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It's Toddlers And Tiaras, European-Style

A casting call for kids in the Swiss Alps offers a somewhat softer image than the all-or-nothing American children's paegants.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Looking princessy

VERBIER - “Hello, what would you like?”

“Curls!” the seven-year-old princess answers decisively as she sits in front of the mirror.

Next to her, another young model patiently waits while her hair is being straightened. Never mind the early hour and the snowstorm, Verbier’s movie theater is full of children. It looks like a Christmas show in the Swiss Alps town: dozens of balloons, a buffet filled with yummy treats and a whole lot of impatient children dressed in their Sunday best.

“Loic… Angel… Rihanna,” the organizer takes a roll call. The candidates, with their parents, parade in front of the photographers, smiles even brighter than the flashes. The contestants pose for the cameras – perhaps even too professionally for their age, except maybe for the toddlers, like Loic. He dismounts his rocking horse and runs through a forest of giant tripods before being caught by his mother. Next to him, the curly-haired princess sits on a red beanbag and flashes her winning smile. The stakes are high – if she does win this pageant, she will be sent for a photo shoot in Marrakesh, Morocco, for Swiss magazine Babybook.

Five years ago, Babybook editor in chief, Richard Blat, launched its first ever casting for  children, from newborns to 12 years old, which has now become one of the biggest in Europe. The idea was to choose models for the magazine without having to go through professional agencies, and to turn what is usually a tedious affair into something fun for the whole family.

“This allows us to widen our panel of potential models and to save the children from endless waits in the agencies’ hallways. It’s a wonderful experience for the whole family,” explains Blat.

The festive atmosphere seems to have won over many parents. Julien and Delphine came with their 20-month-old son, Liam: “We’re not here to win the casting, we’re here to have fun and enjoy this event as a family.” Brown-eyed, with golden hair, Liam seems interested in everything. Isn’t a day like this a bit too tiring for him? “He smiles all the time because he likes being with us and taking pictures, he’s having fun,” reckons Delphine. “And we don’t live far from here.”

The Babybook casting charter enforces strict rules: casual clothing, no makeup, no heels – everything has to be as “natural” as possible. Bling is banned, unlike the American pageants where mothers dress their child to look like Barbie dolls and put them on top-model diets. “I banned everything that I consider to be contrary to my own normal parenting values,” says Richard Plat.

Jury president Emmanuel de Brantes adds, “We don’t want show-children who are living out their parent's dreams.” The jury tries to get an idea of the contestants’ real personalities – being photogenic is not enough, the children have to be sociable too.

“Excuse me, how do I get interviewed?”

What’s the best way to act natural under the spotlights? “Just be yourself. We choose a pose and the photographs tell us how to improve it, it’s their job,” explains 10-year-old Eva. The fact that Babybook promotes a more “natural” look reassures the parents who are hesitant about the idea of taking their children to casting calls. Pamela, the mother of 12-year-old Debora explains: “We want to protect our children and I like the fact that this competition is fun. But, I warned my daughter: we are going to take some pictures but if you are not selected, it doesn’t mean anything, it just means they were looking for a different profile.” Debora definitely has the natural charm the jury is looking for. Even if her radiant eyes show hints of exhaustion, she is still smiling. The casting was her idea but she doesn’t want to be a model. “I like fashion and haute couture, I’d like to be a designer. This event is an opportunity to immerse myself in this world.” So, what did she think? “It was nice, I met a lot of people. I felt the pressure of the competition, but I tried to shake it off. It’s a fun experience, and it should stay fun.” Aside from that, she doesn’t have big plans for her future. Others are more determined, though.

“Excuse me, how do I get interviewed?” the audacious young boy is called Steven, he’s 11 and has a very clear idea of what he wants to do when he grows up: play in commercials and movies. He loves shows and hopes the Marrakesh shooting session will bring him closer to his dream. He’s a regular here, he’s attended all five Babybook castings, and has a secret technique: “get to know the photographer and the jury.” Being a celebrity doesn’t scare him: “I only see the positive aspects, and if there are a couple of negative aspects, I’ll just learn to live with them.”

Cristina Cordula, a former model who is a member of the jury has some advice: “Obviously, you shouldn’t throw your child into the fashion business without giving him solid bases such as education and good family values. It would be dangerous to sacrifice everything for a few years of glory.”

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