Greetings! And welcome to Modelslips, Jezebel's inside guide to Fashion Week as seen through the gimlet eyes of our very own 35-inch hipped, gel-schellacked, battle-weary, jealous boyfriend-having human clothes hanger! Our Anonymodel will be dishing it out all Fashion Week, so she can't use her real name, which is why we'll call her Tatiana. She's smart! She's thin! And she's BEHOLDEN TO NO ONE. We'll be checking in with Tatiana all week, as she goes from show to show to party to hotel lobby to afterparty etc. etc.. In this inaugural post, she answers some of our most pressing questions — and opens the floor to you!
Good afternoon, it's your fashion week mole, Tatiana. You don't need to know much about me, but I will tell you that English is my first language, I have attended college, and I'm a woman. Like most of my tribe, I came to New York Fashion Week jobless and penniless so I could attend 974 castings, drink a few gallons of free booze and hopefully, somewhere, somehow, get an actual company to pay me actual money for an actual job. I decided to mark this first (and kinda boring) Friday of Fashion week by taking on some of Moe and Anna's model questions.
Do Models Eat?
I, personally, eat, and thus far the industry representatives in New York have been very accomodating of this habit. In Paris for shows recently I was not so lucky; a man at my agency squeezed my love handles and dubbed me the "fat girl," and no amount of self-sacrifice (truthfully, I'm not that good at self-sacrifice) would make him stop. (If I lost five pounds, he'd tell me my "pants were flattering.") But as the great philosopher Gisele once pointed out, fashion is an industry dominated by people genetically predisposed to be lanky and skinny. Like most models, 90% of my work was done that fine day in the late '80s when my ectomorph parents melded chromosomes. I've always been "that girl who could eat whatever I wanted" — if it sounds horrendously unfair, consider the fact that I was constantly hungry growing up. Now that I'm old, I watch it a little more. But only a little. I butter my pasta. I consider chocolate mousse a sacrament.
As for everyone else, there are a lot of models who are quick with a restaurant recommendation, and I've witnessed many a meal disappear behind a lipglass'd pout. I also know firsthand that current Teen Vogue cover girl and rumored anorexic Karlie Kloss's passions include French fries — and yeah, if I was the subject of a vile anorexia rumor I'd be conspicuous about eating my fried foods also, but that is because I am not anorexic.
I don't keep track of my weight so much as my measurements. Fashion models are supposed to have bust/waist/hip stats of 34"/24"/34" or less, and you'd be crazy not to think that was an extremely thin standard. Girls with 34.5" or 35" hips aren't exactly rare, but certain clients (like, say, Balenciaga) like skinny models more than others. And this definitely takes its toll on a lot of girls. I had a roommate who used to send me weird text messages every afternoon detailing what she'd eaten that day; half the time it was a simple "omg i've only had a Starbucks hazel nut capicino haha i feel so good!" She also told me that apples are the ultimate diet snack and introduced me to the concept of the negative calorie food. I've been on jobs where the other models picked despondently at side salads and called that "lunch." And there are certain girls I do not know personally whose bony frames always make me do a sharp intake of breath. During Fashion Week, paradoxically, it's almost too hectic not to eat junk food. I will inhale street vendor hot dogs on foot, and I see plenty of girls cramming Snickers bars.
Are Eastern Bloc Preteenagers the only ones who get work?
Yes. Eastern Europeans and Brazilians. They are seriously 80% of the industry. And they are all 15 years old and six feet tall and hungry. Except the Poles, who are uniformly 15 years old, six feet tall, and extremely kindhearted.
Is it as tiring as they say?
The preweek hustle is insane. I had 12 castings and a fitting on my busiest day; an Australian girl I met that day had 24 appointments. (She made them all.) My model book weighs nine pounds and I can't really afford cabs. So yeah, that's tiring.
Once you get a job, the indignities are fairly minor. You could need to be on set pre-dawn, or stay there until the middle of the night, wear wool coats in the summer heat or frolic in swimsuits on wintery beaches while holding challenging poses — oh no! But there is an undercurrent of total depersonalization in a lot of the work, and that irks. In its least harmful form, you'll find yourself getting stuck with pins (doth not a model bleed...) and talked about as if you are not in the room or cognizant of anything happening. In its more harmful manifestations, you get situations like this week's Marc Bouwer show, where powerful stage lights over the runway actually caused burns to models' skin and eyes. Apparently nobody foresaw the danger, or thought to intervene.
