Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Don't Leave Home Without It

"At my thinnest...I was definitely not sick."

In the early 90’s, Elsa Klensch of Style CNN was interviewing all the models backstage with one question –

“What is the one thing you don’t leave home without?”

Each and every one of the models described a particular garment or fashion accessory: my Azzedine Alaia jacket, my Fiorucci jeans, my Hermes cashmere blanket, my Chanel bag, my Manolo Blahniks, my Ferragamo boots…etc.. When she got to me, with no hesitation, I replied, “My sanity.” Everyone in the crew plus people who were listening in, of course, laughed.

Well, it is entirely true that I had to keep my wits about me all the time with the kind of schedule that seasoned models had. First of all, when you are doing the fashion circuit (Milan, London, Paris, New York, Tokyo), you are displaced from your environment twice a year. And if you do the couture collections, that makes it 4 times a year. It is a constant round-robin of frenetic activity; in and out of planes, jet lagged, staying in numerous hotels and an unforgivable schedule. Traveling businessmen do it all the time but they don't have to be beautiful and flawless, at the same time.

Once a season starts, everyone – the designers, the assistants, the PR people - are in a state of heightened energy and excitability. They may appear calm and amicable when you arrive for your fitting, but if something goes wrong with any one girl’s fitting before you that day, the whole atelier is agitated. I have stayed a full 4 hours for a fitting…most of it waiting time.

This all comes to a crescendo when the day of the fashion show arrives. All seem orderly and systematic but it is only the calm before the storm. Everything is going like clockwork; you check your rack to familiarize yourself with your clothes, you make sure you have the right shoe sizes, the hair and make-up gets done, you put on your first garment and you line up for the start of the show. Minutes before the show starts, there is some building up of adrenalin on your part.
Then, the show starts and so does the frenzy. The person calling you to line up for your next passage, starts screaming your name …but…. you just walked off the runway. So you run to your rack, undress and dress with the speed of light. You run back to the line while hairdressers are putting doodads in your hair; the hairdresser running with you and your dresser in tow, handing you your bag and gloves. The organized houses will put models with the most passages close to the stage, but sometimes you are not so lucky.

There is no rest. It is like this for a full 30 to 40 minutes, the duration of the show. Then after the designer takes a bow, you exhale for a brief minute. You undress and then you grab all your belongings and run across the venue where the tents are and jump to the next tent or the next salle. Sometimes, you don’t fully dress but you just wrap your coat around you; as you will have to take your clothes off again really soon. You have that quiet preparation again….then pandemonium starts all over again. It’s a little bit more relaxed in New York because everything is done with exactness and also in some European shows where design houses are able to afford a bigger line-up (more models).

I am sure you get the picture. It is the kind of work where you will have to pace yourself and keep your cool. Adrenalin levels go up and down throughout the day for models, and it is in your best interest to be wide-eyed and alert. Any slacking on a model’s part will sometimes result in gross mistakes like tripping on the runway, getting rattled and losing one’s temper with the make-up and hair crew (big drama that you don’t need) or simply doing a mediocre job. If you do a show with low energy while all the models around you are 'on their toes'…you stand the chance of being singled out and cancelled for the next season. Sometimes the pace is insane..but you can’t be insane. Don’t leave home without your sanity.

IN THE PAST: Don’t leave home without your visa.
Before I started modeling in Italy in 1979, the Milan ready-to-wear collections was a new frontier for modeling. According to the models before me, it was like the ‘Wild Wild West’. There were no fittings and no go-sees. Models arrived for shows with designers they have never met, worked for an hour or less and got paid enormously. Some models told me they even took whatever they wanted of the garments they wore.* (Not in my time).

When the Italians got organized and decided to have their 10 days of fashion shows held in one place in Milan - the Fiera, this precipitated a whole lot of work for models. The French agencies were quick to bring in foreign models, mostly Americans. The local models did not appreciate the American girls taking their work. The Italian agencies probably complained to the authorities that the foreign models were coming into Italy with tourist visas and have no legal standing to work and get paid by Italian design houses.

