Saturday, March 31, 2007

Roxanne


Photographer: Norine Perreault

Roxanne
You don't have to put on the red light
Those days are over
You don't have to sell your body to the night

Roxanne
You don't have to wear that dress tonight
Walk the streets for money
You don't care if it's wrong or if it's right

Roxanne
You don't have to put on the red light
So put away your make up……


Ten days of an unforgiving schedule of the New York collections and another week of trying to shoot the cover of Tatler Magazine for Asia, on an extended bout of the flu, I finally sit down to watch the Grammy awards. There was much excitement, as Sting and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were going to perform live. As Sting was singing this hit from the Police, I finally get it! I felt a sense of comfort envelop me, as I listen to the words and kept singing them to myself. “Put away your make-up. Put away your make-up.”

After I retired as a model and was going around with Elsa Klensch of Style CNN, to the backstage of major fashion shows in Paris, London, Milan and New York, it was a revelation to me how much I was welcomed and accepted by the fashion designers and the fashion people I have worked with for many years. Each and everyone of the designers, even the big names like Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, Gianfranco Ferre, etc…acknowledged me and made the extra effort to comment on my presence. I told Elsa that I was pleasantly surprised. Here is what she told me. “Fashion people are comforted to see me. They feel that if I am okay, they will be okay, as well.” In a business where people are hanging on by the thread of ‘you’re IN or you’re OUT’, seeing someone move on and do very well seems commendable.

Retiring, or stopping whatever it is you used to do is difficult whether it is your choice or not. Habits are hard to be broken. Even older people in their golden years who are tired of working will miss their daily routine. Throwing myself into the fashion scene once again, I had to conform, but I did it with detachment. Yes, I had to look fashionable but as Sting says, “I did not have to put the red light on.” Funny, for someone who always tore up pictures or polaroids that did not present me in a good light, I was more tolerant of my failings this time. I had to interview girls that were probably 25 years younger than me. I would cringe when my cameraman, Mark Walker, would say, “move closer” so my face is framed with 16 and 17 year old girls’ faces - a tight shot. Oh no! My wrinkles, my age spots, my eyebags, my loose pores…. I did it anyway, with no fear.

How does it feel to know that you are not the most beautiful in a picture or a frame, when you are trained to be the most beautiful? How does it feel to be the foliage in a flower bouquet, the baby’s breath around the red roses, when you used to be the center flower? Well, now I know. Yes, we will all be in a different station in our lives, one way or another. But to face this fact 'full frontal' is a revelation. When I retired and the ‘model mafia’ of Linda, Naomi, Christy took over, I told myself that “What ever is happening to me will happen to all the girls…even Naomi.” It is an inevitable fact. Some fare better than others but it will come, just the same.

It is not enough that I had to agree to put myself in a tight television frame with 17 year old girls. Now I have to shoot a magazine cover while I am completely sick with bronchitis. It was a challenge. I knew my energy level would be low even though I could put it on anytime. My first shoot was a walk up to the 5th floor. “God, why are you punishing me this way?” As I was navigating the stairwell, one step at a time, I could feel the wheezing in my lungs.
I was very thankful that the photo shoot crew was very professional and the photographer, Norrine Perrault, a couture model from the 50’s, who worked for Jacques Fath was very pleasant and not so demanding. Kevin Mcqueen, the make-up artist is an old acquaintance and, the sweet Japanese hairdresser was as quiet as a lamb. I only lost my temper with the stylist who did not do her homework. She called the day before to ask me what I think would be needed for the shoot. I told her a basic white shirt. Well, she brought 4 of them that looked really ratty and not my style at all. Still, I tried to be very patient with this stylist. However, I reached the limit of tolerance when I put on a signature red Valentino couture gown, which I brought, and she brings out a cheap white fur stole for the shot. Somehow, I know Valentino would crucify me if I let this happen. Valentino's clothes do not even need a model sometimes. His clothes are so exquisite and beautiful by themselves on a clothes hanger. And this stylist wants me to wear a white stole ...for what? To cover the perfect lines of the garment? (You can always mix and match, but always with taste.) Now my diva fangs came out and I berated her in front of everyone. “Please do your homework.” "If you want to dress me, you better get to know me." “Do yourself a big favor and google me."


