Friday, 22 July 2016

'Classically ageless': unpacking a classic myth.

This is the time of the year when agelessness, perhaps with a touch of tokenism, is featured in magazines. For some years now  Vogue has had an annual issue dedicated to agelessness, this year it was the one that came out in July with Renée Zwelleger, now 48, on the cover.
I feel ambivalent about this idea of 'agelessness'.  On one hand,  the notion of agelessness taps into our classical cultural roots - classical art and classicism are after all, by definition ageless - on the other,  it is a euphemism for 'near-youthfulness' or 'youthfulness' which is what classical art, after all,  eulogises.  The 'ageless' women we are prompted to regard as aspirational tend to be the ones who have made a success of having been able to defeat the  'ravages' of time - we truly need a different vocabulary to talk about older age, the words we use to discuss it are so loaded!

Very occasionally magazines will show us images of women who really do look their age and point to them as positive templates, see for instance Elle India who recently featured 72 year old India based Belgian model and designer  Lou Van Damme. Sadly such initiatives tend to attract negative comments, often from other women. Alyson Walsh in her great blog That's not my age posted photos of Lou and commenters immediately remarked Lou was so wrinkly, she looked 'much older', and she must have been out in the sun for far too much of her time  or her face would not be so lined. I personally think her face is rather beautiful, with an amazing bone structure. I do not mind her lines at all.
It is interesting that it's Elle India that carries such a feature. I have seen a more forward looking and more accepting attitude towards old age in Asian countries than in Europe or America. Last year I was in Indonesia and the cover of the September issue of high fashion magazine Dewi, published by the Femina Group, the powerful sponsor of the annual Jakarta Fashion Week, was graced by a 50 plus model, sporting a few un-photoshopped lines on her very beautiful face. I was told it was part of a general warning about botox and cosmetic surgery, making the point that signs of ageing can be graceful - in Indonesia cosmetic surgery is unregulated, and quite widespread among the elite who seem to have been lured into the Hollywood aesthetics of youthful appearance.

Model and actor Sarita Saib who posed for the cover of Dewi September 2015

I truly do not like the word 'ageless', it is quite patronising. The aesthetics of youthfulness, which underwrites it,  significantly informs age identity, and it reduces ageing individuals to members of  a homogeneous group, a fact which could not be further removed from reality.  There is more to the identity of an individual than his or her age. If one is seen principally as an individual rather than as a member of the ‘aged’ or ‘ageing’ group, this changes the way age and the ageing process are perceived.
This is precisely the line of thinking followed by initiatives such as The Age of No Retirement, an intergenerational social enterprise, fighting for ‘age equality’ whilst  keeping a firm eye on fashion and how fashion can facilitate its intervention in the public arena or, within the fashion world, by cutting edge model agencies such as  GreyModel Agency, which eschews the ‘classic model’ template embraced by almost all model agencies, most of whom currently parade an ageless ‘classic’ division to fill what is perceived as a possible gap in the market. Grey's  strategy is to posit  the ‘grey’ man or woman as an individual with personality, with all the quirkiness of an individual.  The agency’s model recruitment reflects this mission and the models, both male and female, are invariably put forward for roles ordinarily filled by younger models in an attempt to subvert perceptions of age as a leveller and of classic  ‘agelessness’ as the golden standard.

Lou Van Damme for Elle India
The insistence on ‘agelessness’  as the only way forward should be questioned, because  it creates an impossible standard, one which is not within reach without external interventions, such as cosmetic surgery. Aspiring to be 'ageless', in other words, won't do us any good. That's why I really celebrate Lou's wrinkles.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

