Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Where have all the models gone?


All artwork provided by Alvaro from his series - Homage to the Fashion Magazines

As I walk by the magazine stands and scan all the covers, I observe, every passing month, the mysterious and blatant disappearance of the model. All covers of the mainstream fashion magazines are actresses or singers; Cate Blanchett for Vogue, Natalie Portman for Harper’s Bazaar, Jessica Alba for Elle, Faith Hill for Glamour, Scarlette Johanssen for Allure, Ashlee Judd for MarieClaire.

What does it mean? Does it mean that this generation of magazine readers prefer to identify with movie actresses and singers? Of course, this is what sells. But why?
What does that say of the fashion editors’ choices and their influence in shaping fashion? Are they under pressure from their publishers to increase subscribership? Is this phenomenon dictated by the people putting the ads in the magazines? Is it just a phase? Is it here to stay?



When I was doing the press for my lipstick line, Anna Bayle Lipcolours, 8 years ago, I was very surprised to find out that one of the most influential magazines in fashion and beauty was IN STYLE. It featured nothing but movie actresses.
Is it because magazine editors have to catch up with IN STYLE’s subscribership, that they follow IN STYLE’s formula and showcase actresses, as well? Is it because fashion innovators like Tom Ford, up and left the fashion circus in 2004 to ensconce himself in Hollywood, only to dress movie stars? Is it because the biggest press that a designer could have is when his/her garment is worn by a beautiful actress on the red carpet during the Oscars, viewed by millions all around the world? Is it because models, these days, are not good role models? Is it because of ET’s (Entertainment Tonight) popularity and coverage of fashion (news, fashion shows, red carpets) and their increasing role in taking fashion into the Entertainment arena? Is Fashion following where media leads them?



Where are the Paulina Poriskovas, the Linda Evangelistas, the Cindy Crawfords, the Beverly Johnsons? Have they been relegated to the inside editorials? No, because the main photo editorials are also on the actresses. So why?

I don’t claim to know everything. The most plausible reason is probably a mixture of a lot of influences and 'cause and effect' scenarios that play in and within the different industries – publishing, moviemaking, TV, beauty products and fashion.

MY THEORY
My theory (only from my perspective): The fashion world works like every microcosm. Each one creature dependent on the other for survival (designers, manufacturers, fashion editors, models, photographers, videographers, fashion journalists, groupies, fashionistas, beauty product makers, modeling agencies, the consumers –not in that order).

When one group gets more powerful than the other, then the balance of things change. Every other group will react to this movement and there will be changes.
I think, when a model starts earning more than fashion editors…it’s a problem. When a model becomes more important and gets more press than the designer showing…it’s a problem. So what is the state of fashion shows now? - Very young girls with developing personalities showing $80,000 garments. 'Walking zombies' is the phrase I always hear. I believe the fashion world is refusing to give that power to the models right now because the models (and their agents) have abused their celebrity.



Mine is a very simplistic take on the issue of models vs.celebrities. There are many reasons why things change but in this day and age, TV is very powerful; it is a rocket ship for disseminating information. Like what Sex in the City did for the fashion industry. Like the crossover of the models into TV when George Michael in his song, Freedom, featured Cristy, Naomi, Linda, Cindy and Tatiana Patitz in his music video that was played all over MTV; all of a sudden they were household names. Are the fashion magazines crossing over, targeting the more prestigious media (not necessarily the bigger) –Hollywood?

When will it change back? I don’t know, but IT WILL ….because fashion is a cycle. I hope it is soon, because I do miss the beauty, the art, and the freshness of an undiscovered face.

Friday, November 24, 2006

BIG FOOT and the Big V

“That Anna Bayle…she is so beautiful, but she has feet like boats!”

Valentino with seamstresses at the Spanish Steps, Rome

(A comment made by Valentino to Kirat, the famous Indian model.)

I went on my second assignment as a beauty writer for lookonline.com (the first internet fashion trade paper) to Valentino’s party to celebrate the launch of his new fragrance, Rock and Rose. November 16, 2006.
At the party, I saw Valentino, Giancarlo Giammetti- his partner and Carlos Souza-his PR director. They were happy to see me, as I was happy to see them. All of a sudden, the grandeur and elegance of the Rome couture collections all came back to me.