A photographer has to orchestrate a combination of elements into one picture...hopefully a great one. These elements are: model pose, model energy, perfect make-up, perfect hair, styling that works, light and shadow, the mood, angle and perspective. Meaning, each hair in place, flawless make-up, the right lighting and the perfect angle, the exact glint in the eye of the model. A perfect picture happens in singular moments. It is best if at that very moment when a photographer can capture that perfect picture, all the other elements are perfect too....then magic happens.

A great picture only happens when everyone is on the same page; a photoshoot has to have great teamwork. Everybody in a photoshoot should do their jobs to perfection and JUST MAYBE…there will be a magical moment and the picture will look fabulous. When one party in a photoshoot slacks, there will be problems in the picture. And it is a pity, because maybe you have a great picture but the hair is in the face or the garment does not fit, or the lips are too red, or the model blinked. The stylist finally redeemed herself by adroitly taping the gown on me. Once the pictures go to the discerning eyes of magazine editors, the picture that will be chosen is the one with the least flaws and the most dynamic. So it is really the goal of a photo shoot to have the most number of pictures to choose from.

I really did not expect much from this photo shoot because as a model, you can always almost feel when it is a good shoot or not. I was skeptical that we would find a cover from this shoot because after working for many years and working with the very best photographers, lighting comes to me instinctively. The lighting was not set up for a cover shoot. Norrine, the photographer, kept asking me to look towards the light. I know this will never make the cover so I kept reminding her it is a cover shoot but I think her motivation was to get a good editorial picture. Covers need to have eye contact with the lens. I played along because in a photoshoot, photographers are the like conductors of an orchestra or the directors of a movie. They see the picture on the lens, while I, as a model, have only a instinctive visual imprint in my head.

When I saw the stills, one picture jumped out. I love this picture. I was really pleasantly surprised, for here was a magic moment. The perfect hand movement, feet off the ground as if I am floating, face relaxed, no tension on the mouth, splendid lighting, hair in place, great natural make-up. The best thing about this picture is that something is happenning.

Gown by Yuki Yao

Even if I have put away my make-up for a long stretch…I am consoled by the thought that I could still take good pictures. Even though I don't want to sell myself as a model anymore, I can still 'do classic'. No plastic surgery, no exercise, my undeniably more matured (a euphemism for older) looks.
I can ......

put away my make-up…..put away my make-up….

I don't have to put on the red light.........put on the red
light.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Hard Costs of Beauty


Courtesy of Olympus.org

Now that the fall winter collections are over, I had the time to look back and assess some basic realities about beauty and fashion. I covered the New York 2007 Fall collections which started officially on Friday, Feb 2 and ended Friday, the 9th. I received the schedule and it was funny for me to see this sheet again. It seems that this sheet will follow me all my life.
There was a time when I would hold a sheet like this in my hands to see how much surface I have crossed out (meaning my workload as a model) in Milan, London, Paris and New York. And when I retired from modeling and apprenticed with Miss Elsa Klensch, I also had a sheet like this and hundreds of press and backstage passes in Paris, London, Milan, New York with my name on it and Style, CNN.

We meet again, the schedule sheet and I. I am the beauty editor for LookonLine.com and so here are my assignments. I am thrust into the beauty world once again and it seemed to me like old times…. but not quite. I prepared for the shows again but instead of packing my mirror, my make-up kit, my hairbrush, my walkman, and my sanity - I packed my digital camera, my digital recorder, the chargers, the invites, the schedule, my notebook, my pens and my ipod. The biggest difference I see now is the sleep issue. While models slept early so they would not have eye bags, the editors and writers stayed up all night writing their articles. It would be difficult not to write them immediately, as one sees a lot of clothes. There is so much visual and visceral input.