A life model on fashion models

Photographer: Vanessa Mills

American poet, now also fiction writer, Kelley Swain's new book The Naked Muse was published last May, a memoir of her modelling days. It was also discussed as part of  BBC Radio 4 programme  Start of the Week, on 2nd May 2016 bringing together Grayson Perry, Emma Rice, Alice Coote and Kelley Swain to talk about masculinity.
Swain was a life model throughout  her twenties, while living and studying in Oxford and then London. That was not too long ago, as she is just thirty now. I have to thank Rachel McCarthy, director of the Register of Artists' Models, of which Kelley Swain was a member when she modelled, for alerting current members - hence me - through the RAM blog, of this new publication about life models.
There are only a few books about art modelling written by models and this one is a good read. I went through it quickly and I recognised myself in parts of the narrative, even though I am obviously a very different model from Swain, physically and temperamentally, not to mention other differences due to age and upbringing.
 The similarities are in terms of how I have often felt while modelling for artists, something Swain captures very vividly.  Sure,  I did not pose for Bill in Bruges, nor have I been  portrayed as a saint in a chapel frieze (though an English painter started a portrait of me as Hypatia, unfortunately never completed) but I had the experience of posing for artists that would try and replicate the darkness of the traditional Florentine workshops in their studio. I also had the opportunity to model full time for a residency  at The Retreat in The Marche a few years ago and on that occasion I was gifted with a beautiful painting of me by a known Israeli artist  which now hangs in my living room. I have been posing fairly regularly for a bunch of other artists, too many to mention. I continue to do life modelling (which I prefer to call art modelling even though it may be confused with the art nude photographic modelling I have also done a lot of ) from time to time. I have been art modelling since I was twenty, on and off - I talked about it in a recent blog post.

Photographer: Irene Barlian
I was however taken aback at how dismissive Kelley Swain is, at some point in the book, of fashion models whom she regards as "oddly proportioned, underfed and hardened". That was a rather gratuitous observation she could have spared us with. Her point was that she was not  fashion model material, in her own perception of herself. Fair enough. But I wonder how she could fall  for such a stereotypical appraisal of fashion models in fashion magazines without attempting to see through the artifice of their portrayal? I did not expect this at all and found her remarks not only unnecessary but even a touch offensive.
Modelling for fashion and, generally, for photography, requires skills that no one teaches, and which like one does with life modelling, one picks up while doing it, helped along the way by more experienced models and by photographers, as well as one's imagination and commitment. Fashion models, moreover, are not just a bunch of gangly teenagers who provide the blank canvas for designers, stylists and photographers. In our contemporary world there are many different kinds of photographic models working in fashion and in advertising - old, young, realistically sized, unrealistically sized ie thin and very thin,  fat and very fat, petite and very tall, heavily tattooed and with no tattoo at all. You name it.  There is also the phenomenon of Instagram which is turning absolutely everyone into a model - I have a few friends who have discovered the art of taking selfies which they edit with various filters and upload regularly. It's their personal take on modelling, Instagram has provided people with an instant outlet for their creativity, we are all models and artists now, we just need an Instagram account.

Photo for Selena Shepherd's Lookbook
 Back to Kelley Swain's pronouncements on fashion models.  As someone who has experienced several types of modelling, I can never be dismissive of any and will always try to see it from the model's angle. Fashion models work hard, a lot harder than people warrant. Their level of pay can be pretty abysmal. Sure, there are the ones that are at the pinnacle, the high earners, but they are only a handful.  The reality for the majority of models is pretty different - jobs are often unpaid or paid a real pittance, at least life models are given some cash in hand at the end of the job, they do not have to go through the very tiresome , rather humiliating, process of pestering account departments for their meagre fee. There is also the constant feeling of inadequacy instilled by the awareness that one is after all rather disposable, there are so many other models to choose from and so many who are more beautiful...more whatever than you. Being able to conjure up extreme self confidence in one's looks and talent becomes a survival skill.
So it really does not help when someone as gifted as Kelley Swain also has a snipe at fashion models. Who does it benefit?

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Life post-Brexit

Photographer: Carolina Mizrahi. Model: me For Afternyne magazine

The past two weeks have been so weird I have often thought I was having a prolonged nightmare. The 23rd of June was a very normal day, I did a shoot for Pompom magazine, August issue, at a great Hampstead location, the magnificent Pergola. I was late in getting to the polling station but I made it. On the way, I kept on bumping into people giving out 'In' stickers and I took two of them for both sides of my large bag from a very cheerful young woman  - even laughed about it with her, explaining why I really wanted two. At the polling station I said I would keep my poll card, as a 'souvenir' of a momentous referendum. More laughter. I never meant to be a Cassandra!
It did not even cross my mind that this referendum would be won by the Leavers - I agreed, for once,  with David Cameron  when he said dismissively,  a few years ago, that the Leavers were fruitcakes. On the 24th morning I had nowhere to rush to and put the TV on while breakfasting - bad habit I know, but I wanted to check the results - and then I choked. I was...incredulous, stunned, not sure I had seen or heard the right thing.
For the past two weeks I have tried to get my head around it. What is going on?

