When the designer you love…doesn’t love you

 

 

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Take a field trip over to Lady Clever for another one of my posts on modeling. Excerpt below:

Black cashmere dress, black jacket, black boots. I look narrow and nondescript, a luxurious blank slate. I brush my hair, flick my lashes with a coat of mascara, slide a coat of Chapstick against my lips. The mirror reflects back an appealing version of me. He’ll like me, I think. READ MORE.

 

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Field Trip! Lady Clever beckons…

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Head on over to Lady Clever and read my piece, “Model Closet No. 1.” Excerpt below.

The percentage of my life I have spent sitting in a closet surrounded by a herd of other half-naked models waiting for people to come in and weave our arms through narrow dress sleeves errs on the side of depressing. These are windowless, airless places covered in dust bunnies and lined with plastic binders. READ MORE.

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2 Illegit 2 Quit: Part II

The show is happening, apparently. I get an email from my booker confirming a fitting on Friday and a show on Saturday. Based off past experiences, I ask how much the rate is, prepared to drop out if it’s paying $20, per my expectations.

It’s not horrible.

I confirm.

Through a maze of absolutely appalling bridal gowns, I find the stage where the show will be. One hundred dresses, eighteen designers — some of whom are threatening to back out because there were only supposed to be ten. Now the show is oversaturated, complicated, and, as everyone is quickly starting to find out, run by an insane person.

“They don’t care,” I hear one complain, “they got the money already, didn’t they?”

I don’t like the feeling that I am a part of some sort of fashion scam, taking the hard-earned cash of small designers who probably can’t afford the expense to begin with. My second thought is that they’ll sue afterward, and I won’t be getting my money. Oh, well. One day out of my reasonably short life. Worse things have happened. Like that time I had to stand in a window on Rodeo Drive and model dresses for twelve hours while Japanese tourists took pictures and shopped for the holidays. The owner of the store wanted to wire Christmas lights through my hair (and plug them in). I declined.

Mr. Lunatic Producer is here, running around like a person who doesn’t know what he’s doing. His voice rasps when he calls out the names of all the models.

“How many girls we gawt?” he says, his mouth filled with giant chunks of teeth, hair swinging in front of his face. He looks like part of the road crew for Led Zeppelin.

I check myself into hair and makeup. Two women curl my hair from behind, talking and chatting and making jokes. They’re new.

Next is makeup, where I sit down in front of a woman who alternates between dragging her finger against the smudged surface of her Samsung Smartphone to check Facebook and dragging it against my closed eyelid. I want to express my general concern for my health and well being – maybe even mention how I don’t care so much for pink eye – but I say nothing, even as she double dips her mascara wand into its tube, collecting black gunk and the bacteria from a thousand eyeballs and jamming it next to my own. I’m shocked I haven’t gone blind yet.

“CAMMAN GIRLS!”

Mr. Lunatic rounds the corner, exasperated that half of us are in hair and makeup and half of us are waiting to rehearse. He’s got some “diamond shape” thing he needs to work out – meaning, it’s not working but he’s going to have us rehearse it for a whole hour we don’t have.

Twenty-five of us stand in a disorganized row, our hair and makeup in various stages of completion.

“HEY! HEY! YOU!”

Mr. Lunatic is looking in our direction. He could be screaming at one of three of us.

“Whattareyoulookingat?”

“Me?”

The girl in front of me points to her chest.

“YEAH, YOU. I’M RIGHT HERE. WHY ARE YOU LOOKING IN THE CORNER? YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOOK IN THE CORNER. LOOK IN FRONT OF YOU.”

Out of rubbernecking curiosity, I look in the corner myself. There’s nothing going on there; interns are organizing shoes.

As of this moment, we have not been instructed as to what the hell is going on; we’ve just been told to get near the entrance of the runway. For most of us, this directive has never been accompanied by the assumption that we are only to look in front of us, at the back of some girl’s head, military style.

Fascist.

“I got my eye on you, Mimi,” he says, a creepy smiling twisting into life on his face and then walking away.

“I’m not Mimi,” the girl whispers to us.

“Yeah, I know. I’m Mimi,” says another, annoyed she’s been sucked into this bullshit.

He returns, and for a long, confusing stretch of time he opens and closes his mouth and words come out.

“The first girl goes there and the second girl goes there and then the third and you only go when the fourth one comes out and then she moves to the left and you to the right and then you come back over on this side and exit and then she moves to the center and you stand there for three seconds. It’s like baseball. You girls every heard of baseball?”

My brain can’t handle this.

We run rehearsal for an hour. Nobody is getting it. He’s angry and yelling. A lot.

“GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! LISTEN TO THE MUSIC! LISTEN TO THE MUSIC!”

