October 1987. A nightclub in Dusseldorf. Michel Levaton, director of the Metropolitan model agency, is in a bad mood. He's been in Germany for two weeks and has been unsuccessful in his search for beautiful girls. (Scouting is the word used in this business.) Suddenly a girl on the dance floor catches his attention; it's Claudia! Business card in hand, he resolutely walks up to her. She thought I was trying to pick her up! - says Levaton. He won't give up, so she gives him her phone number. The following day, they meet again in a tearoom. Claudia's mother has come along and won't hear of photos, nor of Paris. Claudia must finish school first, she insists. Several weeks and many phone calls later, Claudia goes to Paris for photo tests.
In Paris, Claudia does her first test with photographer Marie-Francoise Prybys; then Souliers and Levaton take her around to meet the magazine crowd. It's almost a disaster: Nobody catches on! ''People thought she looked babyish, too chubby, Souliers recalls. They'd say, She'll never be more than a catalog queen! Friday, 4:30 P.M., the do-or-die meeting with Odile Sarron, casting director at ELLE. Sarron thought she was divine, Souliers remembers. ''She booked her right away for the following week, a rare feat for a beginner. Odile has always been ahead of the game, Levaton continues. She's got a good eye. Two weeks later, Claudia appears in ELLE, and Levaton signs her on.Once Launched by ELLE, Claudia starts off faster than a race car. Italian, German, and English newspapers begin fighting over her. Five magazine covers later, Europe is under the spell. America hints at sweet deals. But for Souliers and Levaton, it is still too early; Claudia's face must be associated with a designer's name.Considering her look at the time, I didn't think things would work out with Chanel, Souliers confides. Still, I sent her file over. When I heard back that Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's legendary designer, wanted to meet Claudia, I just could not believe it!Soon afterward, Claudia burst forth on Chanel's runway. it was her first show. I spent hours trying to teach her how to walk, Souliers recalls. I ended up calling Karl to tell him that I just could not do it. He answered that it just didn't matter; he wanted her to walk as if she were on the street.
Claudia was ready to cast a spell on the United States. We gambled on introducing her to the American market via Guess, a very young company specializing in sportswear and jeans, says Souliers. But once again the agents had it figured out.: Simultaneously with the stunning Guess campaign, Claudia appeared on five magazine covers in the United States and seven Europe. That's when it all started to really happen, and it's still going on. -- Olivia De Lamberterie.