The Pergola, Hampstead
It is the question my relatives in Italy have been asking me. Italian politics is usually highly dramatic and full of antics but since Brexit won the UK has surpassed it. For the past two weeks my TV has been constantly tuned on BBC News. Every day there is some twist and new development  in a riveting narrative no theatrical production can possibly compete with, except that it is all rather tragic and it affects people quite badly. You just don't know what's coming next, our political class seems to have completely lost the plot.
Brexit is bad news. It has unleashed xenophobia and made it all right for people to be openly racist. It has made uncertainty a constant. My young son called me the other day to say he was applying for an Italian passport at once, could I help him with the forms (his Italian is good but legalese is not his forte)? He had delayed it for a long time, never believing he would really need this second passport and not wanting to part with the passport fee.  Not anymore. "I have been stripped of my European identity and status" he said. "I want it back". And he is considering relocating to a EU country in the long run.
I am British because of my marriage - long dissolved. When I realised London was going to be my home I wanted to be able to vote and participate with full rights in the life of the community. But I am Italian by birth and European by upbringing. I come from a very cosmopolitan family. As things stand, I would not be surprised if at some point people like me, with two nationalities, one of which from a EU country, were asked to choose one, absurd though it might seem now - I hope I am not having here another Cassandra moment.

The Pergola , Hampstead
Last weekend an article by Charlie Porter in the FT considered what Brexit might mean for fashion. The article opens with the lines "the impact of Brexit on the fashion industry is daunting, brain -scrambling and multi-levelled". Not very good at all. The article raises the question of what will happen to British talent who for the past thirty years has benefitted from flowing so freely in the various capitals of fashion, Paris for example. Now a situation will arise whereby top recognised talent will obtain visas and work permits but young fashion graduates will no longer be able to go and knock on say, Givenchy's or Dior's doors for a job that will teach them all the ropes.
Will it change the modelling business? I am not sure of all the implications.  I know that at present models can go to Milan and Paris and get easily hired for Fashion Weeks. This might not be so easy in future for British models as the issue of work permits will arise. There will be a lot of screening.
Meanwhile I keep on monitoring the situation.
One thing is certain. I'd rather leave by choice than being forced to by political whims.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Age of No Retirement

Photographer: Wendy Carrig Model: me 

I am absolutely delighted to be announcing a collaboration with the Age of No Retirement a new social innovation enterprise meant to create better perceptions of the over fifties and to act as a catalyst for more economic growth opportunities.
It is very much the case that people nowadays live longer and work for longer. If they retire from a job, they might embark on a new career in their fifties or even later. Fellow model Frances Dunscombe tipped to be the new Daphne Selfe and also represented by Grey Model Agency began her new career as a model as she turned eighty and has not looked back since!
In my work  for The Age of No Retirement I will be addressing the issue of lack of confidence that many women feel once they turn menopausal - that dreaded word. I realise that lack of confidence affects men as well as women but in the patriarchal society in which we live women are most affected by a sense of dismay and a complete lack of belief in themselves once they go through that second major change in their bodies, the first one being of course adolescence, which marks the transition from child to woman. I have already started a short series of podcasts, independently and you can find them all here.
I have personally been very lucky.  After leaving a lecturing job which totally drained me, I began to take modelling a bit more seriously and embraced it. I also created for myself a routine of caring for myself and my body, exercising, making sure I ate the right food and generally changing my attitude to life, getting rid of the sense of anxiety and the push to achieve which had marred my younger years.
I am no supermodel of course and it's not that everything is a bed of roses but I have built up a lot of confidence and definitely have a different perception of what  growing old means and what can be expected.

