There’s one!” Page Parkes exclaimed, right before I lost her in a sea of tween-age Saturday shoppers at Dallas’s NorthPark Center mall. It was a November morning at the area’s hottest hangout for the hashtag generation, and Parkes was on what she calls “a human treasure hunt.” She was searching for fresh faces to feed to her network of modeling agencies and schools in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.
Parkes, who has a roster of two hundred models, opened her business in 1981 and has continued to build a reputation since. After meeting Angelina Jolie in an elevator in Los Angeles, Parkes booked one of Jolie’s first modeling jobs, for a J. C. Penney ad. Parkes’s former office in Miami discovered Channing Tatum, who had been an exotic dancer, and each year she personally shepherds twenty or so Texas beauties onto the catwalks of New York, Milan, and Paris. Last year, Parkes even became a star herself, on the E! reality show Scouted, which chronicles the very activity I’d come to NorthPark to witness. “This is where I find ’em,” she told me. “I spend my life in malls.”
There was plenty of youth on the horizon for the 55-year-old mother of three to choose from. Packs of shiny-haired girls in denim the colors of Crayolas—cornflower, sea green, peach—converged outside the windows of Urban Outfitters and XXI Forever. I scanned the crowd for Parkes, with her red jeans and thick blond hair, but, from the back, too many women fit the description.
Before she’d disappeared, Parkes had already spotted seven potential models in a mere 25 minutes. Among them were a boy who worked at a car wash (“Just beautiful. Ethnically ambiguous children are what it’s about now”), a girl Parkes asked to get off the phone so that she could get a better look (“Too old! Sometimes you have to get up close. Ew”), and a high school junior with an “oatmeal face” (“Yeah, just like a bowl of oatmeal, freckled and plain. Beautiful”). She also scouted the same giggling, blond, Farrah Fawcett–ish high school freshman twice.
I finally found Parkes next to H&M, where she’d cornered a lanky girl of about five feet nine inches, wearing yellow jeans tucked into Uggs. Parkes was literally licking her lips. The girl, named Maddie, was with a friend, a shorter girl who was staring at Parkes, stunned. As Parkes talked with a big grin, she got closer and closer to Maddie, who took a couple of steps back until her ponytail hit the store’s window.
“So no one has ever asked you to model?” Parkes said incredulously, biting her lip. She eyed Maddie up and down. “That’s ridiculous!”
“Uh-uh,” Maddie responded, revealing a mouth full of braces. She looked past Parkes and fiddled with her robot necklace. Her friend chortled, tapping her iPhone.
“Isn’t she just amazing?” Parkes asked me, seemingly unaware that Maddie could hear what she was saying. “Trust me. I know. I mean, look at her half-shut eyes and that little nose. I bet those teeth are going to turn out great. Just stunning. Really.”
Parkes addressed Maddie directly. “So, look, I know this is weird, me just walking up to you. So talk to your mom, okay? My name is Page Parkes. So you can Google me. And you will model.”
“Uh, okay,” Maddie said.
“Let me get you a card.” Parkes crouched down, threw her thick hair over one shoulder, and started digging through her enormous Tory Burch bag, which contained magazines, hair spray, and a second purse. The girls looked at each other, and Maddie mouthed, “What is happening?”
As the pair walked away, Parkes turned to me. “I mean, wow. That girl is so fabulous. She’s so ugly she’s cute. Imagine her in hair and makeup. She’s like a Prada girl. It could be two years until I see a dime. But that’s love.”
It’s also profit. There’s a reason Parkes spends her days at malls, volleyball tournaments, baseball diamonds, and other places that attract tall, pretty girls and boys. Like other agents doing business outside the fashion capitals, Parkes is looking for faces that she can get signed to international agencies, which give her a cut of their high-profile bookings. As an agent, she makes up to 20 percent of her models’ earnings.
As Parkes walked back through the food court, she heaved her tote over her shoulder and glanced around. She sighed with an “I’m-so-over-it” roll of the eyes. “When you scout, you really see how many average people there are in the world.” Right then her phone dinged with a new email. It read, “Hi! You met me at Walgreens and told me I could model!” But before Parkes could respond, someone not so average caught her eye, and she was off again, running up to a pair of very tall girls wearing brightly colored jeans.