Friday, January 19, 2007

Den Mothers of Fashion

Patrick Blanchard of Cosa Nostra

If I write and talk about modeling like I did everything by myself, that is absolutely not true….. I always had my mothers beside me. Watched over, guided and nurtured, I took my baby steps until I was able to fly. And even when I was soaring the heights of fashion, all around me where people (male and female) who watched my back for 15 years– my den mothers.

As a model, I was very lucky because great designers took me under their wings. I also had the best modeling agents who ‘hyped” me and orchestrated the rise of my modeling career. But what of that mother figure who sits by stage right and who talks to you every day- nags you about your health, takes care of your schedules, talks to everyone about you constantly and how great you are, and is directly responsible for your financial gains?

I am talking about all the bookers out there who have taken it upon themselves to mother models that they are assigned to – the silent partners of this business enterprise called modeling. Unrecognized and underpaid, they are the sub-architects of your career. While you strut your stuff on the runway and earn thousands of dollars, their modest gain is a job well done of spotting and developing the talent, maybe a bonus at the end of the year and the satisfaction of adroitly brokering fashion deals.

As the middlemen who match clients with models, theirs is not an easy job as they deal with colossal fashion egos on both sides of the coin, every single minute of a working day. On one side, they have to appease screaming clients and on the other, they have spoiled, narcissistic men and women compensated for their beauty and physicality. They have the unpleasant task of comforting and cajoling insecure models because they cannot lose the talent to another agency. Sometimes they take abuse from some representatives of design houses who demand and threaten if the fashion house does not get the list of models that they want.

My first real booker was Patrick Blanchard of Cosa Nostra. When I arrived in Paris and was staying in a hotel that I could not pay for, Patrick arranged that I room with a model, Lisa, who had her own apartment. He was a great booker because he was very much ‘in the know’; he went to as much shows as possible to familiarize himself with what is happening in the fashion scene.
At the start, whenever designers requested to see me, he always had suggestions that would enable me to get the job. Most of the time it worked but sometimes it didn’t, like the couture show of Ungaro. Patrick could not figure out why for several seasons, I would be called in to try out for the Ungaro couture show and I am always ‘almost in’ (they would not ask you to fit the clothes, if they were not considering you for the show)…but not quite, because I was never booked. Though very confident that I had the job after my fitting appointments at Ungaro, I was equally perplexed and disappointed. Until one day, when Patrick said the strangest thing to me. We had funny way of communicating with each other; he is familiar with my warped sense of humor and I am familiar with his. I am sure he comported himself differently with his other models.
Patrick called me for the appointment. “I want you to go your appointment and when it is time for you to walk, walk like you have been having sex for 2 days, non stop, and you just got up to get a glass of water and are going back to the bed you stood up from.” It was an outrageous suggestion, bordering on perverse. However, in my mind, there was really nothing to lose, as this was my third call to see Monsieur Ungaro. So I did wake up the on the day of my trial fitting, keeping in mind the scenario I was suppose to play and presented myself to Monsieur Ungaro’s atelier, in a state of “relaxed sensuality”. To my utmost surprise, I was booked that season and the many years to come.

Another story to illustrate my booker’s uncanny genius was when I complained to Patrick about a particular design assistant of one of the biggest Italian design houses. I confided to Patrick that the design assistant was awfully rude, dismissive and unnecessarily mean. Fashion people in charge of casting see hundreds of models, so their tolerance and patience is really thin, but I honestly felt there was more to it than that. I couldn’t place the source of the assistant’s distaste. Was it discrimination? Chemistry? What did I do to deserve this treatment?
Patrick pulled me aside and this is what he told me, “Sometimes with these people, you have to give it back to them.” “Go to your go-see and be obnoxiously arrogant.” “Be rude.” “Be cutting, be vicious.” I surmised that with the feedback from Patrick’s conversations with casting people of the fashion house, he is able to pinpoint the problem of why I am not booked; he psychoanalyzes and strategizes a way for me to get booked.
So next time I go to this big Italian fashion house, I internalize the attitude of ‘nasty’, almost sado-masochistic ‘nasty’. I pranced around the atelier like it was my domain. I treated the design assistant like a menial who was there for my whims and pleasures. Wouldn’t you know it? I was booked and every time I show up for the show, this particular design assistant is awfully nice to me. Go figure.

Patrick was on top of my bookings and he took an important role in orchestrating my career. I remember that after the shows there was this affair, sort of the French Fashion equivalent of the Oscars, where they would award Oscars to the best collection of the season. The designers were allowed 3 models each. I was a favorite and was chosen by almost all design houses and the heavy hitters were bidding actively for my presence. However, it was non-negotiable subject to me. I didn’t do these kind of jobs where I will have to choose between designers that have booked me for years.

I really was not apt to choose as it would offend the artists that I respected and worked for. You will find that some designers could be very possessive with their models. I consistently took a ‘no jeopardy’stance. In fact, after the press shows in Paris, there was always a big party at the Privilege and when I would arrive home from my last show of each season, there were always deliveries of gowns to my apartment. Design houses send their clothes with the idea that you would attend the affair and that you would dress in their garments for the evening. I always abstained and would send all the dresses back, as it was more hassle than necessary to choose one. It was an easy decision to make because even though I wanted to celebrate the end of the season with everyone, the plain truth was that I was exhausted. It is the time that you give way to your body and you let your adrenalin levels normalize. For 1 week or 2 of keeping it together during collection time, you have to strike a pact with your body and give it the necessary balance of rest and quiet that it needs to recuperate. You take your make-up off and go to bed. All the gowns were beautiful and I loved all the designers…. but I’d rather not choose if I don’t have to.