Photographer: Wendy Carrig
The times in which we are living are indeed quite momentous. Among the many unwelcome consequences of the referendum results that shook Britain last week is an attempt to pitch against each other the younger and the older generation, with young people wistfully declaring  that baby boomers have robbed them of their future, as Giles Coren has done in The Times.
This is an oversimplification of a very complex issue. As Damon Albarn so eloquently put it at Glastonbury  a few days ago "Democracy failed us because it was ill-informed". Among the ill informed there was also a sizeable number of young people, some of whom cast their 'leave' vote almost in jest.
So let's not pitch the generations against each other, that is the last thing we want.
Older people have a lot of experience to draw upon and much they can still contribute to society, projects like The Age of No Retirement are about this.

Photographer: Wendy Carrig
Meanwhile I am very proud of my photos for the forthcoming JD Williams Autumn/Winter 2016 Lookbook, taken by the very talented Wendy Carrig.
That's all for today. More rain is forecast for this week. I really long for the summer...

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Bite-sized podcasts and social media

From Selena Shepherd's Lookbook. Photo: Polina Bakht
I came across quite by accident the app Anchor, only for mobile phones, both Android and iPhone, and loved it. It is a way for people to broadcast short audioclips to a global audience and then get recorded feedback. This way you have a proper conversation about a number of topics.
I had to try it and the idea came  to me I should start a conversation on ageing.  I recently contributed a post to The Age of No Retirement - not yet up - and so I thought that I could also revive my  Soundcloud account and move between  Anchor and Soundcloud seamlessly. 
I should confess that I have a terrible complex about my voice, I hate the very sound of it and find my accent, when I listen to my recordings,  really weird, an in-between thing. Well, I am an in-betweener. I sound foreign in my own country and wherever I am, I am always an outsider, I am always asked where I am from. Time to accept this and take it in my stride! 
I used to hate the way I looked in photographs and now I am so used to being photographed I no longer care. I guess it must be  the same about one's voice, after a while one gets used to it in recordings and then the fun can begin.
I am absolutely fascinated by the amazing things one can do with the help of today's technology and I love social media. I would not have discovered anchor if I had not had this curiosity in me to know more about technological developments that enhance connectivity. Only this morning I happened to read Jo Elvin's piece for Glamour, June issue, which is all about social media. I totally agree with Jo: social media can definitely help us  be connected and yes, there is a lot to be celebrated about it. I loved the story Jo tells about her daughter and her daughter's online friend with whom she shares film viewing on holidays - she has become a member of the family, through her iPad presence.
When I first moved away from my own family and country - oh God, it was so long ago - I kept up with them through  the odd phone call, as one did,  and through letter writing, which I loved. But What's app and Skype have made communication instantaneous and I find that now I talk a lot more to my younger sister than I ever did, because she is just a What's app call away. whreas earlier I'd call if there was something really important to discuss now I might call to find out how to cook artichokes the way you can't learn from Google - my sister is a good cook and my brother -in-law is a chef.

 Going online has often expanded my horizons. It is by viewing it  online that I have discovered the work of very interesting artists, not to mention great blogs. One of my favourites is by the lovely Rosalind Jana, an Oxford English graduate, author, model and only 21 years old! Every time she writes a  new blog post I get an  email alert and I always look forward to reading it. Her new book, an exploration of the state of being a teenager, partly autobiographical,  is very interesting  too,  and wonderfully written, I had a preview of it on Kindle and will definitely buy it. I am no teenager but I just love the style! And this young woman is very, very wise.
Back to the idea of podcasting. I started doing them just to try a new thing but I can see that it will probably grow on me over time. How exciting. I just have to figure out better ways of integrating Anchor with Soundcloud and will explore options. And practise speaking into a mike of course, as practice makes perfect.
I feel tempted to delete the ones I have uploaded but no, they are useful, if only to see, six months down the line, how much progress I have made. For now  the ones recorded on Anchor are in the public domain but I might make them private and use other versions, like the directly recorded Soundcloud podcasts without conversations with others, we shall see.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Here's to new beginnings and new ventures!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tarot Fashion

