The world is full of good-looking models. Now, VH1 is seeking out intelligent ones. In its new series "America's Most Smartest Model" (yes, you read correctly), which premieres Oct. 7, 14 male and female beauties face off in a battle of wits. Only one will walk away with the grammatically incorrect title and $100,000. Here, WWD chats with hosts Mary Alice Stephenson and Ben Stein about beauty, Brooks Brothers and the challenges of walking and talking at the same time.
WWD: Mary Alice has obviously worked with models before. Ben, prior to the show, had you ever worked with models?
Ben Stein: Yes. Years and years ago, there was a show called "Fernwood 2Nite," which was a syndicated show....We had models that were Vanna White-type models who [introduced] questions and revealed new-show segments, and I helped cast them. That was in the late Seventies. That was probably the last time I dealt with models, and they haven't gotten any smarter.
WWD: So from that experience did you think the generalization that models are not intellectual was deserved?
B.S.: I actually think anyone who is successful in any field tends to be pretty smart. I think that you could be a manager of an International House of Pancakes, but if you're good at it, you've got to be pretty smart.
Mary Alice Stephenson: I think Ben and I came into the situation to kind of debunk that myth. For me, the girls I've worked with for the last 17 years in the industry, the girls who actually get to be superstars, are smart....They've used their heads to make their careers be about more than their beauty.
B.S.: They just have their skins, their bones and their eyes and their hair. They have to transform that into fame and money, and that is not an easy thing to do because you basically have eight billion other people on the planet trying to do the same thing....How do you make yourself a person who instead of getting $400 an hour is getting $40,000 an hour?M.A.S.: Or $400,000 or $4 million an hour!
B.S.: Yes, exactly. Or $4 billion an hour. Is there any model who gets $400,000 an hour?
M.A.S.: Absolutely. I don't think they break it down to an hour, but it would be the campaign, and if the campaign takes an hour — boom.
WWD: Were the contestants aware of the double superlative in the title of the show?
B.S.: Yes, I'd say all of them [were].
WWD: Did anyone really surprise you with his or her intelligence?
B.S.: There were very few surprises where they did it in a way that I said, "Wow, I'm really impressed with how much they know." In fact, the disappointments in how little they knew were like snowflakes in a blizzard in Siberia.
M.A.S.: When we narrowed it down to the last six contestants, it got a lot more serious and a lot more intense, and I think their competitive spirit and the challenges got more intense. So then I was more impressed.
B.S.: Mary Alice is 100 percent correct. At the end, we had them do some challenges involving math and fashion, and they did them extremely well. One girl in particular did brilliantly well with a challenge involving geometric shapes and fashion.
M.A.S.: But when we did the spelling bee, I have to say, I was not impressed with their knowledge of how to spell certain words like Balenciaga or Yves Saint Laurent. They could barely spell DKNY.
B.S.: Several did another very clever thing, which was they ingratiated themselves with their judges. They really worked at it and played up to our feelings. One of them in particular really was just a moron. But just by virtue of being cute and kind of pathetic, she managed to stay in the game a lot longer than she otherwise would have....But these were mainstream people...they sort of lifted themselves up by their bootstraps to get into the world of fashion, and some of them did it well. Some will end up walking the catwalk for years to come, and some will end up walking the streets.WWD: What were the greatest intellectual challenges?
B.S.: At one point, we had them do a science fair and actually a couple of them did really, really well.
M.A.S.: They had to explain like magnetic levitation or density flow. Things like that — Einstein versus Newton. There was one where they had to formulate their own tanning lotions.
WWD: Did they get a fashion makeover?
M.A.S.: I don't necessarily make them over. I give them advice, but they're smart models, so they have to use their heads. For example, there was one challenge where H&M provided the clothes, and they had to style themselves, create hair and makeup and then walk down the runway. In that challenge, Ben and I would ask questions as they were walking down the runway. Challenging questions. It was called The Walk and Talk.
B.S.: It sounds easy, but it's really very difficult. I was thinking about it as we were doing it. If I were asked to do it while I was walking out onto a stage to give a speech, if I was being asked questions at the same time, I'd have a very hard time with it.
WWD: Did you find that the men were more intelligent than the women or vice versa?
B.S.: The women were more appealing in terms of their ability to emotionally move me. But I found that the men generally knew more than the women.
M.A.S.: I think it's best to say that the men might have played the game a little better in certain respects than the women.
WWD: What did you learn from the show?
B.S.: How incredibly casual fashion is and how these people would appear in things that looked to me like they had slept in them and were shooting heroin in them, and Mary Alice would say, "Oh, this shows a really good fashion sense," and I would say, "No, a really good fashion sense would be if they were wearing a really nice two-piece flannel suit from Brooks Brothers."M.A.S.: Ben wears Brooks Bros. all day and all night. He loves Brooks Bros. We're hoping to get Thom Browne to make a little suit for him to at least modernize his Brooks Bros. moment.
WWD: Maybe you could be Brooks Bros.'s most smartest model.
B.S.: I love Brooks Bros. beyond words. I have a column in The New York Times, and I often write about how everyone in business should only wear Brooks Bros. But Brooks Bros. has never shown the slightest sign of awareness of my existence.
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