Thursday, November 12, 2009

*Fashion She Wrote... 1998*

In April 1998 I was chosen to model for the Nederburg Fashion Collection. At the same time, Gustav Andor approached me as he was looking for a fashion correspondent for his new Performance Arts magazine, Stage. I was thrilled to be asked to write, but in typical student-fashion, always left the work till the night before my deadline. I vividly recall sitting in the student computer locale, cold and grey and uninspiring as any building could possibly be, rattling off my stories late into the midnight hours. Typing it all out now, I was itching to edit and improve my youthful writing and my editor's misinterpretations, but I resisted for the most part and after all I'm so grateful to have these few glimpses into my world back then!

* The Nederburg Auction is one of the most prestigious events on South Africa's social calender. Every year the country's finest wine makers are honoured at this gala celebration of good wine and fashion. The Auction is not only famous for the copious amounts of good wine being auctioned, but also for the fashion event which has become synonymous with the Nederburg Auction. The Nederburg Fashion Collection was produced and choreographed by Mary Reynolds of Tramps the Show Company.

The 1998 show was held on Saturday 4 April at the Nederburg Wine farm. When we arrived at 8am for hair and makeup, we found a confusion of vehicles and people moving around with great efficiency and some urgency. A great marquee tent served as the venue for the fashion show.
Fortunately it was a sunny Autumn day and the grass floor would not cause too much trouble, except for those celebrities who were already following the latest shoe fad: the return of the stiletto heel! It's never been considered glamorous or elegant to get stuck with or fall over even a very sexy stiletto. But that was not our problem, we had a beautiful, sparkling white catwalk to embarrass ourselves on.

On arrival we were hurried backstage so that the guests wouldn't see what models really look like at eight in the morning. Not even a glass of Champagne was sneaked our way, but considering the height of the catwalk, it's probably better that way!
At ten o'clock most of the models were ready (isn't ready a very relative concept?) and the floor was covered in hair. Our quite eccentric and very impulsive hair dresser, Kevin, had decided that some of us would look so much better with a bit less furry growth on top.
"This long hair (which I have been growing for two years!) is doing nothing for you, darling!" In less than twenty snips, I was sporting a bob. "See that, is that the same girl?!" Too shocked to shout and too intimidated to cry, I just managed to murmur 'thanks, I've been meaning to do that' and rush towards the nearest mirror. But all twenty mirrors were occupied by the other models inspecting their new haircuts or doing last minute makeup checks. I swallowed my tears (my mascara isn't waterproof) and waited for a turn at the mirrors.

The models were from all over the world. Chia from Japan, Camilla from Eastern Europe, Sofia from France, Mia from Namibia, some from New Zealand, the UK - just about every continent. (There must've been an American somewhere, I'm sure.) Chia and Camilla met at the 1997 Nederburg Show and enjoyed it so much, they agreed to meet again at the casting for this year's show. They said the main thing that made it so enjoyable was the beauty of the farm and its surroundings. I felt more than a little proud.

When I finally found a spot from where I could see myself, some nervous people rushed in and faffed around us, fixing this and that and making sure that the hat in scene 10 sits skew and covers the left eye. These were the designers, coming in for a final inspection of their delectable creations. Receiving an invitation to display your particular brand of style on the day, is a feat comparable to finding the Holy Grail. Only the best couturiers in the South African industry get the opportunity to showcase their designs.

This year the nineteen selected participants ranged from the familiar names of well-established designers such as Dicky Longhurst, Spero Villioti and La Boutique Yvelle to innovative newcomers Gideon and Francois Vedemme. This combination of the experienced and the young and daring worked especially well to result in a show of splendid variety. Every model walked in seven scenes and then in the finale.

Between every scene there are two others. This means that you have roughly five minutes to change from one intricate outfit with matching stockings, jewellery, shoes and other accessories to another. But that's not even the real challenge. You must accomplish this task without messing up your makeup, shouting at your dresser or tearing the delicate stockings. You should rather die before going on stage with the wrong accessories, and (as one poor model found out too late) make sure you know which side goes on front, or you might be exposing a bit more than even the flamboyant designer intended.

And then there is rule number one: no matter how much you run and shout and generally behave un-ladylike back stage, the moment you set foot on the ramp, you will be the very picture of composure, confidence and of course arrogance.

Surprisingly, I actually met most of these expectations, but the fact that I might have looked confident on the ramp, is only due to the brilliance of the outfits. Every item demanded such a definite attitude from the wearer that it could not be ignored. Stepping into a dress was like stepping into character for a play. You can't help but feel ultra cool in Speedo, or refined in a two-piece suit with boots, hat and gloves by La Boutique Yvelle.
I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't wear some of the really spunky designers' dresses (especially Hip Hop and Francois Vedemme), but one scene really made up for that: Gideon designed the most exquisitely feminine 'gangster' wear imaginable in fake snakeskin. Slim pants and tailored jackets along with the French song from the Great Expectations soundtrack, made this my favourite scene. For that minute or two, I was a female Al Capone.

In retrospect, the whole thing was over rather soon. Only three days had passed from first fitting to the end of the show. And the show itself was hardly more than an hour long.
Everything feels a bit dream-like now, except that my hair is still inexplicably short. But I suppose that's a small price to pay for such a day of intense excitement and glamour. Will I try and go to the casting next year? I'll have to wait and see what state my hair is in!

* As published in Stage Magazine, July / August 1998 issue.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Test Shoot: Fanie Nel

The third test I did was one of my favourites ever. I was introduced to Fanie Nel through the agency, he was test shooting a lot of their new girls. Fanie did everything himself: the make-up, the styling and the photography. Not bad for an Afrikaans boytjie from Bloemfontein?