Micale's book

I first became interested in the Tarot in my teens. I love the different decks, some of them going back  to the 15th century  and now collector's items. The Tarot is of course much older than the 15th century but cards from these early times have not survived. I find the Tarot cards endlessly fascinating in their rich symbolism, which also intrigued Carl Jung.
I recently felt the urge of updating my Tarot deck and started looking around for a suitable replacement. I have owned a deck for many years, the now classic Rider-Wait Tarot but I feel it's time to get a new one. An artist friend I met in Sicily, back in April, Rocco Micale, is working on a new deck and I had a preview of some of his designs which he published in a small book of poems entitled "SpiRituale/Digitale. Miti, leggende, tarocchi". I will probably invest into one of his decks, when the whole project is completed, his Tarot designs definitely speak to me.
Tarot and fashion...that's an interesting pairing. Christian Dior was enthralled by the Tarot and had a great interest in everything linked with magic and the occult, from clairvoyance to numerology and palm reading. His lucky number was 8 and he always carried a talisman in his pocket. It all fuelled his creativity.

Six of Swords, Rider-Wait deck
 In my research of all things "taroty" I came across some brilliant blogposts about the Tarot/fashion connection.   Jess Carlson for example  discusses embodying the energy of the Arcana in the way we dress, whereas the lovely Vix has a whole blog called the Numinous dedicated to Tarot and style and a post on Tarot on the catwalk that I absolutely loved.
There are also t-shirts  with motifs from the major and minor Arcana. As blogger Elana Pruitt writes "Fashion is meant to make you think and Tarot cards are meant to make you think, and they both carry a similar weight of sensitivity. Not to mention, fashion allows you to show your connection with Tarot card mysticism by incorporating certain pieces into your outfit". It is up to the individual how explicitly make the connection.
Have you ever picked a Tarot card before going clothes shopping? It can be quite amusing. You do not have to follow it literally eg find something that  directly reflects the card design, but you can reflect on the energy symbolised by the card and see how that translates into colour and/or patterns or shapes and then buy your clothes. Et le voila' you're bound to pick up something that in your mind has a link with the card, even though it may not be immediately apparent.

Creative director: Florencia Martinez. Photo by Alexis Negrin. Model: me Montage by SR Models

The Tarot has inspired artists for centuries. Artists have designed exquisite Tarot cards, interpreting anew the ageless symbolism. However, Alejandro Jodorowsky, film maker and artist, connoisseur of Tarot decks and also an adept at the art of interpreting the Tarot as a spiritual source, has it from the master of surrealism André Breton, whom he met in the 1960s  that the only acceptable Tarot for divination is the Marseille deck. Jodorowsky  has helped design one, as he was always frustrated at not being able to find the perfect Tarot of Marseille, as he told the New York Times in 2011.
I am not sure about this. I love the variety of Tarot decks, just as I like the variety of fashion. Out there there must be a Tarot deck that fits me perfectly, in every sense.
(Can you see the Tarot connection in the images above from my shoot for Florencia Martinez?)

Friday, 10 June 2016

Instagrammed narratives

(Images in this post are from my own instagram, unless otherwise stated)

A couple of days ago I went to see the Performing for the Camera exhibition at Tate Modern, which closes on Sunday - I always go to exhibitions at the last minute, it's a kind of reflex for me,  and  I prefer weekdays, it's the best time not to get caught up in the crowds.
 For the first time I saw on display the work of Amalia Ulman, a young Argentinian born artist who has used Instagram to create an imaginary life, with relationships and  events that never occurred, over a course of two years, gathering thousands of followers in the process.
The concept of creating an imaginary identity is not entirely new, after all Cindy Sherman, who is also included in the exhibition, did precisely that, and extremely well, with photography, starting with analogue 'self portraits' and then converting to digital images for her latest projects.  Her self portraits were never  about herself, but about imaginary characters, stereotypical women sometimes caught in their most unguarded moments, yet all very carefully contrived.
With Ulman, however, it is social media that has been  consciously turned into an artistic medium, to create a  performed narrative that explores self, identity and, of course, gender.  It is a first, no one seems to have done it, at least not on that scale and with the same panache.

