Shreiks, Fatigue and Thirds on Salad: the Truth Behind the Glitz of the Catwalk
Most of us envy the lives of the rich and famous. But who seems to have the cushiest lives imaginable?
The models. They get dressed up and made up to look like divas and then either walk around, or stand around, or lie around, and get paid ridiculous amounts of money for it. All that glamour – it must be a great life.
Clothed in luxury, a waiflike group of women extend one long leg after another out of a stretched Hummer Limousine. Cameras flash and blink from all sides, as the creations look down their arrogant noses on their assistants who hang on their every gesture. Who wouldn’t love this life of decadence: free clothes, free drugs and free entry to any club?
Today many young men and women see no reason why they shouldn’t try to earn a small pile of money just for being who they are — young and good-looking — for as long as they can. But the conceit you see on those faces may well be a mask, the ticket to survival in the world of top-models.
And for those who model to pay the rent, the reality is a lot less glamorous than it looks. First, you have to pay your way in: Classy clothes, good cosmetics and the first shootings all cost a lot of money. And if you don’t yet have a name, you’re going to be a victim of the trends.
If you’re in, great; if you’re out, you’re out. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Pimples and allergies are problematic and figure, well, we all know how the modeling world feels about that.
At the end of February, Schwarzkopf and "Great Lengths," a British hair extension company, organised a hair show and took it on the road. It was to be nine shows in all, seven in Germany, one in Zurich and one in Vienna. This reporter was booked shortly before the fitting, as a fill in, and was suddenly trying on the clothes and getting a beloved head of locks shorn.
Having overslept, I arrived late, without even time to brush my teeth. "Let your hair down, please," came the command, and my auburn curls came loose from the clip and fell half way down my back. The hairdresser, Mario Gutman, started fluffing my hair, and before I could protest, I heard the sound of scissors: Snip, snip, snip… In 30 seconds flat my hair was practically bobbed with bangs and massive layers. I was speechless.
"Ok, done. Straighten please." He gestured to one of his younger assistants.
I looked around the room: I had been lucky. One girl was being dyed blue and another, with a hip length blonde mane was beginning to look like Victoria Beckham.
On tours like this, you’re not only stuck with a "creative" haircut, that takes weeks to grow back, but with the same people for long hours, or days, on end, that can sometimes feel like years.
A lot of what models do is wait. If there is tension, which is bound to build up in show biz, especially among models, stylists and hairdressers, there is no opting out. Having a cigarette or food after lips have been painted can send the make-up artists into a rage. On the other hand, it all feels a little like a school trip – attendance lists, hotels, the bus. Although most fashion shows "require" super-skinny girls, this was hair fashion and so less about body than hair. This meant that not everyone was the same height and far from the same build. Some were tall and slender with no hips, some smaller but big bosomed, others had more of a dancer’s body.
We were told to meet at the Schwarzkopf building at 7:45 in the morning. As I arrived, the two Czech girls I had met at the fitting were already there. They looked worried.
"Tessa not come home last night," Aneta, the younger of the two, said to me. Tessa was the girl who had ordered the hair stylists around at the fitting, and who lived in a model apartment with the Czechs. Some modeling agencies provide apartments for foreign models, and they had been lucky enough to get one. Aneta sighed. "She’s so policnjkd… uh, wait!" She rummaged in her handbag until she found her dictionary, and thumbed through it. She found the word she was looking for: "She’s so… irresponsible." When a 14-year-old criticises someone for being irresponsible, it means something.
After the group of 16 models, five hairdressers and two make-up artists had finaly assembled, we piled into taxis and headed to the airport for our Swiss Air flight to Zurich.
A few of the people in the team had simply never flown before. Some fidgeted and constantly pressed their nose against the widows. As my tired eyes closed, my thoughts drifted to images of what the next week had in store. Would we be forced to starve? Would the hotel rooms be nice? I hoped that at least one would have a pool.
My slumber was interrupted by shrieks and gasps from the girls behind me. The plane had dropped abruptly. I sighed and tried to go back to sleep.
It’s interesting which clichés models tend to fit. The cliché of dumb models cannot be used anymore, because if you want to be good, you can’t afford to be dumb. It works like natural selection. Girlishness, however, is hard to avoid.