When Fanie was done with my make-up, I stood by the mirror in awe. He knew just where to shade, where to highlight and accentuate. He'd painted me some cheekbones, perfected my eyebrows and made my lips seem fuller. Genius. Then he pulled out a suitcase filled with fabric, tops, dresses, scarves and jewellery from which he styled perfect outfits within minutes. We started off with a groomed and elegant, slightly more mature look.

As soon as Fanie had the camera in his hands, I discovered his next super talent, directing a model. He made me clench my jaw, put my tongue up against the roof of my mouth and stick my head out towards him. It felt quite strange while I was doing it, but the pictures blew my mind. At twenty my face was very soft and child-like, leaning towards round, but his instructions gave me shape and angles.

Fanie also taught me how to get expression in my eyes; he told me to think of something, anything at all. The tendency is to go blank when someone's pointing a camera at you and that shows in pictures. When you just let your thoughts go, emotions rise involuntarily and reflect in your eyes.

For the second look, we kept it sweet and simple. My hair was straightened with a straightening iron for the first time in my life!

When these pictures were in my book, clients were always saying I looked like Katie Holmes. Dawson's Creek was big at the time!

While driving from one location to the next, we stopped next to the road where some reeds were growing. A black shirt, a cowboy hat with a hole in it and we were done.

For our final shots, Fanie said we should do something a bit more directional/fashion/fun.
Great fashion editorials are pure creative fantasy, where editors and stylists work together to create an image that needs no real life relevance, it's the art of the fashion industry; beauty for beauty's sake. So Fanie pulled out of his magic trunk a little pink frock, added some messy woodland nymph hair and a sprinkling of glittery eyeshadow. To complete his fairy fantasy, we drove out to a small section of forest nearby and I went boldly into the undergrowth.

I was working very hard at remembering all the instructions Fanie had given me during the day, and it shows in these photographs. The poses are good (for 1997), my face is defined and there's plenty of expression.

This photograph was on the front of my Z-card in one country or another for at least six years!

My only critique would be that my face is so much lighter than my body, an issue that's easily fixed in post-production these days. Which reminds me, these pictures were all shot on film and no retouching was done. Disturbingly, that is almost unheard of these days.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Test Shoot: Guy Bubb & Louise Fuller

My second test shoot was a whole lot easier than the first. Debbie had set me up with a young photographer, Guy Bubb and a make-up artist represented by Storm, Louise Fuller. Guy and Louise were both chilled, easy-going personalities who knew just how to put me at ease and so they helped me get my first good shots!

We shot at Guy's flat, a sun-drenched apartment in a funky old seventies block on Green Point's Main Road. It was spacious, comfortable and the natural light was beautiful.
Once again, we were working without a stylist (what did Storm have against stylists at the time?), but since Debbie had asked for some pictures showing my body, my limited selection of bikini's was enough for us to work with. I've mentioned before how I was new to bikini-wearing, so even though Guy was very professional and respectful, it was still a huge challenge for me to pose around in front of a man, wearing nothing but my swimwear.

Louise had given me an amazing hairdo, using sections alternately styled with crimping and curling irons, turning my fine head of hair into a luscious bushy mess! This, together with some super natural but shimmery make-up, was glamorous enough to make me feel a little bit like someone else. Maybe even a real model?

I remember Guy showing me how to lean into the wall, making it look oddly natural for a person to be wilting into a wall, but when i tried to copy the pose, it didn't have quite the same effect.

We changed outfits and they posed me on Guy's colourful couch. He told me to just be chilling, reading magazines. So that's exactly what I did. Except, it looks all fake and uncomfortable? Guess I still had a lot to learn!

For the last shot Guy wanted me to do something spontaneous, get a bit of energy and laughter going. He told me to throw a magazine at him. I laughed and refused, what if I broke his camera? The agency loved this shot, I hated it. Debbie asked: "Why do you hate it? That's what you look like?" I was insulted. I thought my top lip looked too thin, my nose too long and my ear protruded too much. Sigh... the follies of youth. I realised about eight years ago that it was actually a great picture, and it stayed in my book for a very long time!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Firing the First Shot

Somewhere in between joining Storm Model Agency and walking the ramp with the Supermodels, I needed to get started on my model portfolio. A model's portfolio (commonly referred to as her book) is her resume, her ad campaign, the proof in the pudding - vouching that she is a professional and showing off her photographic potential.

Unless you're lucky enough to have Patrick Demarchelier banging on your door from the second you're discovered, you need to build your book by testing. Test photography is a collaboration between agency, photographer, styling artists and model. Sometimes new photographers offer to test shoot models for free, as a way of building their own portfolios. Otherwise the agency or the model might pay the rest of the team to shoot specific pictures that the model needs. If a rookie model finds a good agency that believes in her, the agency will pay for test shoots upfront, hoping to recoup their investment when she starts earning money. I was lucky enough that Storm offered to do this for me, otherwise that might have been the end of everything!

My very first test was a bit of a nightmare. For some unknown reason, a photographer and make-up artist was booked, but no stylist. A couple of days before the scheduled date, the photographer phoned me and told me to bring my own clothing. When I panicked and started explaining that I'm a poor drama student with a taste for the unusual, he unsympathetically said I could surely borrow some decent duds from friends or maybe I knew someone who owned a boutique? Dude, I wasn't some hoity-toity Camps Bay socialite, trying her hand at a spot of modeling when I wasn't swanning around in my boutique-owner friends' designer gear...
Poor. Drama Student. Out in the sticks!
But the intimidated young me just said okay, I'll make a plan, before putting down the phone and freaking out.

