A long-limbed 16-year-old beauty sits at a café on the King's Road in London, sharing lunch with her mother. A woman walks over, interrupts them—incidentally, in the midst of an argument about the girl's future—and asks the teenager if she's interested in becoming a model. Within a week she has signed on with Models 1, UK home to the cross-generational likes of Karen Elson, Amber Valletta and Twiggy, and will be known professionally as Petrina K. The plot twist? Unknown at the time to scout Fiona Ellis (who also discovered Alek Wek, Erin O'Connor, Elson and Jade Parfitt), the young Ms. K. had already experienced a thing or two about the workings of celebrity and the razzle-dazzle limelight; the "K" stands for Khashoggi.

"Depending on which agency I'm with and which country, it's usually up to the booker whether they want to use my last name or not," says Khashoggi, now 25, daughter of Saudi arms dealer and tycoon Adnan Khashoggi. "I get a lot of jobs just for being Petrina, the unknown model. But my last name kind of conjures up images of excess wealth and glamour, and there's an appeal. I get a lot of jobs also for who I am." That includes being constant tabloid fodder for the British press. "There have been pages and pages of stuff in newspapers about my personal life, who I'm dating, what I'm doing," says Khashoggi, a five-foot-nine blond with chiseled cheekbones. Not to mention the fact that at 18, she discovered in highly publicized, soap opera-worthy fashion that her biological father was actually former Tory cabinet minister and convicted perjurer Jonathan Aitken. "In London, I began to think my name was a hindrance to my job," she says. "I'd go to castings, and people would be like, 'Oh, you're that girl….' "

Khashoggi, though, is only one member of a growing genre of models whose family clout has preceded any industry accomplishment. There are the Hearst cousins, Amanda and Lydia; presidential niece Lauren Bush; and Isabella Rossellini's daughter, Elettra Wiedemann. Then there are the rock progeny: Alexandra and Theodora Richards (daughters of Keith Richards and former supermodel Patti Hansen); Elizabeth Jagger (offspring of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall); and Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis. And a little more than a year ago, 17-year-old Daisy Lowe, Gavin Rossdale's daughter—not with spouse Gwen Stefani but with British chanteuse Pearl Lowe—signed on with London's Select Model Management. Even a girl whose claim to familial fame is a bloodline shared with the great Romantic poet Lord Byron has clocked runway time: Emily Byron walked in the Just Cavalli show last September and has done retail shows such as Missoni's 50th-anniversary celebration at Harrods.

Given our culture's celebrity obsession—and the subsequent lowering of standards as to what constitutes real celebrity—this phenomenon is hardly surprising. Certainly the annals of the famous and infamous are filled with such ascents, with the talent cream rising—from Liza Minnelli and Gwyneth Paltrow to Rossellini herself (daughter of Ingrid Bergman). But modeling is a bit like basketball, in that the job requires certain physical attributes that only the most dazzling can circumvent. Kate Moss may have achieved icon status at a mere five feet six, but that doesn't make the cute, shortish girl next door real model material—even if next door means a palace, whether of the rock or royal variety.

These girls, however, are in a league of their own, neither full-fledged celebrities like Uma Thurman or Scarlett Johansson—both of whom have starred in Louis Vuitton ads, among others—nor conventional catwalkers like Daria Werbowy, Gemma Ward and Heather Marks. Rather, what they bring to the job is a certain cachet, a quirky narrative oomph that may resonate a little or not at all at the high-fashion level but apparently resonates plenty elsewhere in this multitiered industry. In truth, even with the tingle of pop-culture pedigree, most will never inch past the novelty phase, let alone achieve A-list model status. But then, this is hardly the traditional modeling industry's most shining moment. Thus, the distant ring of name recognition—whether because one's uncle is president or one's mother was a kidnap victim-turned-brainwashed revolutionary-turned-deprogrammed socialite—can catapult a girl to the front end of the B-listers. (Even well-born boys—Lord Frederick Windsor, James Jagger, Matheo Renoir and James Rousseau, to name a few—have gotten in on the name-game modeling act, though none as seriously as their female counterparts.)

"We're just so fascinated by celebrities that a random model is not that interesting to us anymore," says Amanda Hearst, 22, daughter of Anne Hearst. Amanda, an art-history major at Fordham University, is the new face of Lilly Pulitzer. "[Clients] want people with personality, someone recognizable that can bring them attention. I'm not your typical model. There's a backstory."

Kate Kenny, director of marketing for Lilly Pulitzer, says her firm recently signed Hearst not just "to put a celebrity face and name out there" but to "convey the lifestyle."

Apparently, many companies are intrigued by the lifestyle of the social set. Witness the recent hirings of Vanessa Getty by Judith Leiber, and Tinsley Mortimer by Douglas Hannant for his Alexandros fur collection. "A model is a model," says Leiber president and CEO Robert Vignola. "We didn't think a model would bring social significance and stature to the ads [as Vanessa has]. It comes from her upbringing, pedigree and philanthropic nature—our customers today totally relate to that."

