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Elite Modeling Agency
Ali Stephens' transformation encompassed a whirlwind five weeks.

Ali Stephens has gone from the run-way to the runway.

In a whirlwind five weeks, the East High School runner has signed a contract with Elite Model Management in New York, made her runway debut at the Prada Spring/Summer fashion show in Milan and walked for designers including Chanel, Miu Miu, Givenchy, Nina Ricci and Louis Vuitton as part of Fashion Week in Paris.

She was part of a private showing for Anna Wintour, the Vogue magazine editor-in-chief said to have inspired the book and subsequent film, "The Devil Wears Prada."

And now, Calvin Klein and Vogue magazine could be waiting in the wings.

Not bad for a 16-year-old who has had her eye more on marine biology than mascara.

"It's been so busy, and it's a lot of running around," she said, "but it's been really fun."

"What takes years for some girls took her a few weeks," said Roman Young, director of new faces for Elite Model Management and Ali's manager. "I think if she wants to and she has the determination, her chances of being a major, major model are very, very high."

Ali, who got her braces off last spring, and her sister Maddie, a senior at East, were shopping with their parents at The Gateway last summer when a man told their father they could be models.

"It's like, we've heard that before, but OK," father Marc Stephens said.

The man turned out to be a scout and invited the pair to an open call for Pulse Management, which works with Elite. It slipped their minds. But then the man called the family and invited the sisters to send in snapshots.

Shortly after, Stacey Eastman, who runs Pulse Management, called the family and asked to send a New York photographer to work with Ali so he could shop her portfolio to the big agencies during Fashion Week, her dad said.

On Sept. 13, the family learned designer Jill Sander had requested Ali for her show and that three agencies were vying for her.

"They sent me her pictures, and immediately, I was like, 'Oh, my God, this girl is amazing,"' Young said.

Her symmetrical face, health and athleticism — she's a ranked runner — set her apart, Young said. Her hard work and discipline — she takes Advanced Placement classes and maintains a 3.8 GPA — would serve her well during 13-hour days, often spent in fittings and waiting while remaining happy, friendly and personable, a task that is trying even for adults.

Ali signed a three-year contract with Elite days later, then jumped on a plane for the Big Apple, where she spent about three days for a crash course in modeling — including the famous runway models' walk — and left for Milan. It was her first time out of the country. Thankfully, Elite helped expedite her passport, her dad says.

"She's never done anything in modeling — nothing, zip — and really wasn't that interested," Marc Stephens said. Sister Maddie often is asked if she is a model, and when Ali's around, "the joke is, Ali says, 'What am I, chopped liver?"'

In Milan, where Ali went with her mother before the rest of her family joined her, she walked for Jill Sander. Then for Prada, whose new faces the fashion industry closely watches, Young said.

"Once she appeared on that runway, then the avalanche of calls came in," he said.

Ali was offered exclusive runway experience with Prada, meaning she couldn't walk for any other designers in Milan, Young said.

Later, she was was booked in some of the best shows in Paris for Fashion Week and opened the Chloe show. Life was hectic, whisking from show to show — Ali did three in one day, and once left her history homework behind in the rush.

"Backstage gets pretty hectic the few minutes before, but ... all the models are really nice and friendly," Ali said.

Ali loved walking for Louis Vuitton and Prada, but the Nina Ricci show was a turning point.

"It was so beautiful ... how they put it together and the runway," she said. "One of the best parts (was) kind of realizing everything. OK, I guess I'm a model now. I realized it at that point."

Now, she's being looked at for the Calvin Klein campaign — casting is Sunday in New York. Vogue has requested her, as have several Italian businesses, Young said. Teen Vogue also has expressed interest in Ali, possibly for a cover.

"People who watch the industry are following her intently," Young said. Her rise, he said, "is phenomenally fast."

Paris Fashion Week has concluded, but this past week Ali's been doing photo shoots and interviews with a European magazine and The New York Times Magazine, which was shot in London, her dad said.

But at least today, Ali's back in Salt Lake City after skyrocketing into the fashion world. She'll return to school and cheer on her team at the State Cross Country Championships.

With the next three years committed to modeling, Ali is unsure what will happen with her schooling; maybe she'll need to check into the Internet home-school program through Brigham Young University.

Still, she hopes her return to East High next week can be business as usual.

"I don't want to be treated any differently, but I don't know" how peers will react to her newfound career, she said. "I guess we'll see."

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com