There are of course many artists on Instagram and following them can give one  a glimpse of what they are working on or even who they are hanging out with. Photographers and urban artists are all there, with multiple accounts. But Amalia Ulman's project is in a different category . Through Excellences & Perfections she was not  documenting (and glorifying in the process) her own life, she actually devised a performance from start to finish, based on the seemingly simple story of an ingenue that goes through major personality changes after moving to the city, splitting up with her boyfriend, becoming a sugar babe - a mildly autobiographical reference here as it seems that Ulman worked briefly as an escort whilst studying in London - doing drugs, having extensive cosmetic surgery, apologising to her followers for her "bad deeds", getting herself a new boyfriend. After carrying on in that vein for a longish period, taken at face value by her thousands of followers, Ulman finally owned up  it was a performance project,  or a 'tremendous hoax' as some people have called it, those who steadfastly hold on to the notion that social media is or should be about 'truth'. Now her project is being exhibited in major galleries such as the Tate Modern, providing food for thought.
I will not comment further on the significance of Ulman's work. There is a lot in there, it is a very carefully thought out piece of work. There have been many analyses written up by expert art commentators, ranging from Cadence Kinsey writing for the BBC culture site to the  blog post by the Courtauld researchers in which it is the issue of appropriate display of the self as present in Ulman's images that is focused upon.

The idea of performing trough social media is most intriguing and I would like to spare a thought or two on it.
There is no doubt an element of performance in everything that people post about themselves on social media. A lot of the stuff is quite commonplace. Facebook for example is full of sanctimonious inspirational quotes, rehashed from specialised 'quotes' sites. Twitter has given people the ability to be succinct, writing up mini texts which can be full of verve and humour. Both Pinterest and  Instagram are essentially visual, with Pinterest being loaded with pictures of food people are about to eat or want to eat, clothes they buy, hairstyles they want to copy. Instagram combines the quick witted hashtag of Twitter with  immediate image sharing and so far it remains my favourite platform. Now and again there are some beautiful images posted, moments in people's lives which powerfully resonate with the viewers. Some people write their inspirational maxims on post-its and then photograph them and upload them on Instagram - I have seen a few instances of it.  Others might make drawings, photograph them and post them. If anything Instagram is the art gallery immediately accessible to anyone, everywhere, through a smartphone. It enhances the idea that art is after all about communication and immediacy.

Self portrait 2014 with Bronica and expired film

I don't know whether other people are doing what Amalia Ulman has done and if so, how many. It certainly is a fascinating, stimulating  way of utilizing Instagram, not confined to selling one's wares, whatever they may be.
That's why Amalia Ulman's work, besides being rich in content and powerfully critical of privilege and prestige is ultimately very, very empowering.

Performing for the Camera is on display at Tate Modern until June 12, 2016

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Elegance and good posture

Photographer: Te-Cheng Lee. Artistic director: Emma Gluziki. Model: me

A few days ago there was a programme on ITV, about growing older, featuring the lovely model Frances Dunscombe, from Grey Model Agency. At 83 Frances is one of the oldest models in the UK, apart from Daphne Selfe, who is now 88.  Frances has a particular softness and grace that really makes her stand out.
I was really intrigued by the whole programme and quite alarmed when I heard that we can expect to lose, on average,  three inches in height by the time we hit the age of eighty. I was not convinced by that at all.
I have some familiarity with Alexander technique and I know that daily practice of the constructive rest helps to stretch the spine, rehydrating the discs, achieving the same effect as when we sleep but doing it in a more controlled way.  We are all a little taller when we get up in the morning, after a good night's sleep, but by evening we are about an inch shorter. However by  practising constructive rest throughout the day (about ten minutes, max twenty) can help regain that inch and in the long run, coupled with very regular exercise which allows you to stretch systematically, it can keep the shrinking at bay.
Most people have a very bad posture from childhood and pay little attention to the way they hold themselves throughout their life. I remember an article for the Daily Mail written by Tanith Carey not too long ago, in which she talks about doing Alexander technique sessions and how this helped her to regain her original height. Obviously you do not grow as such in adulthood, but by learning to control your posture and keeping your spine mobile you can counter the shrinking effect.