THE BIG V
As a model, you aspire to get the big ones. You cannot get any bigger than Valentino in Rome.

You are sent to the house of Valentino to do your fitting. I remember going up the Spanish steps from Piazza di Spagnia and the House of Valentino is a couple of doors down to the right of the Spanish steps in via Gregoriana. The entrance already intimidates one; all white façade, a glass door and the door handle is the Valentino logo in shiny black.

Once you enter the atelier, you are stripped of all your identity, really. You take off all your clothes and jewelry, and leave all your belongings behind in one room. It is a ritual that never fails to amaze me – the transformation in me is palpable. You put on the silk Valentino stockings, the Valentino shoes made especially for you and a single crisp white cotton robe. You put your hair back into a ponytail. Even before you put his clothes on, you already feel like a million dollars.

You go to the make-up room where you will find Rex, one of the best make-up artists at that time. Rex will take his time transforming you into a beauty. You will become a Valentino girl with the flawless skin, heavy eye shadows and the perfect lips of that season.

Then you enter another room populated by the white-robed atelier women; your looks or garments for the show are all lined up. The house of Valentino is probably one of the most organized houses that I have ever worked for. Everything is ready for a model’s fitting and the schedule for fittings work like clockwork. You start with the coats for day and work yourself into evening garments.

There is a mock-up runway and Valentino sits at the end of the runway. Some photographs are taken. There is not much to change with a look at Valentino’s. The accessories are all laid out –the hat, the gloves, the jewelry, and the bags – all Valentino and they all work to complement the garment. Taste at the house of Valentino is a given: elegance is the stamp.

The whole process (make-up time, waiting time, dress rehearsal) takes from an hour to 2 hours, depending on whether some models are late. A model’s professionalism is key – as you are capable of holding up everyone’s schedule. But once you start fitting, the dress rehearsal only takes 20 minutes of that time.

You leave the atelier and this time I take the short cut down to the Piazza. I love this route going back to my hotel, as I get to go through the house of Valentino, where there is a garden and sculptures. You get to ride the elevator but when you get down to the Piazza Mignanelli, you have this marvelous gigantic head in bronze- a sculpture by the Polish artist, Igor Mitoraj.

The clues are all around me, as I enjoy the works of art in and around the house of Valentino. ELEGANCE and OPULENCE.

POWER in ROME
Valentino is a power in Rome; I experienced his influence, first hand, when during one season, I got stuck at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. I was so busy working that I always leave the responsibility of all my travel arrangements to my agents. I left from a Parisian fashion show to fly directly to Rome on a late flight - as my first fittings and shows are on the next day. I arrived at the immigration desk in full make-up and one of the young officials decided to play God and refused my Philippine visa. I was testy, as I have been working the whole day. “Fine”, I barked. “I will go back to Paris.”
Let them sort this out. I was not worried; I just wanted to sleep. Guess what, the flight I was on was the last flight of the evening and since I was not my charming self, the immigration officer even decided that I could not leave the airport, nor talk to my agent (no cell phones then).

I could see my agent through the glass partition and he was trying to reassure me by making hand signals. He stayed with me for 3 hours till 1:00 a.m., a thick glass pane between us, while his assistants were making phone calls everywhere to spring me out of the temporary jail I was in. But he could not do anything at such short notice: it was late and all his government official contacts were unreachable. I had to sleep in the airport. I was so exhausted but I had to do it – because if I didn’t, I would be a wreck for all the couture shows I was suppose to do the next day. At 6:00 am when the airport opened, the immigration officers let me leave the airport. I think all it took was one call from Valentino.

THINK RED
Valentino’s show is something for the books. For a start, once you put your garments, you cannot….. I repeat – you cannot bend your elbows anymore. Why? Because the garments will get creased. Of course, when doing the shows, you are really better off not sitting down or moving around too much. But in this house, you have to keep your hands down by your sides.

The other unique thing is the models who have big busts are all strapped down with white gauze. In the context of couture, during my time and probably to this day, big breasts are considered vulgar. Couture is about neat elegant lines. That is the reason not all models can do couture. It takes a special kind of girl to be a couture girl.

