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.