Entering the fray of fashion again, I am like a Pavlov dog trained to react to stimulus. FASHION connotes Ideal Beauty. Beauty equals good grooming. Therefore, FASHION equals GROOMING. Being a part of the fashion circus, even though I am a not a model anymore, I still have to make the effort. The fashion business is an exclusive club. You have to look like you belong; meaning, you have to look fashionable. Or you have had to be working the shows for a long time and fashion people recognized you. Or you have the history and background to talk about fashion; meaning you have to talk and comment like you belong. Everybody else will stand out like a sore thumb.

So, here we go again with the discipline of beauty. My hair had to be cut. The facials had to be done. I had to stock up on the beauty creams and hair paraphernalia once again. My teeth had to be whitened. Not that I did not have a beauty regimen as a mother, but you really have to go up a notch if you are going in front of the fashion public once again.




SOIGNE
One of the biggest compliments I ever got from a designer, (Oleg Cassini, who had the moniker, 'the oldest playboy') was
“Elle est le plus soigné”.
Soigner – French for “to nurse, to tend to, to clean”. But when you say someone is soigné, you are not saying that person is the the one that needs the most attention or cleanest but that person is the most groomed.
“Anna Bayle is the most groomed.”
Like a pedigree dog, it sounded like I was the most brushed dog. I was the best smelling. I had the brightest eyes. I had the chic-est ribbon and I prance about like I was the most beautiful dog, ever-ready to be paraded. I accepted the compliment with grace because I put a lot of work into these small details. Yes, I was brushed; I was perfumed, and primped up with a bright yellow ribbon. I appreciated the designer noticing because perfect beauty might look effortless, but it is a lot of work. In the business of beauty, it is the small little things that you do that makes the difference between beauty and perfection.

The hair, the skin, the legs, the hands and feet, the lingerie I wore, did I pluck my eyebrows? Are might teeth white? Do I have red lines in my eyes? Are my bangs the right length? When I take off my clothes to fit the garments, will the designers feel that I am clean or groomed enough to handle their precious masterpieces?

Yes, models are perfect specimens –they have beautiful bodies, they have translucent skin, they have healthy hair, they have bright eyes. But it is the extra effort one puts in it that covers all the flaws that could detract from your beauty. You might have a face like Paulina Poriskova, but if your hair is stringy…you might not even get noticed. You might have a body like Jasmeen Ghauri (known to have the best body in the 90’s), but if your skin is not glowing, it does not shoot you to the top. You might have the best personality and everyone really likes to be around you, but what if you dress like a bum all the time?


THE PRICE
Being the most groomed came with a price. Trained as an entrepreneur, having my own cosmetic line, I was curious as to the hard costs of what it means to be beautiful.

Grooming starts with the skin. Facials are important as it cleanses your skin. If you are going to put make-up everyday, it is best to have a good canvas to start with. Of course, drinking lots of water helps. Then there are the beauty products –the moisturizers, the masks, the eye cream, the lip balm. The trick is to find a good match for your skin type. Buying beauty products is like buying perfume. You have to try them all and find out what works with your particular PH mix. You have to find - the right shades, the right tones, the right consistency, the right effects that it gives your skin.

Healthy hair is equally important. I have always used Carita products which I hoarded when I was modeling because there was limited availability of their products here in New York. Beauty has no price though because you want that healthy hair that glow and shine. You want a beautiful mane to complement your glowing skin. Once a month, I would go to Carita, and a woman massages hair products on my scalp for a whole hour while my feet are on top of a stool. It was a real treat and I fell asleep during the process, all the time. It was an expensive treatment, with the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Anjani availing of the services. I even sent Donatella Versace to Carita when she asked me about how I took care of my long hair.

