Slovak models are no strangers to international modelling centres like Milan
Having taken full advantage of that first step into the limelight, Verešová, now 19, is breaking into modeling's bigtime. Last year she swept the Miss Slovakia contest, winning both the judges and people's choice awards, and is among the select few girls to grace the cover of Esquire magazine. Her earnings from competitions includes ample cash awards, trips abroad, a luxury flat in Bratislava, and several cars (one of which she sold and gave the money to charity).
Verešová's success as a model reflects that of Slovakia's modeling industry as a whole since the fall of communism. The business has blossomed from virtually nothing in 1989 to approximately 25 modeling agencies at present, 11 of which are in Bratislava. Slovak beauty is now regularly represented in the planet's fashion capitals of Milan, Paris and New York.
According to the modelling agencies, the industry's success stemmed from foreign business contacts as well as the engaging, unique look of Slovak models sought by clients abroad.
Miro Šimonič, modeling manager for Bratislava's Forza Production House, explained that the local market was limited, and that the success of his company lay with clients beyond Slovak borders.
"It's a competive market in Slovakia because there are not so many clients," Šimonič said. "The local business is more about finding a girl to prepare them for the international market, in London, Paris and Milan. We do work with clients in Slovakia, with designers, advertising agencies and magazines, but there aren't very many."
Forza presently represents more than 60 models, three times the amount that it began with five years ago. Simonic predicted a 15% increase in turnover for this year.
Galaxy Art Agency also concentrates on work abroad. This smaller company has a presence in Vienna and Prague, and also has secured contracts in Asia.
"The market in Japan is really good," said modeling director Lenka Štefankovičová. "There is a large market for girls from eastern and central Europe - they really like the baby-faced look that a lot of the models here have."
Galaxy's modeling department was formed in 1995 with only five models, a number which has since increased to 15. Štefankovičová said the family-owned operation has made a conscious effort to keep the business small to ensure a personalised and professional environment.
Štefankovičová said what growth her company had seen through the years was based in the diverse look to be found among Slovak models, as well as the recognition that came with the discovery of the region in the early 1990s because of the popularity of internationally famous models like Eva Herzigová and Paulina Pořižková, both from the Czech Republic. Current superstars like Slovak model Adriana Karembeu have helped to keep Slovakia in the limelight.
Angelo Laudisa, public relations manager for Ford Europe - the Paris-based branch of the famed New York modeling agency - had a hard time pinpointing the defining features of the Slovak look, but admitted it to be a popular commodity abroad.
"It's very interesting, there is a big potential in central Europe, the girls have a special beauty that is different from the English, that is differnent from the Americans," he said. "It's very difficult to describe the specific look, but they have a very defined bone structure and a special kind of face."
Life in the fast lane
For the agencies, protecting the models goes hand-in-hand with protecting the interests of the business itself. So keeping an eye on the young models remains a top priority.
Although the amount of money a model can earn is related to her experience, an established girl in her early teens can easily pull in more money in a month than the average Slovak makes in a year. This, combined with nightly parties and a fast-paced lifestyle, can make for an experience that's a bit overwhelming, especially at such an impressionable age.
"The drugs are everywhere. It's difficult, especially when you go to the parties, but I personally can't live like that," said 16-year old Galaxy model Lucia Kašová.
A working model since childhood, Kašová's dark blond hair, warm smile and captivating blue-green eyes have helped make her transition into a teen model an easy one. She has been working professionally with Galaxy for a year, has been to Japan twice already and has two more trips planned for April and July. The Japan trips pay generously - a two-month Tokyo trip brings in a paycheck of $15,000.
One safeguard for the youngest girls (the 13 and 14 year olds), Štefankovičová explained, is that parents play a big role in the girls' introduction to modeling and, while abroad, the models are accompanied by a chaperone.
"With these young girls, I know that they aren't partying wildly. First of all, they don't have access to the bars, and secondly, the agent is always with them. Plus, they often have to wake up early, and if you don't have a good night's sleep, it shows in your performance," she said.
Supported by her contest-winnings and steady stream of contracts, Miss Slovakia and Forza model Verešová doesn't have much to worry about financially. For now, she enjoys the security her job offers, but knows a future in modeling is not secure.
"I know that modeling doesn't offer a lot for the future. For now, the money is good and I am able to travel a lot and meet new people. It's a good experience, but what is there after? I can't imagine that I would just stay at home and do nothing. I would like to do something with myself," she said.
28. Feb 2000 at 0:00 | Keith Miller