Yeah, buddy. I’m listening to it, and it fucking sucks. He goes on to tell us that this isn’t your normal bridal show; it’s a kick ass, rock-and-roll fashion show, as indicated by the use of Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit, “Paparazzi.”

I look around the line at the rest of the models. I’m sorry, I meant “models.” Out of 25, there are probably 5 that should actually be working. The rest of the girls have butts, boobs, and big arms – three fashion no-nos. Their bodies are soft like puddy, marred by an unprofessional doughiness. At least three of them look like cast members from Glee or Real Housewives.

The girl in front of me, an avian thing with bleached blonde hair and a prominent nose (one of the six who looks like a model), goes off on her theory about how there is no work for the in between girl. “You either size two or size ten, zat’s it,” she says. “If you a four, forget about it.”

That theory does not apply here. This show is like the United Nations of cup sizes and cellulite.

If I sound like a bitch, it’s because I’ve been subjected to the critical appraisal of others for the better part of ten years. Oh, Jenny! Did you eat cookies this weekend? Jenny, I hate to ask you this, but did you put on weight? Don’t worry; we’ll put this on someone smaller. In turn, I’ve become as harshly judgmental as the people who hire me. It’s a ruthless way of looking at the world, one measured by the surface and nothing else.

These standards do not apply to normal people; these standards only apply to models, who are paid to be abnormal. Abnormally beautiful, abnormally tall, abnormally thin. A bunch of Avatar-looking freaks.

“HEY! YOU!”

Lunatic Producer is back to model-specific screaming, having singled out the avian girl.

“LOOK AT ME. WHY ARE YOU LOOKING DOWN? DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

I’m pretty sure this all qualifies as harassment. Then again, we’re just a bunch of non-unionized idiots.

“Yes, I speak English, sir. And I’m not looking at you because there is a big light behind you and it burns my eyes when I look up.”

Score 1: Team Tall People.

I duck out of rehearsal to finish my makeup with Sticky Fingers. She works a brush filled with thick foundation over my face, filling in the skin like spackle. With a smaller one, I feel her painting between the inner corners of my eyes and down the side of my nose.

“So how long have you been modeling?”

Ugh. This conversation again.

“Ten years.”

“Do you love it?”

She mixes a lethal combination of pink and coral on the side of her hand and mashes it into my lips. I can do nothing more than making an unenthusiastic creaking noise with my mouth, something amounting to a combination of “Errrrrr” and “Meeehhhhh.” I can feel my impatience for modeling becoming a dangerous liability.

“Alright, you’re all set,” she says. I feel like I’m wearing one of those Nixon Halloween masks with the cutout eyes and a slit for a mouth. My pores aren’t breathing. I look the mirror. She’s contoured my face into a bronze bust of some Greek dude.

The rest of the evening goes by about as horribly as I would imagine. The show is by and large a total disaster. They’ve changed their minds so many times that no one knows what’s going on. Girls keep shouting “straight down” or “diamond” and half the time we end up on the runway looking like brainless, bug-eyed morons. It goes on for a whole hour. By the end of it, the room is cooking with high-powered lights and too many bodies.

The music ends and the people clap, tired and eager to get out of the room. I rush towards my heap of real-girl clothes, throwing on pants and shoes and running away, quick as I can, past more bad bridal gowns – a nightmare of cheap beads and bad satin.

Story of my life.

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2 Illegit 2 Quit

The email for the casting says specifically “do not be late.” I imagine my booker sitting on the other side of the computer writing this, wagging her finger and squinting her eyes menacingly. Must be important, I think.

I wake up at 7 and wait til 9:30 to get ready for the casting at 11, which I’ll have to leave my apartment for at 10. I spend the morning incapable of getting anything done. That’s how it goes; when I’m modeling, everything else falls to the wayside, as though my brain has to prepare itself for not being used, has to start the slow process of stifling the frequencies. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing.

From about 8 til 9, I watch Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” about twelve times and crawl around the floor of my bedroom, wondering if the neighbors beneath me have any idea what I do with my spare time.

When I arrive, there are already three girls ahead of me on the list. The client isn’t here yet. So much for that previously mentioned urgency.

I stand in the hallway.

I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I squat against a wall, talking to a girl who has obviously been modeling for a handful of months not yet amounting to a year. She still has that dumb, fruitful excitement that I recognize in myself as being three or four years dead. She’s babbling about some test shoot she has that afternoon, about modeling in Miami, about getting into a row with her mother agency and redoing her book. God, I hate these conversations.