That was really before my time but I did feel the back end of it. I was in a hotel bar with several American models on my first trip to Rome, waiting for some of the models from my agency who were doing a show at the hotel. While the show was going on, the models from the show came rushing to warn us. Apparently the police went backstage to check models’ passports and visas. The girls who warned us told us that they ran out but some other models were detained and taken in custody. We were told that some girls left by jumping the hotel windows. I think we all went through the kitchen, or something. Anyway, it was not through the lobby. Next season, we all had working visas. We couldn’t leave home without it.

IN THE PRESENT: Don’t leave home without your health certificate.
As of today, 25 years after ….in Madrid, Milan and Rome you cannot work as a model unless you have a doctor’s certificate stating that you are of sound health. In Spain, you have to have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 18 - a 'height to weight ratio' that indicates whether or not you are overweight for your height. A 5-foot-9 (175-centimeter) model weighing 125 pounds (57 kilograms) would have a BMI of 18. According to the Times, Esther Cañadas, Spain’s best-known model, does not qualify under the new rules as she is said to have a BMI of only 14.

In Italy, there is a manifesto which is meant to be implemented for the Rome couture collections, this January. The manifesto states that models have to hold a license issued by city officials, a panel of doctors, psychologists and other experts and this time, their BMI ruler is at 18.5. Apparently, this paper is confusing everyone.

Paris, London and the New York fashion industry leaders will not set requirements as they believe the regulations are restrictive and hard to implement and monitor. But if you ever work in Italy, Spain or Brazil…don’t leave home with out it.
For more information about the model ban, go to Eric Wilson's New York Times article, Health Guidelines Suggested for Models, Jan 6 2007.

I stand by what I said in my article, Modeling is not a Sickness…Anorexia is. Modeling has been a profession for centuries and thousands of models have gone through this path without anyone telling them what their appropriate weight should be. One would think that all of us should know our own weight limitations and be responsible for our own individual health issues. But since the modeling scene is populated lately by very young and immature girls, then I suppose, someone has to guide or educate them. I do agree that there is a problem and that health consciousness should be raised.

Obviously this issue won’t go away, but let's not make it hard for the models either. What they go through, working, is hard enough. Why give them the extra pressure? Why subject all models to something that cannot really be measured? How healthy are you? Can you honestly qualify that? Even if you have a certificate that says you are healthy, a couple of diuretics can make you drop 5 lbs. overnight. If a segment of the fashion industry continues to set unreasonable requirements for the models to work,... good luck to them. I honestly don't believe fashion designers will cancel their 'favorites'.

Kristen McNemany
Does anyone remember the model Kristen McNemany? She was bone thin but had as much life and vigor in her as, let's say, a professional boxer. We are all genetically different; size and shape may vary. Numbers are deceptive. For instance, I had these vital statistics 35-24-35, but I was flat chested. My extra wide ribcage made up for the extra inches. By setting standards that are determined by numbers, they are setting a precedent that they have no way of implementing and judging fairly. Case in point: Can you honestly say a person, blessed with a very active metabolism, is sick if she is born that way? If the fashion industry wants to mandate the weight of models who are suppose to be professionals, what will be next?

Here are some ridiculous and imaginative prognostications that will hopefully make people relax on this controversy. If this model ban goes on, ...who knows? Other unreasonable requirements might follow. Of course, my exaggerated stipulations are a stretch, but to put it all in perspective, that is what some people from the fashion industry are doing, as well. (My levity in the following statements is not to make fun of the tragic deaths of 2 models due to anorexia complications but to drive my point across.)

Drug testing? (The famous model, Gia, died of drug use. Why did they not implement a ban then?)
Don’t leave home without your urine sample.

What about …..if you had any plastic surgery…you’re banned? (Let suppose 4 models died on the operating table due to complications).
Don’t leave home without a dermatological certificate.

What about…..if you get to earn this much…you will have to retire. (Let’s say, 3 models died because they were kidnapped for ransom due to their highly publicized income, and in the process, they were accidentally killed).
Don’t leave home without your accountant or your W2 forms (tax forms for the self-employed).

What if the next topic of controversy is a model’s education?
Don’t leave home without your high school diploma.