As fate would have it, one of my house mates heard the ruckus and came out to check on me. Frans is a bear of a man, an engineering student at the time, who loved playing his didgeridoo at all hours of the day and night. He went on to play underwater hockey for the Netherlands. Interesting man. Anyway, so Frans calmed me down and pointed out that his wealthy, fabulous artist mother did know some boutique owners and within an hour I had an appointment at a swish store in the Waterfront. The kind of store I'd never even looked at, never mind went into and shopped at!

Frans' mother must have had serious clout at the boutique, as I was treated with great kindness on my scouting trip. The sales lady helped me find three outfits according to the photographer's list: a suit, a cocktail dress and a smart-casual outfit. The grown-up elegance of the store was so far removed from my personal taste and lifestyle, I couldn't picture myself wearing any of it and had no opinion either way, so I happily left the store with my loot beautifully wrapped and hung in suit bags.

When I arrived at the shoot location (a gorgeous house in Camps Bay, ironically) I had no idea what to do or what to expect. The make-up artist was courteous but not friendly, unceremoniously shoving me into a chair and starting to powder and paint my face. She sighed at the state of my home-dyed hair and made as little as possible small talk. Once she was done with me, she called the photographer over and he too seemed a bit gruff and impatient. They stared in misery at my little collection of clothing and then seemed to agree to just shoot it and be done with me.

You see, the success of any photo shoot is dependent on so many different factors all coming together beautifully and if one area is underwhelming, it affects everything else. While the clothing I'd brought was nice enough, a professional stylist would've added just the right shoes, earrings, belts and other accessories to take it from a fairly boring periwinkle blue suit to something hot and happening. Sans stylist, this was going to be hard.

We spent about three hours taking photographs. I was so out of my depth. I would stand in the position indicated by the photographer and not know what on earth to do. My eager devouring of fashion magazines clearly didn't mean I suddenly knew how to pose and work the outfit. We shot the blue suit standing against a wall, then for the cocktail dress I was lying down on a sun lounger while the photographer shot straight down at me from the balcony above. It was slow going and highly frustrating, no matter which way I turned or how I tuned my smile up or down, the photographer seemed unhappy.
Eventually we moved on to the last outfit, a little printed T-shirt and black trousers. They posed me on a bed, trying to get me to look all relaxed and natural. An impossibility when I felt that they were unimpressed by me and that things just weren't working out. Somehow I ended up upside-down and finally the photographer was sounding a bit more enthusiastic. "Good, great, little smile... Okay maybe a little less..." And we were finished.

In retrospect, it wasn't terrible for a first shoot. Sure, having a stylist would've helped a great deal, especially if we'd chosen clothing a little closer to my own style. And a slightly friendlier team, used to working with first-time models, could have made me feel more confident and adventurous in my posing. But things don't always come together perfectly and there was also a lesson in that. We used about five pictures from the test for my first portfolio, as a mediocre set of pictures was better than no pictures at all. Eventually the suit and the cocktail dress shots were removed from my book and got lost, but I still have one picture left to remind me of the start of it all.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Madiba and me

When Storm called me a couple of days later to say that I was booked for the Versace show, I was understandably confused. After the curt dismissal at the casting, how could I possibly have been chosen?
Debbie soon explained that while I wouldn’t be walking the ramp with Kate, Naomi and Amber in the latest Versace couture, myself and two other Storm models had been selected to model in an auction after the show.

The motivation behind the “Versace For Africa” event was a charity drive headed by Naomi Campbell. She had spent some time with President Mandela and had even been named as his honorary grand daughter! He had truly moved her to become actively involved with his personal charity, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Naomi had approached her long-term friend Donatella and together they brought the international epitome of glamour to Africa. They’d end the stellar fashion show with an auction, the proceeds of which were to go to the NMCF. The House of Versace also donated to the auction, ten outfits and a copy of Gianni Versace's book, Vanitas, signed by the author.

Amber Valletta, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell arrive at Genadendal
I was thrilled to be involved in this worthy, glamorous event in any way and eagerly awaited the weekend. My dad dropped me off outside then-President Mandela’s house where I was quickly cleared by security. I was escorted to a marquee tent that was all abuzz with models, make-up artists, hair stylists and dressers. Once they figured out who I was and what I was there for, I was plopped down into a seat at a row of makeshift vanity tables. I was excited to see Louwina there. She smiled and winked at me conspiratorially as if to say, “Look! We got in anyway, can you believe it?” While someone started gluing extensions onto my own hair roots, another soul dressed head to toe in black performed an artistic miracle on my face, turning the girl-next-door into someone who might almost be mistaken for a model!

When I wasn’t staring disbelievingly at the transformation in the mirror, I tried my best to pretend that I didn’t notice MISS KATE MOSS in the seat next to me, paging through a trashy magazine and carelessly tossing her cigarette butt onto the temporary carpet. I held my pose when MISS NAOMI CAMPBELL jokingly (or not so jokingly?) and loudly voiced her opinion that they “always gave Amber and Christy the highest heels and the best dresses, it’s not fair”! I remember being charmed by their British accents, and that Naomi’s presence truly was larger than life. Wherever she was in the room, you knew it and you knew what was on her mind. But she was also quite sweet and funny and astoundingly beautiful. Kate was much more reserved and almost tomboyish.

I didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of Amber or Christy, though they must’ve been right there. I was desperately trying to spot any local models, curious as to who might’ve made the cut at the daunting casting. Eventually I noticed a young blonde, totally memorable by her luscious lips.
Lisa-Marie Schneider was about sixteen and just breaking into the local modeling scene. Male magazines were doing features on her and there was talk of a contract with a huge New York agency. I smiled at her as she nervously tottered up and down on sky-high stilettos; practicing so she wouldn’t mess up out on the ramp.

