ST. LOUIS — Devon Windsor had to decide how much she was willing to sacrifice in her attempt to become a top model. Her answer was surprising. She was a tall, lean, 14-year-old blonde fresh out of braces and excited to travel. She signed with the local agency West Model & Talent Management, and her family could have opted to take her out of the rigorous college prep school she attended in Ladue, Mo., and away from the athletics she loved to focus on her career.
It had been done before by many young models driven to succeed by striking while the iron was hot.
“There are some who will do whatever it takes, but I wanted to do prom and sports and normal stuff,” Windsor said. “I’d tell any girl really bluntly that if you don’t want to wait because you’re afraid that you won’t be the right size later then that’s a really bad reason.”
Modeling full time is a gamble. First, you have to hit the genetic lottery and then you have to do the near-impossible. You have to be the right model at the right time with the right look who gets noticed by the right people. So instead of banking on modeling success, Windsor was happy working sporadically doing a succession of smaller jobs in St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles – some prestigious, some not – until she graduated from Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in 2012, competed at state as a varsity track athlete and toured some college campuses.
But instead of heading to college after graduation, her New York agency, IMG Models, sent her off to Milan at age 18 to learn the ropes.
“I’m very happy that I started when I did,” Windsor said by phone from her home in New York as she was preparing to fly out for an assignment in Milan. It was one of at least three international cities she’d be working in during the week.
“Some young girls are really successful, but it’s so intense, and it’s crazy hours and no sleep and no time to think and you’re all passing around the same cold for months and it’s kind of awful, but, in the end ... worth it and great. But I can’t imagine doing it at 16. At 19, I can barely handle it.”
However, at 19, many models are ending their career for one reason or another. Some can’t maintain the same weight they had as a minor. Some just don’t have “it” any more. Some burn out. It’s not unprecedented to start a full-time modeling career after high school, and it’s going to become increasingly more possible thanks to a new New York law about hiring underage models. The change in labor practices will probably result in more girls Windsor’s age succeeding, and maybe women will be allowed to gain an inch or two around the hips ... maybe. It’s not a lot, but it could be a monumental shift.
During Windsor’s high school days, other agencies advised her to avoid sports, especially field hockey and lacrosse, because of the potential for bruising, injuries and gaining too much muscle. She played anyway.
“We were like, she’s not going to stop doing what she loves to do just because one day, she might be a model,” Windsor’s mother, Lisa, said.
West Model & Talent founder Gail Lasater said sports were part of the high school experience and encouraged her to have fun now, work hard later. So Windsor trained and competed and continued to work sporadically as a model.
“Then she went to Milan and they threw a tape measure around her, and it was an awakening,” Lisa Windsor said. Windsor was slim, muscled and strong, but she had to lose about 3 inches from her hips if she wanted to be a high fashion model, a lucrative field that is highly competitive and highly particular. Hips have to be 33 to 35 inches and the women are typically 5-foot-10 to 6-foot. She didn’t need to lose much weight, but she had to lose muscle yet stay toned.
She got help from a trainer and nutritionist. Her family rallied to support her.
“We went on the diet with her,” Lisa said. “We went into the cupboards and threw everything away. We were like, how can we expect her to really eat a certain way if we’ve got Tostitos in the cabinet.”
And then it happened. She was contracted to walk for Prada, an exclusive highly regarded show in Milan and they dyed her hair platinum blond. Lasater, who is still her mother agent (a modeling term that usually applies to the first agency to sign and develop a talent and then acts as their scout, negotiator, counselor and protector), said that the response was immediate, “Who’s that girl? It was wild. Everyone wanted her.”
Windsor went on to walk in dozens of top shows, including Chanel, Stella McCartney, Celine, Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier. She is the face of the Moschino fall advertising campaign, and she walked in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show that aired Dec. 10.
“I’m glad it happened the way it did, but everyone is different. I’d tell anyone interested not to rush if it means missing out on what they enjoy doing – and you gotta stay grounded. My mom and family do that for me,” said Windsor, who was named one of the top newcomers of fall 2013 by models.com.
“People are going to tell you ‘no’ a lot and say bad things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it. There was a time when no one wanted me and then all of a sudden I am working like crazy. It’s insane.”