I wrote about my first South African Fashion Week as a model in Stage Magazine in 1998. Twelve years later I attended Cape Town Fashion Week as a writer, you can read more here.
*One of the most important events for the future of South African fashion is the Audi South African Fashion Week. This year it all happened in Sandton from 18 to 22 August. This is the meeting ground for designers, clients, models, hair dressers, make-up artists, fashion editors, reporters, photographers and everyone else you can think of who's even remotely connected with the fashion industry. It is where all the best professionals come together and display their work, willingly sharing the limelight with their peers. It is a week during which we pretend that we aren't living in a third world country and that being well dressed is just as important as feeding the hungry. It is a couple of days of glamour and enchantment before everyone returns to the grindstone. It is work, but it is the most thrilling and pleasurable part of our work.
Fashion Week is a relatively new concept in South Africa, but all it means is that for a few days in a row you can actually go and see the new collections of our best designers presented in a professional fashion show. I was very excited to be participating, especially since it was held in Johannesburg, which meant that I would have to fly up there, work for a few days and then fly back to Cape Town. Doesn't that sound so sophisticated? "Daahling, I'm flying up to Jo'burg for a few days to do this little show. Yes, I'll be staying in the model house on the company's expense." Sounds divine, doesn't it? Little did I know what was in store.
So I arrived in JHB and went for my first fitting. The address I had was Sandton Towers, Sandton. Sounded easy enough. Looking in the map book, I found a hotel by that name and thought I was on the right track. But the rpoblem is that people up there in Sandton aren't very original. When the hotel concierge had no idea what I was talking about, he pointed out to me that there are three other buildings and parts of buildings within a kilometre of the hotel, also called Towers. There was a North, East, South and West Tower in Sandton City. Then some office towers and I don't know what else. So I went from Tower to Tower looking for the fitting. No luck.
Eventually I came upon the square where the shows were being held. A model I saw there sent me on another wild goose chase, thinking that the fitting was being held in the Michaelangelo Hotel. (I noticed a billboard saying 'Michaelangelo Towers opening soon'?!) When I'd been running around for more than an hour I decided to go back to the first hotel. Eventually I found that the fitting was held there, but everyone had left already. Great. I'd been running around for an hour, I wasn't feeling very glamorous anymore and I'd missed my fitting. What a wonderful start.
After that fiasco I was off in search of the model house. I eventually found it in a suburb called Orange Grove. In spite of my optimistic expectations, a model house is no different from a normal house, except that it contains far less furniture. This particular house had three bedrooms with two single mattresses in each and then another five mattresses in the living room. There was a pool and a television so I suppose quite luxurious, but it was winter and the television only had SABC so I guess it wasn't fantastic either. Just normal, I was so disappointed. I was also tired and frustrated so I took a nap on my little mattress on the floor.
That night I went to Sandton Square to watch one of the shows. It was amazing! I've never actually been at a professional fashion show merely to watch and I loved it. It was also an informative occasion, because for the first time I could see what works on the ramp and what does not. The footage we see on television is obviously the best of the show so we never get to see the girl who walks too stiffly or the one who's eyes kept roving around. These are the mistakes that can make you and the outfit you're wearing look horrible on the ramp and I paid close attention, making mental notes all the time.
I must also add though, that most of the models looked absolutely perfect. I remember feeling more than a bit jealous when these amazingly tall, stunningly black models swayed onto the ramp in all their glory. You can say what you want, but the most beautiful, poised white model disappears from the ramp the minute a black woman who knows what she's doing gets up there.
The next day was my first and busiest working day. I had a fitting at 7:30 am which meant that the driver had to pick me up at 6:30. These drivers are unlike anything I've experienced before. Johannesburg traffic is unbelievably scary, but these guys don't seem to notice. They run a shuttle service especially for models, taking them all around the city, picking up and dropping off portfolios, prints and just about everything else. So they are quite used to being on the road. I am not. I was scared out of my wits before seven in the morning and that can be dangerous. All I can say about these trips is that they went by very fast, way over the speed limit fast; a quick adrenaline rush before the day starts? The rest of that day, and the next one was a mad rush from fitting to casting to rehearsal to fitting, but I survived.