Lisa-Marie Schneider
Soon all the show models were called up to their dressing rails for first outfits and us auction models were herded into a kitchenette to anticipate our own turn on the catwalk. Louwina introduced me to a flaming redhead with the finest, most delicate features. Michelle du Toit and I were both small-town girls new to this game, both more interested in art and drama than glitz and glamour. We became fast friends that night at Genadendal and now eleven years later, I still consider her a dear, dear friend.

Michelle du Toit
When the Versace Spring/Summer ’98 unveiling was over, the celebrity models took their seats in the audience and it was show time for us. We took turns to slip in and out of the outfits up for auction, parading them with what we hoped was flair and expertise. When the next item was a car we posed next to it; paintings, books and plates were held up for examination and so we made it up as we went along.

The supermodels were quite vocal during the bidding, cheering on the highly cautious South African glitterati. Yes it was for Madiba, and yes, it was by Versace, but such flashy foreign labels were never traditionally held in high esteem at the tip of Africa. But things plodded along, certainly aided by the supers and their dollars and pounds.

My final item was a Madiba shirt, created by Gianni Versace himself in honour of the great peacekeeping leader. My dresser and I decided to throw it on over the last sequin mini I’d been wearing and off I went. I was still careful on the stilettos and pretty much faking the calm confidence required. I stood on stage and took a minute to actually see into the audience. Here I was, and there in the stands, looking up at me (or at least at my shirt) was Naomi, Kate and Christy, laughing and cheering and shouting higher and higher bids. It was so surreal.

The shirt eventually sold for R30,000 to an unknown bidder and luckily for me, the moment was caught on film.

While I was definitely in awe of the big persona's surrounding me at this moment, I think I'd also just expected this level of celebrity and excitement from the modeling industry. When looking at it from the outside, it seems that this is the norm. In the next decade, I'd come to realise what a uniquely memorable event this was. Truly special for the fact that it happened so soon after the tragic death of Gianni Versace, that it established Cape Town as a tiny but important part of the international fashion scene and in that it brought together the high profile impact of the supermodels at the height of their power and the venerable cause of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. The supermodels even made a little film about the event, Fashion Kingdom. I wonder if I'm in it?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


My very first casting through Storm was a big one, and I didn’t even know it. I was instructed to go to the Table Bay Hotel in the V&A Waterfront for a show casting, wearing a short skirt and heels. I recall it was a Friday afternoon and I rushed out after class to change and chase into the city. Luckily by this time my brother had gone overseas, leaving his little blue Ford Laser in my slightly inexperienced hands!

I made it to the hotel in one piece, parked somewhere I wasn’t supposed to and hurried into the foyer. I was greeted by the sight of around eighty long-limbed girls, all wearing the short skirt-high heels-uniform, lined up outside a conference room, waiting to be seen. With a disappointed sigh I joined the back of the queue, this was going to take forever! An hour later only twenty girls had been in, come out and left and the crowd was getting restless.

I’d finally built up the courage to strike up a conversation with a slightly older girl whose face I recognized from magazines and the Storm model board, Louwina. She’d been modeling professionally since she was sixteen and had seen it all. She was the one who told me that this casting was for a VERSACE show to be held at NELSON MANDELA’S home and that all the SUPERMODELS would be there too! I listened attentively as she explained to a bunch of us newbie’s what a rare and amazing occurrence this was. Big international fashion houses never did shows in South Africa, and Naomi, Kate, Christy and Amber certainly didn’t put in regular appearances on our humble catwalks. I didn’t know whether to believe the outrageous things Louwina was telling us, but at least listening to her gush about it made the time go by.

A little flame of hope was also sparking to life inside my head. Imagine being on the catwalk with the likes of my favourite model at the time, Amber Valetta? I started building castles in the sky about being properly discovered, hand picked by Donatella Versace to star in the next Versace perfume campaign and the jet setting lifestyle my pal Amber and I would enjoy...

Look, I'm generally a sensible girl but when you feel like you get so close to these ephemeral, inspirational mirages of glamour and status, it's hard not to lose one's head just a little.

My beautiful reverie was shattered when someone of obvious authority appeared from behind the closed doors of the conference room. She was tall and blonde, dressed head to toe in black and looked severely harassed. At the sight of the slim hordes snaking through the foyer, she seemed even more upset. She went back into the room and came out with a shorter, darker version of herself. Together they started at the head of the queue, looking each girl over, then having a short, quiet conference before telling the model whether to stay or go. Instead of letting each model wait around before getting a chance to walk the ramp in front of the panel, only pre-selected ones would go through to the conference room. The rest were free to leave. On the one hand this seemed cruel and dismissive, on the other, it was going to save everyone a lot of time.

The ladies in black made their way down the queue in minutes. They knew exactly which type of model they were looking for and it seemed that there weren’t any of those at this casting! I think I saw two models being sent in to the actual casting, everyone else was summarily rejected. When Louwina got the boot just a couple of girls ahead of me, I knew I had no chance. She was taller, slimmer and infinitely more experienced. So when my turn came to stand defenseless before the judges, I saw their eyes glazing over in a definite negative, gave them my biggest smile and marched out the foyer door before they could utter their meaningless ‘thanks for coming’.

I slammed shut the door of my car, seething with humiliation and frustration, regretting the time and petrol wasted. It doesn’t matter how little you care for this business, how much you understand mentally that it’s nothing personal, it still stings like hell to be discarded so heartlessly. In time I would grow a thicker skin, I would waltz out of worse situations with a grin on my face thinking “Your loss, suckers!” but that first impulse of hurt and injured pride is still uncomfortably familiar after all these years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Life at Uni carried on in a blur of rehearsals, theatre productions, some class attendance and plenty of socials. Every night was spent with friends, whether it was just my roommate and I chilling at home, listening to Smashing Pumpkins while we avoided doing our homework or big nights out in one of the many bars and clubs catering specifically for the student population of our University town.

