By Susan Reed Meg Grant
October 16, 1989 12:00 PM

Gabrielle Reece is sitting in a Tallahassee restaurant munching deep-fried mushrooms and gooey barbecued spareribs—hardly the low-cal rabbity sprouts you might expect a rising young model to be nibbling. But then again, with 158 lbs. clinging to her rangy 6’3″ frame, Reece long ago broke the shadow-thin stereotype of the typical runway mannequin. “I’m not really very pretty,” says the 19-year-old Florida State University junior, who is a star of the women’s volleyball team. “I’d describe the way I look as…interesting. It’s definitely different.”

“Different” perhaps understates the exotic appeal of Reece’s bee-stung lips, bushy eyebrows and green eyes. Just a year after landing her first modeling jobs in New York, this “beautiful Amazon,” as one magazine called her, has the fashion world agog. This fall she will grace the pages of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar as well as appear in advertisements for Revlon, Fiat and Saks Fifth Avenue. Elle featured her in its roundup of five of the most beautiful women in the world, and Eileen Ford has signed her up, predicting that she will become the “Veruschka of the ’90s.” She already commands daily fees as high as $10,000, and this past winter she hopscotched the globe from Paris to London to Milan to Cairo. “I look at modeling as a business,” says the refreshingly down-to-earth Reece, whose friends call her Gabby. “I’m marketable now, but things could change. That’s why I’m staying involved with school and athletics. They keep me from becoming neurotic.”

Reece can thank her parents for her imposing physical attributes. Her mother, Terry Glynn, is also 6’3″, and her late father was a 6’1″ Trinidadian. Gabby’s parents split when she was 2, and her free-spirited mother, a former New Yorker, took her to Mexico. There, Terry found a job training dolphins for a circus owned by friends of hers. When Gabby was 4, her mother moved to Boston, where she met her second husband, Jose Beauchamp, an attorney from Puerto Rico. The family moved to the Virgin Islands, where they lived until Gabby was 15. “I started getting into trouble there,” admits Gabby. “I was drinking a lot, had no direction and wanted to drop out of school.” Gabby’s mother promptly enrolled her in a conservative Christian school in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she blossomed, discovering volleyball, which led to a college athletic scholarship. Reece also took one of her friend’s suggestions that she try modeling, so she signed up at a local finishing school. At first, Reece’s height put people off. “Even now, a lot of clients are horrified when they hear she is 6’3”, “says manager Coral Weigel. “Then they see her and book her immediately.” Reece’s mother forbade Gabby’s working until she graduated from high school, a decision that Gabby now appreciates. “I was way too impressionable,” she says. “I didn’t have my feet on the ground.” Only after her freshman year, in 1988, did Reece go to New York, where she landed an advertisement for Cutex and signed with IMG Models agency. Her big break came when the agency sent her to see top New York photographer Steven Meisel, who was seeking a model he could drape fabrics over for a shoot for Italian Vogue. Meisel took one look at Reece and booked her.

These days Gabby spends half her time in Tallahassee (she takes summer and fall courses at FSU), where she lives in ramshackle student digs and plays middle hitter on the Lady Seminoles volleyball team. From January to May she moves north to live the glittering and hectic life of a model. “In New York my model roommates complain about [their skin] breaking out,” she laughs. “In Tallahassee I have volleyball roommates, and we complain about hurt ankles.” Gradually, though, Reece’s worlds are overlapping. “Some people here at FSU think I’m weird now because I’m getting to be a well-known model,” says Reece. “It amazes me that they think I’m a celebrity or something. If they knew I was just a normal goofball like them, they’d probably chill out.”

—Susan Reed, Meg Grant in Tallahassee