Like everything you need to start doing this early on, no point in waiting till you are all curved. Middle age, even earlier, is a good time to start focusing on this.
When I did Rolfing I was told to make sure that my computer was always at eye level so that I would hold up my head straight. I sometimes put a book on my head while sitting at the computer to remind myself of the sensations in my body experienced when being straight.
I have found the advice given by the Elegant Woman, a blogger from Hong Kong, on how to correct bad posture very helpful, it's worth having a look.
There are far too many blogs and websites discussing elegance and style only from the point of view  of what one wears and very seldom do people talk about posture. Yet posture and countenance are what makes one appear elegant and graceful, regardless of what worn.
When I do Sleek sessions with the amazing former ballerina Victoria Marr, she always tells us to hold our neck straight, shoulders down as if we had beautiful diamond earrings we want everyone to notice. You need space between your ears and your shoulders. Vicky's advice works wonders!
So next time you buy an elegant outfit or even a pair of jeans,  pay attention to body alignment. It will change the way you look completely and the clothes will really follow your body and become fully yours.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Working and making a living as a model

Photo: PatrickPhotosUK. Model: me

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Lucy Hooker, from BBC News, whose piece "How easy is it to make a living as a model" has just been published. It is a short but to the point article, very enlightening. I have witnessed quite a few changes in the industry since I became involved with it and it's time to talk about the unpleasant side of modelling, always depicted as glamorous, but in reality a difficult job that is not at all valued.
The piece by Lucy Hooker is focused on younger models, who are often the casualty of the industry. When I spoke with Lucy I made it clear that older models are in a relatively new and special category and they are rarely subjected to the same harassment that for example "Lauren" talks about - that constant pressure to lose weight or change look which many girls have to put up with.
However, come to think of it, way back a booker from an agency I am no longer with, insisted on me cutting my hair in an 'Anna Wintour' style bob or, she maintained, I would never get booked for commercial work. That was in 2008, my hair was to my mid back  and I had very little experience of the industry, being a newbie. I wanted to please and thus I complied.

With long hair in 2008, prior to the haircut. Photo: David Nuttall

That was the last time I cut my hair in any serious way. I realised that I had made a mistake soon after cutting it and  I actually lost, rather than gained, work, because with a bob I looked just like any other mature model, also sporting a bob.
These days I would not  have a haircut because someone is asking me to, though I know that many clients do think my hair is way too long and at some castings I have been asked pointblank 'how much hair can we trim?'
I am saying this because "Lauren" talks about being pressurised to change her looks and yes, even older models can, on occasion, be put under a similar pressure, though they can be more assertive than younger women and thus can refuse.

Soon after my haircut in 2008. Photo by Neil Huxtable

It is a very competitive job and the mature model sector is doubly competitive because there are fewer jobs and too many models, all invested with the task of representing "the glamorous, mature woman" (and what this glamorous, aspirational look should be is subject to interpretation). You may be very lucky to have a supportive agency and  bookers that really understand your potential and your capabilities and put you forward for interesting jobs - as indeed I am fortunate to have now - but at the end of the day agencies are businesses and if you do not make them enough money, bookers will push whoever is likely to bring them a profit.
You go to a casting and you spot someone similar to you in look  - it happens, even though at castings people are given a time slot, precisely to avoid awkward meetings with other models, often from your  same agency - and you know it is an either/or situation, it's either you or the other model. There are not that many jobs really, and yes you do end up being pitched against each other, it's the way it works.  Eighty seven year old model Daphne Selfe  (who started when there were hardly any mature models) says that when this occurs you just feel happy for your friends who get the job rather than you and must never fear, for something else will definitely turn up. It's a very Zen attitude. Not everyone is able to take it in their stride.
The issues concerning money are also applicable to the mature model sector. It is absolutely true that a lot of the work is unpaid and some people are even surprised you should be asking for money, apparently you should count yourself lucky if you have been picked for a prestigious job, you are asking to be what? Paid?
At a recent  shoot  the artistic director told me that they had spent most of the budget on props so the models would have to be working for nothing. And there are people who  ask you to 'test' when in fact they need images for their business!