We arrived in Zurich where we were bussed off to our hotel slightly outside of the city. The girls were excited, the hairdressers nervous and the choreographer had a headache. This was a Mövenpick wellness hotel, with a fitness centre, sauna, steam bath, etc., none of which we had time to use. As soon as we arrived we were hurried to our rooms and told to be punctual for dinner. Afterwards we would have a rehearsal for the next day’s show. Tessa and I shared a room, because, well, she’s from my agency and no one else wanted to room with her. I soon found out why; she had been out the night before, had not slept at all, and was still a bit drunk.
Downstairs the salad bar was overflowing with long legged girls. Here was a cliché that was largely true about fashion people. Models are generally picky eaters and no one in the fashion world will refuse salad. In fact, the tension at the table was palpable, as we were eating together for the first time. Everyone looked to see how much or how little the other ate.
"Bread?" asked Marie, the older Czech girl.
"Is there whole wheat?"
Nobody made a big deal about it because it was just an omnipresent tension. Many however were hearty eaters and wolfed down goulasch, bread, cream soup and a pastry. Some though held it at salad. All this would remain a theme of discussion for the rest of the week. Some piled their plate with food only to take three bites and say they were full. Others took small plates and went back to the salad bar four or five times.
"I hate what they did to my hair," one girl with a purple untamed crew cut complained, pushing her quiche around on her plate like a hockey puck. "I can’t show myself in Vienna."
"Don’t worry; short hair is in again this summer," said Marietta, the girl from Innsbruck. "I’m sure they’ll still take you for shows".
"Yeah, all I do is hair shows," interrupted Nora, a blond with a pageboy cut. "Try being 170 cm and see how many jobs you get then."
"I saw you in that ‘igloo’ commercial," Aneta said to Nora. "With those," she said, pointing at Nora’s cleavage, "I’m sure you get enough to do."
The table burst out laughing. But before we could continue comparing physical imperfections, the choreographer, a Belgian dancer named Pascal, ordered us to finish up and gather in the event hall of the hotel for a rehearsal.
"Where’s Tessa?" Pascal inquired with a sigh.
"I think she went to the room to lie down," I offered.
"She izh not ‘ere to slipp; would you go get ‘er plise?"
I shimmied off to the elevators. On reaching the hotel room, I was surprised to hear a loud snoring sound. I thought it was from the room next door, but when I opened the lock, I saw that it was, in fact, Tessa, fully clothed with a wide open mouth, make-up smeared on the pillow case.
"Tessa, wake up! Rise and shine! Time to go. Everyone’s waiting for you." I was calm at first, but after failing to revive her, I began to yell and shake her harder. No luck. I sighed and trotted back downstairs.
"What do you mean you cooden’t wake ‘er up?" Pascal was furious. "Ok, if we had not left Vienna, I would fire ‘er and find a replissment. Ziz is zhust too much! Go beck up zhere and carry ‘er down here if necessaire."
After lots of shaking, and water in the face, Tessa finally woke up. We then went down to the rehearsal.
The show itself was simple. A shadow screen was at the back behind which two of the models did a dance, Tessa was instructed to dance crazily, alone, as it was the only thing she couldn’t forget how to do.
At the rehearsal, one could see who was used to being on stage. Some clearly had spent their modeling career purely in front of a camera.
"I done want you to loook like a tzack of potatoes without a ‘ome." Pascal was reprimanding Natalie, a beautiful German girl, with a large bosom and bedroom eyes. She was sliding across the cat-walk as though she were strolling along in the park, glancing around.
"Fix your eyez on ze beck."
Nathalie was confused, but she walked again. Pascal sighed but seemed satisfied.
After the rehearsal, a few of the models gathered at the restaurant for a glass of wine or beer. Yes, some models drink beer.
"Pascal is so bad at explaining what he wants." Dianne complained. She’s studying to be a concert pianist and was the only Asian girl among us. "He says he wants it to look more party and then more elegant. I think he has no idea what he wants."
"Zeez eez too Meuch!" Marietta teased and we all laughed.
After the restaurant closed we went up to our rooms. Tessa was already there, asleep in her clothes again. This was to become a subject of gossip later in the trip; for a model not to wash her face and hair the night after a show is nothing short of blasphemy.
We had a big week in front of us and many were exhausted already. Marietta, my new found friend, and I were too excited to sleep and stayed up all night trying to figure out if the choreographer and hairdresser, as well as the stylist, were gay. We talked about politics, boyfriends, Tessa (who was snoring again), breakfast and the state of the world in general.
Our first show was the next afternoon, but the backstage show – the one we were all in together – was already well underway.
To be continued…