As Hannant says of his campaign girl, "Tinsley lives the life."

Few deny that a family connection can provide a girl's initial entrée. "My name is a factor when someone hires me for a shoot," says first niece Bush, 22, a model for six years whose clients include Abercrombie & Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger and Dooney & Bourke. "I would like to think it wasn't the entire reason, but I know it plays a role."

Katie McCoy, the five-foot-nine daughter of Lilliputian-size Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, takes a similar view. "It's great when you don't have to start from the ground up," she says. "I know that who my mom is gave me some sort of advantage, and I'm not at all afraid or ashamed to say that."

Some girls even play with family facts to emphasize a connection. "There are so many beautiful models out there, but to have the strength of my mom behind me, I'm really blessed," says former supermodel Pat Cleveland's daughter, Anna, 17. "If people recognize me as the daughter of Pat, well, I am." But just in case anyone is unaware of her lineage, Anna has dropped her surname, van Ravenstein, in favor of her mother's.

Similarly, Lydia Hearst, legally Lydia Hearst-Shaw, is also milking the name she got from her mother, Patty Hearst-Shaw. (Her cousin was christened Amanda Randolph Hearst. Patty's sister, Anne Hearst, separated from Amanda's father, Richard McChesney, before Amanda was born.) But this does not keep the five-foot-six Lydia from insisting upon her everygirl status. "I've pounded the pavement," she maintains. "I've gone door to door with my portfolio, meeting with clients, casting agents. I consider myself to be just one of the girls, just another model."

Some girls claim to be conflicted about what they know has been a shortcut to fame. "I don't mind people taking interest [in my name]," offers Byron, 21. "But I like to be recognized and chosen for the way I look or for my book rather than because of my name. Everybody wants to feel like they're recognized on their own merits." That said, although the daughter of the current Lord Byron is often identified as the poet's direct descendant, actually the relationship is less direct—she's a distant cousin.

So can a girl be taken seriously as a model when family celebrity has opened doors? In fact, the fashion industry has long embraced novelty types—as long as they have the genuine goods. Obvious examples hail from the tony Brit realm: Diana Mitford relation Stella Tennant, who as a mother of four remains a stunningly chic top model; Jasmine Guinness of the brewery family (also related to Mitford); and the more unconventional Sophie Dahl, granddaughter of Roald Dahl, who slimmed down from her initial Rubenesque fleshiness to more svelte model proportions. Then there's Japanese newcomer Anne Watanabe, daughter of actor Ken Watanabe, whose résumé boasts runway appearances at Marc Jacobs, Viktor & Rolf, Diane von Furstenberg, Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton. Some in the industry also predict an impressive career for Wiedemann.

But not everyone with famous parents has what's required, and there are naysayers. "I never consider those girls to be serious models," says Paul Rowland, founder of Supreme Management. "They have a name, and that's the main draw for clients. It's not like a glamorous, gorgeous, interesting-looking girl; it's just a girl with a name. And it's not like any of those girls are like Babe Paley, you know what I mean?"

In the absence of the right physical makeup and something more ephemeral—star quality, if you will—playing the name game will likely prove a short-term diversion. "It's not enough when it comes to having a real career," says DNA Model Management president David Bonnouvrier. "If you were to do your rotations at Dior, I don't think any of them would pass the fitting stage—is that rude?"

Well, mais oui, but it's an industry attitude of which many of these models are aware and some find plenty distressing. "I've kind of been pigeonholed as an It girl," gripes Khashoggi, who has done work for big-name concerns like L'Oréal, as well as editorial jobs for Marie Claire, ID, GQ and Elle.

Other girls couldn't care less about being taken seriously. Amanda Hearst, for one, considers herself "a student who occasionally models." And Mortimer views her gig as a playful romp. "I am so not a model," she says with a laugh. "Who's not open to possibilities in life? But to be honest, it's never been an option. I'm five feet five. It's all fun."

Major agents consider Mortimer's analysis spot-on. "Very few of these girls cross over to being big stars, and there's a reason for that," says Bonnouvrier.

Rowland agrees. "It's about the body, the overall look, the attitude, the confidence," he says. "Girls who become huge in fashion, clothes look incredible on them, whether they're good clothes or bad. I mean, do you think that those [other] girls sell clothes?"

And Cathy Gould, director of Elite Model Management, says, "Will you see these models doing high-fashion work? No. A lot of them just don't have the physical requirements. It doesn't work in fashion if you don't have the qualifications."

Then again, as Mortimer suggests, sometimes the fun is enough. As Bonnouvrier muses, "Do they really have to succeed as a model in order to, you know, survive?"

"A League of Their Own," by Venessa Lau, has been edited for Style.com; the complete article appears in the June 2006 issue of W.

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