The beautiful German models with big bosoms are grumbling to themselves, after the show. I don’t blame them- I am sure it really hurts, like having a mammogram. I have empathy for them, as I sometimes wear shoes 2 sizes too small (never at Valentino where the shoes are custom made). Pain comes with the territory.

I bet, if I was not a good model, I’d be out of the model lineup. My crime being – FEET TOO BIG! Maybe, big feet are not elegant. I can’t change my foot size, but surely, I can change the way I conduct myself – with elegance.

The most vivid memory I have of Valentino clothes are his red couture gowns - precious masterpieces, even though it is his white collection that made him famous in the 60’s. I am interviewed often and asked who my favorite designer is. I cannot name one, for there are many great ones.

But if I had the money - I would like to be dressed in Valentino sometimes, because nobody does RED like Valentino.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT: Pain or Pleasure

Modeling is not a sickness……anorexia is.

Apparently, a model in Spain died of being too thin. She weighed 88 pounds.

I believe, at the height of my modeling, I was 110 lbs. I stand at 5’10” and really, my weight never got lower than that. Still, I would get friendly reminders from concerned fashion editors to take care of my health. I remember Bernadine Morris of the New York Times, telling me that it is OK to be thin but not if I am sick.

I won’t lie to you. I starved myself sometimes, specially, before the couture collections - which happens twice a year. It is so embarrassing to arrive at your fittings in Rome, the first stop and find that that beautiful gown that designers made especially for you is going to another girl. Here’s that ‘sexy’ number that every model will want to wear and there is nothing more unforgivable than you ripping the zipper accidentally when the women from the ateliers are dressing you. They have been working on the garment for 3 months and here you come, destroying their masterpiece. The women at the atelier start whispering and they can’t even look you in the eye.

Almost all couture design houses have a stuffed mannequin (of the A list models) with your body, customized to your specific measurements that they fit your clothes on before you arrive for your actual fitting. It is in a model's best interest to be consistent with her weight – it is about being professional. The less alterations they have to do on your finished garment, the better. So, I have learned to be on point with my weight; lest those pattern makers from the atelier start slapping my mannequin around in anger and frustration.

It is easy to lose weight, really – it is a choice between pain and pleasure.
Why do we do things? Whatever we do in life, it is to gain pleasure or to avoid pain. It is one or the other.
Well for me, the pleasure was not in the eating - but in surveying myself in the mirror and the immense pleasure it gave me to see that whatever I wore, I looked good. And the pain for me was the thought that all my bookings or shows would be cancelled if I gained weight. The thought that designers would reassign all my beautiful gowns to another model is enough to keep me thin because that thought would be really painful to me.


CHOICES & MISTAKES

I really had to lose many pounds when I started to work for Thierry Mugler in Paris; I was young and had baby fat. However, it is easy to lose the weight because the French have a good diet. The French never snack; they eat solid meals and they take their time doing it. Have you ever seen a fat French woman? Not really - because they eat small portions and they take promenades after they eat big meals.

Anyway, I was so busy working that I never had time to eat. I admit I did not have good eating habits. Things get so hectic and I got by with only my adrenalin, that my first meal of the day would be at 4:00 p.m. – the hour when I felt my energy fading. However, when work was done, I ate very well. Sometimes, in the morning, I would drink milk – a habit that was forced on me when I was in school just to put something in my system for energy.

This bad eating habit of mine would get me in trouble sometimes; I would get ‘low blood sugar’ episodes (hypoglycemia). The most memorable was one afternoon at Azzedine Alaia’s atelier. I came from other bookings but I always went to Azzedine’s everyday to fit his clothes. Azzedine had put this beautiful, completely see-through, body hugging bridal gown on me. The mermaid silhouette (siren) was stunning. I was standing tall in 4-inch heels and Azzedine pinning beside me in front of a 3-piece mirror. I was concentrating, looking at the mirror, so I would not lose the pose for Azzedine. Suddenly, I saw black spots in my vision. The last image I saw on the mirror was me, starting to faint. Then I hear Azzedine screaming out loud, ‘Au secours! Au secours! –Quelque chose a manger. Vite! (Help! Help! Something to eat! Fast!)