After escaping from the now ex-Bad Boyfriend’s prescriptive clutches, I’d acquired a wardrobe consisting overwhelmingly of mini skirts and mini dresses, with my dark Gothic vibe reserved for evenings out when I’d boast black minis with sky high black rubber platform boots and my Dad's leather jacket. What I wouldn't give for some pics of this time?

One Saturday my two best friends and I escaped our small town to go mall trawling in the city. I can’t remember if we were even there for a specific purpose, but amongst other things, we used a photo booth to capture this tiny image.

Jewel, Modelmental, Nightingale. Little did I know what a meaningful day we’d captured.
And I do realise I look more like a shiny happy little raver than a deep and disturbed Goth, but somehow I managed to be both, depending on the time of day and type of activity!

As we were about to leave, I noticed a pretty, petite lady a few steps ahead, who kept looking back at us, then walking on again. I wondered if she knew me, or if we’d been loud or obnoxious, since she kept looking back. Eventually she stopped and waited for us to catch up to her. “Would you be interested in modeling?” she asked me, studying my face as I considered my answer. I stammered something affirmative and she gave me her card, all the while assessing me, checking out my height and build. Eventually she seemed to nod at herself and told me to come see her in the week. The card simply said Metka, Scout Models Cape Town.

I’d been down this road before so I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the opportunity. I also hadn’t heard of Scout Models so I wasn’t impressed as I’d been with Mulligans before. I’d just had a really good day hanging with my girlfriends and this compliment was a nice little cherry on top.

During the next week I called Metka and borrowed Nightingale’s car to drive into the city to meet with her. I’d gone to some trouble doing nice hair and make-up, borrowed a dress and put on high heels. Scout was a small office on a main road, nothing too impressive, but not too shabby either. I started off by telling Metka about my earlier attempts at modeling and how I really didn’t want to waste her time or my own. I was very busy at Uni sixty kilometers away and had to beg and borrow cars for transport. She said it’s fine; it would take time to get me started anyway, why don’t we just start putting a portfolio together and see what happens.

Before we ever got round to organizing a test shoot, Metka called me with some big news. Her agency was being bought out by Storm, a major London agency owned by Richard Branson. They were opening a branch in Cape Town, Kate Moss was flying in with Mr. Branson for the launch and the whole industry was excited about what this meant for Cape Town’s relatively small, fledgling modeling scene. I had to go for an interview with Storm, as they were only taking on a selection of Metka’s models, mostly children.

I knew this was big, but as I’d had such a hit and miss history in this crazy business, I tried not to raise my expectations. I borrowed Nightingale’s trusty old Honda and drove into the city once more. The Storm offices consisted of one big open plan space with six bookers on computers with headsets. Behind the bookers the wall was covered in their models’ composite cards. I teetered into the open in a high-waist pencil skirt and heels, hair slicked back into a ponytail in an attempt to look nonchalant.

Storm Models

Debbie was in charge of the New Faces division and called me over. As I had no pictures yet, I could only present myself, and shyly explained that Metka had sent me.
Debbie removed her headset and stared me down with narrowed eyes. She asked me to take a step back and do a 360 degree turn. I did this, shaking with the effort of trying to look elegant. She folded her arms and gave me another look up and down.
“I like this girl. Hey, Michelle?”
Michelle (I’d later figure out that she was the big boss) glanced over at me and carried on working. So Debbie just continued talking to herself.
“Yes, I think I like you. Have a seat.”
I sat back down and Debbie took my details and my measurements while one thought and one thought only raced through my mind: I was joining the same agency as Kate Moss!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Test Shoot: Annaline Smit

A professional city agency had shown interest in me as a model, it was time to perform. Sharon Mulligan wanted me to bring some pictures to her office, so they could decide whether I had potential. I decided that happy snaps taken in the back yard were not going to do it, so I asked a friend to help me out.

Annaline was one of my best high school friends, who'd been left by the wayside when I got slurped into the Bad Boyfriend hole. We reconnected at Uni and I discovered that she'd been studying photography part-time, with a keen focus on fashion photography. Perfect! She asked another of our high school friends, Lelani, to help with the styling and make-up, and off we went on my first creative, cool editorial-style shoot.

Bear in mind, this was 1996, BEFORE DIGITAL. We shot a few rolls colour, a few rolls B&W film and since we weren't so lucky as to own a polaroid camera, we couldn't see a single frame before Annaline developed all the pics in her dark room!

A bright green mini shift dress with wide waist belt and exposed zip detail: au courant!

This simply stylish little red number was Annaline's Matric Farewell dress. Well, she is a simply stylish girl. I remember her and Lelani telling me to really look angry, scowl and pout. Apparently that wasn't within my range just yet.

These pictures remind me how cyclical fashion is. 20's flapper style long beads and you can't see them, but I was wearing two-tone brogues!

Fishnet stockings, a feather boa and a dreamy off-camera stare... I've always liked this one.

Little house on the prairie vintage cream sundress, I'd love one now!

Oh my word, check the waist line on these white jeans. This was before we went low-rise! I just realised now, we used to call low-slung jeans hipsters...

I'm definitely getting a tiny bit more expressive as the day rolls on.

White strapless sweetheart bodice, full tulle skirt and chinese slippers. Sweet bridal ensemble.

Then we went a bit hard-core and crept onto a building site / scrap yard. I'm wearing my Dad's leather jacket from the 70's. I lived in it for three years.

Posing on a fork-lift. So necessary.

