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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Claiming the Catwalk

Every year around this time, the streets of Ostozhenka and Prechistenka are decorated with an astonishing number of long-legged young beauties, all of whom have dreams of becoming a top model.

And this year is no exception. This past week, more than a thousand young women flocked to the Red Stars modeling agency, tucked in between the two main streets of old Moscow.

As the official Russian representative for the annual worldwide contest Elite Model Look, Red Stars had the opportunity to invite Russia's aspiring yet unknown beauties to take their chances on the catwalk.

"Thanks to this annual contest, many Russian girls have launched an international modeling career," said Vitaly Leiba, chairman of the council of directors for Red Stars. "And throughout the world it has discovered more star models than any other international contest put together."

According to John Casablancas, the president of the Elite model agency who started the annual event in 1983, many veterans of the modeling business owe their start to Elite. Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Stephanie Seymour, Tatyana Patitz and Ines Sastr are among the unknown starlets who went on to become big stars after entering the contest. Natalya Semanova, who was the 1994 winner of Elite Model Look, and two other Russian finalists, Olga Pantyshenkova and Tatyana Zavyalova, are now rising stars at the Elite agency.

"We are not looking for the so-called 'fashionable faces' that will be out of vogue in half a year," said Leiba. "We are focused on the individuals who will be working not just for today, but always."

Leiba's words were echoed by Stephane Pescimoro, the Elite agency's European talent scout. "We don't know what will be in vogue in a year or two. The tastes of each client change. But here we are looking for the future," said Pescimoro.

"Russia has an incredible reservoir of beauty," said Casablancas, who attended the final round of the Moscow contest. "There was a time when the mentality, attitude and culture were not up to the standards of its physical beauty. There were beautiful girls, but they were not ready to become professional models. Now that has changed."

"Russian girls are corresponding more and more to that type designers are looking for," said Brunella Cassella, the director of Elite-Milan agency, who, along with Leiba and Pescimoro, was one of the contest judges.

But while they acknowledged that Russia has more than its share of beautiful women, the judges denied that they were looking for anything inherently Russian in the winner.

"The idea that there is a Russian type of beauty is myth created by the mass media," said Leiba. "Girls have no nationality on the podium and nationality is not a factor when they get the job. Russian girls are no different from girls in the rest of Europe."

Aside from looks, contenders need to have what it takes to make it as a model. According to Casablancas, those who have the right stuff not only need to speak English, but they need to understand the fashion business.

"Compared to previous years, the girls are getting better and better," said Casablancas. "A fantastic new team is coming."

After three days of preliminary rounds, only 17 of the 1,000 young contenders made it into the final round. This new team, ranging in age from 14 to 19, sauntered in front of the judges in swim suits, cocktail dresses and sport clothes.

In the end, two girls were selected from the pack f 17-year-old Darya Glagoleva and 15-year-old Tatyana Sergeynko were declared the winners of the local contest. Both will go on to the international finals of Elite Model Look 2000 in Geneva later this summer to compete against the 70 finalists chosen from all over the world.

"Russia is the country that is going to have many superstars," said Casablancas. "I'm sure about that."