The Ultimate Makeover

Modeling agent Page Parkes never wore mascara in high school. But don't let that fool you.

Because this story is something of a fairy tale, and because it involves something of a princess, it would be fair to start off by saying that once upon a time there lived a little girl named Debbie Parkes. She was named after Debbie Reynolds, the famous movie star, and was the oldest of three children all growing up in a town called Clear Lake, Texas. She went to school with the sons and daughters of astronauts, but Debbie's dad was not an astronaut. Actually, Debbie's dad was not around. But her mother was. And when schoolmates were not allowed to come to Debbie's house because her mother was divorced, Debbie's mother would reply that those kids were jealous because Debbie didn't have a boring father who made them eat dinner at the same time every day.

Debbie's mother always made her feel like she could be anything at all.

In high school, Debbie Parkes drove a 1974 Cougar and liked rock music and went waterskiing before class. She never shaved her legs and she never wore makeup and she was the type of kid who thought cheerleaders and silly girlie-girls and phonies were not to be bothered with at all. She didn't care much for subjects like math or science, but she thrived on art. Maybe, she thought, she could become a fashion designer.

Page devotes each Tuesday afternoon to meeting with her models.
Deron Neblett
Page devotes each Tuesday afternoon to meeting with her models.

Just before she turned 16, Debbie Parkes was asked, "What do you want for your birthday?" and Debbie Parkes said she wanted a brand-new name. So she went to the courthouse, proved she was not a criminal and had her name legally changed to Page Parkes. Now that name had a ring to it, she thought.

Then, not much more than a year later, the girl now named Page Parkes flew off to Europe to study fashion design. But instead of becoming a fashion designer, the no-makeup, hairy-legged girl they used to call Debbie Parkes ended up founding one of the most successful modeling agencies in the Southwest. It started out small at first, and then slowly it became worth millions of dollars. It expanded from its home base of Houston to Dallas and then to Miami. And the funny thing, the ironic thing, is that the girl who says she never wore mascara suddenly found herself making a living off the sweat of girls who modeled it.

When she tells this story it seems sometimes like she can't really believe it herself. Like she just sort of fell into modeling and here she is, 20 years in the business and one of its biggest success stories. But Page Parkes knows it was not really an accident. She ended up a model agent by a series of choices and coincidences, but either way she probably would have turned into something just as spectacular. Maybe she would have been a fashion designer, or even a great painter. But she was going to be important. She always knew it. That's why, she says, she went down to the courthouse just after turning 16 to get rid of that ridiculous-sounding Debbie.

"Because," explains the grown-up Page, now 43, smiling just a little, "who can be famous with a name like Debbie Parkes?"

In a handful of ways, Page Parkes is very little, but in many other ways she is very big. The top of her head stops barely three inches above five feet, and her frame is so thin it's no surprise to learn she works out "all the time." Her voice often drops to a soft, Jackie Kennedyesque coo. But her eyes are large and her blond curly hair, when it's not pulled back into a ponytail, sprouts out enough to add another inch to her height.

And, of course, Page Parkes the business empire is huge. Headquartered on Kirby Drive in River Oaks, the company is owned by Page and longtime business partner Rachel Duran. The corporation includes the Page Parkes Center for Modeling and Acting (a school), Page 713 (a separate agency) and sister agencies in Dallas and Miami -- Page 214 and Page 305, respectively. In addition, Page Parkes runs a shortened version of the modeling school classes through its four-day Model Camps in all three cities.

Page and Rachel's 20-year-old business started out tiny, in an office on Voss at San Felipe. Now the agencies bill $5 million to $6 million a year and represent about 500 models. Some stay local, modeling for Foley's or Palais Royal. The best travel on to Los Angeles, New York, Europe and Tokyo and get contracted out to the biggest agencies in those cities (Page 713 retains a commission). The school, with about 1,200 students a year, brings in another $2 million. But Page is always looking for opportunities to grow, so that's why today, on this Tuesday morning, she is attending a crash course in how to increase the market value of her models.

Page wants to get on television.

"For me to get a girl on the cover of Seventeen, I have to get her a sitcom first," says Page, pulling out two Page Parkes postcards titled "Front Page News: Your On-Camera Talent Source." Printed on them are photos of beautiful models posing next to words that read, in part, "Maybe you haven't noticed how blurred the lines have gotten lately between models and actors. Let's face it, both groups have a lot in common…their uncommonly compelling looks and uncommon intelligence." Page is going to use these postcards to let everybody know that her people can do more than smile. Apparently they can open their mouths and talk, too.

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