Proper editorial style: model having a little lie-down in junk yard.

Annaline & Lelani really had the greatest styling intuition! We found an old school bus and paired it with a fab retro print dress. My model slouch still needed a lot of work, I look a bit stiff and awkward.

If the camera was positioned a little bit higher here, this would've been a beauty.

Annaline was so enthusiastic and creative with our locations. We'd been driving up and down twisty unknown paths, changing outfits, hair & make-up, setting up and shooting within minutes, it was a rush! At some point we were a bit lost and came upon a tiny squatter settlement in the woods. I was hustled into someone's sister's wedding dress, bedecked with hat and pearls and positioned on a rusty old car wreck. A young mother with four kiddies in tow shyly asked to be in a picture with 'the bride'.

A mile long washing line, out in the open veld, was just begging to be captured.

I knew we had to take some swimwear shots too, but I wasn't looking forward to it. Due to a silly childhood incident I only ever wore full swimsuits. The fact that Annaline & Lelani could talk me into a tiny little leopard print triangle, was a miracle. And just like that, the spell was broken, bikinis all the way!

How young do I look? I was 18.

I love the b&w ones.

Knowing what I know now, having been exposed to the harsh modelling world and its precise requirements, I can see that these pictures look a bit naively amateur and that I certainly didn't posess instant model mentality. At the time though, I proudly took these to Mulligan's Models and expected them to sign me on the spot.

They didn't.

I made my way into town at the appointed time and entered the hallowed halls of a real life model agency. It was a chaotic office space, not nearly as glamorous as I'd imagined. When I said that Sharon had asked me to come, it barely raised any interest in the receptionist. She flicked through the photos, called someone else to form a second opinion and then brusquely thanked me and said they'd be in touch.

I never heard from them again.

So I experienced my third false start in this ridiculous industry. Luckily, I wasn't crushed or even disappointed; I was too busy with my studies and distracted by my blooming social life. Modelling could wait, if it was ever going to happen at all. And besides, I knew that I'd much rather be a respected actress than an airhead model...

Friday, July 17, 2009


During my first year at Uni, I found myself. I found myself being confident and brave and flirty and it was so much fun. I was up for anything, joined committees and groups, auditioned for and participated in everything I could.
I was a cheerleader, the one dream I’d had for high school but which the Bad Boyfriend had shattered with crude remarks on “slutty girls who jump around in skimpy outfits”.
So when a friend suggested I enter an Intervarsity Carnival beauty pageant, I did it without thinking twice.

When I was chosen as a finalist, I was pleasantly surprised and keen to see where this would take me, or more succinctly, what free goodies I could score from this!
A drinks company sponsored the pageant and they took us on boat trips and cellar tours and organized lunches with wine tastings and nights out on the town: it was fabulous. After a month of wining and dining we had the crowning event at a 007 themed poker night where the contestants also took part in a fashion show.

A prestigious local boutique sponsored the show and allocated outfits to each girl. For the finale, they dressed me in a black velvet bustier with black mesh sleeves and a hip hugging slim black velvet skirt with slits up both legs... A much sexier yet still slightly gothic replica of my dress at the school pageant! I loved it, I felt so much sexier, more mature and comfortable in my own skin than ever before.

Being back on the catwalk was a breeze. Most of the girls had been in some sort of fashion show before, and we weren’t serious about the competitive aspect of the night at all. We were drinking champagne backstage, helping each other with hair and make-up and generally having a girly good time!

Soon the show was over and they were about to announce the winners, but most of us were just eager to get out there and join the party. The first award was for Miss Legs, and everyone looked to Lara as they began reading the list of prizes. All the girls were whispering “Lara, Lara, there you go Lara”, so when my name was called instead, it took a moment for me to realize that I actually had to go on stage now! I’m sure I blushed a scarlet red as I made my way to the front, especially as I now felt that I’d ‘stolen’ the prize from Lara? I honestly can’t remember much of Lara or her legs, but I know that I was all set for pantyhose for the next five years!

During the confusion of hugs and congratulations after the show, a very elegantly dressed lady, distinctive by being a bit older than all the students milling about, cornered Nicola and I, asking to have a word. She’d come to the show to scout for models and would love it if we’d have some pictures taken and bring them in to her agency. I took her card with pleasure, it’s always nice to be noticed, and made my way into the throng of partiers. It was only the next day, when I fished the card out of my handbag that I paid attention to the name. Sharon Mulligan, Mulligan’s Models. This wasn’t some unknown scout from a shabby little second-rate agency in the burbs, I’d read the name countless times in all the local fashion magazines I frequently devoured!

Hey baby, we’ve hit the big time.

For the record:
So I’m afraid ALL you voters fell for my double bluff. I was in fact ‘discovered’ at a beauty pageant and no one guessed correctly. So lame and predictable, I know, but sometimes life is like that.

Q: Where was MM ‘discovered’ the second time around?
35% said In a shopping mall. (May turn out to be true yet…)
33% said At a Metallica concert. (Metallica never performed live in South Africa until 2006(!))
30% said Outside a public toilet. (Nice.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Moving on

If you're just here for the fashion flashback and grunge-to-gladrags model story, you can skip this post and go straight to Discovered.
If you're also interested in the more emotional background details and the demise of the Bad Boyfriend... read on.
If you're bored, try this!

As the end of my high school career approached, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. Despite wearing a lot of black and being semi-permanently attached to the lips of my Bad Boyfriend, I was still a straight A student. Getting into university wouldn't be a problem, deciding what to study at said university, was. Gripped by indecision and knowing that Bad Boyfriend would never get accepted with his struggling grades, I decided to take a gap year. We would both get menial jobs at the local mall while we figured out what next. Stellar plan.

