'I remember my first season, I was really horrified by the business. I was working with a celebrity client and an infamously difficult casting director when this model came in who was tiny. She had what they called ‘wide’ hips - she wasn't. She was a teeny bit wider than some of the like sixteen-year-olds also modelling because she was older. But she was so, so skinny; she was Chinese, very, very disciplined with her health and diet. When she came in for her go-see the stylist wrote in sharpie on her card 'fat body' and it was just lying on the table for anyone – including her – to see. They booked her nonetheless, but they made me go and get Spanx for her – she was so small I had to get child-sized. I went to this Broadway theatre shop to get special-made support pants, which were super expensive. I remember I kept saying to the woman in the shop, ‘do you have any smaller?’ and she was like, ‘what is this for?’ and I said, 'it's fashion week' and she simply said ‘that's sick’. And, it was.
It’s easy to look at fashion and think it’s awful and that models are mistreated, but it’s just because these brands are so particular and obsessive about the clothes. The first time I worked at a show, I left thinking it was all a complete joke. It’s not because the brand is filled with vile people, it's because they are all so focused on the clothes that the other standards slip. But actually, the designer’s pursuit of perfection in terms of the clothes, which it's ultimately what it is all about, is amazing and impressive. It makes me really rate them, to be honest.
New York is the most important fashion week for a model because it’s where a lot of casting agents are based. If they can see literally everyone on the planet in New York, that means that at London, Milan and Paris fashion week they’ve essentially built up a Rolodex of models that guide them through the other territories.
Ahead of the show itself, I'll usually have a consultation with the client where they say what models they like and we get a gauge on what they're about. Some clients will turn up with no clue what they want, and others, like the Paris houses for example, will give you a research document with pages and pages of ideas and inspiration. We do lots of research to see who the client used in previous seasons, who the stylist has worked with previously, look at the different agencies ‘new faces’ boards and reach out all over the world to find weird people signed to agencies in like Budapest and Denmark. Then you to go to what they call ‘go-sees’, so you start to actually see the girls and how they look in real life. For this, all they do is come in, take a photo and do a quick walk. I've never experienced any measuring I don't think. I've experienced some horrible things being said to the girls and about them, but this was a few years ago when it wasn't as sensitive an issue.
When LVMH [the conglomerate that owns Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Dior, Givenchy and more] introduced its charter it meant better conditions for models. It means that if a model is under 18 they can’t go to a casting or fitting later than 10 pm, there has to be food and drinks provided at all times, a psychologist on call if they need support, there has to be a bed for them to lay down on and a fitting can't take any more than two hours unless they get paid. And, if they're cancelled within 24-hours they get the full show fee. Things are now in place to make the experience better for the girls, and it is working. It's not just at LVMH companies others have their own charters too so it is changing, and that's wonderful. But not to place the focus on me, but for a lot of us who work behind the scenes, the conditions are horrendous. People tell stories of the models and how they have to wait for hours and hours. But, what about us? We don't sleep for days and days on end - and I did that when I was an intern, I wasn't getting paid anything, people get screamed at and treated horribly. There are those catty Instagram accounts drawing attention to it, but we need to talk about how the assistants and interns get treated for once! It's not as exciting as talking about models, so it doesn't get mentioned.
After figuring out who we want in the show, we put all the models we like on ‘option’, which means you get in touch with their agents and say, 'we want this list of girls, for the show'. Ideally, they will say 'yes, you can have the first option', which means they're on hold for you, or they say, 'no you can have the second option', in which case you have to get a back-up. This is a constant battle because you don't want to wake up on the day of the show with the stylist be like 'why is XXX not here?' It’s always a battle to get the first option because you’re up against other shows.
Then you go through the models and select who you like and edit it down, before eventually proposing them to the client's stylist. They will go through tell you who they like, who you don't like. This can be brutal, but it’s just a whittling down process. While you do this you have to consider, if the model is on hold for anything else, if we can have the first option, if she’s in shape, if she looks dreadful right now, or she's got an acne breakout.
It’s a lie that casting agent’s don’t care, really they have very close relationships with the girls and their parents. At the beginning of the season when it's chilled, it’s easier to see when things aren’t right, if a model doesn’t look happy we would always find out if she is Ok. Sometimes models do break down in tears, and it's because they've broken up with their boyfriend, or they miss home, or they're confused, or they're stressed, which that happens a lot, and you know I've actually been really impressed by the way that that's been handled. I feel quite paternal to these girls.
Once for a client I was told, ‘these are my top five models and I must have them all at the show’. I broke my back to get them all to Paris in time and then the client said, ‘Oh no we don't want any of them, they look terrible’. All the while I was thinking, ‘Oh good, we just flew her in from San Francisco for you to just take one look and say “no”. Some brands just have huge budgets reserved for girls who they don't ever, I’m talking tens of thousands of euros.’ But it’s not uncommon, a very famous creative director would regularly say she’d like to see some random model who’s 32 and living in like Stockholm, so you' just have to say 'ok cool' and even when you’re thinking 'are you joking?'. Then when the girl gets there the designer would take one look and be like 'who's that?' I’d say, 'that's the girl you've been asking me to bring in for three days'. And the designer would just say ‘No no no, I don't want to see her’ so you just have to put her back on a plane and say ‘bye’. Sometimes it can be really harsh.
The most hellish part for me is the fittings, which happen in the 48-to-24-hours before the show. We have to schedule the girls, pray that the client stays on schedule, pray that they don't start fucking up with the line-up and say something like, 'oh no, she doesn't work I want her to wear look 24, but who's going to look 24 then?’ At this point they scramble the order the models walk out and then we have to figure out if they have enough time to change between their looks. It is a real jigsaw, there’s usually a lot juggling while the fittings go on throughout the night.
There's such an emphasis in this business being placed on your being fierce and being flawless. And it's brutal. The crazy thing is that everyone in this business has been at the bottom and they see it as a badge of honour, like you have to do your time crawling around on the floor for ten years to get to be CEO. It's ridiculous, no one needs to be treated like that. Some people cannot work like that, these are exceptional conditions to put a person under and that makes sense if they are a surgeon or if they're a doctor in ER saving lives, but that is not what this is. There'll be people who are amazingly talented but who cannot work like this.
The best part is obviously the show itself. For the models, they are eighteen, in a mind-blowing venue, wearing an unbelievable gown that's been made just for them, which has got to be a fucking amazing feeling. I come from a theatre background where everything's smoke and mirrors, and the actors do their own makeup and it's all very budget so to see a show at fashion week that is fueled by an insane amount of money is fascinating. Everything is perfection from the makeup, to the skin, to the nails and the hair, it’s really just incredible theatre. Though it’s such a well-oiled machine, a refined artwork, it’s weird that it all happens in such a condensed period of time. So much money, time, effort invested and then it's done, over, and onto the next one.'
As told to and condensed by Lucy Morris.