When I came to, I was lying down on the sofa in the white wedding dress and beside me was a table, literally, full of food. “MANGEZ! MANGEZ!” Azzedine was coaxing me to eat. I did, but during all that time he was laughing his head off, saying “Voici, Anna Bayle” (This is Anna Bayle) then he would look up to the ceiling, roll his eyes and reenact my fainting. Azzedine really got a kick out of it. If you come to think of it, it was funny.

At the end of the day, you must eat or you will not have the energy to do all the shows you are booked for. I got very good at eating for energy in the different cities I worked in. Most of the time, we were billeted in 5 star hotels. What I would do is call the hotel from backstage, wherever I am working, and ask to be transferred to room service. I ordered grilled fish and a salad each day. I tell them to deliver it to my room and leave it there. So at night, if I did not want to go to dinner with my agent and all the models – I had a great meal in my room, albeit cold, while all the other models are eating panini or staying up late with my agent and the playboys in some Italian restaurant somewhere.

Before the age of 30, all models can really eat anything. It is when you get past that big 3 that it gets a lot harder, specially for me who never exercised. I did try exercising once with Radu, the body shaper, but gyms are not my thing. I lasted a month. I prefer dancing ..….that was my exercise.

When I got to New York, I had my nutritionist who prescribed a lot of expensive pills and meal packets that I drank instead of having meals. He offered an injection of Vitamin B12 every session to counter the expected lethargy one gets when one does not eat, but I refused to take it (aversion to needles). Of the pills, I found I was getting a personality change – I got very irritable and my throat was always dry. So I immediately asked my pharmacist to analyze the ingredients of the diet pills and she told me that they were mild forms or weak cousins of amphetamines. Since I never took recreational drugs, I decided to stop taking those diet pills. Anyway, drinking these meal packets did the trick but you really looked like an alien. The weight loss is so drastic that your body shrinks but your head doesn’t. You see this kind of unbalanced weight loss on a lot of women in TV. I call these caricature-like figures, big heads.

I stopped taking those meal packets and would just count calories instead. I even tried eating whole grapefruits before every meal. My stomach would get so acidic that I did not want to eat anything else. So I switched to drinking a whole glass of water before every meal, which was a healthier choice; or simply just drinking lots of water.

Over the years, it is indeed a challenge to keep the weight down. However, I must insist that models should eat. I propose that models make healthy choices. Why? Because Jerry Hall ate, Iman ate, Dalma ate, Cindy Crawford ate. All the great models ate.

Modeling is about making intelligent choices. It is also about learning from your mistakes. The definition of a model in the Webster dictionary that I would like to identify with is – a person or thing considered as a standard of excellence to be imitated.
Being a model means people adore you and young people look up to you. Wouldn’t it be great if you have the word role attached to your being a model? As in…Role Model.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Money or Name

He is running towards me with that big smile on his face. "I am never late! This is only the second time in 18 years." exclaims Zang Toi, fashion designer/owner of the House of Toi, a very successful design house in New York and owner of several stores and cafes in Malaysia.

We sit down for breakfast and we talk about the TV show I am creating, 'The Next Anna Bayle'. He is all for it and he does agree that there will be so many beautiful young women all over Asia to choose from. He is confident that I can teach them what I know and is really excited for me and my project.

"17 years", Zang says with pride, that he has kept his design house running. He says, he kept it small, despite the fact that he has had offers to be bought by Japanese and Italian companies. He claims that talks were going so well until towards the end, when these companies just wanted too much of his name. He has been reading about the demise of several designers who make deals and sell their names to big companies and he vows that "He must own his name".

I don't blame him. To work so hard, to give blood, sweat and tears - only for conglomerates to buy your name and hack it to pieces.

Trevor Rodriguez, a valued Singaporean friend, whose career in fashion included executive marketing positions in various Parisian design houses (Kenzo, YSL. Romeo Gigli, Marcel Mariongiu) and head buyer for Club 21, a string of 21 boutiques in Singapore, advised me once, when I first arrived in Paris,

"Anna, you may have all the money now, and no name after.
Go for your name first, then you will have all the money after."

Sound advice...as through out my changing careers, I lived by this principle.

I have been offered many jobs when I first started modeling in Paris, like doing the design fairs, however, I turned all those down. Even if I needed the money to survive, I knew that I wanted something more. I wanted to work for all the top designers names and the only way to do that is to be like a racehorse with blinders on the side.

