Feline eyes. Bushy brows. Full lips. And the type of flawlessly freckled skin that could save you a lifetime’s worth of foundation.

Acquaint yourself with this face, because eighteen-year-old Yani Botha has recently signed with Sydney’s eMg Models and Melbourne’s Giant Management – agencies that launched some of Australia’s most successful modelling exports. Add the credentials of her ‘mother agency’, Queensland’s Busy Models, and this ethereal beauty is set to go far.

A gaggle of fresh-faced schoolgirls pass the roadside café where Yani sips an iced tea, instantly recognising her mermaid hair from behind. They wave at her with shy enthusiasm.

“Oh lol,” Yani says bashfully, her internet slang subconsciously trickling into her spoken word. Her voice is low and measured, not the bouncy peal you’d expect from the stereotypical model. She boasts a neutral, worldly accent – barely Australian but without the twang of her South African homeland.

Fangirls? She laughs off the thought of admirers.

Yani herself was a schoolgirl when a shopkeeper at a Paddington boutique asked her to do their look-book as the face of their new collection. She had no idea what it meant.

A lot can change in three years.

Nowadays, Yani is out of school and an aspiring writer. Fully immersed in the fashion world, her inspirations include Bambi Northwood-Blyth and Kate Moss. Our conversation moves along a string of models – Gemma Ward, Lily Cole, Linsdey Wixson – enthusing over them as if they were collectable trading cards. To an eavesdropping passerby, we could easily be the most superficial people in the café.

Photo by Tanya Rex

It’s a familiar criticism. “I think, go for it – call the industry superficial – but at the same time, everything revolves around selling an image,” she says. “I got into it because I was lucky. But I definitely get why people get angry with it.”

As ‘trivial’ as it may be, Yani’s love for the craft is evident when describing her modelling experiences. “I was extremely shy when I was young,” she reveals, without a trace of her former inhibition. “I was in that tall, gangly stage.”

On paper, Yani is all blue eyes, blonde hair and long limbs. But she’s no Barbie. She personifies the recent rise of unconventional beauty in the fashion industry.

Former imperfections like gap teeth, alien eyes and thick eyebrows are now much sought-after quirks – a paradigm shift encouraging impressionable young followers of fashion to embrace their so-called flaws.

Just like haute couture to street style, this new beauty mentality is trickling into Australia’s subculture. No longer must you be blessed with sun-kissed skin and a perfect smile to garner adoration in the elusive fashion world.

Busy Models director Summer Fisher recognises the growing demand for these aesthetic quirks. In addition to the scrupulous height and size requirements, the industry calls for “faces interesting enough to hold someone’s attention for more than a second”.

“I see beauty where others see strange,” she says. “These are not the ‘pretty’ girls at school – most pretty girls will never be models. These girls are striking. You can’t stop staring at them.”

The modelling industry almost seems like a second chance at high school – a niche community in which ‘tall, gangly’ types can excel in ways that were never appreciated in the mainstream. Beauty is redefined in the realm of high fashion and ‘pretty’ is no longer the cool kid. It’s a sweet revenge, of sorts.

As such, Yani is the subject of much adoration amongst Brisbane’s creatives. Artist Andrea Jankovic photographed one of Yani’s most widely commended shoots in which she frolics in a forest as an otherworldly witch.

“I remember when Yani arrived and everyone’s jaws dropped,” Andrea recalls. “I can’t even pinpoint what exactly it is about her. I think it’s a combination of her features – she doesn’t really look like any particular ethnicity. She also has such a cool vibe about her. You get the impression she isn’t too phased by what people think.

“There’s a backlash against perfection. Homogenised perfection has gotten really boring. So as a photographer, I get really excited when I come across someone who isn’t pretty in the conventional, classic sense.”

Yani scored big in the genetic jackpot, but good genes can only take her so far. “I loathe nepotism because I’ve never had that connection,” she says. “I’ve never had the luxury of a wealthy background. So I’ve always had to grovel and find my own way.”

With strangers constantly complimenting Yani on her looks, I ask her for her definition of beauty. I brace myself for the clichéd beauty-comes-from-within response, but Yani is more direct – “great hair, great skin and a great pair of eyebrows”.

“A curvy body too,” she adds, before immediately attempting to backtrack. “I mean, natural.” Apparently the word ‘curvy’ ignites an age-old war between body type extremes.

Photo by Nirrimi Firebrace

It’s hard for a model to defend her rail-thin peers without being vilified by outsiders not as genetically blessed. Painfully aware of the polarising topic, Yani chooses her words carefully. “I hate curvy-versus-skinny. The other day, I read this massive article on eating disorders among runway models, which I’m sure there are. But for a majority of the ones I know, it’s just high metabolism – we look after ourselves.”

Yani shares these views with her hundreds of online fans, posting witty statuses and observations daily. She doesn’t shy away from heavy topics like marriage equality and racism either. It’s clear she’s a product of the ‘Tumblr Generation’ – an online community of savvy youth who bask in each other’s creativity and sense of activism.

And it seems the Internet loves Yani as much as she loves it. “I was tagged in something on Instagram,” she says incredulously. “A picture of my face painted on the door of some building. It was crazy.”

When she’s not plastered across Brisbane’s architecture, Yani is still a typical teen – something her close friend Emily Gagen can attest to. “We like to watch TV, shop, make brownies and dare I say, party,” she says. “Plus Yani always loves some Glee.”

I ask Yani to choose her favourite shoot so far and her elfin features contort in indecision. No wonder. One look through her portfolio and the calibre of her collaborators is obvious.

She finally settles on her recent shoot for Black Magazine. “I got to work with Justin Henry [world-renowned make-up and hair artist],” she says, teenage adulation evident in her suddenly perky disposition. “He’s worked with Johnny Depp and Adriana Lima. He’s touched their faces! And he’s touched my face!”

Yani turns into a fangirl. “So I basically know Beyoncé now.”

*Yani has since signed with Bareface Modelling Agency in Dubai and 2Morrow Model Management in Milan.

Find more of Caitlin’s musings and writing on her blog at http://freakgeeketc.blogspot.com.au/
Also find her in the ‘Spaced Out’ issue of IZE which will be released 8 December.