Hand model is more than the sum of her parts

New London native Kimbra Hickey's hands are famous since their appearance on the cover of the novel
New London native Kimbra Hickey's hands are famous since their appearance on the cover of the novel "Twilight."

Where some hand models go to extremes to protect their prized possessions (remember the Seinfeld episode where George is discovered for his hands?), Kimbra Hickey, parts model, has a more low-maintenance approach.

Moisturize. Get regular manicures and pedicures. Proceed with your daily routine until you get called in for your next photo shoot.

"There are some hand models that wear gloves all the time," Hickey, who was born in New London and now lives in New York City, said. "I don't. I don't see the need for it."

Hickey, 39, makes parts modeling - where you're sought out for your limbs rather than your entire body or face - sound like a breeze rather than a tough industry she broke into successfully and, from the sounds of it, rather casually.

Today, Hickey's hands and feet are in ads and catalogs. Target, Avon, Macy's. You name it, chances are her body parts are all over it.

But it was one fateful photo shoot five years ago, when Hickey's hands were photographed cradling a red apple, that defined Hickey's decade as a parts model.

That photo was for the cover of Stephenie Meyer's young-adult book "Twilight," which went on to capture the hearts of millions of teenagers with its story about a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire.

At first, Hickey got a kick out of just seeing her hands on the book cover. Then she started telling people about her contribution to it.

"It was the "Twilight" fans that said, 'Wow, I met the hand model!'" Hickey said. "Like, they were really excited about it. So then I thought, this is a really big deal."

Hickey now has her own set of fans. They helped her put together a Web site (www.handsoftwilight.com) explaining how she landed the gig and promoting her work as a parts model. She even makes appearances at "Twilight" tours and conventions.

A graduate of Montville High School, Hickey is attractive but not modelesque - she stands just 5 feet, 3 inches tall and wears size 6 shoes. She didn't grow up with dreams of becoming a model. But people always seemed to notice her hands and feet.

"As the years go on, and the people keep telling you the same thing over and over again, you start to believe it," Hickey said.

In 1992, Hickey moved to New York to finish college. For years, she worked with her hands, but as a massage therapist, not as a model.

Then, on a whim, Hickey took a $40 adult-education class on parts modeling with the Learning Annex, where the instructor - an agent for hands and feet models - took an immediate liking to her.

"The agent said … 'Here's my card, call me in the morning,'" Hickey said. "And then I started getting jobs. It was so cool. It seems like it shouldn't have been that easy, because it's a tough industry to break into."

Hickey continues to make her living through a combination of modeling and massage therapy. She says she takes care of her hands and feet, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. Her preferred moisturizer is Curél - the stuff you can get at any drugstore - and Body Shop body butters.

There's no special preparation or ritual before photo shoots, either.

"I have to make sure I have a really good manicure and pedicure," Hickey said. "And also, to not show up with sock lines. There are things like that. They don't want to sit there for an hour and wait for the lines to disappear."

Hickey said she's not offended that her hands and feet have garnered more attention than her face.

"If I wanted to be a face model, I would have pursued that," Hickey said. "There are so many pretty faces in New York, it's really very competitive. So I chose an industry that I knew I could actually make a living out of. Because not everyone has photographic hands and feet."

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