The first show I did was my old favorite, a young designers' competition. This one was enjoyable though, because I really loved the clothes. It wasn't exactly wearable or particularly easy to get into at all, but it looked good. So I took a deep breath and went onto the stage. The tent was full, the music cool and the make-up very funky. Before I knew it, it was over. We were all back stage getting ready to leave when someone started yelling: "Clinton Lotter's girls, get back into your garments!" We obediently did this, grumbling because it just so happened that Clinton's garments were the most difficult to get into. Then the happy announcement was made and we were all shoved onto the stage, along with Clinton. He had won the Vodac/Cosmopolitan Young Designers' Award. The prize? Three months in Paris working for Stella McCartney's label, Chloe. Not too shabby hey?
While Clinton was overjoyed, we were just eager to get back into our own clothes and leave. That is, until Videofashion from New York started looking for one of Clinton's models. I was still dressed in his garment and lucky me had to stand next to him while he was interviewed. Needless to say, this was one of the highlights of my stay in JHB.
Straight after the Videofashion interview, it was time for hair and make-up for the next show at 21:00. This show included the collections of Rosenworth, Andre Croukamp and Jenni Button: elegant and stylish rather than funky. So I had to remove all the make-up from the previous show, just to have some more slapped on. But I've always like people patting, wiping and brushing on my face, so I won't complain. The show went very smoothly with nice, relaxing music and a calm atmosphere, simply beautiful, like the clothes. After the show I went straight home, I had to be back there at 8:00 the next morning.
My last day was very much like the previous one. Rehearse, fit, rehearse, hair and make-up, show, etc. The first show was for Paul Munroe and Natalie for Juniper. Natalie had designed a range of which I desire and absolutely need every single item. It's all very romantic in white and soft grey and peachy chiffon and organza and stretchy pants and the simplest little day dresses which could double up for the evening and embroidery and lace and everything little (and not-so-little) girls dream of. The best part about the range is that even with all this romance and femininity, each item of clothing has a sharply innovative edge to it, which I adore. And even better is the wearability of it all. It's young and funky and new but I could wear it and still please my Grandmother at the same time. I could go on about it for six pages but I'll force myself to stop now.
Naturally, doing Natalie's show was easy and nothing but a pleasure. If you actually like what you're wearing, it does show and you feel confident and pretty and everything you should. But all good things come to an end and so did Natalie's show. To great applause, I might add.
The last show I did was for Gavin Rajah and then Errol Arendz. It was during this show that I realized for the first time that I actually like being on the catwalk. I wore the most visually stunning outfit by Errol Arendz; a long silk skirt in cerise and burnt orange which fit perfectly from the hips and then flare out just a little at the bottom. The top was patterned in matching bright colours with thin gold straps. To crown it all, I had to maneuver a huge pink shawl while slinking down the ramp.
Earlier in the day, Mr Arendz had been teaching us how to control the shawls. It seemed very silly at the time, but afterwards I really appreciated the lesson. When I walked down the ramp in that outfit, swishing the shawl this way and that, I experienced one of the greatest moments in my life. I just thought to myself: "Everyone in this huge tent is looking at me because I'm wearing something extraordinary. I feel wonderful and I know I'm making this outfit look good!"
It might sound vain, but few people ever understand how incredibly insecure most models are. Until that moment I'd always thought that I'm just lucky to be chosen for the fashion shows, thinking every show that it might be my last, that I might not be so lucky again. But since that moment, I know that modeling does require a very specific skill which cannot be taught. It's all about the way you must feel and think when you're on the ramp. You transcend yourself, become someone else. Someone glamorous and mysterious and and interesting and definitely very lucky.
Audi Fashion Week was an amazing learning experience for me. I discovered many things about the industry and Johannesburg and also about myself. But eventually, when the plane swerved in past Table Mountain, I was so glad to be back. No experience I've had in my life, beats coming home to the mountain.
*As published in Stage Magazine, Fourth Edition, 1998/99