NEW YORK — The classic casting tale links model search and Cinderella story. There she is — tall, blond and gorgeous, shining bright among the masses in a mid-American mall when a keen-eyed scout with a Polaroid camera happens by. But for Jennifer Vendetti, who literally has been changing the face of fashion and beauty for five years, there’s nothing modern about discovering a megababe in the food court. For corporate clients ranging from Nike to Kate Spade and from Nivea to Gap, Vendetti has busily booked major ad campaigns for the most unusually beautiful people she can find, scouring art schools and health food stores the world over.

“People look to the images they see in magazines to redefine themselves. We’re all reflections of one another,” says Vendetti, surrounded by hundreds of Polaroids pinned up in her office in the Meatpacking district. “There is an idea of how the fashion world sees beauty, and I’m about expanding it, seeing all the different versions of it.”

This story first appeared in the May 29, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A worldwide search for off-beat beauty has taken Vendetti, a former fashion stylist, not only to Milan, Paris and London, but to the favelas of Brazil and the far corners of West Virginia. “I’m really for the underdog,” she says. “I like to bring to the forefront what people don’t see, and let them see the beauty in it. I like to discover something that people may not even see in themselves.”

While Vendetti brings beautiful people of all skin tones to her various accounts, three years ago, she also helped Banana Republic break the age barrier, casting Sigrid, a wizened woman with white hair and plenty of wrinkles, for the campaign. “To see an older woman look hot is amazing,” says Vendetti, 31. “Usually, when we see an older woman who looks good, she’s trying to look young, to be something she’s not. As a young woman, I want to look forward to getting older. I want to have role models.”

But beyond her knack for spotting physical beauty, magazine as well as advertising clients turn to Vendetti when they’re looking for unusual talents. For Levi’s, Vendetti spent three intense months finding a model for the fall commercial, making her way from a West Palm Beach riding ring to a rodeo in Texas searching for a beautiful woman of mixed ethnicity who could ride a horse like a pro, act and look great in jeans. And booking a complainer was not an option.

“She had to be a sport,” says Vendetti. “With something like horseback riding, it can be very painful. She would have to ride for five days straight.”

Finally, Vendetti found her girl — Brandon Merrill, a Wyoming native who will appear in Levi’s spots this July.

“A lot of people call themselves casting directors, but anybody could call an agency and get a model package and book models,” she says. “I’m genuinely interested in exploring ideas of beauty and how we see ourselves, and how we see each other. I don’t feel that models are just objects. It’s about reciprocal inspiration.”

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