c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — A decade or so ago came Gisele Bündchen and the Brazilians, with their va-va-voom bodies, golden tans and sun-streaked hair. Then there was a flood of Eastern bloc models, led by Natalia Vodianova, with ethereal, almost feline features.

But in casting sessions for New York Fashion Week, it seems the most coveted look isn’t from a particular region or defined by a body type. To stand out as a model now, one needs to have a flaw.

“You want to be intrigued by a certain characteristic or feature you’re not used to seeing,” said Natalie Joos, 38, a fashion consultant based in New York who has cast ad campaigns for Helmut Lang.

Some of the most successful working models of the moment have an unconventional twist. For Cara Delevingne, on the cover of the September issue of W magazine, it’s thick eyebrows. For Casey Legler, it’s her short-cropped hair and a distinctly masculine affect (a former Olympic swimmer, she has been shot in both men’s and women’s clothes). Athena Wilson and Sam Rollinson are also quite boyish.

And models such as Othilia Simon, Egle Jezepcikaite and Kelly Mittendorf, all of whom are expected to walk the runways this week, have faces the French might describe as jolie laide (good-looking ugly).

“They weren’t cheerleaders in high school with football players chasing after them,” said Jason Valenta, 35, the director of scouting at Next Models in New York, of this new type. “These are lanky and awkward girls who come into their own a little bit later.” (Models are universally referred to as “girls” in the industry, although for this new school, starting with Legler, who is 36, age can be an asset. As can life experience: Consider Kristen McMenamy, a pioneer of quirk, in the Balenciaga campaign, or Vogue’s August spread of Sasha Pivovarova and a coterie of model-moms frolicking around Brooklyn.)

“When I’m looking for models, pretty isn’t on my list,” said Jill Wenger, 36, owner of the Totokaelo boutique and e-commerce site in Seattle. “I like something that’s off that kind of works in their favor.”

Eric Granwehr, 25, an agent on the women’s division of Major Model Management, looks for strong bone structure that can look a bit odd in person, he said, adding: “It’s important to focus on the way their face takes to light, specifically eyes that light up and tell a story. It creates a viewing experience you don’t get with someone who’s conventionally pretty.”

Even someone considered “conventionally pretty,” the ubiquitous Kate Upton, who is Elle’s September cover girl, has distinguished herself with somewhat outré YouTube videos and a body more buxom than the typical runway waif.

Other traditional beauties are busy purposefully making themselves quirkier. Burberry model Edie Campbell allowed hairstylist Guido Palau to cut her long blond hair into a dyed-black mullet. Chloe Norgaard, Charlotte Free and SooJoo Park all have found success sporting hair in shades not found in nature. Marina Krtinic and Leore Hayon have locks they leave proudly, unconventionally frizzy; and Erin Wasson has covered herself with tattoos.

Robin Black, 38, a makeup artist in Los Angeles who has worked with Diane von Furstenberg and Allure, said that with the campaigns she’s working on these days, “They don’t want the cookie-cutter model.”

The New Quirk might be an adjustment of sorts to an Instagram world, where amateur images of beauty fly fast, and editors and advertisers are looking for something to make the viewer linger longer than a nanosecond.

“When you first meet a girl, something like a gap tooth catches your attention,” said Kwok Kan Chan, 45, director of U.S. operations at The Society Model Management, based in New York and part of Elite World/Elite Group. “You might look at her and think ‘She’s not a conventional beauty.’”

Chan works with Lindsey Wixson, who along with Georgia May Jagger and Avery Tharp, a newcomer, has made gap teeth a signature asset.

“I remember meeting Lindsey, and she was so lovable with this smile and saying, ‘You’re like baby Drew Barrymore,’” Chan said.

Or maybe, like so much in fashion, the quirk is just a reaction to what came before it.

“There was a big phase when they all looked like clones: beautiful with amazing bodies, blank screens,” said Wayne Sterling, 44, the creative director at Mix Model Management in New York. “You couldn’t distinguish one girl from another. It was a great aesthetic trick. A circle of powerful photographers, editors and designers get bored of the flatness.”

But even if the unconventional girls are the darlings of fashion editorials, whether they can get major commercial jobs is in question.

“The longevity in the modeling industry comes with major contracts,” said Anne Nelson, the senior manager of IMG Models in New York.

Since the late 1990s, she has worked with Bündchen, who made $42 million in the past year.

“As far as beauty contracts are concerned, they don’t take much risk — they have guidelines of what the face should be, measurements between the lips and nose, and nose and eyes,” she said.

And yet Charlotte Free — and her pink hair — has signed with Maybelline, while Jagger has done advertisements for Rimmel, which is perhaps indicative of change to come. Let’s not forget either the precedent of Cindy Crawford, with her mole, and Lauren Hutton, who got some of her most lucrative contracts later in life, when she had added visible years of experience to her already unusual gap. Perhaps quirks, too, will at some point become so ubiquitous that agencies grow weary.

For now, the industry is reveling in the variety. Black, the makeup artist, said: “The other day, a girl was asking for help. She said, ‘I don’t look like the typical model, should I dye my hair lighter?’ My advice was, ‘Play up your differences as much as you can.’”