So one of these Oscar seasons, Patrick related this funny story. He told me that the Italian designers are aggressively bidding to get me to do the job; they kept calling and asking, “How much does she want?” Of course, Patrick probably said something to the effect, “Anna Bayle is not available”. He told me that these conversations went on for days before the Oscars, until finally, one Italian design house, true to the mafia-like way of doing business, asked Patrick, “You…How much do YOU want?”

The bookers are there beside you while you are out there making a name for yourself. They do not do the actual work but they are the ones that get you there. They also help you make the right choices, protect you from situations that will hurt your career and keep you on a steady path, molding you into a star.

Marzia Bava of Why Not always had a welcoming smile on her face as I would arrive in Rome Fiumicino or Milan’s Linate airport. She brought us straight to our hotels and if we had to work immediately, she delivered us to the next fitting. Marzia was always present backstage, making sure we were alright - have we eaten, did we go to this and that fitting, and make arrangements for dinner with the agency that same night. She would alert us that the van was outside to take us to the next show and after the show, Marzia is running alongside us through the huge corridors of the Fiera.
Everyday, she looks for you at the Fiera, personally delivers the changes to your schedule, making sure that you are aware of the additional shows and fittings. Being in the van with her makes you relax as she will deliver us to the next show on time, giving us time to kick back and joke around with the other girls in the van. On the day after the last show in those cities, be assured that Marzia will be there to pick you up at your hotel and deliver you to the airport. I don’t know how many times she does this in a day, but she does it with a smile on her face. As a model, you are never alone if you are with the best professional agencies who take care of their own.

Despite the fact that the New York way is more ‘hands off ‘because the premise is that models are professionals, the efficient and pragmatic New York bookers are always available to guide you as to how to conduct yourself. My agent, Ellen Harth, took a ‘hands on approach’ with me but there also were my bookers from both my agencies (Elite Runway and Elite). You already know Chips Newsom, who told me that I had to get rid of the diva attitude that worked in Paris but not in New York. There was Jillian Gotlieb, Abel Rapp, Wilson Wendell, Ro Penulian. They negotiated big deals and got me great photo jobs. If ever I had a problem, I can go to them and tell them what was bothering me about a job. I spoke to them everyday and I am sure they knew my telephone number by heart. Here are people who cared about me in their small way, making sure I was always professional.

Psychology of Bookers
I always wondered about the psychology of bookers. They work very hard to make you a star and consequently, to make you rich. During my time, they were salaried and the job was not commission-based. Whether they push you with the clients or not, is not reflected in their income. They did their jobs because they loved the business. It takes tremendous fortitude to field all phone calls about a model, continue to sell a model that is already worth millions and not be resentful, especially if the model is an ungrateful whiner. There was a time when the bookers honestly cared for the models and were dedicated to them? Has that changed?

In this day and age, where the issue is a model’s health, my question is -where are the people who cared about the models? The standard ‘beef’ (excuse the pun) about agency bookers was that they talked about and treated models like ‘pieces of meat’, which is not my personal experience. Has the modeling business, come to a point where it is only money that counts?

Lately, there has been much talk about health guidelines and health certificates. Didier Grumbach of the French Chambre Syndicale purports that they have 2 unions that monitored the modeling agencies. Diane von Furstenburg, the president of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers in America) sent some health guidelines to design houses and modeling agencies. I tend to agree that this issue is partly a modeling agency’s responsibility. Simply put, no model gets booked without the agencies because this is how models are paid.

Professional modeling agencies must have professional models. Has it become a veritable meat market where the sellers don’t care about the products they sell, which happen to be human beings? Shouldn’t the bookers handling the girls take special care, especially now, that models are really children, who are years away from emotional maturity? In my time, girls under 18 traveled with their parents and managers (Naomi Campbelle, Tyra Banks, Beverly Peele.)

The bookers of modeling agencies, as a group, is the fashion sector that would know if a model is sick or has health issues. They talk to the models everyday and they get feedback from the design houses about the models they send. I am not saying that the bookers are responsible for the demise of the ultra thin model. But they have the capability of addressing the health concerns of young fledging models.
Designers do not see the girls that often; they only see them during the fittings and the shows. We cannot expect them to happily make last minute changes in their model line-up (a line-up they have set for months), when they have so many other important things to worry about…like the success of their collection, for instance.

In these times, when there are anorexia-related model deaths and the health of models is a big issue, a slogan comes to mind when it comes to the one thing I want to say to the bookers - the den mothers and den fathers of fashion.
“ It’s 10:00 pm…..Do you know where your children are?”


Blogger Gautam said...

God is with you for your goodness

12:43 PM  
Blogger Elle said...

Anna, I LOVE your blog!! It is so well-written and gives great insight about the fashion industry!

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Super-Blog! The author thanks!

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting sait for me//

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, great ))

2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mm, its fantastic-/

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the chance to work with cosa nostra while I was a teen ager in MIlan during the lucky 80ies...
One of my best souvenirs, I used to drive all the models at casting and show, maybe you take a passage in my car in those wonderful days....

6:53 AM  

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