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  Unsigned Wonders


MODELS.com's Wayne Sterling sits in with top casting agent Barbara Pfister
The first thing you notice when you walk in casting director Barbara Pfister's sprawling live/work space is a huge wall of Polaroids featuring the face of just about every major young model, past and present that you can imagine. From passing glories (like Sunniva) to today's standards (Anouck). It seems that any model who's anybody passes through Barbara's doors on their way to fame and fortune.

For a woman whose name has essentially become a brand that signals "Up To The Minute Street Cool", Barbara is amazingly serene about her power.

Her position as a casting director means she serves as a very important filter between the money clients and the modeling agencies. She edits from thousands of model cards, choosing and pushing those models who she feels stand to highlight a client's product the best. The job involves seeing hundreds of faces a month, in a never ending search for the "right" one.
 



But Barbara is more than just a model filter. Weaved into the mosaic of famous faces on her wall are some quirky looking boys and girls: interesting kids who have this odd "not quite" image about them that throws them just a little bit off.

There's that wiry looking dude with a mohawk, a stunning face and an energy that screams "lead singer in an East Village punk band ". Maybe that's because he is a lead singer in a rising punk band that plays small east Village clubs.



"I met him one day while I was just hanging out with my friends, listening to music," offers Barbara in between scanning the faxes that pour in "and I thought he was very strong so I sent him to a casting that Mario Testino was doing. So of course he comes back all innocent going "Yeah I met some guy named Mario and he said he was going to use me for everything."

Scanning Barbara's legendary Polaroid board, something interesting occurs to me. There is something about these street faces, found skateboarding in parks, chilling in record stores, rocking out in East Village dives that make them more dynamic than some of the agency models in question.



They look at the camera with a pure and unguarded directness. Whatever they're feeling is there in their faces. It is that quality that Barbara marks as being crucial to the photographers she works with.
"I think sometimes the photographers just want to find a new face that inspires them and differentiates their work from everybody else. If every photographer is shooting that one hot model in the same hot outfit as everybody else it brings a kind of sameness to the picture. By bringing in someone who is unusual and real it keeps things exciting for everybody"

And those photographers have included some the biggest names in the fashion business including the likes of Terry Richardson (current Gucci campaign ), Steven Klein (CK), David Sims (Calvin Klein) and Carter Smith (Tommy Jeans).

Then there has been the huge commercial clients like Levi's, Rockport, Fuji films, Airwalk, Bass Ale, MicroSoft, Aveda and Esprit who have sought her expertise in bringing these fresh, unspoilt faces to their campaigns.

In addition to finding new talent, as a casting director Barbara has in many cases found herself ending up as an accidental scout, actually placing some of these new faces. Benefiting from her killer eye and even more killer connections have been models like Bart & Kevin/IMG and Haylynn/Next, who found in Barbara their big breaks from unsigned wonders to being major working models.

At the end of the day Barbara's job is not over because there is never the sense in this business that the need for models has been completely fulfilled. Fashion is a business of constant renewal, and new faces, new styles, new looks are the lifeblood of the machine.

It's an issue Barbara has in perfect perspective. "You never know where and when you're going to find that next great face that everybody wants. In the supermarket. On a vacation. It's like you always have to have your eyes open, ready and waiting. And when you see that face. You know."

And it's that knowledge that makes Barbara Pfister a critical force in the model machine.
So the next time you're hanging with your friends in the mall, or hanging out after school, don't be shocked if a flashbulb goes "Pop", that could very well be Barbara adding more fire to her ammunition.



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