The year rushed to an end. We attended our Matric Farewell (something like prom, without the booze and sex, in my days at least) and made it through to our final exams. I spent a lot of time coaching Bad Boyfriend, helping him study, sharing my notes. He was a terrible student at the best of times, bright as button and sharp as a knife but too rebelliously obstinate to realize that by messing up at school he was only punishing himself.

MM at the Matric Farewell. I'm almost starting to like my outfit again. The corset straps were shortened so that absolutely not even a hint of cleavage would be visible, at all, ever... Kind of defies the object of a corset, no? I've never, ever taken style advice from a boy again!

Because we had different subjects, my exams would end a couple of days before his. On the day I finished my last test after twelve years at school, a switch flicked in my mind.
I was tired. Dead tired of the emotional drama and intensity of our relationship. Bored of being told what to wear and who to speak to and completely over having no social life and no fun. I made up my mind to break up with the Bad Boyfriend, just like that.

But I had to wait. I couldn’t possibly break his heart while he still had an exam to pass; that would be too cruel. Besides, I had no doubt that he would sabotage himself in some way when I left, and I didn’t want his not finishing high school on my conscience. So I patiently waited and deceived my way through three days of pretense. Because I didn’t have Business Economics, Boyfriend had to study on his own and his mom wouldn’t let him see me until he was done, so luckily it was only over the phone that I had to continue the charade.

When he came to visit me straight after his final exam, I was ready. I’d been going over our relationship and all the things that I’d given up, and there was no way I was backing down. I knew he didn’t know how to be any less controlling and possessive and I knew that I had to be free. I was eighteen; with all the options and opportunities in the world before me, and it was time to do what was right for me.

Bad Boyfriend was understandably shocked and upset and it took many hours of talking, crying, arguing, some destructive threats and actions but eventually he understood: I was moving on and he couldn’t follow where I was going.

At the same time my Dad’s company announced that he’d have to relocate to a different province, permanently. My Dad gave me two choices: move with my family, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where I wouldn’t know anyone, to ‘enjoy’ my gap year there, or enroll at university and live in student housing. I started ferociously studying course brochures, trying to pick a degree. I tried to imagine myself as a marine biologist, a nature conservationist, a librarian, a lawyer or an entrepreneur, but I just couldn’t see it. Finally my Dad said: “Cookie, it’s simple, what have you always wanted to do?” In a heartbeat I answered, “I want to be a movie star”.

So it was settled. Thanks to my good grades I was allowed late enrollment at the University of Stellenbosch and I would start studying towards my Drama degree just two months later. Till then, I had a summer of single fun in the sunshine before me. I was ecstatic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'll be back.

Apologies for the indecently long gap in storytelling.
Modelmental has been swanning about in Europe!
Sadly, not to collect awesome experiences from the frontlines of fashion, but purely as the lucky wife of a travelling businessman and then the incredibly spoilt daughter-in-law of a travelling businessman and holiday-maker!

Next episode coming soon: Discovered!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Top Billing

I can’t say that I enjoyed walking the ramp (the plank?) for the Fair Lady Young Designer Show. Mostly I just prayed my way through my six minutes in the spotlight.

‘Please don’t let me fall off the ramp, don’t let my basket slip off my shoulders, don’t let me trip, oops remember to feel the music, chin up, shoulders back, peaceful expression, nice and easy and oh dear, everyone in the three front rows can see right up my skirt! Please let this end?’

I survived the show in one piece, I didn’t trip up or slip or fall over. The changes in between each designer’s scene happened in a fast forward blur of ripping off the previous outfit and hopping into the next while running across the back stage area to the spot where you needed to be in time for the start of the next song like, FIVE MINUTES ago.

Sure, there are dressers to help you out of the micro mini and into the sheath, not forgetting the buckhorn bangle! These poor dresser creatures are usually first year fashion design students and I’ve never envied them. They don’t even get paid. All they get is a lot of shoving, shouting and models running around in nothing but flesh coloured G-strings… Oh, the glamour.

After the show I could hardly wait to get back into my own clothes. Nice normal pants and tops and socks and shoes, covering all that needs to be covered, I felt cocooned in safety after the shock of over-exposure. I heard some girls talking about after-parties and hanging with the designers but I made a beeline for the exit and jumped gratefully into my Dad’s car. It was done.

Except, of course, for the nation’s favourite magazine show. They just wouldn’t let it go. Couldn’t let me make my break from the crazy world of modeling without getting me in trouble first.

A day or two after the show my family, the Bad Boyfriend and I were innocently watching TV when a preview came up.

“The fashion event of the year, the Fair Lady Young Designer extravaganza will be covered in-depth on the next edition of Top Billing.” Along with a nice long flash of me in my micro-mini strolling nonchalantly past the camera. The camera nicely positioned to look straight up my skirt. I froze.

My family shouted out excitedly, it’s you! Was that you? It looked like you, oh wow you’re on TV! I remained frozen. I could feel Bad Boyfriend next to me, crunching his jaw, keeping dead quiet; I didn’t dare look at him. When the preview was over and they hadn’t shown me again, I breathed out.

Sure Bad Boyfriend looked a bit green around the gills and yes, I was probably going to get a speech at the least but he hadn’t seen the half of it and I would find some way to make sure that he never saw the rest. My family would forget, I certainly wouldn’t remind them and if they remembered, I’d smash the TV with a baseball bat. Yes, that’s what I’d do.

I purposely surrounded myself with family members for the rest of the Boyfriend’s visit, so he couldn’t confront me about the show. Top Billing would air on Thursday, just a couple of days later, and I was sure that if I could just avoid anyone watching that, the whole thing would blow over and be forgotten.

