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Beline Obeid

Hallways to runways

Brittany Burke has appeared in several local and regional magazines. Now, the 16-year-old Grosse Pointe Shores resident hopes to take her career to new lengths on the runways of New York.

This photo was one of several of Burke in a 10-page spread in the July issue of Styleline magazine. Her photo also appeared on the cover. Photo by Daniel Lippitt

Burke relaxing in the living room of her family home. She has been modeling professionally for two years and hopes to “walk the runway” next month during Fashion Week in New York City. photo by Karen Fontanive.
August 11, 2011
Many young girls dream of one day becoming a famous model.

For 16-year-old Grosse Pointe Shores resident Brittany Burke, that dream may soon come true.

The Grosse Pointe North High School junior recently signed with an elite New York agency and leaves soon for the Big Apple with a shot at walking the runway during New York Fashion Week.

A career begins

It began as such dreams frequently do. A child asking over and over to do something.

For Burke's mom, Renee, the request hit home. She modeled throughout college to pay for her schooling. Brittany Burke had looked at these photos many times.

"I just wanted to see what it (modeling) was like because it looked really cool," Burke said. "I used to bother my mom about it."

Renee Burke saw modeling as a way to keep her daughter focused, safe and out of trouble.

"Whatever a child's talent is, it's all about them being a better adult. For Brittany, it's modeling," she explained. "It's no different than a child who picks up a baseball or a hockey stick."

Renee Burke sent photos of Brittany to Chicago agencies. A couple showed interest and Brittany and her mother met with them. She signed and began working for Bon-Ton department stores in Wisconsin doing catalog and website work.

"I did a lot of commercial stuff and then I started getting more editorial (work)," Burke said. Editorial modeling accompanies articles in magazines.

Her work wasn't seen by her friends and family in the Detroit area. It appeared mostly in Wisconsin and Burke wasn't anxious for friends to know about it.

"I kind of kept it secret, because I just didn't want everybody to know about it," she said

While Burke continued with her life as a normal Grosse Pointe teen — attending classes, playing volleyball and hanging out with friends — she also continued modeling.

A “head and shoulders” photo from Brittany Burke’s most recent portfolio. Photo By Irene Mahmud
Last December, she appeared on the cover of Royal Oak-based Hour Magazine and her secret was out.

"It was really cool."

The Hour cover led to an even more public job: the cover and an inside spread in the July issue of Styleline, a Detroit-based fashion magazine.

The cusp of a breakthrough

Near the end of the school year, Burke was featured in a model showcase in Chicago.

"A showcase is when they have several different models from all over the country that are with my agency in Chicago," Burke explained. "They put on a fashion show showing all the new models. They bring in tons of other clients to watch the show. A New York agency saw me."

Burke signed with an elite New York modeling agency and a couple of days after school ended, she and her mom packed up and headed to New York.

Burke explained that breaking into the New York market is different than modeling in the Midwest. It requires new photos and a new portfolio. "I just started there, so what we have to do is build my portfolio."

This includes "auditioning" for New York fashion world's famed Fashion Week with the hopes of signing with a designer and having the opportunity to continue modeling in New York and Europe.

While nothing is concrete, Burke is optimistic. She and her mom arranged to get her school books for the coming year and retain a tutor, in case she's walking the runway and not the hallways in September.

"I'll be all set when I get back."

Education reigns

Hair, makeup, clothes, shoes and accessories are components of the photo. The model pulls it together. “You actually have to give a part in the outfit you’re given,” Burke explained. Photo by Daniel Lippitt
Understanding full well the capriciousness of the modeling business, Burke keeps school on the front burner, modeling mostly during school breaks. She realizes modeling tends to have a short shelf life and she needs an education, both for a modeling career and in case a modeling career isn't to be.

"They (agents) want you to be educated. They don't want you to look stupid in front of a client. The more education you have, the more you relate to adults."

"I hope (to model until) at least (age) 27; that's pretty much as long as it goes," Burke said. "It's hard to stay up there.

"I'd like to go to NYU or Columbia. I've already looked into it. I can work while I'm in college, so that way I'll have money to pay off college and save up for whatever else I need."

Price of devotion

A career in modeling isn't all glamour. Days start as early as 7 a.m. and end as late as 9 or 10 p.m. and "heels are ridiculous. You actually have to move and jump around. I was falling all over the place," said Burke.

Just like school or a career, there is work necessary to get ahead. Looking good and posing are not enough. The model must convey the feeling of the clothes, makeup and setting.

"You have to give off the personality of how they dress you. If they've given you a dark black gown and they're doing dark makeup, you have to act out a part for that," said Burke. "It's not like when you're modeling and just posing and doing that kind of thing. You actually have to give a part in the outfit you're given. I'm always practicing."

There are personal drawbacks as well.

"I'm missing high school volleyball and I missed hanging out with my friends for a whole month this summer," Burke said.

And if she is selected for fashion week, she'll be missing homecoming as well.

"It's kind of sad in a way because you're not really being a kid; you're being a professional adult slash teenager.

Any regret quickly leaves Burke's face. "I love it. It's been my passion for a long time."

The rewards

Burke readily admits to enjoying wearing the designer clothes and having her hair and makeup done, but views modeling as a growth experience. "It definitely built my confidence a lot. A lot of kids my age don't talk to adults as much as I do. You have to be very talkative with adults and know a lot about what they do. It does make you more mature."

"My favorite part about this is getting the pictures back because you never know what to expect," Burke said. "When you get them it's like 'wow, I didn't think I could look like this' or 'I didn't think I could do this kind of pose or that kind of thing.' And you get better every time once you look at those photos.

"I actually have something I'm good at. It makes me feel good."

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