Supermodels Are Lonelier Than You Think!
Tuesday, 29. October 2002
Revealed: The Untold Story of Gisele Bundchen

The Wall Street Journal published today - on the front page - an article including a rare insight of the Brazilian modelling trade, with some disturbing findings. It is to the best of my knowledge the first major exposure of Dilson Stein, the super-agent behind most recent Brazilian discoveries, and the connection to IMG. I can't include a link because the article is available only to subscribers, so I've posted it entirely, sorry if it's too long.


HORIZONTINA, Brazil -- Inside a dingy building not far from the wheat, corn and soybean fields that define Brazil's southern farm belt, Dilson Stein meticulously cultivates his latest crop: 100 schoolgirls in hip-hugging jeans and T-shirts.

"Watch that posture. Look straight ahead. Don't go too fast," says the modeling coach, as they file past on an imaginary catwalk to the beat of 'N Sync blaring over the gymnasium's sound system.

For these teenagers, Mr. Stein is a dream-weaver who just might get them off the farm and into Yves Saint Laurent chiffon and the high life. They all know that one of Mr. Stein's first pupils -- in this very town -- was a lanky 13-year-old named Gisele Bundchen, now one of the world's leading models and one of the most feted Brazilians since soccer star Pele.

Mr. Stein, a 37-year-old former model himself, has built a second career scouting for beauty far from Brazil's tropical beaches. He's tapping a rich source in the hinterland of Rio Grande do Sul state, where Germanic cheekbones are as common as gaucho chaps. "Rio Grande do Sul has the kind of raw material the market wants," says Mr. Stein. What he means by that: tall, fair-haired, blue- and green-eyed women who are hardly evocative of the archetypal Brazilian bombshell.

In a country dominated by Iberian and Italian immigrants, and where four out of every 10 people are black, many of Mr. Stein's models, like himself, are descendants of German settlers who flocked to southern Brazil at the turn of the 20th century. About 40% of Brazil's models hail from Rio Grande do Sul. "Nowhere else is there such a concentration of beautiful women," Mr. Stein says.

That's why he returned to his home state in 1994 and began a routine somewhat akin to a minor league baseball scout. Traveling from parish to parish, Mr. Stein conducts a three-week modeling course, which he holds at night in school gyms and public halls.

Inspired by Ms. Bundchen, girls -- and some boys -- age six to 16 rush to enroll. Mr. Stein then plucks the best of the bunch and buses them 20 hours north to Sao Paulo for auditions with international modeling agencies.

None of Mr. Stein's students have yet achieved the fame of the 22-year-old Ms. Bundchen, who earns about $10,000 an hour. But about 200 of them have reached the ramps of New York, Milan and Tokyo, and a few have graced the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Elle. Mr. Stein's great talent is to identify "diamonds in the rough," says Zeca de Abreu, Brazil director of Marilyn, a modeling agency in Paris. The agencies pay Mr. Stein 5% of a model's earnings over two to five years. He says that he makes his living mainly from his traveling modeling course.

The Bundchens enrolled their daughter in Mr. Stein's first class in 1994, mainly to correct her posture. At 5-foot-11, she tended to slouch so she wouldn't tower over classmates. "The second day of class, Dilson told us that Gisele had tremendous potential," says Valdir Bundchen, the model's father, a personnel trainer for companies. In her graduation ceremony, a mock fashion show captured on videotape, Ms. Bundchen tripped as she left the catwalk.

But Mr. Stein stuck with his conviction and persuaded the Bundchens to let their daughter leave this town of 18,000 for Sao Paulo, Latin America's fashion capital. "It took 16 meetings to convince them," recalls Mr. Stein, who eventually offered to pay Ms. Bundchen's expenses. Ms. Bundchen's success "gave me credibility and exposure, which were invaluable for building my business," says Mr. Stein. "I didn't earn a single cent from her -- nor did I expect to."

Many parents trust Mr. Stein because he made the same journey. His father, a taxi driver, died when Mr. Stein was 10, and his mother supported him by selling fruit. At 18, Mr. Stein, a six-foot-three blond, left his job as an office boy at a bank in Horizontina to take a modeling course in the state capital. He made it to Sao Paulo, but says, "I wasn't a big success." He has never been outside Brazil.

In Rio Grande do Sul, he hit upon a niche that has global appeal: Girls who combine a European look with Brazilian sensuality, thanks to growing up with samba and lambada beats. But winning over reluctant parents is often as important to Mr. Stein's success as teaching the young women how to sashay and hold their knives and forks properly. (The etiquette lessons are outsourced to a small-town society columnist.) He invites parents to watch the course, and accompany their daughters to Sao Paulo, to help with the culture shock.

Many of his discoveries are like Emanuely Schultz, a 15-year-old with piercing green eyes, who had never eaten at McDonald's, experienced a traffic jam or been in a high-rise building until she -- and her mother -- went to Sao Paulo with Mr. Stein in September. "At first, I was scared of the elevator," she confesses. But by the end of the stay, she was taking so many thrill rides to the top floor of the hotel that Mr. Stein had to chide her gently.

The point of the trip is to subject a select group of girls to the brutal glare of big-time modeling brokers. On a recent morning, 30 schoolgirls sat restlessly at the hotel, waiting for representatives from the IMG agency. Two by two, the girls were called in by IMG's Monica Monteiro, Ms. Bundchen's agent, who has rights of first refusal to Mr. Stein's recruits. "What did your mother eat that gave you those moles on your neck," Ms. Monteiro asked one. "When do the braces come off," she asked another. After two intense days of posing, Mr. Stein treats them to an afternoon at an amusement park.

A month later, back at their settlement outside Soledade, Emanuely's parents agonized over her future. Sitting in the kitchen where she cooks on a wood stove, Janice Schultz describes how the family eats what it grows and occasionally barters vegetables for meat from a neighbor's freshly slaughtered pigs. The family doesn't have a telephone or a car. Mrs. Schultz is attending night classes to finish high school and wants her daughter to get a diploma as well. But, amid the clucking of chickens, Mrs. Schultz adds, "I'll do whatever I can to give my daughter opportunities to grow."

In a recent meeting, Mr. Stein urged the Schultzes to invest in Emanuely's modeling career. Already it has been a burden: $110 for Mr. Stein's course and a photo portfolio, and about $300 for the first trip to Sao Paulo. Rent alone in Sao Paulo will consume about a third of the family's income, until Emanuely finds a steady stream of modeling work. "My mother is going to sell these cows so I can go to Sao Paulo," Emanuely says, sitting down to milk one in the family's cowshed.

Fabiane Diering's mother, a seamstress, sold her sewing machine to get her daughter to Sao Paulo. The 15-year-old says she never thought of modeling until last year, when someone outside her school in Santo Cristo handed her a pamphlet advertising Mr. Stein's course. Under pictures of Ms. Bundchen and other models discovered by Mr. Stein, the text read: "The next one can be you."

In rain and sleet, Luiz Diering drove his daughter -- by motorcycle -- to the course held in a town 30 minutes away. "It was the dead of winter. We really suffered," says Mr. Diering, sitting in the shell of a living room in his unfinished brick house. Fabiane dazzled Mr. Stein, and moved to Sao Paulo nine months ago. Mr. Diering, a mason with just three years of education, has sold his motorcycle to support his daughter, and he occasionally calls Mr. Stein for reassurance that the sacrifice is worth it. Fabiane for several months slept on a wafer-thin mattress on the living-room floor of a tiny apartment she shared with colleagues. "I don't want to be Gisele," says Fabiane, who has yet to recoup her family's investment in her modeling career. "I just want to make a little money to help my parents finish building their house."

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