Wednesday, January 27, 2010

*Smirnoff International Fashion Awards July 1998*

I wrote this article as fashion correspondent for Stage Magazine:

The first thing anyone ever told me about the SMIRNOFF INTERNATIONAL FASHION AWARDS is: Don't do it! Don't even go to the casting, tell your agency you'll be out of town. Just don't go! So you can imagine my apprehension when I got the call saying I will in fact be modeling in the show and no, there is no getting out of it. I could gain some valuable experience working on such an (in)famous show and the money was better than average. Apart from that, I must admit I was a little curious to see if it really could be all that bad.

It was Chia, a Japanese model, who gave me the grave warning about the show. When I looked for her at the first fitting for the show, a friend of hers told me she had left for London just a week earlier. I wondered if she had seriously skipped the country just to miss the Smirnoff show? Alarm bells were going off in my head.

Chia had told me that her problems with the show are all related to the fact that it is a competition for young designers. The words 'young' and 'designers' next to each other is enough to make any model run ten kilometres the other way. This is not because there is anything wrong with young designers as such, it's just that, whenever they are put into competition with each other, they generally seem to believe that the more difficult it is to get into the garment and the less flesh it actually covers, the better the chance that it will impress the judges. I'm sure I don't have to tell you why impossibly complicated yet extremely revealing outfits are any model's worst nightmare.

Apart from this imminent nudity and discomfort, models also have to cope with the designers' extreme anxiety and sky-high stress levels. Because the rewards of winning such a competition are enormous, every entrant wants their garments to be absolutely perfect, as they imagined it. So, if a model has it on the wrong way (and it is often impossible to tell which is the right way of something that looks more like a garbage bag than a dress) or an arm is poking through an opening that wasn't there before, they are likely to start ranting and raving and shouting all sorts of obscenities at the poor girl.

As if this information wasn't enough to keep me away from young designer shows, another girl then told me about the model who fell off the ramp at the 1997 Smirnoff awards. She was wearing a finale garment, which meant that she didn't have to attend rehearsals. She arrived on the night of the show, struggled and squirmed into her dress and was ready to go. This particular designer number consisted only of an enormous wire hoop skirt. But she bravely strolled onto the catwalk, holding her head high in an attempt to carry off the topless garment in style. Even if she did look down, it wouldn't have helped her much. The skirt was so wide that she couldn't see her feet or a meter in front of them. And so she never noticed the gaping hole in the middle of the ramp. Suddenly she disappeared, not by magic, but through gravity. Apparently she landed in the middle of some lighting equipment (about two meters beneath the stage) and was left there for half an hour: the show must go on!

With all of this rushing through my mind, I went to the first fitting. While we were waiting for the choreographer, a few of us casually strolled around, taking a peek at the garments and making sure our names weren't on the ones that seemed the strangest. So far I was in luck. My garment consisted of a crocheted top and pants, with silkworm cocoons stitched onto the pants. It might sound a bit out of the ordinary, but at least it was easy to get into and it involved no nudity, so I was happy. As I spoke to the other models, we realised that there were only one or two revealing items, and they were tame in comparison to what we'd expected. Could it be possible that young designers were actually considering practicality? We should be so lucky! While everything necessary was covered up, the designers had used the strangest materials. There were dresses made out of glass tiles, bamboo, wood, metal, hair and just about anything else you can think of.

Still, it was a surprisingly easy and fun show and no one was hurt in the process. Afterwards, the music was pumped up and it turned into a huge party with everything necessary for enjoyment: interesting people, funky sounds and cheap drinks. A few hours later a certain magazine editor left to continue the party in Cape Town while a certain model went home to get some well deserved sleep. All that worrying about the horrors of a young designers' show can be hellishly tiring!

*As published in Stage Magazine, Fourth Edition, 1998/99

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Edgars Swimwear Catalogue Mid 1998

Somewhere in the middle of 1998, I booked my first professional photo shoot. There hadn't even been a casting, the department store client (Edgars) had chosen from our Z-cards and on the strength of agency recommendations. So it happened that I was one of a bunch of models, a photographer, stylist and a hair and make-up artist who set off for the coastal town of Langebaan on a cold, rainy day in the middle of winter.

We were off to shoot the Edgars summer catalogue, swimwear edition. I remember being shy and quiet on the trip out there, even though I was very pleased to meet an acquaintance, Chia, there too. I was excited to be working on something that was going to be seen by thousands of people, physical proof that I was finally getting closer to being a real working model. I was also quite scared. What if they weren't happy with my posing? What if the bikini's didn't fit? What if they thought I was too skinny or that my breasts were too small? I tried to blink away my fears and keep smiling, trying to appear confident and nonchalant.

We were shooting on a houseboat in Langebaan, and although it was not as wet as it had been in Cape Town when we left, the day was still cool and cloudy. We all cramped into the small space, trying to stay out of the way while it was someone else's turn in the make-up chair. Eventually we were all ready and the shoot got under way.

My first shot was me on my own, and the photographer (the brilliant Gerda Genis) told me to just relax against the rails, looking comfortable and dreamy. This seemed impossible to me, as I was shivering with goosebumps from the cold, the rails were too far apart to lie against and covered in splinters. I could feel the team's frustration rise as we struggled to get the shot, wind blowing hair all over my face and my pose just not relaxed and dreamy-looking enough. Eventually Gerda called it quits, moving on to the next shot. Urgh, I could only hope the next shot would be easier.

The rest of my shots were all in groups and as Gerda wanted us to be really natural and unposed, it was much easier to just hang out, chat and smile. The clothes all fit and I felt much better, confidence growing as the day wore on.

Just when I thought I had it all under control, Gerda told us to jump in. We stared at her in disbelief. At the best of times, in the middle of the long hot summer, the temperature of Langebaan's Atlantic water doesn't get anywhere near a pleasant swimming degree. Now it was cool, mostly overcast, the middle of winter and the water was freezing. While we remained shocked into silence, the rest of the behind-the-scenes team started yelling "Go on, jump, for goodness sakes, just do it already! You won't melt!" And so we jumped, into the icy cold, coming up gasping for breath, teeth chattering.

None of the jumping or swimming shots made it into the catalogue - we were probably looking far too blue and outraged! But as the sun was setting, peeking out from behind the clouds for a minute or two every now and then, Gerda captured some sun-soaked images.

I can hardly explain to you just how cold we were in the picture above, but with a bit of photographic magic and some seriously strained smiling skills, you'd never guess!

A few days after the shoot, my agency called me to say they'd missed one crucial shot and that I'd been booked to re-do it. I made my way into the city to meet the team at Gerda's studio. They'd been shooting all morning and were just ordering lunch as I got there, so they offered some to me. I was given a menu from a place I'd never heard of, Kauai. I ordered the first sandwich on the menu, the Healer. This is significant because twelve years later it's still my favourite take-out in the whole wide world. Healthy and tasty and filling and scrumptious, yum. After lunch, hair and make-up we drove out to the nearest beach and spent about twenty minutes taking this picture:

Not really mind-blowing or obviously important, and who could tell that I'm even on a beach? It's a strange industry for sure, I got paid half as much for this one easy shot as for the whole trip to Langebaan and the icy experience that proved to be!