* Models career over by mid-20s
* Around 70 pct of models change every season
* Models bank money for university, career
By Antonella Ciancio
MILAN, Feb 28 Italian model Diana Gelsi
strode straight onto the fashion catwalks of Milan from high
school and now at the grand old age of 24 is already considering
how she'll spend her retirement.
The slender, leggy model with a face framed by hair dyed an
ironic silvery gray for a show at Milan Fashion Week is
preparing for a second career around the same time that many
middle class Westerners her age are taking their first steps
from university into professional life.
"I am a granny model," Gelsi told Reuters on the sidelines
of the runway shows. "I would like to become a video producer."
Video producer, lawyer, actor, writer -- most of the models
strutting their stuff at fashion weeks in New York, London,
Milan and Paris are already preparing themselves for life on the
realistic assumption that they will not be spinning out a career
showing off designer gear for decades like supermodels Kate Moss
and Naomi Campbell.
That's why the 20-somethings dashing around the backstage
areas in preparation for Cavalli, Armani, Versace and Prada are
thrilled to be on the circuit, but cautious about the future.
Some still stereotypically puff on cigarettes and sip Champagne,
but the smart operators have a book off their reading list close
by and they are actually devouring it voraciously.
British model Lily Cole grabbed headlines last year when she
graduated in Art History from Cambridge University at the age of
23. Canadian model Lisa Cant entered Columbia University at 23.
"I love modelling but I love school more. Before I went to
university, I saw modelling as my career, but now I see
modelling as a means to pay for my future," Cant wrote on the
website of The Model Alliance, a non-profit organisation which
aims to improve working conditions for fashion models.
David Brown, who represents catwalk stars such as Moss,
Claudia Schiffer and Campbell, said the chances of a long-term
career for most of the girls at the shows these days are much
lower than they were during the heady 1990s, when supermodels
ruled the fashion roost.
"There is a continuing demand for something new that is
almost maniacal," he told Reuters.
The majority of models start working before age 16 and their
career is over by their mid-20s.
Brown, who owns the Milan-based D'Management agency for
professional models, said around 70 percent of girls selected
for runways are new faces. He said supermodels are now mostly
hired for campaigns or as special guests of events.
The 41-year-old Campbell led the catwalk in a shimmering
evening dress for Roberto Cavalli on Monday in Milan, the last
big show of that fashion capital's autumn/winter 2012 season.
The need for new faces is increasing competition among
models who know it's tough to become the next Gisele Bundchen.
The Brazilian topped Forbes's list of the world's highest
paid models with an estimated $25 million last year.
"Let me start off by saying that I'm still quite a nobody in
the fashion world. Yes, I work as a model, but I don't identify
as just that," said Dana Drori, who holds a university degree in
English literature, wrote on online magazine BlackBook.
"I decided to take a year (or two) off to model full-time, to
travel and make money for grad school and other life
investments," she said.
Top models can earn up to $5,000 for a show, beginners
sometimes work free or are paid in clothes, Model Alliance said.
"This is a temporary job," Gelsi said, wearing a black
cocktail dress backstage at Blugirl's show.
(Reporting by Antonella Ciancio)