With many well known supermodels such as Eva Herzigova and Karolina Kurkova, the Czech Republic has more than its fair share of high-profile figures in the fashion industry. However, a recent incident in Mexico, which resulted in a Czech model being very badly beaten, has brought the potential downside of this business into focus.
Ever since Eva Herzigova fronted a notorious Wonderbra ad campaign over a decade ago, it seems as if scores of top models have been walking off a conveyer belt from the Czech Republic and onto catwalks around the world. For a lot of these girls, modelling offers them a chance to enjoy a glamorous career and jet-set lifestyle. On the other hand, however, many of these young women can find themselves alone in a foreign environment without much support. The recent case of a Czech model, Silvie Surychova, who was severely battered by a client in Mexico, has highlighted the risks that models can sometimes be exposed to.
I spoke to Filip Knesl, who is director of the foreign section of Czechoslovak Models, the leading modelling agency in the Czech Republic which sent Ms Surychova to Mexico. He regretted what had happened, but also stressed that it had been an isolated incident:
"Honestly, it's only happened once. We're really sorry about it. Many models from a number of agencies in Prague had worked for that agency [in Mexico]. We believed it was OK. We'd had some girls there before and there weren't any problems... It happened and we're really sorry - we were trying to get that girl back from Mexico as soon as possible."
Mr Knesl claimed that his agency had liased with the Czech embassy in Mexico as well as his firm's insurance company to ensure that Ms Surychova was taken home on a chartered flight as soon as she could be moved. Nevertheless, Mr Knesl admitted that there were unscrupulous agencies in the Czech fashion industry, who could be exploiting the young girls they were representing:
"There are many agencies in this business who are only interested in making money. We try to be a family for a girl. There are some agencies and they tell their girls that they have to be models 100%, that they have to forget about school and everything else. We're not like this. We support education. We know that if a girl is young she must grow, so we advise her and give her a hand with all the problems she might have"
According to Mr Knesl, young Czech models can reap the benefits of the fashion industry provided that they carefully select the right agency to look after their interests properly. It certainly doesn't seem as if there is any shortage of young Czech women "strutting their stuff" at international fashion shows. Czechoslovak Models alone has nearly 70 girls on its books working at various events around the world. I asked Mr Knesl if perhaps there was a particular Czech or "Slavic" look that designers seemed to go for:
"It's really hard to say that there's a special Slavic look, because we have girls who are dark, blonde - with brown eyes and blue eyes... I think we simply have beautiful girls that's all..."
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