PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 December, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 December, 1993, 12:00am

MOTHERS, lock up your daughters. Kaer is on the prowl, and what he wants, he usually gets.

Kaer travels around the world looking for beautiful women - he sidles up to them in nightclubs, chats them up on dance floors and accosts them on streets, in elevators, at train stations and airports.

The 28-year old Algerian claims to be the raison d'etre of the Metropolitan modelling agency, which shot to fame after discovering supermodel Claudia Schiffer in a German discotheque.

'If there was no Kaer, there would be no Metropolitan. I bring in all the girls,' he says.

Tall and well-built, with an ego to match, Kaer is one of a small breed of professional modelling scouts who hang around in brasseries near the studios of high-fashion photographers, cruise the trendiest parts of Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles, and even wait outside phone booths if they spot a 'potential' making a call inside.

There are few regulations and even fewer ethics. Scouts compete bitterly to get the cream of the crop - the best and most profitable models. And they will stop at nothing to get possible superstars to sign on the dotted line.

'You have to talk to them like you understand them. You have to become their friend. If they like you, they will sign immediately,' Kaer says. 'Of course, if they fall in love with you, it is even better. If you give them good sex, they will sign the next day. Sometimes I have relationships with these girls, but only if I really like them. I don't lead them on.

'All my girlfriends are models. When I go out for lunch, I have two or three of them with me. For dinner I have a few more. All my friends are envious.' Kaer, a former model, was approached by Metropolitan when the agency noticed he seemed to know instinctively the type of 'look' that would sell. He comes from a wealthy industrial family based in Algeria, Switzerland and New York, and says he is not in themodelling business for money.

'I do it because I want to help people,' he says. His selflessness has advantages: he travels where and when he pleases, scouring hot-spots from Munich to Miami. All his bills are picked up by the agency.

An evening on the prowl with Kaer is an education in egomania. In his expensive designer clothes, he perches on a stool at a brasserie near Paris' Palais Royal, eyes fixed to the window as models occasionally pass by on their way to and from assignments atnearby studios. If he sees someone he likes, he dashes outside and strikes up a conversation. It is quiet, so he suggests taking a ride on the Metro, where he has also had some success.

A pretty waif-like girl catches his eye, and Kaer gives her the once-over. He smiles, she smiles back and contact is established. But she gets off at the next stop, and he lets her. 'Nah. Close up her face is too small and her nose too big. She'd have to spend a fortune fixing it.

'If a girl has a not-so-good body, we can change that,' Kaer says. 'If her thighs are too big or breasts too small, there are always things she can do to improve herself. But she needs to have a strong face, one with a lot of character. I can always tell immediately if she's going to make it or not.' For some months, Kaer has pursued a 16-year-old American model who is already under contract with a rival agency. He says it may take time, but 'I am going to get her one day. Just watch. I can get any girl I want'.

Kaer and scouts like him have plenty of incentive. While he maintains he does what he does for the love of it, and money is secondary, it is common knowledge most scouts get a hefty commission for models they sign on, particularly if they are being sought by other agencies. The supermodel industry - based largely in Paris, New York, London, Milan and Tokyo - is fiercely competitive, rife with poaching among agencies and in-fighting.

'There's huge money involved,' says Raphael Santin, manager of the Elite agency in Paris which has, among others, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Yasmin Le Bon on its books.

Supermodels are paid up to US$10,000 (HK$77,300) for a 25-minute catwalk appearance, and fees can run into the millions for beauty contracts. Hundreds of young hopefuls walk into the Elite offices every week, asking for a shot at stardom. Only a few are encouraged to have test photographs taken; most are politely shown the door.

Belgian model Fabienne Terwinghe has risen through the ranks to become one of the industry's highest-paid and most sought-after models, particularly after landing a lucrative million-dollar contract with cosmetics giant Helena Rubenstein, for which she only needs to work 15 days a year.

Terwinghe, now 25, was spotted by modelling agent Pauline Bernatchez and was promised her face would make her famous. Ms Bernatchez flew from New York to a small town in Belgium to bring Terwinghe to the US and put her in business. In six years, Terwinghe has become a hot property on the international modelling scene.

'I have been signing on models for 22 years. After a while, you learn to tell which looks will sell. It has to be love at first sight, either yes or no,' Ms Bernatchez says.

Terwinghe was sent to New York celebrity photographer Steven Meisel. It was her first booking, and she ended up with 12 pages in American Vogue. Since 1988, she has been on more than 30 magazine covers, including all the European Vogue and Elle publications, and commands up to US$20,000 a day for prestigious print advertising jobs.

She got her first big break as the voluptuous and sexually-charged model in the advertising campaign for Chloe's Narcisse perfume.

Terwinghe is one of a small group of international models who have landed beauty contracts with cosmetics houses, regarded as the icing on the cake for agents, scouts, bookers and models alike. She is following in the footsteps of Isabella Rossellini (Lancome), Crawford (Revlon) and Lauren Hutton (Estee Lauder). The work is relatively relaxed, but highly paid, and guarantees instant and widespread recognition.

'It is not very hard work. They treat me well. They don't ask me to play games,' Terwinghe said. 'If you're not professional in this business, you're not going to last. It's not enough being just a sex symbol.' For Terwinghe, being professional means staying away from the nightclub scene and not flaunting her private life. 'It's the press that makes these supermodels, and any type of scandal or controversy helps. Very little of it has to do with talent,' she says.

For all Terwinghe's success, she is trying to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground and to resist the constant overtures of scouts. 'I come from a small town in Belgium called Vervieres. My mother is a hairdresser and my father a plumber. I never leftthe country until I went to New York. I'm not about to forget where I'm from, and I don't have the right to complain,' she says.

Ms Bernatchez has had to protect Terwinghe from the Kaers of this world. 'There is too much stealing of girls because they represent such big business,' she says.

'In the US, there are many girls who dream of becoming a model, and when one of these scouts comes along and tells them what they want to hear, they can be in a vulnerable position.

'As a scout and an agent, you have to be honest. But there is too much dishonesty in this profession. I hear so many stories of how unethical people can be, and the girls never get what they deserve. Half the time, they don't even get paid.' A law was recently passed in France offering greater protection to aspiring models who never see any money.

'I have many girls who approach me asking me to represent them, but most of them just don't have what it takes. I tell them not to take it personally,' Ms Bernatchez says.

'I'm looking for girls who have spirit, personality and soul. But of course, if they have a fabulous face and body, but are a little crazy, I'll take them anyway.'