What if you want to be a model in the future and you have to bring to work everything listed below:
1) health certificate 2) urine sample 3) latest income tax return 4) certificate from your dermatologist 5) diploma

Then I suggest…Don’t leave home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... that's some serious looooong post! awesome post though...

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..and lo and behold..the LEGEND that is ANNA BAYLE..imagine..for more than 10 YEARS she had the same DRIVE, DETERMINATION, SELF-RESPECT and PROJECTED HERSELF WITHOUT UNCERTAINTY...always precise, sure footed and DIGNIFIED be she naked or fully covered...
no less than an APPARITION in every show she may chose to perform...the very few who delivers a pressence elevating a designer's work into perfection...

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love models who make me laugh. You should write a book now -- keep on writing my dear.


10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um . . . what?

Wow, this was actually the first I'd heard of the "BMI" which sounds like a
hole lot of "BS" to me. I mean who came up with this bright idea and more
importantly who's ignorant enough to state that there is a set/standard
height weight proportion amongst mankind.
"Hello . . . .GOD . . . do you care to comment" !

If he or she did you would hear first hand that as the ecosystems
,atmosphere and terrain of each country and its inner regions vary, so do
its tenants. For example a woman born and raised in Africa who stands 5'9 in
height is going to have larger hip,bust and shoulder proportions as well as
a higher weight than an Asian woman of the same height born in a say the

Its just common sense, God made all people equal in likeness yes, but not to
look a like, I believe it was Hitler whom was attempting to do that and the
worlds agreed . . . .HE WAS JUST CRAZY!!!

I myself as a male model stood six feet in height which was standard male
model size in 1988, My best friend who also modeled but for print was only
five foot ten inches but his suit size was two sizes bigger than mine.
Physically we were both considered in excellent health and to this day I
scale in at only 145-150 which by said "industry" standards is nearly twenty
pounds under weight, yet according to my last check-up I am perfectly
healthy and proportionate for my body type. I have honestly never been sick
with more than a seasonal cough.

I have a small frame, like a runner with a swimmers shoulders and gymnasts
legs so I photographed the same as many bigger models but come show season
my cloths almost always had to be altered to fit my larger chest and smaller
waist and at thirty six years old still running, swimming, doing yoga and
eating twinkies whenever it moves me my size has not yet changed.

So . . . .I agree with Anna, modeling is not the sickness, but trying to
control its natural state may prove to be. Models need to be more aware of
his and her bodies, manage weight accordingly allowing for fluctuation as
only you know your body can manage without risk to your health. We are
models, being responsible for all these things is in part what we are paid
so much for and if a model hopeful cannot manage this then I hope she would
seek another profession and spare the professionals the consequences of her
mistakes. Those attempting to impose such a ridiculous criteria for models I
take a look at your wife, husband or partner, if she or he does not measure
up to your size chart try then cutting "them" loose . . . .I bet it doesn't
go over so well!

Finally if what you want is to restrict nature and her creations for
proactive appearances then why not set up your own talent agency somewhere
like Farmington MN. and try contracting aunt Ruth to pose for La Perla . . .
I'm sure the public health offices would have nothing to scrutinize there!!!

Jaisen Tieg

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am 14 years old and I really admire you!...especially what you mentioned. I'm thin but I don't have anorexia or any eating disorder. I just have limited appetite. Some people hold my small arms and tease, "Kumakain ka ba?", and I kind of feel offended. There are also a lot of girls thinner than me, even just in school, and we all take care of our bodies - we still eat. Thank you so much, you really inspired me. When I first saw you in the Inquirer I was really fascinated by your shots and now I'm even more fascinated, because of your character. :)

5:10 AM  
Blogger mac said...

Hi Tita Anna! Kamusta? Mom and I have been reading your posts - each one well written, mentally satisfying and truly inspiring. You should really consider authoring a book one day.

With regards to this post, since you mentioned the need of models to be educated (at least through high school), how do you react to the stereotype given to models as "mentally-challenged"? Being highly intelligent, how does this ill judgement affect you? Any advice to aspiring models on this social perception and/or on their education?

10:21 AM  

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