"Why Karlie Kloss And Not Me?" (And Other Pretty Little Headscratchers)

Don't get us wrong, our anonymous model Tatiana has had a busy couple weeks. (Europe! Magazine photo shoots! The private satisfaction of being anonymously "famous" on the internet!) But in a business where nothing is real (except hunger pangs) she sometimes finds herself pondering the age-old question, how IS it that some of these girls get so fucking famous? Exhibit A: Karlie Kloss (left). The young Texan is suddenly the Most Famous Person In Modeling. And in fashion, if you're not talking about how great she is, you're drunkenly wondering aloud to your friends what the fuck is so great about her. This and other pressing Modelslips questions, answered by Jezebel's most symmetrically-featured contributor, after the jump.

The crush of castings and shows taking place in my temporary European home has obliterated my sense of narrative/grip on objective reality. To be recovered post-fashion week, when I can think again? I've had a full head of makeup applied and wiped off four times in the last 24 hours, entire bottles of Elnett have been applied to and then brushed out of my locks, and even my favorite heels have given my gnarled hooves blisters that tingle as I type. But — even though I come to you without a coherent anecdote to relay, I still had your handy questions to occupy my mind. What do professional models think of Miss Tyra and her cyclic night-time T.V. series? How do you get the most from a client who's paying in clothes? Sweatshops: do they weigh on anyone's conscience in fashion-land? And what's up with those agencies and their wacky commissions? That's what I'm here for!






From "squeakel":

Anyway, Tatiana, since you brought up the subject of established models, maybe you can answer something I've wondered for ages. What's so different about the girls who become successful? Why do these particular girls get so much buzz? I've seen so many workaday models who seem just as beautiful and compelling as the more famous ones.

If I knew that, I'd found an agency and get rich! I do know that it involves buzz, and often a crucial meeting with one casting director. Douglas Perrett, for example. Or Russell Marsh. Katie Grand, a stylist, has done a lot for Rachel Clark's career.

Sometimes, people just sort of fill a niche that seems to be lacking. Exhibit Karlie Kloss, the undisputed model of the moment. She is 15. She used to model for Macy's inserts. That is supposed to be a no-no. Ha!

"Why Karlie Kloss And Not Me?" (And Other Pretty Little Headscratchers)

She's American.

"Why Karlie Kloss And Not Me?" (And Other Pretty Little Headscratchers)

She's the anti-Agyness.

"Why Karlie Kloss And Not Me?" (And Other Pretty Little Headscratchers)

And yet, she is Agyness.



I met a photographer for Dazed and Confused during New York Fashion Week who told me that I was "too pretty" to work shows. (There are definitely girls who only surface during show season, nab every booking, and then disappear while the rest of us slog off to catalog jobs and magazine edits. Given how poorly paid shows are I have no idea how they eat; but it's true that they tend to be the weirder-looking models.) Whatever; I took it as a compliment.

From "ericablue":

I am completely fascinated by "paid in trade". Do you get to choose what you want? Do you keep what you are wearing? What if it is hideous?

Payment in trade can happen many ways, always at the designer's discretion. You might get a simple gift card, or an invitation to the showroom (which means you might have access to samples and next season's line). Other times someone will hand you a Mystery Bag as you leave, and you inside will find a t-shirt and a jar of face cream. Once I received a set of temporary acrylic nails, and self-adhesive nail diamantes.

Incidentally: I know one of the girls who dyed their hair blue for Marc Jacobs two seasons ago. She got a handbag. Jacobs has yet to book her for any subsequent show.

From "PhillyLass":

So, for those shows that pay cash money, what happens to the clothes? They can't sell them, can they? So, who gets to snag them?

It's one of the persistent mysteries of fashion. Some houses keep runway samples because they are the only extant iterations of their nascent lines, and they will become production prototypes. Some keep them to send to magazines for editorials. Some keep them just because — in which case you might be able to bat your eyelids and flatter and beg for a gorgeous pair of shoes or a dress you know you'd totally rock. I tend to have good luck with shoes. When they're a designer's own, and not some random borrowed/sponsored pair, you can often get some person with a headset to say "Just take them..."

I think, very occasionally, samples survive being weeded-out by grabby models, editors, and design team underlings long enough to get rounded up and sold in actual sample sales.

From "hammerimissu":

What a waste. Why are you in this industry if you admit its vacant and abuses human life via sweat shops and people who pay up the twat for "knockoff of something old" clothes.

I understand that this was more of a rhetorical gesture than a question, but it's still a sentiment I think about. Often.

The thing is, I don't believe fashion is "vacant", or at least that it's not always and necessarily so. I've met makeup artists with law degrees, refugee-from-academia stylists, and editors with genuine booksmarts. Miuccia Prada is a political science Ph.D.; I defy anyone to call her an intellectual slouch. There is creative talent housed in the rarefied echelons of high fashion — whether it's embodied by the sample sewer who apprenticed for seven years to get her padstitching up to couture standards, the designer who dreams about Proust and ancient Greece and the use of lustre in Islamic pottery, or the critical mind who parses these labors for the public. I refuse to be told that caring about fashion is for stupid women. In fact, I think that the main reason fashion is not always considered intellectually respectable is because it's largely run by, and concerns, women. Modeling is one of the few areas where women out-earn men: if I'm stupid for participating in it, I'd be far dumber to turn it down.

