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Kai Ryssdal: The twice a year ritual of high style known as Fashion Week starts today in New York City. That means lots of parties and impossibly tall women strutting down catwalks. Buyers will be on the lookout for new trends — hemlines, colors or fabrics — anything to give the recession-wary a reason to shop. One new fashion phenomenon is already apparent. And it’s only available in one size: small. Sally Herships has more.
Sally Herships: Marlene Wallach’s office walls are covered in cute faces — blond heads with blue eyes, brown skinned beauties with white teeth. Her desk is stacked with pictures of hundreds more. And they’re all available for work. Wallach is president of Wilhelmina Kids, the New York modeling agency and star maker for pint-size models.
Herships: How old is she?
Marlene Wallach: She’s six.
She’s talking about one of her clients, Ariel Binns, a first grader who looks a lot like Sasha Obama. Binns recently appeared in Harpers Bazaar in a takeoff on the classic photo of John Kennedy Jr. playing under JFK’s desk in the Oval Office. Binns stands in for eight year old Sasha. Former supermodel Tyra Banks takes on the role of Michelle. There’s a President Obama impersonator too.
Wallach says she’s been getting request for models that look like the first daughters since election day.
Wallach: I mean this is off the charts really. From zero for look-alikes of the Obama girls to, you know, we can get one a week, which is really a lot.
But that’s nothing compared to the hundreds of photos pouring in from young African-American girls who want to pose in magazines, catalogs and TV commercials as the first daughters.
Wallach: People think we’re running an Obama look-alike contest here.
Marc Karimzadeh is an editor at Women’s Wear Daily. He says the Obamas have become the poster family for, well, family — not to mention hope and change. Karimzadeh says advertisers want to cash in on their mass appeal.
Marc Karimzadeh: Throughout the first few weeks after the election we’ve seen this real brand Obama emerge. They’re young, they’re handsome, they have two beautiful young daughters. And I think there’s something very appealing about the notion of this healthy, happy, family, in the White House.
At Elite, another big New York modeling agency, they’ve just booked African American beauty Veronica Webb and her two daughters for a commercial for a major retailer. The inspiration? Michelle and the girls. Neal Hamil is Elite’s director. He’s hoping all the Obama mania will inspire something more than imitation: Shopping. He says every aspect of the fashion business is hurting, modeling included.
Neal Hamil: It’s a storm. It’s a big, bad, awful, horrible, scary storm. Magazine ad sales are down. Magazine circulation is down. There’s just less business. Period.
Karimzadeh: The fashion industry, like any other industry, is looking for a bit of a stimulus package and the Obamas might just be the kind of inspiration that we are looking for.
That’s Women’s Wear Daily’s Mark Karimadzeh again. He says traditionally first ladies have packed the most fashion punch. But this time the kids are icons too. And they could mean more to retail than their mother. Kids don’t stop growing just because the economy does. They need new things.
Karimzadeh: There’s an element of fantasy as well. You know, these young girls move from Chicago to the White House. It’s really a fairy tale story for a lot of people.
Child models like Ariel Binns may already be living the dream. America’s next top model: Make way for six-year-olds.
In New York, I’m Sally Herships, for Marketplace.