It's a modeling catfight.
Take a gander at any fashion show’s lineup of living mannequins and you might think it was the Warsaw Pact countries that won the Cold War.
And you might be right, if you're talking about modeling. Catwalks nowadays are brimming with strutting owners of those telltale Eastern European high cheekbones, porcelain-white skin and names that end in “ova.”
Moreover, the new kids from the Bloc aren’t shy about announcing that they’ve arrived, even publicly dissing the sun-kissed Brazilian models like Gisele Bundchen (search) and Adriana Lima (search) who have dominated the beauty industry until recently.
“We have beautiful skin, beautiful faces, and the Brazilians are finished,” model Euguenia Volodina (search) declared in the April issue of Vanity Fair.
Following in the wake of their most famous face, Czech model Karolina Kurkova (search), models like Estonian-born Carmen Kass (search), Russian Natalia Vodianova, Czech Hana Soukupova, Montenegrin Marija Vujovic and a host of other Eastern Europeans, including Volodina, Natasha Poly, Valentina Zelyaeva and Inguna Butane, have declared themselves the de facto queens of the runways.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump's latest missus, the Slovenia-born Melania Knauss (search), just signed on to be the spokesmodel for Aflac, and has been the face ... and cheeks ... of Levi's since 2004. And Czech-born Petra Nemcova (search) was already a superstar of modeling before she made headlines as a tsunami victim.
With a long-legged flourish, it seems these new fashion plates have kicked aside their South American and North American rivals with a hard-work ethic learned from decades under strict communism.
“This was a region of the world that for many, many years had no access — it was in the late '80s that the Wall fell,” said Ivan Bart, senior vice president of IMG Models (search), which represents top names including Bundchen, Leonardo DiCaprio's Victoria's Secret model girlfriend.
“Now we’re getting the children of the ‘80s growing up and taking [on] the fashion world. They come from very little and they work very, very hard to be successful, and I think they really understand hard work and appreciate an industry which allows them an opportunity to work hard and make money and do well."
Their looks don't hurt, either.
"They have beautiful genetics, too. They’re tall and have beautiful skin and have great cheekbones,” Bart added.
Kurkova seems to agree that humble beginnings have a lot to do with the Eastern Europeans’ success in the fashion world.
“We had no nannies,” she told Vanity Fair. “We had to take care of ourselves and our siblings and do everything. Everybody cooks. My dad cooks.”
But Bart and other experts on the modeling world said Volodina’s claim of victory over the Brazilians is premature.
“For the West, who just came upon it, five girls on the runway from Eastern Europe is a trend,” Bart said. “I think we’ll see more of it as we go along. It just happens to be a group of young women who were born just about when the Wall fell."
Bart added that "Eastern European" is only one of several popular looks on the runways.
“Gisele Bundchen [known as 'the body'] has never been more famous. There’s four or five models from Canada, so there should be a great Canadian ‘trend’— the biggest name right now is Daria Werbowy (search)."
Meredith Boyd, a commercial-print model who lives in Atlanta, said there’s enough room in the industry to accommodate all kinds of looks — Eastern Europeans like Kass, Brazilians like Victoria's Secret's Lima and Bundchen, part-Japanese Devon Aoki and even all-American California girls like Molly Sims (search) and Marisa Miller (search).
“Russian and Brazilian models will always be sought after for top fashion runways, while the ‘California girl’-type model still survives quite well in the mix of exotic looks,” Boyd said. “There will always be a need for all three looks — while one may be most popular for the moment, a month later another look will be something totally different."
Bart, who pointed out that American model and Estee Lauder spokeswoman Carolyn Murphy (search) graced a recent cover of Sports Illustrated, said most “trends” in modeling tend to be illusory, and that no one’s ever really “on top.”
But Boyd thinks the Brazilians especially will stay in demand.
"In my opinion, Brazilian models will always be strong, and if I had the chance to come back as any type of woman in the world, it would be Brazilian, for sure,” she mused.