Scouted at IKEA: The stories behind Scandinavia’s greatest models

By Ann Marie Voina & Ciara Sheppard
Freja Beha

Photo: Getty

From Elsa Hosk’s father’s polaroids to Frida Gustavsson’s chance meeting in IKEA as she ordered meatballs, we delve into some of Scandinavia’s most famous model’s genesis stories...

What is it about model scouting stories we love so much? There’s something undeniably fairytale in the idea of a ‘fateful moment’ that changes a young girl’s life forever. And while not every discovery story follows the ‘girl is spotted walking down the street before being catapulted onto the world’s biggest magazine covers’ narrative, the anonymity-to-stardom trajectory that comes with modelling (more so than it does with say, singing or acting) is an addictive one. With the Scandi countries exporting some of the world’s most high-profile faces, you can bet they have some interesting stories to match. Here are just some of our favourites…


Mona Tougaard

Born: Aarhus, Denmark

Best known for: debuting as a Prada exclusive in 2019.

The Danish model – with Somalian, Ethiopian and Turkish heritage – was first scouted at the tender age of 12, but didn’t decide to take up modelling properly until she entered the Elite Model Look Denmark contest when she was 15. Winning the competition, Tougaard’s career quickly went stratospheric with the young model soon nabbed by Prada to debut as an exclusive in their autumn/winter show. quickly tipped the new face 'top newcomer', and she’s since gone on to appear in campaigns for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Loewe, Max Mara and Chloé.

Ceval Omar

Born: Oslo, Norway

Best known for: breaking boundaries as a Black, trans, curve model to appear in British Vogue.

While Ceval Omar’s discovery story isn’t a conventional one, it certainly is interesting. Before posing on magazine covers herself, Omar worked as a model scout for Heartbreak, one of Oslo’s premiere model agencies, hunting down the future faces of fashion. That was until 2018 when a major casting agent took a liking to the scout herself, contacting her through Facebook. Within 10 hours, three global modeling agencies — Heartbreak in Oslo, Present in London and Muse in New York — signed the model. In 2020, Omar was photographed by Jacqueline Landvik for British Vogue’s Hope issue – a landmark moment as the first Black, trans, curve model to appear in the magazine.

Sabina Karlsson

Born: Växjö, Sweden

Best known for: her signature red hair and freckles.

One of Sweden’s most unique beauties, Karlsson began modelling at just four when she and her father popped into a hair salon in her hometown to pick up some products. “The owners saw me and approached me because they needed a child for an upcoming photo shoot. Several weeks later, I had my first job as a model,” she told Essence. In her teenage years and early 20s, Karlsson worked as a straight size model, booking jobs for the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier and Armani, but switched to plus size modelling in 2010 in an effort to maintain her natural weight. She has since booked campaigns with brands from Levi’s and H&M to L’Oreal and Maybelline.

Paulina Porizkova

Born: Prostějov, Czechoslovakia

Best known for: earning a $6 million deal with Estée Lauder in 1988 – then the highest-paying modelling contract ever.

The model – who holds dual American and Swedish citizenship – was discovered by chance after modelling some makeup looks at age 13 for a friend who wanted to become a makeup artist. When her friend sent photos of her work around the top modelling agencies in Paris, it was the girl behind the makeup that caught the agency’s eye. “Soon after, a modelling agent called inviting me to Copenhagen to meet the famed model scout John Casablancas,” she recalled in an Instagram post. “John was busy with a model competition in a mall; I met him for all of 15 seconds. He took one look at me and asked: want to go to Paris? As if I’d say no! The rest, as they say, is history.”

Isold Halldorudottir

Born: Reykjavik, Iceland

Best known for: their activism in inclusivity and body positivity with the hashtag #fatgirloncam.

The filmmaker and model was discovered in 2016 after winning LOVE Magazine’s #loveme competition, offering the chance for lucky entrants to be photographed by Kendall Jenner for a special issue of the magazine. “I decided on a whim to apply, never expecting to actually win,” they told Dazed. After the issue was released, Isold's fame soared along with their social media presence, where they began using the hashtag #fatgirloncam, as a means of reclaiming the word ‘fat’ from its negative connotations. In 2020, the model fronted the Marc Jacobs fragrance campaign.

Elsa Hosk

Born: Stockholm, Sweden

Best known for: her work as a former Victoria’s Secret Angel, famously chosen to wear the $1 million Swarovski Fantasy Bra for the 2018 catwalk show.

Now one of Sweden’s most famous exports, it was actually Elsa Hosk’s father who can be credited with getting her career off the ground having sent photos of his 13-year-old daughter around the biggest modelling agencies in Stockholm. Hosk began modelling at 14, but decided to dedicate most of her time to her school work. Interestingly, after graduating from high school, Hosk’s career nearly took a very different turn as she decided to pursue a career in the Swedish women's basketball league, playing professionally for two years. Eventually, she quit to pursue modelling and has now posed for some of the world’s biggest photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth, who she shot iconic Guess campaigns with. Hosk is perhaps most famous for her work with Victoria’s Secret, where she became an Angel in 2015.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn

Born: Uddevalla, Sweden

Best known for: being credited as the very first supermodel.

Discovered in an elevator by photographer Willy Maywald in Paris in 1936, Fonssagrives became a household name during the height of Parisian fashion as the favourite model of Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga. Throughout her career, she worked alongside photographers such as George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld and Richard Avedon. To this day, The Harlequin Dress (1950), photographed by her husband, Irving Penn, retains its status as one of fashion’s most iconic images.

Ingmari Lamy

Born: Sweden

Best known for: being the official muse of Kenzo Takada.

