how 10 of our favorite models were discovered

Shalom Harlow was spotted at a Cure concert, Staz Lindes at a bowling alley, and Slick Woods at a bus stop.

by Emily Manning
25 May 2017, 5:25pm

Photography Tim Walker. Fashion Direction Alastair McKimm and Judy Blame. [i-D The Creativity Issue, No. 348, Summer 2017.]

Three years ago, Marc Jacobs made waves when he announced he'd be casting his fall/winter 14 campaign directly through social media, inviting undiscovered stars to tag their tip-top selfies with #castmemarc. Of course, his wasn't the first brand to find talent though the world wide web; casting directors have been scouring social media and sifting through selfies since the early 2000s. But while these platforms have unearthed tons of today's freshest faces (Stella Lucia Deopito was scouted on Facebook), many models are still being discovered in more traditional places.

Take, for example, malls and markets. That's where 90s supers like Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek were discovered, but also where Fernanda Ly, Adowa Aboah, Molly Bair, and Ruth Bell were first spotted. Though the internet is an endless stream of diversely beautiful faces, scouts are definitely still stalking concerts, restaurants, and city streets across the world for the runway's next big things. We've rounded up a few of our favorite discovery stories to show that even the industry's most iconic models get their starts in everyday places.

Slick Woods
Current i-D cover star Slick Woods is undeniably one of the coolest customers in fashion right now, thanks partly to her no-bullshit attitude and infectious self-confidence (who else could chomp on Madonna's hair at the Met Gala?). Her style and humor make her a firm fixture at the top of our Instagram feeds, but she was actually discovered offline — at a bus stop in Los Angeles. British model Ash Stymest happened upon Slick while she was waiting for the bus. "I'm like, 'What the fuck? Who is this?' I was creeped out," Slick said of her first impression. But Stymest had a joint rolled, and the pair hit it off. Through Stymest, Slick met photographer Dave Mushegain, whose portraits of her caught the attention of her agency, The Lions. Let this be a lesson: sometimes Uber isn't the best way to get where you wanna go.

Photography Juergen Teller. [i-D The Adult Issue, No. 179, September 1998.]

Kate Moss
Storm Model Management founder Sarah Doukas famously discovered Kate Moss at New York's JFK airport in 1988. The Croydon-born stunner, then just 14 years old, was a few spots ahead of Doukas in line for a flight back to London after vacationing in the Bahamas. Once on the plane, Doukas sent Simon Chambers, her brother and business partner, to ask Kate if she'd be interested in giving modeling a try. Kate stayed with Storm for nearly 30 years, before departing in 2014 to found her own eponymous agency. But the 19-time i-D cover star had made a pretty big discovery long before establishing Kate Moss Agency. According to fashion legend, Kate discovered Devon Aoki. Some say the supermodel spotted a 14-year-old Aoki in an issue of Interview, others have it that Aoki's godmother introduced her to Moss when she was 13. Either way, Aoki followed Mossy's path and signed to Storm, too.

Related: Read i-D's 1998 interview with Kate Moss

Photography Jeff Henrikson. Styling Tracey Nicholson.

Staz Lindes
A few years before Staz Lindes became an in-demand model and touring musician, she was hanging out at a bowling alley in her native Santa Monica. Francine Champagne — the owner of L.A.'s Vision Models — scouted the then-15-year-old Lindes at the lanes, rocking a partially shaved pink hairdo. Unlike many newly discovered models, Staz didn't sign straight away; Champagne called her regularly over three years trying to ink a deal. "I'm glad I waited to dive into it, because you have to really know who you are, and I don't think I could've listened to somebody telling me who I should've been," she told CRFB. Staz's break came when Hedi Slimane started shooting a set she was playing at one of her brother Misha's shows. Though Slimane is no longer at Saint Laurent, Staz recently became the face of YSL Beauty. She spends most of her time playing with her excellent garage punk band The Paranoyds, who recently gigged across the country supporting DIIV on tour. Naturally, the 'Noyds made time to bowl a few games on the road at legendary Cleveland alley Mahall's.

Photography Craig McDean. [i-D The Subversive Issue, No. 141, June 1995.]

Shalom Harlow
A favorite face of photographers like Irving Penn and Steven Meisel, the Canadian super was raised by hippie parents in Ontario. She's perhaps best known for her spell hosting MTV's House of Style with her BFF Amber Valetta, and being spray painted by robots in Alexander McQueen's iconic spring/summer 99 show. Harlow was discovered at age 16, at a Cure concert in the summer of 1989, just months after the band released its best-selling record, Disintegration. "A model scout approached me there and asked me if I modeled, and I thought that was ludicrous," Harlow once recalled. In those days, goth-rock stadium spectaculars seemed to be a breeding ground for talent; Chloë Sevigny has said her first concert was The Cure at New Jersey's Meadowlands, possibly during the same tour Harlow saw in Canada.

Photography Olivia Bee

Grace Hartzel
You might guess that anime-obsessed model Grace Hartzel was discovered at a manga bookshop, Miyazaki film screening, or cosplay convention. But no: she was spotted at a Cheesecake Factory in St. Louis. Then just 14, Hartzel caught the attention of Mary and Jeff Clarke, the same agents who discovered Karlie Kloss at a benefit runway show. Since then, fashion's biggest designers have found Hartzel irresistible (like Cheesecake Factory's fried macaroni and cheese balls). She made her runway debut at Raf Simons's first Dior haute couture outing, and has since played muse to Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane.