During my modeling career, I would always choose what jobs I wanted to do despite my financial needs. For instance, my agent, Guy Heron of Cosa Nostra (who handled only stars: Jerry Hall, Mounia, Pat Cleveland, Alva Chin) called me to say that the prestigious house of Dior really loved me, and could I please do their cabine. I wanted this opportunity because it would be fabulous to work with the great Marc Bohan. However, I refused, even though Dior was a really big name. I did not want to be a cabine girl because that would mean I could not do all the press shows I wanted to do.

Cabine modeling for big couture houses, is about working for the house, several months before a press show. The collection will be designed and fitted on you; after the press show, you and the other cabine models were to show the collection at the house 2 or 3 times a day for their extremely wealthy clientele. Cabine models are sometimes muses for the designer, like Nicole for Yves Saint Laurent and Marie Selznick for Christian Lacroix.

My agent called again with a healthy increase in the compensation, and I still said no. Finally, he called to tell me that they would pay me 'show rates' every time I showed up and that I would be allowed to work for other design houses. Since they were making an exception in my case, and I was free to do other press shows - this time, I agreed.
Most of the people working in the house of Dior probably did not know it and I know it would not be in the interest of the decision makers to advertise the fact that I was treated specially. For all I know, my agent just made it up to convince me to do this job. Nevertheless, I got paid well and I reported everyday to the house of Dior. I just kept quiet and stayed in my corner, appeased with the thought (fallacy or not) that I am valued in this house.

In New York, I was asked by one of the biggest design houses to work for them exclusively. "The sky is the limit", was the come-on. I was tempted. I told my agent, Ellen Harth of Elite Runway. A resounding "No" was her answer, as she feels it would nix me with all the other big New York designers.

Some people just want to buy you. And I agree that everyone has a price. But for me, it's not the money...it's the name.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Assistant Designers: Master Designers-To-Be

To apprentice with a well known designer is one of the sure paths to success. It is not the only path, however, the benefits are many.

Young designers who just graduated from fashion school, need to get to know the business. Working in the ateliers, they can observe the machinery that is involved in making a simple design croquis and follow it through until it is manufactured into a dress that is sold in department stores. They need this information to start their own businesses - their own fashion houses.

Working with master designers, they also pick up and learn design habits and influences that make the master designers... masters. For instance, I would like to apprentice with Marc Bohan for taste and style, Gianfranco Ferre for structure and cut, Azzedine Alaia for craftsmanship and construction, Christian Lacroix for color palette and movement of a garment, Geoffrey Beene for detail, Versace for sex appeal, Karl Lagerfeld for styling and of course, for being a genius. Many many more designers that I did not mention - each have their own special stamp and artistry.

By working in the ateliers, they come in contact with the fashion press and who's who in the fashion business. They are able to forge relationships with the movers and shakers of the business. These are the same people who will help catapult them to success. (magazine editors, buyers, publicists and PR people, photographers, etc.)

Being an assistant designer, they can exercise their creativity - for most of them influence the direction of any collection. Like Herve Leger for Chanel, Albert Elbaz for Geoffrey Beene, Carolyn Roehm for Oscar dela Renta, Irie for Kenzo, Peter Speliopoulous for Carolyn Roehm, Isaac Mizrahi for Calvin Klein. These former designer assistants have since made their own mark in fashion.

The designers who take them under their wings are happy to see them move forward..but assistant designers should take care not to overshadow their masters, while working under their tutelage.

I always ask assistant designers, "How long have you been working as an assistant designer?" Some would say, 2 years, then I would jokingly scare them "If you are still an assistant designer in 5 years, you will never be a great designer."

I remember Isaac Mizrahi. We would sing songs in the studio - our favorite was I Love You Porgy from Porgy and Bess. We would always speak out the lines from a Bette Davis/ Joan Crawford movie, on occasions when we felt someone from the fashion industry exhibited any slight meaness to an underling.
I would say to him, You would not do this to me, Blanche, if I were not on a wheelchair, wherein Isaac would reply, But you are ...you are! and vice versa.
I was very happy to see Isaac Mizrahi take it to the next level and become the hottest designer in New York, at that time. As you can see, he is now unstoppable. He is as funny and interesting as he always has been.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

From Zang Toi, International Fashion Designer based in New York

Dear Anna,

I'm so so excited about " The Next Anna Bayle ". To me...not only are you the very first original " Asian supermodel "...you simply are one of the very best walkers there is on the international stage...that goddess pose, that diva walk, that diva turn. How fortunate for those future Asian supermodels to have such a fabulous mentor.

