscious and overripe, her bounteous chestnut hair tucked into a silver skullcap, she is the essence of glamour. As a photographer coaxes her into position, the beauty stretches her 6′ body across the chaise and dangles a braceleted arm.
The centerpiece of this study in sultriness is Monika Schnarre, winner of the $250,000 Supermodel of the World contest run by Eileen Ford. She is just 15 years old. She dreams of hot fudge sundaes. She lives in a middle-class Toronto suburb, and when she goes to New York to work at fees of up to $10,000 a day, she takes her teddy bear, Beatrice, with her. She plays center on an otherwise all-boy basketball team and throws the javelin and discus on a girls’ track team. And—get ready for this—she has never had a date. Ever.
“Is that when a guy asks you out and picks you up?” she asks. “It doesn’t interest me. I’d rather be studying.”
Schnarre has the ability to transform herself into a sophisticate in front of the same chilly lens that makes most adults feel like 15-year-olds. Since winning the Ford contest last January, Monika (pronounced Moan-ika) has made the covers of nine magazines, including Vogue and forthcoming issues of Mademoiselle and Glamour. She has signed a cosmetics contract with Cover Girl, the youngest ever to do so. “It’s not easy for a 15-year-old,” says Bryon Kallend, who shot the bracelet session for the Franklin Mint’s new jewelry line. “Modeling is much more than having a pretty face. You have to live a while before you get the look, but Monika’s got it. Other girls dither around when they’re posing, but she has poise and confidence.”
At home in the suburb of Scarborough, Schnarre dresses in sweats and sneakers, with no trace of makeup, her hair straight and in bangs. On a typical Saturday her girlfriends congregate in her bedroom among her 20 stuffed animals, and the best javelin thrower in ninth grade at Woburn Collegiate Institute School gossips and munches on jalapeno and piña colada jelly beans. Monika is a celebrity now, but that has its unpleasant side. “The guys seem scared to talk to me,” she says, “and some of the girls are mean. I was walking down the hall, and I heard a girl say, ‘She looks terrible without makeup.’ But I think it’s good for me. It makes me a lot stronger.”
Being picked on is nothing new for Monika. “I’ve always had a few inches on everybody,” she says. “They used to call me ‘Stringbean’ and ‘Stretch,’ and some of the girls ganged up on me.” She compensated by trying to excel in sports, first as a long-distance runner and then as a gymnast, though she gave that up last year because “my feet kept getting in the way.” Now, she says, “I get a little of that ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful’ stuff when I model, but when I come home people say, ‘She’s ugly.’ So it levels out.” Her family helps in the leveling. “Monika was funny looking as a kid,” says sister Doreen, 17, who was considered the pretty one when they were younger. “She was sick and pale and had really thin hair. All of a sudden I’m watching TV, and she’s winning this beauty contest. I don’t know what happened!” Older brother Rick, 21, sounds even more confused. “I’ve seen lots of prettier girls than her,” he says. “The first time I saw her pictures, I didn’t know her. She didn’t look like the same kid I grew up with.”
Monika has been modeling since she was 13, when she was spotted in a hotel lobby and asked to participate in a fashion show. She enjoyed it so much she got her mother, Pauline, to enroll her at a Toronto agency. “At first I said, ‘Forget it,’ ” says Pauline. “I said, ‘You’re too young, and school is too important,’ but she kept insisting it wouldn’t interfere. So I made some appointments, and everyone went wild about her.” Monika signed with a local agency in April 1985, and four months later had her picture in Vogue.
Pauline still insists that her daughter’s life go on normally. She allows her to model only on vacations and one week a month during the school year. Home in New York for Monika is Eileen Ford’s Upper East Side town house, where she lives a dorm like life with other underage Ford agency finds. “You have to watch that they don’t get scarred at that age,” Eileen Ford says. “The most heartbreaking thing you have to teach them is that people aren’t always nice in this business. The kids are used to having their mother take care of everything. They do a lot of growing up at an early age.” Does she think the country has gone a little goofy over youthfulness? “I think the obsession is with health and longevity, not youth itself,” Ford says, “but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to look younger.”
Later, in a photographer’s studio, Monika stares into a mirror as stylists paint, curl, roll and comb her for another day’s shooting. “How ironic this all is,” she says. “I’m hired for my looks, and yet it takes them three hours to make me pretty enough to photograph. Isn’t that weird?”