When I had my hair cut, you would think that it was just a simple hair cut because my hair was straight down to my waist. I could even cut it myself. But in reality, no, it took a lot of time and effort for it to get there.
I don’t just let anyone cut my hair. I was very particular with who gave me a look, even though these well known hairdressers were kind enough to not make me pay. One of my favorites was John Sahag. You don’t hear about him now but in his prime, here was a very good looking and sexy man, straight from the movie “Shampoo”. You would think that cutting my hair straight would take 15 minutes at the most but John Sahag cut my hair and took about almost an hour and a half. Why, because he was a perfectionist and so was I. He was known for precision cutting in the “80’s”. So he would cut, then he would ask me to shake my mane, then he would cut again.
One hour and a half of boredom sitting in John Sahag’s hair salon, but when my hair was straightened for the shows and I took a spin in the runway, my hair had a life of its own. It spun with its weight and the gravity, but when I stopped spinning, it landed perfectly, NO HAIR OUT OF PLACE. This is precision. It is a small thing, but this small thing means a lot and contributes to your whole look.

Then comes the lingerie. When ever I got my check from my agencies in Europe, my very first stop was La Perla. For someone who takes clothes off for a living, I took pride in having the best undergarments. Personally, I loved beautiful lingerie; the men did too. But when you are with the designers fitting your clothes, your 'body esteem' gives them the idea that you are worth their putting their most beautiful garments on you.

Of course, the weekly manicure and pedicure is a must. And the conditioning of your skin. Carita had a treatment where they exfoliated your whole body with plant extracts which was less abrasive. It felt so good to get your dead layer of skin taken off. You always feel reborn and have a good canvas to slap on the body lotions. Sometimes I doused myself with expensive Carita oil before I took a warm bath and then just pat dry. This layer of beauty oil on your body gives you a glow.

Mentored by Thierry Mugler, who was a perfectionist, I am of the discipline that you must always strive to make everything better. You can always improve and inch your way to perfection. For instance, he told me that those endearing little wisps of hair in my forehead create a shadow in photographs. So I had to wax a perfect forehead every 2 weeks. It was painful and a chore but if I left those hairs on the side of my forehead, I don’t have that ‘perfect shape’ head.

Some models had other beauty regimens that were even more complicated than mine; like injections to take away varicose veins or rolfing to align the spine. I once sat on a 2–hour bullet train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, and the Japanese models took their make-up off when the train left the station. They were massaging their faces all through out the trip, applying a multitude of creams. They only stopped fiddling with their faces when we were 10 minutes into Kyoto. Talking about discipline and grooming! The Japanese take the cake for that. They really take their skin seriously.

I remember the Japanese Shiseido make-up artists backstage who would clean my face thoroughly and then massage their moisturier and foundation on my face. Not only does it make the model's facial muscles feel relaxed and refreshed, the foundation really enters and sticks to one's skin, giving a very natural look.

NOT THE PRODUCT……THE EFFORT
The costs could add up. Before you know it, you have spent thousands of dollars. Affluent women have the edge, of course. They can just ask a masseur to exercise every part of their body, 24/7, and they would look fit and feel good. And they have all the resources to afford all the 'magic creams'. Truth is, these magic creams exists. But youth has an edge, as well, because freshness and naturally tight pores cannot be bought.

At 16, you would have to ask yourself , well, “How I can afford these things?”. The truth is… it is not the product. It is great to have these expensive products but grooming is about “caring for”. It is about spending the time and the effort to make it look good.

When I started modeling at 16, I used Ponds cream every night to clean my face. It is a very inexpensive product that if you take care to use it studiously, you will notice a difference in your skin. Some other products do the trick, like Nivea, perhaps, or almond oil or witch hazel oil that you can buy in the pharmacy. You just have to find the right product that is a ‘fit’ with your skin type.

And for my hair, I used to soak it in olive oil for a whole day. It is the worst heavy smell that you could imagine and it is a big task to wash it off, but I have done it for years; it strengthens the hair and makes it really shiny.

There is no doubt that exercising is good for your body. A good personal trainer can help sculpt your form but being one who never exercised because it is just not my thing, I do it the easy way - I go to dance classes that I enjoy. In conclusion, the real cost is your time. How much time will you invest in making yourself perfectly beautiful?