Related: Olivia Bee's fashion week photo diary of Grace Harztel

Photography Matt Jones

Gisele Bündchen
Like Hartzel, Brazilian bombshell Gisele Bündchen was spotted in a restaurant at 14 years old. Considering Bündchen is now an advocate for healthy eating, and maintains an organic vegetable garden, it's ironic that the restaurant in question was a São Paulo McDonald's, where she was eating a Big Mac. Turns out Brit model Lily Cole was also discovered while eating a hamburger (also at the age of 14), though in London's Covent Garden. Cole was spotted by scout-turned-actor Benjamin Hart, who asked her to try a test shoot. Cole initially refused (she remembered Hart as "dodgy") but ended up signing with Storm not long after. Bündchen signed with Elite, but success didn't arrive as quickly. Now the world's highest-earning model, she recently recalled that she faced 42 rejections over four years before booking her first runway show, for Alexander McQueen in 1998.

Photography Daniel Jackson. Fashion Director Alastair McKimm. [i-D The Family Values Issue, No. 347, Spring 2017.]

Selena Forrest
Scouts aren't just stalking malls and McDonald's, they also work in the great outdoors. Binx Walton was discovered at a Nashville swimming pool at just nine years old, while Proenza Schouler fave Selena Forrest was spotted on a beach — well, kinda. Forrest originally hails from Lafayette, Louisiana, but Hurricane Katrina displaced her family, resulting in their cross-country move to California. At 16, Forrest was heading out for a day at Huntington Beach when a security guard stopped her brother and cousins, confiscating alcohol from their cooler. "While that whole encounter was going down," Forrest told The Cut, "this lady ran out of a restaurant and was like, 'Have you ever thought of modeling?'" Forrest was skeptical, but this chance meeting lead to signing with her first agency, L.A. Models.

House of Style, 1992, via YouTube.

Cindy Crawford
The iconic supermodel's discovery story has been told and retold many times over the years. My personal favorite version, as recounted by ABC: "Cindy Crawford got her start when a passing newspaper photographer took a picture of her as she pollinated corn on a farm in Illinois. The picture received so much positive feedback that Crawford then entered John Casablanca's 'Look of the Year Contest' in 1982, which launched her career." Can you imagine? The newsroom's phone ringing off the hook as all 48,000 residents of DeKalb, Illinois demand to know who that stunning corn farmer on page seven is RIGHT NOW. Of course there's some truth to the tale. Crawford did work in an Illinois cornfield throughout her childhood summers, and did compete in Elite's "Look of the Year" contest at 17. But between those moments, she scored some more traditional modeling gigs. Crawford was booked as a brand ambassador for a local Illinois store. She also appeared in glamor shoots for small publications, projects she's since called "the cheesiest photos I have ever done. In one image I wear a short red kimono and yellow eye shadow while holding a parasol and kitten. Not exactly America's Next Top Model." And yet, these projects gave her the confidence to pursue modeling as a means to help pay her college tuition. Crawford studied chemical engineering at Northwestern University, but dropped out after one semester, to model full-time.

Photography Angelo Pennetta. Styling Victoria Young.

Malaika Firth
Many models take a more proactive approach to jumpstarting their careers by sending photographs to an agency rather than being scouted on the street. Doutzen Kroes submitted Polaroids to an agency in the early 2000s, as did her fellow Dutch stunner Rianne van Rompaey, and Argentinian Mica Arganaraz. New Zealander Lili Sumner's sister Bonnie marched her sister into her own Hawke's Bay agency, where Lili was signed on the spot. Kenyan-Brit beauty Malaika Firth — the first black model to book a Prada campaign since Naomi Campbell in 1995 — was also signed thanks to the efforts of supportive family members. As she told i-D in 2014: "My mom called Premier Models after seeing The Model Agency on Channel 4 and Carole White, Premier's founder, signed me up straight away!"

Photography Willy Vanderperre. Styling Anastasia Barbieri. [i-D The Creative Collaborators Issue, No.327, Fall 2013.]

Natalia Vodianova
The Russian supernova's improbable discovery story is one of the best-known. Vodianova's father abandoned her family when she was just two years old, so her mother worked around the clock at a fruit stand in Gorky (now known as Nizhny Novgorod) to feed her children. Eventually, Vodianova left school and began working illegally alongside her mother and sisters to make ends meet. At 17, she was discovered in the marketplace when a photographer snapped her picture, and began working in fashion to lift herself and her family out of poverty. Vodianova eventually became one of the world's highest earning models (thanks in large part to a seven-figure Calvin Klein campaign), and was married to British aristocrat Justin Portman for ten years. Despite Vodianova's wealth and continuous support for her family, her mother continues to sell pies in the marketplace. Vodianova sees her mother's persistent determination and the challenges of her upbringing as central to her success in modeling. "I live a very different life now, with incredible privileges, but looking back I realize that growing up in Russia gave me tools that other people don't necessarily have — such as the will to push that bit further, to make things happen, to succeed. I try to use these now to help other people."


Text Emily Manning

Cindy Crawford
gisele bündchen
malaika firth
staz lindes
shalom harlow
grace hartzel
natalia vodianova
selena forrest
slick woods