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!