Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Modelling schools: an investment or a waste of time?

J. Walk by ShowStudio: Naomi Campbell famous walk as taught by J. Alexander

In an interview with Nick Knight, supermodel Lily Cole said that modelling was not a skill that could be taught, that the learning was done intuitively. No one can teach you how to model, you learn how to do it as you go along (but still ...you learn 'how to do' something i.e. modelling ). She did however concede that catwalk walking can be taught. I am sure J. Alexander aka Miss J. will be relieved to have his coaching skills recognised by Cole.
With all due respect, I do find myself in disagreement with Ms Cole's opinions. I believe she is a most wonderful model and a very cultured woman, but occasionally I wonder why she says what she does, like when she calls Terry Richardson 'a sweetheart'. No doubt the Model Alliance is not happy with calling a man, alleged to be a rapist, 'a sweetheart'.
But today's post is not about either Richardson, nor Cole, for that matter.

Collage of photo by Elisabeth Anker Jacobsen Model: me

 I do find it difficult to believe that an accomplished model is certain that modelling is not about  taught skills. I do have some serious doubts about this and I also think that maintaining that  models are 'unskilled' people who learn intuitively, contributes on one hand to the mystique of modelling and on the other, it devalues it.
You are not born a model, you become one. You learn to walk - J. Alexander famously taught Naomi Campbell and a bunch of other supermodels  how to negotiate the runway. For Ms Cole it was enough to have the older models, rounded up by her agency, showing the younger ones what to do  before walking for LFW - yet it was a teaching of sort. It shows that in fact  not much time and effort is invested in new models,  they are often expected to be on the ball and know what to do, when in fact most young models do not have a clue.
Models in the second decade of the 21st century have to be able to negotiate different things and need to have  a whole bunch of skills which are definitely better acquired through someone teaching them and sharing their experience, rather than being developed intuitively.
Clients often expect models to double up as actors, to be able to speak on camera, and casting directors cast their net wide and consider for jobs people not only on the basis of their looks but on the basis of their personality and how accomplished they are.
Hence the question: should we rethink modelling schools?
Modelling schools have been around for a longtime, at one time they were a pre-requisite to becoming a model. Then they became superfluous, as the fate of the famous Lucie Clayton Charm Academy  is evidence of.
A modelling school cannot guarantee that all the students enrolled will be models, nevertheless it does teach some essential skills which many would be models and already practising models would find invaluable. A modelling school updated for the 21st century, in other words, would be an asset. Of course the problem is that many modelling schools are not serious at all and they are there only to take money, they hardly deliver anything. Quality is important and there should be a way of monitoring their standards.
Whereas this might indeed be a problem, it  does not mean that the idea of a modelling school is wrong, only that there have been and there are abuses.
J. Alexander was a model who knew how to teach others and became recognised as a catwalk coach. He did not learn his craft at any school but was able to become really good at it and then able to pass it on. People like J. Alexander are quite exceptional. Yet there is no question that learning the  skills that J. Alexander taught helped many a model to improve her performance.

Anita de Bauch by Julian Kilsby
Anita de Bauch is an independent model (i.e. not agency represented) who has written a guide to modelling which is of great help to all models, whether agency represented or not. In other words, there's a whole set of skills that models are expected to have which are definitely learnt, other by being taught directly or by reading guides such as the one written by Anita. Another way to learn very precious skills is to be mentored by an established and successful model - yet often agencies do not have time to provide that for their newer recruits.
A model is a performer of sort and modelling a profession which ,like many others, requires up to date skills.
So let's reconsider modelling schools.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Dance, fashion and shoes: fetish and discipline

My copy of the book

I finally got today my copy of Dance and Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele (2013). It's a hardback - the photos are so beautiful I just had to have the hardback. I love the opening of Valerie Steele's introductory essay: "Dance and fashion are the two great embodied art forms". Indeed they are.

That fashion and dance should have so many intersections seems a rather obvious thing to say -  costumes are an integral part of a dance performance. Yet I am aware that many dance lovers disregard what the dancer wears as being 'extraneous' to the performance, just as many fashion lovers do not really focus on the body as a wearing body, despite there being an overload of views and discussions related to body shape and body size. The point I am trying to make here is that the 'wearing body' cannot be reduced to size and shape alone, movement is also part of the equation.

The intersections between dance and fashion are numerous. Apart from the tradition of fashion designers creating costumes for dance performance - a tradition because of its long history - there is the great influence that dance as an art form has had on designers as well as the fact that a fashion show is performance, just as dance is, something that was so clearly brought out in the context of  the recent Alexander McQueen's exhibition at the V&A.  The strong performative quality of the models' bodies  as they were wearing McQueen's clothes  which  I saw in the looped video films in the Cabinet of Curiosities as well as McQueen's incredible talent for creating a full fledged performance through his catwalk shows  held me spellbound.

