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Article posted: 11/29/2012 5:30 AM

Lake Zurich teen making a name for herself as a model

By Kimberly Pohl Elena Ferrarin

Plenty of teenage girls head to their part-time jobs wearing leggings, their hair pulled back in a ponytail and nary a speck of makeup on their face.

But instead of putting on a barista's apron or a clothing store's polo shirt when she arrives at work, Stevie Finedore undergoes a transformation into whatever character the client dictates, perhaps one who wears eight-inch heels, a slicked back bun and smokey black eyes.

It's just another day at the office for the Lake Zurich High School senior, one of the modeling industry's freshest faces and already a runway fixture at New York Fashion Week.

"This has been the most fun and most surreal ride," Stevie says. "I never thought something like this could happen to me."

Growing up tall and thin, the 18-year-old had been urged to give modeling a shot more times than she can remember. So when Stevie decided to stop dancing after a 15-year run, she finally did.

Ford Models said she was "too pretty." Factor Women already had a Stevie look-alike for a client. Then came an open call at BMG Model and Talent.

Armed with Kodak printouts from her digital camera, Stevie, then 16, impressed the right people with her "very Abercrombie, girl next door" look and in August 2011 signed a contract to exclusively work in the Chicago market.

Castings -- kind of like auditions -- poured in, and she quickly landed her first job at a Sears/Kmart runway show for executives at the company's Hoffman Estates headquarters. Having no clue what she was doing, Stevie winged it.

"I may have danced for years, but I am the most uncoordinated and clumsiest person on the face of the earth," said Stevie, who stands 5-foot-10. "All I could think was, 'Don't trip. Please don't trip.' After that, I was totally addicted."

Next up was her first photo shoot, a formative experience that launched her modeling -- and life -- on a whole new trajectory.

During the test shoot, which her agency set up to build a portfolio of photos to present to potential clients, Stevie was at first uneasy as assistants dressed her, buckled her shoes and applied lotion to her legs. But something clicked when she stared into the camera lens.

Before Stevie could even revert to her leggings, ponytail and bare face, BMG had offered her an international contract.

"I was thinking that Stevie was more of a cute, local Chicago girl, but the way she moved, the way the clothing fit her, the way she interacted with the photographer, there was something striking about her," Stevie's agent, Shae Cooper, recalled.

In February, Stevie made the trip to Bryant Park -- the Mecca of the modeling world -- for the semiannual spectacle that is New York Fashion Week.

For two weeks, she ran around Manhattan from one casting to the next, hoping a designer would hire her. Jeff Finedore tagged along to help his daughter navigate the chaos, and they quickly learned the subway system after racking up expensive taxi fares the first couple days.

The competition was fierce, the intimidation factor huge and the exhaustion at times overwhelming.

"I just walked in and tried to own it," Stevie said. "I figured I could fake it until I was good."

Nothing is guaranteed, and plenty of models left the city without a single booking. Stevie, however, landed seven.

One of her favorites was a presentation for Tribune Standard. She was essentially a mannequin for two hours as designer Tawfik Mounayer explained his inspiration to buyers and writers.

There were plenty of odd ensembles, as well, such as the red, black and white get-up that reminded her of a Queen of Hearts costume.

"Sometimes you're like an exhibit at a zoo, and sometimes the clothes are so bizarre that you don't know how to process it," Stevie said. "But you just suck it up and wear it."

This past fall, Stevie took part in her second Fashion Week and booked 14 shows. Her dad even felt comfortable leaving her on her own for the third and final week.

When that spotlight is dim, Stevie travels back to New York about once a month for work, does Chicago jobs such as the Tory Burch runway show and appeared on a recent episode of "Gossip Girl" as a featured model.

The arrangement has worked so far, but Stevie decided to make the most of the small window models typically get. In January, she'll graduate early from Lake Zurich and move to New York's Washington Heights neighborhood.

Kim Finedore said she's nervous but confident in her daughter's abilities. She's reminded of a recent shoot in Bridgeport, where Stevie was given pale skin, yard upon yard of hair braids and sharp purple finger nails.

"Sometimes it takes your breath away and you don't even recognize it's your own daughter," Kim Finedore said. "You're in awe of her beauty and talent, and then you realize this is the same goofy kid who'll be snorting when she laughs."

Stevie and her family are aware of the eating disorders and drug scene that often coincide with the modeling world, but Kim Finedore said they trust her to make smart decisions.

"We do a lot of praying and have been very open about what's out there," she said. "We tell her to always trust her gut and know that no job is worth compromising who she is."

If her career doesn't take off the way many think it will, Stevie plans to go into special education. She loves working with special needs children as a volunteer.

Her dream, however, is to begin working overseas and eventually become a Victoria's Secret model, which she considers to be the "complete package."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I'm hoping to make the most of it," she said.

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