March of Innocents
- by Anna Bayle



There were two hundred and twelve fashion shows crammed into a week of the New York 2007 Fall collections. Taking an average of 15 to 20 models per show (a low estimate), that would make about 3000 to 3500 models pounding the pavements of New York to go to their go-sees, fittings, shows at Bryant Park and elsewhere.

In the past, New York City was the last stop for models; it was the pinnacle of one’s modeling career when one has arrived in New York. Models had to prove themselves first in Paris or Milan, the other important fashion meccas, but all that has changed. New York now precedes the European collections in the fashion calendar. And with the huge increase in the number of fashion shows presented in New York, the city has become what Milan used to be in the 80’s. Castings are done days before a press show and models are hired on the spot.

With only about 10 top modeling agencies providing the models for the shows today (top ranking would be IMG and DNA), modeling has become a big business, not so much for the high modeling rates but because of sheer volume. What was once a city where only the best worked; it has now become a center where the newest and the youngest come to try their fortune. New models come to town and the agencies send them straight to fashion show castings, much like the way they cast fashion shows in Europe. Designers choose from the new faces, not sure that the girls are seasoned walkers or that they will even be any good in front of a live audience. Still, designers put their faith in the professional modeling agencies that send the girls and assume the job will be done. Inside sources informed me that some unscrupulous agencies, yank the models from a ‘not so known’ designer the night before the show for a better paying job.

Gone are the days when the models were paid by the hour and only the crème de la crème were hired in New York. In the late nineties, New York has reverted to the way fashion shows have been cast in Europe and now the models are paid by the show. The modeling rates range from $500 to $4000 a show for 3 to 4 hours work. Once in a while, a designer like Carolina Herrera will pay $6000 for a model, according to an inside source. That is a low figure considering that at the height of ‘model mania’, the going rate was $10000 a fashion show.

THE MODELS

The cadre of models who did the New York collections is a beautiful group of young women in their prime--their skin flawless, their eyes wide with excitement and energy. These young models all seem to know that their job is to sell the clothes and to look beautiful on the runway. A lot of them are from Eastern Europe and some of them could not even speak English but they managed to go to their jobs and do some sightseeing in the Big Apple, subway maps in tote. The oldest model that I interviewed was 22 and she looked 16. Their ages ranged from is 16-22.

The models are, indeed, all gorgeous…they are Paulina Poriskova’s look-alikes; huge symmetrical faces, heavy jaws and deep set round eyes. What is also most interesting is the mixture of beauties, a truly international hodgepodge of facial features: Brazil, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, China, Poland, Korea. However, according to Oscar Reyes, a booker at Elitemodels who has been watching models for more than 30 years, “They are more like Victorian dolls than sex vamps. They are kids.” “There was a time when even with the lights down, I could tell who was walking on the runway…I can’t tell one from the other now even with the lights on.”

As for their style of modeling, it is ‘march in’ and ‘march out’. We can attribute that to the great Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcon who started this trend in the early 80’s. Now all of the shows have the same format. You will be happy to note though, that the ‘horse walk’, reminiscent of Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bundchen, with a kind of right kick has been phased out.

Many fashion veterans (runway photographers, stylists, fashionistas) have been telling me that modeling has changed and that the fashion shows have become so boring and robot-like. Fashion designers opted for the simple parade of their garments and a march or procession, indeed, is what they have. They do not want anything to take away from their clothes anymore and so they choose beautiful young women who will just march in and out. As for the evolution of the fashion model, since this is what the designers wanted, the latest quality of the models reflects that. Yes, they are beautiful, but that’s about it. Modeling agency sources tell me the models are less professional and the life span of models shorter. They have become disposable with a career life span of 2 to 3 years where they will easily be replaced by the youngest and the newest.

In a way, I understand why the magazines covers do not feature models anymore. I have interviewed many visible fashion habitués, present in all fashion shows and they all have the same lament. “The models do not have the personalities.” ‘Nondescript’ and ‘generic’ are the most common comments. I am sure some of these models have personality, like a very friendly and peppy Australian model named Miranda from Sydney. As for the issue of weight….what issue? They all look perfectly healthy and fine, the ones in New York shows anyway. They just lack heft. Oh, their weight is fine but the extra ‘umph’…the personality….is missing. I was backstage and I saw Carol Alt and the original Giselle (also from Brazil, who is known for the headiest laughter backstage). Give me those girls to watch on the runway anytime, because I know I will be in awe or I will be amused. Whatever it is…I will not be bored.

Fashion designers might believe otherwise, but their clothes would look more interesting to us when worn by personalities who have lived their lives and not fashion soldiers who march on. Still, watching the fashion shows, we are appeased by the beauty of youth, the hint or promise of a woman-to-be, and the spirit of pure innocence. At the very least, the models exude a quiet strength. As the audience takes in each model coming down the runway, one can get a whiff of a woman emerging.

After taking a long hard look, I realize that fashion requires nothing of models these days, but their youth and their innocence. Glamour, talent and personality is aptly provided for by the media stars, the singers and the actresses –the Cristina Aguileras, the Beyonces, the Paris Hiltons, the Julia Roberts, and the Scarlett Johanssons. The fashion show has evolved into the march of the innocents. Perhaps, in the next cycle of fashion’s evolution, when the clothes become more interesting and less commercial, and the consumer clamors for glamour and excitement then fashion will dictate a different breed of beauties to replace these homogenized fashion soldiers.

DFR: Daily Fashion Report

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