Music from the late nineties is playing overhead. Soul For Real “Candy Rain.” Mariah Carey “Fantasy.” I’d say something to the tune of “This song reminds me of 3rd grade!” but I’d be dating myself. Most of the girls in here were still crawling when all these songs came out. They have no vivid memories of Mariah Carey rollerblading on a boardwalk wearing denim cut-offs and wrist protectors, singing into the camera with lips painted brown, her eyebrows tweezed into insignificance, cheeks covered in matte, shine resistant powder.

Shoo do do do do do do do yeah…

The client arrives. Twenty minutes late. By now, there are thirty of us flanking the walls, waiting patiently because that’s part of our job. Waiting. Waiting and looking pretty and being thin. That’s about it.

The first girl goes. Ten minutes later, the next one follows. It’s 11:40 and we’re only on the third model. I look around the corner to see what’s going on. The client, a man, is talking with a model wearing gray jeans. I can tell immediately, without even hearing him, that he is insane. He’s talking too close and too much. No one talks with a model this much at a casting. In fact, you are hardly spoken to at all. She stands there nodding her head, not having the foggiest idea as to what is going on.

“I think this guy is a lunatic,” I say to Betina, the model sitting next to me. “Just look.” Betina crawls over my legs, stretching her long pale neck to catch a glimpse.

Eleven minutes of straight talking later, the victim emerges, bewildered.

I walk in and place my book down on the table, trying to convey a sense of urgency because I’ve decided to wear heels all day and I don’t feel like standing here for fifteen minutes.

“Tell me who you are?” he says.

“Jenny Bahn.”

He scrolls down a list on his smart phone, telling me he needs to see who he has written down and who he doesn’t.

“I’m assuming you know about this job,” he starts, “which is to say, you know nothing.”

I resist the urge to tell him that’s pretty much how it always is. Show up now, find out later. I don’t give a shit about what I’m doing; I just care about the money. You could have me dancing around with three hundred monkeys in a trailer park wearing fur and carrying an assault rifle and you wouldn’t have to tell me what I was doing ahead of time. If you pay me, I’ll do it. This is where the line between modeling and prostitution becomes a gray area.

“So the show is on Saturday. We’ll have a rehearsal on Friday from 6:30 to 9. It’s 100 dresses,” he continues. “Have you ever done runway?”

“Yes,” I say.

“For who?”

I list off a handful of designers.

“Okay, you don’t have to say anything else,” he responds, my answers somehow validating my career. “So ordinarily, there are only 30, 40 dresses in a show,” he continues. “And we’re going to have, like I said, 100. To keep people from getting bored…”

He starts drawing out the staging formations he has planned for the show with a bejeweled pen, moving his hand over the table like he’s making up football plays. Part I is this. Part II is this. Part III is this. He says something about a hair change.

By now, I am highly disturbed, because everything that’s happened over the last four minutes indicates that this person is not professional and has never casted anything in his life. And yet here he is, standing in my agency, meeting models, taking their names, shaking their hands. There should be background checks before we go on these things, some sort of security procedure to keep us away from psychopaths and pedophiles.

But there’s not.

He explains to me that he’s a press photographer during fashion week. Indeed, a laminated press pass hangs around his neck. But it’s not fashion week anymore, and I find this highly strange.

I look at his hands to see if there is any evidence of his possibly being homeless. He’s a rumpled thing, this man, and anything’s possible. He reminds me of this other photographer who stands outside the Starbucks on Prince and Spring, waiting for pretty girls to walk past so he can say, “Hey, you’re a model. Can I take your picture?” No matter how many times you’ve seen him, he never remembers you, only asks the same question and hands you a business card that takes you to a bizarre beta site with unedited thumbnails of countless strangers.

While he’s talking, I assess him further. His hair is unnaturally brown, given his age, and hangs around his face in bluntly chopped streams, everything contained by a white baseball cap. He reminds me of Iggy Pop dressed up like Anthony Kiedis for Halloween, wearing clothes two sizes too big and a brown wig. Each of his teeth is hugged by the blackened lines of inattentive hygiene. And his eyes, indeed, are those of a crazy person.

He’s still talking, telling me that they have money in place for the show, that the agency will invoice him on Monday and everyone will get their money right away. “I’m a freelancer, too,” he says, “I know how it goes.”

Each sentence that comes out of his mouth further diminishes the legitimacy of this job. In fact, I’m fairly sure there isn’t a job at all. All this time, my book has been sitting on the table, completely ignored. He hasn’t stood back from me at a distance to assess my body type, looked at my measurements, judged me in any useful way. Real casting directors exact with the ruthless precision of a newly sharpened scythe. This guy cuts through the task like a dull and rusty butter knife.

He’s wrapped up his spiel. “So,” he starts. “Do you want to do it?”

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