The Ultimate Makeover

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

Page already has had some success in this arena. Alexis Bledel, who plays the role of daughter Rory on the WB series Gilmore Girls, is a graduate of the Page Parkes Center and a model with the Page 713 agency. Page recently played up this connection with a marketing event/talent search at Memorial City Mall, where more than 2,000 children and teenagers showed up. Television commercials that wooed prospective attendees spoke of Page's "Houston to Hollywood" connection. The winner got her own spot on a local WB commercial.

Page's instructor for the day is Holly McDonald of Lankford Films, a production company based in Houston. Holly is a friend of Page's, and this morning she spends about two hours instructing Page, co-owner Rachel and two bookers (the employees who schedule jobs) on the tiny details of auditioning, booking and filming commercials. Also sitting in on the meeting is Myrna Phillips, a former vice president of marketing for Foley's and Palais Royal. Page has hired the little woman with the thick Brooklyn accent on a freelance basis to market the company's latest venture.

"I've known Page forever," purrs Myrna. "She is so sweet. She's got a heart that's almost too big."

Page's partner, Rachel Duran, says Page can be a workaholic.
Deron Neblett
Page's partner, Rachel Duran, says Page can be a workaholic.
At Page 713, models' "comp cards" stare out from every wall.
Deron Neblett
At Page 713, models' "comp cards" stare out from every wall.

Holly begins her lecture, and right off the bat it's clear Page is an excellent student. She is a vigilant listener, her eyes following Holly's every move, and she interrupts often to ask questions. She throws out comments to her two bookers, who are seated side by side taking copious notes. There's no need to send a billion people to auditions if they aren't good enough, says Page -- there's no award for the company that sends the most models. When Holly says audition outfits should be "simple," Page interjects that if she doesn't know a model well enough to trust what she'll wear to an audition, the model should check in with Page herself for an okay.

"Sometimes they have their own take on what 'simple' means and I'm like, 'Whoa, sister!' " says Page.

"I mean, just go to The Gap," adds Holly.

After Holly plays a tape of three Chef Boyardee commercials (which include such witty dialogue as "Mom, is there anything to eat around here?" "You could fix some lasagna"), Page grins with delight.

"Commercials these days are more magical," she says. "In the old days they were insulting."

The meeting drones on slowly, with Holly covering each topic in great detail. But Page never gets bored for a second.

Toward the end of the discussion, Holly mentions the fact that lots of the local talent might encounter problems being cast because of their Texas accent. Page acknowledges that they're planning to set up their models with voice coaches who can help them lose their twang, if only for filming. Someone mentions the slight accent of Angie Harmon, the Denton girl-made-good who stars on the television show Law & Order.

"She's beautiful," sighs Page. "Her parents are models -- she's not an accident." Then she laughs and mutters, "If we could only get into breeding…"

It's easy to think she's only half joking.

"There were two kinds of kids in high school," says Page. "And I was the other kind."

Page is talking about the fact that she never thought she would be in this business. Not when she was growing up in Clear Lake, doing poorly in subjects like Texas government and flourishing in art history. The oldest of three kids, Page disliked anything that had to do with school. She looked up to her mother, an accountant. Unlike most of her friends' mothers, Page's mom had to work, so Page had to help out around the house a lot.

"They talk about it in a sad way, like I didn't have a childhood, but I loved the responsibility," says Page. And Page loved her mother, who died a few years ago.

"She was the most unbelievable woman," she remembers. "She never said, 'You're stupid because you didn't pass math.' She'd say, 'Look at your art grade.' She took my little offbeat self and made it into what I am today."

It was Page's mother who encouraged her to attend the American College in London. She spent three years abroad, also studying in Paris and Switzerland. But Page quickly realized she got less attention for the clothes she was designing and much more acclaim for the women she picked to wear them. Page discovered she had a knack for finding beauty. She liked "odd little creatures," girls who might have been considered ugly in high school. Tall girls, girls with little quirks, strong noses, full lips, small hips. Page's model choices were a hit. She liked that.

"I could've made them carry a purse and it wouldn't matter," she says.

Page stresses that being model-beautiful isn't what everybody thinks it is. It isn't the cheerleaders she couldn't stand in high school. It isn't the poofy-haired pageant queens. Believe it or not, says Page, some men don't even find models attractive.

Soon Page was learning about makeup, hair and how to transform genetically blessed girls into marketable commodities. On her return to Houston, she was unsure what she would do with her new skills, except that she wanted to "be something." But once she met Rachel Duran, her future started to take shape.

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