NEW YORK – Katsia Damankova is the hottest girl in the world.
So says Ford Models, which last night ended its 39-country model crawl in search of a gorgeous new face for their agency.
The judges unanimously voted on Damankova, a 5-foot-10 17-year-old high school senior from Belarus, as the winner of their 25th annual Super Model of the World contest.
"She has this very haunting presence, thoughtful eyes and a quiet, calm beauty," says Jade Robertson, a "new faces" agent at Ford models. "People in the street are in conversation with someone else, but they're staring at her. She's definitely a girl you're drawn to."
Robertson has been chaperoning the 39 girls, ages 14-21, during their weeklong stay at the Hudson Hotel. But, to her, it was clear from the beginning that Damankova was the girl to watch.
"She's different from most girls; she's laid-back and not at all carried away by money or celebrity. To be honest, it's kind of refreshing," Robertson says. "She's at least got to have an idea that she's going to place, if not win. And, I think she's prepared to win."
Damankova was discovered in a Belarus café while she was doing her homework over a cup of coffee. When an agent from Select in London approached, she politely took his card but made it clear that she didn't want to be a model.
After her mom convinced her to give it a try, Damankova signed with Select and did editorial work in Paris and Milan, and even scored a few well-paying gigs in her hometown.
To win this contest, she was picked out by a panel of 20 judges, including Katie Ford, the agency's CEO, and Eileen and Gerry Ford, the company's founders.
Damankova's prize includes a $250,000 contract with Ford models and a four-page Nexxus ad that will run in both Vogue and Allure magazines.
And, unlike the catfight between America's Next Top Model winner Adrien Curry and Tyra Banks, there is a history of success with this model search. Brazilian bombshell Camila Finn, last year's winner, was booked exclusively for the fall 2005 Calvin Klein shows. And Ukrainian beauty Nataliya Gotsiy, the winner in 2003, has appeared in Vogues around the world.
But don't expect to see Damankova's soulful brown eyes staring down at you off of a billboard anytime soon; she'll be doing the graduation walk before the catwalk. After she gets her high school diploma, Damankova will relocate to New York City, begin working on her portfolio and be shown to clients in time for the spring 2007 fashion shows.
"She's so beautiful that people turn around to see her. In the hotel, walking down the street, people can't stop staring at her," Ford says. "She has every quality it takes to be a model; she photographs incredibly, has a great body and she wants to be a model."
Ford says Damankova reminds her of Renee Simonsen, the Danish model who won the contest in 1982.
"She has full lips, her skin is honey-toned and when she sits without makeup she is still incredible-looking," Ford says.
The agency was looking for a model who wasn't only easy on the eyes, Ford says, but also easy to work with.
"We never look for a contestant for a particular hair color, but we look for how they photograph, what makes them pop in pictures and the ability to project emotion through their eyes," she says. "A good model puts on clothes and makes them come alive, [and is] someone who can think about what they're wearing and portray it."