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Fashion 86 : Santa Barbara: A Tony Mecca for 'Undiscovered' Models

September 26, 1986|LINDA GLIDEWELL MEARS | Mears is a free-lance writer who lives in Santa Barbara. and

SANTA BARBARA — It's right there in the Santa Barbara Health & Fitness Guide.

"Welcome to Santa Barbara . . . where fitness is more than a fad . . . where the people are as beautiful as the community. . . . Yes, Santa Barbara is more than a beautiful community. It is a community of beautiful people."

Certainly it is not a matter to be discussed in board rooms, classrooms or from the pulpit. Are gorgeous people born or made? Does like attract like? Do beautiful people migrate to beautiful places, such as Santa Barbara?

"For every 100 people here, at least 10 could do professional modeling," says local resident and De Marcos Productions model Kevin Egan. "I travel a lot, and it strikes me every time I come home . . . how many head-turners are here."

Santa Barbara-based fashion photographer George Walowicz agrees. "Just walk along the beach. The climate and outdoor life draw good-looking people. If they don't have it already, they soon adopt the 'California look'--that is, blond with healthy bodies."

Tongue in cheek, Walowicz says one explanation for residents' physical charms is Edgar Cayce's theory that Santa Barbara is one of four spots in the world that has an energy vortex. That is, an average temperature of 69.9 degrees, which is the optimum, according to Cayce, for sustaining life. (Perhaps that helps explain the city's burgeoning homeless population.)

And New York-based photographer Bruce Weber--famous for his Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein fashion ads--is plainly aware of Santa Barbara's supply of photogenic material. He finds models there.

Weber says: "I always hang out at the Coral Casino (at the Santa Barbara Biltmore) and everybody looks good. You feel good being there." Nan Bush, Weber's longtime agent, adds that wherever Weber travels, he looks at people with a photographer's eye.

It was such an eye that Attila Von Somogyi noticed "staring at me" in 1981. Waiting for friends at the Biltmore Hotel beach, Von Somogyi--then a music student at Santa Barbara City College--didn't think much of it until, he says, "he was staring at me through a camera." Bruce Weber had just selected another "star."

Von Somogyi agreed to work for a few days with Weber. The result was a spread in Italian Vogue and a subsequent call to meet designer Calvin Klein in New York. Klein hired the Santa Barbara man to model. Since then, he's appeared in every major fashion publication, not only for Klein but for Valentino and Versace in Europe and for Yamaha in Tokyo, where he has eight commercials running right now.

Would it all have turned out differently had he lived anywhere else? "Sure it would have because I wouldn't have been at the beach," Von Somogyi says.

While Weber does not put much stock in model-agency training, there are apparently many in Santa Barbara County who do--enough to support six schools and agencies with varying degrees of success. That's a considerable ratio when you consider that the city's population is 79,600.

One agency with long tenure and many modeling "stars" is La Belle. Founder Betty Mazzetti Hatch does not agree that beautiful places have anything to do with beautiful people.

"I could have started the agency anywhere and done the same thing. When I began 23 years ago, Santa Barbara had not yet come into its own." One suspects that, with the zeal of a prophet, the former runner-up to Mary Ann Mobley's Miss America told prospective clients that scouts from all over the world would come to Santa Barbara looking for beauty and talent.

Come they did--and do: from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Tokyo . . . from big-time agencies such as Nina Blanchard, Eileen Ford, Kim Dawson and John Casablancas. And those with no time to shop the local beach scene simply scour local model agencies' books for fresh talent.

Jodi Marcos, owner of the year-old De Marcos Productions agency, thinks Santa Barbara is "like Miami in the '20s and '30s. It attracts people from all over the United States. They come from the East, the South, the Midwest, and they bring their regional looks with them. They adjust to the sunny, healthful life, work on their tans, dress nicer, get good haircuts and adopt the open attitude that Santa Barbara is known for."

But, says former model Marcos, these people maintain their ethnicity. And it is that melting-pot-American look that is selling in Japan, Canada, Australia and Europe.

Walowicz agrees. "In Paris," he says, "85% of the print models are American. Women with robust looks, well-proportioned bodies. They get those looks here, playing volleyball, tennis, biking and swimming."

This healthy image is the trademark for one of the more recognizable and highly paid models working today.

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