Before I knew it, D-Day rolled around. Bad Boyfriend and I had been studiously avoiding the topic of the fashion show. I was dreading his reaction and he was probably waiting to see the whole show so he’d have more ammunition. I still had a small hope that we’d miss the program, that everyone would forget and afterwards I could say “Oh darn, we missed it. Oh well…”

But apparently this was big. Little old me, on TV. By 7.15 pm the entire family was gathered in the living room, the VCR was poised and ready to record. Bad Boyfriend arrived uninvited and I was marched to a prime position in front of the TV. I smiled weakly and felt the knot in my stomach tighten. How much would they show? Maybe even my family would be shocked and disappointed? What if they all turned on me and branded me a hussy? Gulp. I mumbled an excuse that I needed some water and fled the room, just as the show’s theme song came up. Everyone was babbling noisily as they showed the same shot of me during the intro. I cowered at the door, fearing the worst yet somehow also getting a tiny thrill out of it all.

The segment covering the show was about ten minutes long and during that time I was visible on about eight different occasions. To my immense relief and secret delight, I was in the same micro-mini-crop-knit outfit every time. I guess the more revealing outfits were too risqué for family time TV and thus never featured.

I could hardly believe my luck. I’d attended a show casting, booked the job, been trained on the catwalk, survived a whole show only half dressed, appeared on TV without totally embarrassing myself and kept the Bad Boyfriend relatively placated. And there was still the small matter of R800 owed to me by the agency.

While my heartbeat steadied and my Grandma phoned to congratulate me on how pretty I looked, I reminded myself of the terror I’d felt when I first saw my outfits.

I was done.

It’d been a wild ride, but I couldn’t survive another adventure like this. I reaffirmed my decision to phone the agency the next day and gracefully announce my retirement.

Poll review:

17 readers said my Boyfriend made my quit and 17 said I was too shy to continue. You're all correct and it was about a 50/50 contribution so very accurate. The 1 vote for 'Grandma made me end it' is not too far off either, her stern voice in the back of my mind certainly had an effect.

Thanks for the 2 votes for Vegas and 14 babies, you made me giggle.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fair Lady Naked Lady

We had a rehearsal for the Fair Lady show, which is a highly irregular occurrence. As a rule, when you are cast in a fashion show, you might have to attend a fitting or two prior to the event, but any choreography is quickly explained in the few hours before the show, when the models are all at the venue anyway, having their hair and make up done. You see, time is money and show producers don’t want to pay for any more of the models’ time than is absolutely necessary.
So it was a blessing that for my very first show, we did actually get to rehearse the routine to the music that would play on the day. I guess they’d decided to work with rather inexperienced fresh faces to suit the ‘Young Designer’ theme and wanted to give us some much needed confidence. Being inexperienced, we were also still cheap.
The second bit of luck was that we were doing the entire show barefoot and that the show director, Lucilla Booyzen (previously known as the angry little redhead lady), really wanted us to walk super normal and naturally. I remember being at the rehearsal, strolling down the ramp to “No, no, no, you don’t love me this I know now…” and Lucilla saying “You’re really feeling the music, wonderful.” This a mere ten minutes after she scolded me for standing with my arms crossed in front of me… Apparently a no, no, no while listening to Lucilla talk!
The day of the show finally arrived, and while my Bad Boyfriend was not exactly thrilled about it, he hadn’t given me too much grief. I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning, but obviously had to keep my cool and act terribly blasé as soon as I joined the other girls at the venue.
When I found the rail with my name and outfits on it, my blood chilled. The first number was a simple white linen sheath, with a tribal tattoo print in places. It had slits on both sides, coming right up to my hipbones. The linen was sheer, which meant quite completely see-through under spotlights. On my upper arm, I had to wear miniature deer horns, tied on with leather cords.
I can’t recall my second outfit to save my life, I must’ve suppressed it so deep down that the memory will never ever resurface, but I know for a fact that it was even more revealing than the first.
The final number was a nun’s habit by comparison, a tiny a-line miniskirt and a cropped knit top with long bell sleeves. A woven basket went on my back with leather straps, silk flowers artfully arranged to peek out through the top of the basket.
Which reminds me, I should explain something about Young Designer competitions. Popular themes for Young Designer Competitions include Innovation by Technical Design, Recycle/Reuse/Resurrect Nature, the Future of Fashion, Wearable Art, Culture Clash and Form vs. Function.
The grand finale fashion show then exhibits the design student finalists whose work really grabbed the judges’ attention. Inevitably, the students interpret the themes by creating the strangest, most uncomfortable, and usually nude-est attire to display their creative genius. Look, I know everyone has to start somewhere and tries real hard to be original, but what’s with all the nudity?
Fair Lady Fashion Show 1995

Anyway, once again I knew there was no turning back and I fervently wished the rest of the show over. There was a lot of press, including TV cameras, backstage and I nervously ducked and dodged my way to the stage, to prevent my poor Grandmother catching her half naked granddaughter on the nation’s favourite magazine show.
I can’t remember if the other girls were as shocked as I was by our lack of clothing, I think it was made much worse for me by the fear of some picture or snippet coming into my Bad Boyfriend’s view. Every unpleasant thing he’d ever said about me would be validated; I felt like I was compromising my morals to be in a silly fashion show. I only prayed that he would never know, and swore to myself that this debut would also be the finale in my glorious modeling career.
Mostly, ramp modeling isn’t rocket science. You walk down the ramp, turn and walk back out, but it’s amazing how complicated it can feel once you step out under the lights and observe a thousand or so faces intently watching your every move. When all that’s between your privacy and two thousand intense eyes is a little floss of flesh coloured G-string and a sheer linen sheath, mortification takes on a whole new meaning.