Not every label is run by competent, interesting, sharp-minded people. And there are plenty of commercially successful lines where the folks in charge are utterly craven. But I do meet people in this industry who have more stamps on their passports than a squad of diplomatic attachés, and who can talk about art or ancient Egypt or Italian cooking (in several fluent languages!) as well as they can hemlines.

I don't have an answer to the sweat shops. The raises-all-boats theory is crap; the economics of an industry that plucks some girls from third-world countries out of poverty and into something like fame, at the same time as it indirectly employs hundreds of thousands of other third-world girls at starvation wages, are difficult for me to weigh in on. The apparel industry has long been marked by inequality, and even a kind of systematized woman-on-woman economic violence: Victorian mill girls and garment workers also worked in underpaid and dangerous conditions to make finery for fabulously wealthy women. For all I know, so did the women who made the Roman senators' wives their purple-edged stolas.

When you buy an overpriced designer dress, at least you know that in addition to paying for the brand's imputed "value", and its marketing, and all the rest of that crap, you're also paying for centuries-old Italian silk mills to stay in business, and for retirement benefits for sewers who live middle-class lives in France. When you buy a knockoff or a chain-store cheapie, you're probably just propping up Chinese sweatshops (unless it was made in Cambodia, in which case: buy mall offerings early and often!). Not that I can manage to avoid chain stores on my earnings.

From "pisces":

How do girls break into the industry?

You meet an agency scout who takes an interest. Other tried-and-true methods include sending Polaroids to an agency, or attending an open call. Whatever you do, do not go on America's Next Top Model. Avoid modeling scams like Barbizon, John Robert Powers, and John Casablancas. And don't pay for professional "portfolio" pictures when you don't have an agency.

From "NotEvenSlightly":

Have you watched America's Next Top Model, and if so, does any of the advice and training they give have anything to do with being a working model? I prefer to think that Tyra is just crazed with power, obvs, but would like to hear your take on it.

Well, the funny thing about all the "woe is ANTM it's nothing like real modeling" bullshit is that the whole premise of the show just apes the industry practice of sending newly signed models on what're called test shoots — imitation editorials where you and the photographer get to keep the resulting images for your respective books. Of course, most test shoots involve zero-to-minimal hair and makeup, clothes from the stylist's closet (or things she's purchased to return at the shoot's end), plain studio backgrounds and/or simple outdoor settings. Not the prosthetic-nosed, race-switching, body-painted, couture-dress-wearing, Photoshopped, elaborately wigged, bizarro images ANTM challenges — God bless Ken Mok! — bring into this world. Never once have I had to walk on a rotating catwalk, or pose on a treadmill as if I were running from the fashion ghoul as embodied by Miss Jay, or make myself look like a crime victim, without "actually just look[ing] dead." But it's a fun bit of escapism.

From "dingosmom1":

Do the models have to pay all their airfare and rent, trainfare? If not, do their agents negotiate it for them? I read that agency fees in Paris are 70%, it seems you'd be paying to model if you also had to pay living expenses. It also seems the agency should earn their keep somehow!

Yes, we pay all our own expenses. And agencies have zero incentive to make your travel or living costs any cheaper than necessary: each day you stay in a given market doesn't cost them anything, but there's a chance you might work, and if you do, they'll get a cut. Agencies are also known to shamelessly overcharge on rent for the models' apartments they own (think five models sharing a 1BRM, spending $30-$40/night each), as well as for deducting mysteriously large sums for things like "photocopying" and messenger fees. That plus the fact that my last magazine editorial, which was shot for a Hearst-owned title you've probably read, paid me the stunning daily rate of 124.17 Euros (before agency commission!) means I eat a lot of pasta-and-pesto. I'm in debt to my agencies in two out of three European markets right now; I'm in the black in L.A. and New York City. It's an uneasy feeling.

Models need a friggin' union. Or Carmen Kass!

From "imnotsureibelievethis":

i guess my main question is: why are you anonymous? I'm a bit of a skeptic; mainly because of my own experiences in this vapid business, full of "girls" who go to casting after casting without a thought passing through. [...] I guess my main question is: where were the Tatiana's when I was working? It would have been a much less lonely job.

I'm anonymous because I fear professional repercussions. How would it benefit me to crow about having attended university, however briefly, or having read a given book or seen a movie? There are some people who just don't want to hear that from a model, and unfortunately they bear on my career. So I generally tell people I started modeling out of high school — it's simpler — and if I run into one of those assholes who likes to drop oh-so-obscure literary references around the unlettered models, I'll try and parry them back just to see the look on his face (it's nearly always a he).

Agencies and clients tend to like models young and pliant. I wouldn't book jobs because of this column, so I'm going to do my best to keep my identity a secret.