Move over, Bar Rafaeli — there’s a new Israeli “It girl."
Sofia Mechetner, a 14-year-old from Holon, a small suburb outside Tel Aviv, has been signed as the “new face” of Dior, one of France’s top fashion houses. Israel’s Channel 2 accompanied Sofia for several days leading up to Paris Fashion Week, where she opened the show last week.
The daughter of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Mechetner’s story is a classic tale of rags to riches. Before being discovered by Israeli modeling agency Roberto earlier this year, the lanky blonde teenager helped her mother clean apartments and looked after her two younger siblings in order to make ends meet. In the modest one-bedroom apartment, she shared a bedroom with her two siblings and slept on a mattress on the floor— her mother slept on a couch in the living room.
At 5-feet-10, people were constantly telling her she should pursue modeling. The Roberto staff was so impressed by her look, they suggested her to the exclusive Viva Agency in Paris, which works with only 70 models worldwide, none of them Israeli. Upon her arrival in Paris, Mechetner was turned away because of her age.
The story didn’t stop there. While wandering around Paris with her chaperone from the Israeli agency, the two walked into a Dior store and recognized Dior’s head designer, Raf Simons, who happened to be in the same store.
Simons, struck with Mechetner's look, exchanged contact details, and called Dior’s casting director. The Paris agents, though surprised Simons was interested in a young Israeli model with no prior experience, immediately rushed to call her back.
When Mechetner found out she had been signed with Dior, with a contract around $250,000, she immediately called her mother. “You can quit your job, mom,” she says in the Channel 2 footage.
Mechetner is not the first Russian model to be discovered on the fly and delivered from a life of poverty. Natalia Mikhailovna Vodianova, known for her seven-figure contract with Calvin Klein and one of Forbes' top-earning models, grew up in a poor district of the former Soviet Union with her mother and two half-sisters, one of whom had cerebral palsy. As a teenager, she helped her mother sell fruit on the street. Similar to Mechetner, her father had also left the family. Discovered at age 15, she singed with Viva models and moved to Paris by age 17.
Earlier this year, Israel banned models with a BMI of less than 18.5 (a female model who is 5-feet-8 can weigh no less than 119 pounds). The law, nicknamed the “Photoshop Law,” was an attempt to reform the industry, which has become infamous for causing models to develop eating disorders.
With such a young new face in Mechetner, the question of age seems to be the next issue. For the time being, Mechetner plans to spend her earnings on a new apartment, with her own bedroom, she told Channel 2.