Ingmari Lamy experienced what you’d call a sky-rocket career launch. After being discovered in a nightclub in Paris, she shot with a local photographer whose photos ended up on the desk of legendary fashion editor, Diana Vreeland. During the 1970s, she nabbed the spot as the face of Yves Saint Laurent Perfumes and was later dubbed the muse of Kenzo Takada. Sarah Moon, David Bailey and Gian Paolo Barbieri are just a few of the photographers she has worked with.

Frida Gustavsson

Born: Stockholm, Sweden

Best known for: her personal style — captured and documented at the height of off-duty street style during the 2010s.

As far as scouting stories go, Frida Gustavsson’s is a peculiar one. The long-limbed model was discovered when purchasing meatballs at IKEA at the age of 15. Fast forward a few months and she was cast for Valentino couture by Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Today, the retired model has ventured into acting — a natural progression after working with designers and photographers known for their creative and cinematic inclinations — Jean Paul Gaultier, Tim Walker and John Galliano.

Helena Christensen

Born: Copenhagen, Denmark

Best known for: being a part of the ‘90s supermodel phenomenon alongside Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.

Even though Christensen began her career as the first official Prada campaign girl, it was her appearance in Chris Isaak's Wicked Games video, shot by legendary photographer Herb Ritts, which launched her into the spotlight. Needless to say, Helena Christensen has worked with the brightest talents in the industry although images by Peter Lindbergh and runway shows for Versace will forever be her signature.

Freja Beha Erichsen

Born: Roskilde, Denmark

Best known for: her androgynous look and iconic Chanel campaigns which she basically dominated between 2009 to 2012.

Scouted on the streets of her native Denmark, Freja Beha Erichsen was dubbed 'Queen of Cool' — partly due to her androgynous and endlessly fierce Scandi-girl style. Although she has graced multiple Vogue covers and shot campaigns for Saint Laurent, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Valentino, it is her long-standing friendship and collaboration with the late Karl Lagerfeld that continues to inspire. Not only did she walked in numerous couture and ready-to-wear shows for Chanel but she also appeared in Lagerfeld’s short films “Remember Now” (2010) and “The Tale of A Fairy” (2011).

Iselin Steiro

Born: Harstad, Norway

Best known for: being able to shift between the ultra-feminine and the ultra-masculine. Case in point: portrayed the young David Bowie in his music video “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”.

After being scouted while out Christmas shopping with her parents in London, Norwegian-born Iselin Steiro spent her first season walking for the likes of Prada and Calvin Klein. Since then, her ethereal looks were featured in noteworthy campaigns including those from Ghesquière-era Balenciaga. Another highlight: her fierce hair chop for the 2018 July cover of Vogue Paris, photographed by David Sims.

Marianne Schröder

Born: ​​Smøla, Norway

Best known for: her signature radiant freckles.

Marianne Schröder started modelling at the height of early-noughties fashion for designers such as Claude Montana, Matthew Williamson, Laura Biagiotti and Michael Kors (during his time at Celine). But she didn’t stop there. With over two decades in the race, Schröder continues to represent Scandinavian-cool on an international level by walking for Off-White, modelling for Vogue Czechoslovakia and booking campaigns — from newcomer Ksenia Schnaider to storied Loewe.

Kolfinna Kristófersdóttir

Born: Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland

Best known for: her resemblance to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s, Lisbeth Salander.

Kristófersdóttir first season in fashion was impressive: she opened and closed Christopher Kane, walked for Versace, Prada, Fendi, Acne and Marc Jacobs. Throughout her career, she has been appreciated for her alternative Scandinavian looks, characterised by choppy, jet-black hair and icy gaze. One of her most noteworthy runway appearances includes the 2013 Chanel Cruise show which complemented her natural look brilliantly: a mash-up between Punk and Eighteenth-century Versailles.

Frida Aasen

Born: Kristiansand, Norway

Best known for: walking in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in 2017 and 2018.

Now one of the most famous models in Norway, Frida Aasen was first scouted while out shopping for Christmas presents at age 14. A model agent approached her and asked her how tall she was (5-foot-9 at the time) and encouraged her to consider modelling. Aasen turned it down at time as she felt too shy to consider being in front of the camera, but decided to take the plunge two years later when she went to Milan with her mother to meet the agency that scouted her. Since, Aasen has walked for Prada, Loewe, Louis Vuitton and Fendi among many others as well as frequently modelling for Victoria's Secret.

Caroline Winberg

Born: Stockholm, Sweden

Best known for: Hosting The Face UK.

Swedish bombshell Caroline Winberg was on her way to football practice as a teenager, when she was approached by a model scout who suggested that she pursue modelling as a career. Since then she has walked the runway for Victoria's Secret and has modelled for the likes of Versace, Escada, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino, and Ralph Lauren. She also hosted Sweden's Next Top Model and was one of the judges on The Face UK alongside Naomi Campbell.

Nora Svenson

Born: Järlåsa, Sweden

Best known for: Bottega Veneta.

"I was scouted when I was 14, on a train going to Gothenburg. I never modelled full time, and quit when I was 20. Last year, as I quit my job and started studying, I contacted Nisch [model management] and asked for a meeting." Nora tells our senior fashion writer Allyson Shiffman, now Nora is the face of Bottega Veneta and her career is going from strength to strength.

Malaika Holmén

Born: Gothenburg, Sweden

Best known for: Campaigns for Bottega Veneta, Calvin Klein, Fendi, Miu Miu

Holmén's 'big break' story is a little different to the rest. As a teen she was constantly told she should model, so started when she was 15. At 21, however, she decided to step away from the industry focusing on her studies. In 2016, while at film school, she walked at Stockholm Fashion Week as a favour to a friend. After a five year hiatus, a spark had been reignited. The next day she visited an agent and was signed on the spot. The now 30-year-old's star is on the rise, quickly becoming the fashion world's hottest property.