My deepest appreciation, respect and love for you and for your generosity and professionalism and the love you've shown me when I was young assistant to Mary Jane Marcasiano, and when I first started my atelier.

Big, big kiss and I'm sure, " The Next Anna Bayle " will be a super hit !

Zang Toi

5:56 PM

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Model and Her Ego: It Is Not About Me

As I re-read what I posted recently, I am hit by the realization that it sounds narcissistic and egotistical. Is there any way that I could have put my point across without sounding that way? I cannot really second guess myself…. I can only be who I am. And I can only talk about what I know.

A valued mentor, once asked me, when I told him my plans of creating my own TV program, “Do you have the ego for it?” “Yes, you have the name, the history, the contacts – but can you deal with the difficult part of being a TV personality? You will have to be strong, you might have to be perceived as mean, sometimes, and not everyone will like you. You will have to have an unerring determination to follow your path.”

I know what it will entail. I saw it first hand apprenticing with Elsa Klensch, creator of STYLE, CNN. Ms. Klensch is probably one of the strongest female personalities that I have encountered in my lifetime. She had a vision that she believed in and even though she went through a media change, from print to TV, she fought for the integrity of her original vision. The product she created, STYLE for CNN, is groundbreaking and she will always be remembered as the person who brought fashion to TV. No one can take that away from her.

Do I have the ego for this TV endeavor? I would say, it is a qualified yes. For a start, I had 25 years of ego building and training in modeling. Ego is a necessity for models to survive. Models need it to deal with rejection that they encounter when they are not hired. If you think about it, these young women are being rejected for something so basic--their looks! They must have the maturity and ego to understand that they might not be a match for the designer or the client's vision.

Models get so easily misunderstood because of their ego. Their audience either gets reviled or they are secretly or openly admired. But ego is a must. One cannot walk down the runway and project beauty and confidence without the ego. You must believe that you are really beautiful because the audience is not fooled. You must believe that you are one of the best or the designers will not hire you. You cannot fake something that you don’t believe in.

Why do you think we are treated so well? The limousines, the champagne, the red carpet, the first class tickets, the luxurious hotel suites...…it is to feed our egos. To make us feel so special that when we walk down the runway or shoot an ad campaign, we feel we are so beautiful…special. Clients need models to feel beautiful. They need us to project that overblown idea of ourselves, because that is what sells.

So when I was working as a model, I kept reminding myself “Don’t believe the hype.” Because, as fast as they put you up on the pedestal, they can just as quickly put a bulldozer on to it and smash it to pieces. I remember when I first arrived in New York from Paris, I had this great booker at Elite, Chips Newsom; tall, capable, blond, very friendly but tough. She was handling all my print bookings while Jillian Gottlieb from Ellen Harth handled my runway bookings. I was probably living in New York , a month or two from living in Paris, when she outright said to me, “Anna, you have to get rid of that diva attitude that makes you the star that you are in Paris. You are in New York now,…loose the diva.”

I appreciated the honesty and the guidance because it is true, I had to adapt. Here was a different market, and a different way of working. Where they love grandiose actions in Europe, they valued professionalism and efficiency in America.

IT IS NOT ABOUT ME...

Still, I think that the show I am creating, The Next Anna Bayle, though it carries my name, is not really about me. It is about a community of people that has long since been undervalued or under recognized in the modeling world.

My name is just a tool, a medium through which a community of people –Asians, could be recognized. What I am doing is really much bigger than me. It is really about a community of people that I hope to represent with dignity.

The Next Anna Bayle 's objective is to find the next Asian model who will follow my steps and be Asia’s next supermodel. I want to go all over Asia and find raw beauty - beauty that the Western world has never seen before. I want the West to understand that Asians, as a whole, have a very different set of values and principles.

I want to share the experiences and all the “how to’s” in my head with the Asian youth so they will have the wherewithal to succeed in the modeling world. I want Asians to be proud of their heritage. I want Asians to have a big ego......much,much, much,bigger than mine.