The Unlikely Place Where The World's Top Models Are Coming From

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The biggest models out there aren't all from Brazil, a constellation of Eastern European countries, and/or other equally far-flung locales — it's actually the Midwestern U.S. that's the somewhat unlikely breeding ground for runway rulers like Karlie Kloss and Cindy Crawford, reports The Atlantic.

The wife-husband scouting duo of Mary and Jeff Clarke of Mother Model Management, an agency based in Dardenne Prairie, MO, found Kloss in 2005 at the age of 13, in a charity fashion show in her St. Louis hometown (40 miles from the Clarkes’ home base). Seven years earlier, they scouted Ashton Kutcher in Iowa City, IA, kicking off his ascent to fame in the modeling realm (never forget).

More recently, the Clarkes discovered Grace Hartzel at a Cheesecake Factory in St. Louis when the Zionsville, IN, native was 14 years old. She walked in big shows such as Dior Haute Couture during her first season, followed by shows including Marc Jacobs and Chanel, but it wasn’t until last year that she belatedly garnered breakout buzz for getting Hedi Slimane’s stamp of approval. Hartzel opened and closed Saint Laurent’s fall 2014 show.

Another notable Midwestern modeling export: Lindsey Wixson, a Wichita, KS, native. Wixson decided at age 12 that she wanted to be a model. A few years later, her mom held a fundraiser to help cover the costs of flying her lush-lipped, gap-toothed daughter to L.A. to try to break into the business after signing with a local Kanas agency proved less than successful. A video of Wixson featured on was seen by Steven Meisel, and Wixson got booked for a Vogue Italia shoot.

As for some other middle-America catwalk staples, Crawford is from DeKalb, IL; her first “cover coup” was for a local newspaper in 1982. Erin Heatherton is another Illinois native — the Victoria’s Secret model grew up in the northwestern Chicago ’burb of Skokie (though she was discovered while on vacation in Miami). Model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker hails from Ohio (but grew up in North Carolina), and Veronica Webb was raised in Detroit. Another Michigan-born girl (sort of) who later ended up on the catwalk: Christie Brinkley, who was born in Monroe, MI, but grew up in Malibu. On a more tragic note, Oklahoma-born Audrey Lindvall, sister of Angela Lindvall, was also an aspiring model — she was killed in a bicycle accident at age 23 in 2006.

What’s the deal with all these leggy girls coming from the heartland? It may be the bountiful Northern European genes — Scandinavian ancestry, specifically — found in the Midwest, according to The Atlantic. But that doesn't explain the lineages of all these regional model success stories; it could be because the Midwest is a pretty sprawling section of the country. Or maybe there really is just something in the water.

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