A recent shoot for Florencia Martinez, photographer: Alexis Negrin
It is also very true that invoices are often settled very late and sometimes you have to keep on asking for your money, emailing account departments and that can feel utterly humiliating.
Not too long ago I had  a problem with a major  brand who for some reason forgot to include me in the batch of payments that went out a few months after the filming. To cut a long story short - and it was a long story, as this matter dragged on for months - I ended up contacting myself the production company,  in a most polite and conciliatory tone, and after several emails that went back and forth, and almost a year later,  they "reissued" the payment (but in fact the payment had not been made at all before then) to the agency who then issued it to me minus the usual commission.
Everyone can set themselves up as a model these days, with Instagram and Facebook pages. The social media thing is changing the industry, brands increasingly want  models with a following.  More followers= more customers. And modelling  agencies often undercut each other.
The news that FM London has been put into receivership is quite worrying as it means that many models will not see their money at all. It has happened before, with another agency that worked in the mature sector but was not as well known as FM. Its models 'migrated'  to other agencies and some of these models will tell you stories of payments that were never made and the sense of sheer frustration it generated, not to mention their considerable financial losses.
However, there is something models of all ages can do. There is Equity. Joining the  union can definitely help. Actors worked this out for themselves a long time ago, models seem to be very reluctant to join a union.
You can get more information here. There is also a Facebook page here.
Models have rights and should be able to discuss their problems freely. The union can help with a great many issues and in confidence if so required. It is not expensive to join and it is definitely money well spent.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Brides over fifty: the wedding gown issue

Photo by David J. Green. Dress by Tammam Model: me

The news that grey haired model Cindy Joseph got married at the age of sixty-two is a reminder not only that people do get married at any age but that a lot people tend to  marry  their long term partner well into their fifties and later -  a (male) friend of mine is just doing so next week and neither he nor his wife-to-be are spring chickens nor are they  new to each other, after twenty years together.
As you get older, marriage is rarely the outcome of a whirlwind romance - even Joseph and her partner waited for a good seven years before tying the knot. Sure, we have had the example of Jerry Hall and Rupert Murdoch, she pushing sixty, he well over eighty. They did not waste time after meeting and immediately decided to wed. It is rumoured that alongside their mutual attraction, financial considerations had come into play. No matter. She looked radiant on her wedding day.
What I am trying to say is that marriage after a certain age is a decision not taken lightly, weighing all the pros and cons. But even though it is a well thought out decision, there is absolutely no reason why the wedding day should be dull and no reason whatsoever not to wear bridal finery, if one is so inclined. It is after all a very special day.
Photo by Alexis Negrin, Styling by Florencia Martinez, model: me (not a bridal outfit)

The problem is that often women, maybe because it may be the second time round, will settle for something very low key, just an elegant dress that could double up as a cocktail dress. If I were to get married tomorrow, I would not want to look like Cinderella at the ball, that would not be to my taste. What is the alternative?Nothing suitable seems to be available and if it is,  the way it is put across is problematic, as I will explain.
I think this should be a wake up call for designers of bridal wear. My message to the designers is this: your best clients are actually going to be older women  and you should have a whole range of beautiful wedding gowns that can be worn by clients of all ages and show them on models of all ages.
Who says that white is inappropriate ? Joseph wore a lovely, simple, white gown and looked fabulous.
I have a modelled a couple of times some bridal wear, most notably for Tamman. But have found that I am more likely to be asked to model 'mother of the bride' ensembles than actual bridal wear. Somehow we still have this fiction of a virginal young bride  perpetuated within the entirety of the 'wedding industry'  - a subset of the fashion industry.

"Sincerity" dress for older brides. Google images
Even when the dress is targeted at older brides, it is actually modelled by a woman who might be in her early thirties at the most, as in the instance of the dress above or in that of another  gorgeous white dress to be found at Debenhams, also targetted at older brides. Why?
We have had older women modelling high fashion, even bikinis and looking very glam.
I would love to see  older models, well over forty, modelling bridal wear, rather than (sometimes) ghastly 'mother of the bride' or 'mother of the groom' dresses.