Prêt-à-Porter

by Meghan Ward

Originally published in It's So You

Meghan Ward

 

It’s my third show season. My first season I booked one show—I forget what it was—and my second I booked four, so I’m on an upward trajectory. When I call my parents, my dad answers and asks what I’m up to. I tell him I’m in the middle of show castings.

“So that means you’ll be modeling the spring collections,” he says with an air of pride.

“That’s right.”

My mom and dad, who buy their clothes from Petite Sophisticates and Sears respectively, are now in tune with the international fashion trends. My dad hands my mom the phone.

“Will you be going on to the London shows next?” she asks. “Or skipping London and going to Milan?”

“Probably Milan,” I tell her. My mom has been watching Style with Elsa Klensch on CNN. I’ve seen Elsa in her thin red lips and thick brown bangs, sitting in the front row of the audience at shows, and my mother has seen me on Style with Elsa Klensch—one three-second clip of me walking down the runway in the Hermès show. In the photo I’m looking down, not straight ahead, because no one has explained to me yet that the cameras I’m supposed to look at are up there, out of sight, not down there, where photographers mob the stage around our feet.

“And will you be doing the Tokyo or New York collections this fall?” my mother asks. “I hear polka dots are in.”

I hate polka dots. “Tokyo. I’m going to Tokyo,” I tell her. I can’t wait to go to Tokyo. TOKYO! Land of sushi, Godzilla and samurai! I’ll buy a kimono! Drink some sake! Meet a sumo wrestler! They have three alphabets, each with its own script, and I want to learn all three. Marilyn, my agent, doesn’t want me to go. She says Tokyo is for second-rate models and that I should be going to New York instead. But I have no interest in New York because it is in the United States. The only reason I’m modeling is to (a) see the world and (b) make some money. I want to be one of those lingerie models who goes to Tokyo empty handed and comes back two months later with $60,000 cash stuffed in her boots. With $60,000 I could put a down payment on a three-unit Victorian in San Francisco and rent two of the apartments out while I live in the third and use the rent to pay the mortgage and my tuition at U.C. Berkeley. Even if I buy just one unit, I could get a three-bedroom apartment and rent two of the rooms out while I live in the third. That’s what I’m going to do. And I’ll learn Japanese in the process. And French, German, Spanish and Italian. I’ll be one of those cosmopolitan diplomats who winters in New Zealand and summers in Provence. I’ll decorate each room in my house like a different country—African masks in one room, hand-painted Japanese screens in another, and Indian bedspreads and pillows in a third. I’ll collect objects from all over the world—kilims from Turkey, boomerangs from Australia, marionettes from Prague. I can’t wait!

It’s show casting week, and I’m being sent to see all the prêt-à-porter designers. The haute couture shows took place in July, and I look far too young to do those, so no Chanel or Yves St. Laurent for me. But I’m perfect for prêt-a-porter—young, modern, and androgynous looking, 5’11” and 122 pounds (I’ve lost three pounds since I started working out). Etienne, the show booker at my agency, sends me on castings every day. I’ve been to see the French: Hermès, Gaultier, Claude Montana, Sonia Rykiel. I’ve been to see the Japanese: Kenzo, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Yoji Yamamoto. I’ve been to see the British, Germans and Italians: Betsy Johnson, Helmut Lang, Enrico Coveri. Hermès, known for its silk scarves and leather handbags, has me walk up and down the room in a short-sleeved blouse, cotton peddle pushers, and flats. I book the show. At Claude Montana, I’m asked to try a blue leather jumpsuit. I am instructed to look strong, walk strong, so I try, like a gladiator, but Claude looks bored. I don’t book the show. At Enrico Coveri, the clothes are bright and colorful, like Enrico himself. He’s a big man, jovial and sweaty. He asks me to walk in a multicolored dress and I do. He hugs me and tells me he loves me, right there on stage. I book the show. At Helmut Lang the clothes are gray, black, and green, chamo colors, and again walk strong, tough. I am perfect for this show and I know it, but Helmut barely notices me. I don’t book the show. At Comme des Garçons the clothes are black and white, only black and white. I wonder if it’s a religious thing, and whether Rei Kawakubo is Buddhist. I meet Rei, and she is short with an angular black bob and ruler-straight bangs. Her asymmetrical skirt hangs down to her ankle on one side, and she doesn’t smile or speak any English. She looks at me and nods. I book the show.

At Sonia Rykiel the clothes are conservative and made of lightweight, natural fabrics, the kind I my sister buys from Anne Taylor. I try to walk sexy in the high heels they ask me to wear. I cross one foot in front of the other and swing my hips, but I lose my balance and wobble. I don’t book the show. At Issey Miyake the clothes are orange, pink, yellow, green. They are made out of an intensely wrinkled synthetic fabric that is Issey Miyake’s signature style. They are even sold that way—twisted and knotted into tight little bundles to keep their pleated shape. The material feels crisp against my skin. I love the clothes, and I walk like I’m on the street, no heels and no hips, and I smile, a coy, impish smile. I book the show. I book nine shows in all—Issey, Yoji, Comme des Garçons, Kenzo, Hermès, Cerruti, Michel Klein, Enrico Coveri, and Popy Moreni.

My first show is for Kenzo. Backstage racks of clothes line one side while rows of hair and makeup tables line the other. Because Meghan Douglas is a rising star and we have booked many of the same shows, the sign on her rack reads “Meghan D.”, the sign on mine “Meghan W.” and that is how our names are called when it is time for us to line up. At the hair station, I see Christian and I am relieved because Christian is the best, the very best, of the hairdressers who do fashion shows. When Christian is on duty, I ask for a trim. He’s busy now, but I motion to him, and he puts a hand in the air with his fingers spread: five. Come back in five. He’s working on another model’s hair, so we’re communicating through our reflections in the mirror. Five minutes later, I sit down in Christian’s chair. Without a word he begins to cut, the shiny points of the professional hairstyling scissors cold against my temples.

“I heard a complaint about you,” he says in his Dutch accent. A complaint about me? I’m flattered that I’m well known enough to be complained about. “I heard you are difficult with hairdressers, very difficult.”

“Oh,” I bow my head.

“Lift your head,” Christian says, placing his index finger under my chin. “And uncross your legs. Is it true?”

“What?”

“That you’re difficult.”

 

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