Okay, but the money's pretty awesome, right?
I fucking wish! I'm in this for the travel and the experience. I grew up poring over mags like The Face and Nylon at the library; how could I not be thrilled to meet designers, and see their collections months before the public? The jobs you hear about are the hundred-grand photo campaigns for Victoria's Secret or million-dollar commercial shoot for a skin care line in Japan. But you can spend all day posing for one half-page photo in American Vogue and wind up, after agency commission, with fifty bucks. (Commission varies by city, from 20% in New York to 70% in Paris.) Fashion shows generally pay a handful of runway stars exorbitant rates, and give the rest of the workaday model pack a flat fee somewhere between $300 and $1,000. Plenty of the smaller shows will pay $100 plus some clothes. Probably the biggest brand to pay in trade is Alice + Olivia, which gives $500 worth of clothes to each of its models. Which is all well and good until you have to pay the heating bill.
Are models vain?
Very. It's practically homework for us to study ourselves in the mirror, trying to memorize our angles for incorporation into future poses. But I often think of something Margaret Atwood wrote about women, mirrors, and vanitas paintings in The Blind Assassin. She said Western culture tends to confuse vanity with the search for flaws. "What is it about me" can so easily be construed as "What is wrong with me?" And these days it's an obsession that plagues just about everyone.
Does everyone do mountains of coke or what?
I've never actually seen anyone do coke on the job. But yeah, I've been offered coke more times than I care to remember at parties. I've never actually indulged. Um.. does that make me a pussy?
Are Models Dumb?
It would be really easy to just quote a few quick examples to debunk this myth — models like molecular biology M.A. Sunniva, Eamonn, who has a law degree and has been accepted into Cambridge's art history program, fellow Cambridge acceptee Lily Cole, Estonian National chess team president Carmen Kass and genuine World-of-Warcraft computer geek Rachel Clark come to mind — but that would belie just exactly how annoying this particular stereotype can be.
Models aren't a particularly educated bunch. The industry does everything in its power to prevent you from completing high school, much less college — and a lot of girls, coming from abject poverty and whatnot, are complicit. But uneducated does not equal dumb. The amount of traveling alone that models must do tends to make them more curious, independent and emotionally intelligent than the average person you meet at a party. (The average person you meet at a party who assumes you are dumb because you are a model, arghhh) If I were dropped in an unfamiliar city and didn't speak the language, and had to make three appointments in different neighbourhoods, I'd want a model helping me figure out the public transportation, not an urban planning Ph.D.
That said, models definitely say awesomely dumb things sometimes. Like, a few weeks ago, one announced, apropos of nothing, "You know, models are in, like, the five percent of people who look like models."
Do a lot of models have, uh, a Naomi Campbell attitude?
This is going to disappoint you, but the atmosphere among models is almost always positive. Girls will ask to look at each other's portfolios, and I've gotten some of the sincerest compliments in my life from a charming 14-year-old Russian on her first trip outside the country. I was at a casting the recently with Ali Stephens, and I can report that in addition to having a comely Linda Evangelista-ish curve about her upper lip, she is both very sweet and funny.
Okay, so what is the worst part of the job?
Jumping in high heels sucks to a degree I cannot overstate. But I'm going to have to go with the hair. (I know, feel sorry for me please.) Hairdressers are downright sadists on some jobs. So many of those elaborate hairstyles you see in magazines and on runways Hurt. Like. Hell. Tight cornrow braids criss-crossing your scalp, instant-facelift ponytails, extra hair stuck on with a glue some lispy stylist swears will come right off in warm water (lies of this nature are not funny!), giant wiggly ziggurats of teased and pinned bouffant. Scratchy wigs placed over the hairspray-plastered turban of your own hair, held on by pins that dig into your scalp. I've seen it all. And I've experienced the burns from the tools required to achieve these looks, and had my own product-crud-encrusted hair yanked out in the dismantling process. I know a girl who worked Fashion Week in Japan, and she said she would never go back there. When I asked her why, she held out a hank of her hair for me to feel. She had the driest, brittlest, frizziest, most damaged hair I had ever seen and I am a model and we damage our hair for a living. She told me she'd been working up to four shows a day, and that at every show they'd just soak her scalp in chemical relaxant to remove the product from the show before. Folks, that's your first beauty Don't.