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