I will mention this in passing,  it is also on topic. When talking of dance and fashion we need to consider that there is a special kind of fashion, to do with dance practice wear. Go to any dance class and you will see a variety of leg warmers, leotards, tights, special jumpers to keep the dancer's muscles warm as they begin class and proceed to warm up. They are easily removable and not too thick, yet effective in the protection they give.

 Some leotards emphasise the lines of the body and provide some gentle support - just have a look at brands such as Sweaty Betty, Pineapple, Balletto Body and more. Several of my fellow 'sleekers' wear such delightful numbers during practice, I am a bit lax about it and often make do with some yoga leggings and a tight fitting top. I wonder whether I am still, at some level, somewhat self conscious about my body? I really can't explain this reluctance to wear better outfits, more aesthetically pleasing.

Back to the dance/fashion intersections.  The one that fascinates me is with shoes. Right now there is an exhibition about shoes at the V&A - one of a handful of museums to take fashion seriously - which I plan to go to soon enough.

An  essay in Steele's volume, by Coleen Hill, is about ballet shoes, aptly entitled "Ballet shoes. Function, fashion and fetish". Ah, the pointe shoes! they are emblematic of classical ballet and the relationship of the ballerina to her pointe shoes - male dancers do not wear them - is intensely personal, and the handling of the shoes almost ritualistic. Custom made - at least for professionals - good quality pointe shoes are an essential item for a ballerina's performance.

There are revered brands with a long history of making ballet shoes eg Capezio and Freed but since the 1990s a new ballet shoemaker, Gaynor Minden, has come to prominence.  Minden constructs ballet shoes using different methods and a technology that is akin to that employed for athletic shoes.

The ballet shoe entered fashion and was embraced by non-dancers  as 'the flat', sometimes complete with ribbons. Brigitte Bardot who had trained as a ballet dancer for many years, famously wore a red pair of so-called cendrillons, custom made for her,  in Et Dieu Creat la Femme. 

Flats are an enduring fashion item, especially in summer. They are regarded to be extremely comfortable wear (as opposed to high heels) but they can be quite hard on the foot if one does not walk transferring the weight immediately from the heel to  the ball of the foot when hitting  the ground , rather than striking the heel somewhat forcefully on the ground, as many people tend to do.

 My real passion are the fetish ballet boots and the high heel variants on the ballet pointe shoe, such as McQueen's famous armadillo boots. I unashamedly love high heels, I have often worn heels  at home,  especially if the shoes are new and need breaking in. It takes practice to walk confidently in high heels without bending your knees,  holding your balance,  and not   leaning back,  as I once saw the models do at a catwalk show. I was aghast. Those stunning girls badly needed  catwalk training, I thought. It detracted tremendously from the clothes. Like spotting a dancer in the corps not doing her routine bang on time!
And isn't she beautiful? Grey haired and wearing ballet boots! She is probably wearing a wig but...I love the link between grey hair and fetish!

 The link between ballet and fetish is very apparent if one thinks of the corset, something that Steele points out in her book Fetish , Fashion and Sex, and  which Hill cites. "Like corsetry ballet is about strength and grace".  So says Lauren, a fetish enthusiast interviewed by Steele.

 I have modelled fetish fashion, worn fetish ballet boots - I could not walk in them but then they were a size smaller than mine -  have been shot in corsetry and have had experience of ballet, through class attendance. I can definitely see the link. I am also aware that fetish gear is about disciplining the body and so is ballet.

Corsets. Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: me

I will take this up in another post. Meanwhile if you can,  please get hold of Steele's book. It is a genuine recommendation, I am not being sponsored to say so, unlike other bloggers when they endorse products!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Regal enough

Model: me. iPhone photo

A few years ago while on a job as a supporting artist (I have really tried my hand at everything) I did a scene in a film where I had to be a guest at a wake. I was part of a group of women of different ages and we were all dressed in very formal clothes. We did not have lines to speak but we had to look quite solemn, as one does at wakes and funerals.
 My hair, at the time not as long as it is now, had been styled in a high French pleat. I wore pearl earrings - my own - and a well cut dark grey suit, with a white blouse. When I looked at myself in the mirror I thought my outfit seemed rather corporate and remarked that I felt as if I were about to attend a board meeting, was it the right look? The stylist to whom I had addressed the question was busy fixing hats onto the other ladies, but heard me. She glanced at me and said that I looked just fine. I asked whether she had a hat for me too, as I had not seen any together with the accessories that had been put to one side for my use. She replied, with a hint of impatience, 'No, you look' she paused searching for the right word 'regal enough. This is the look for you, with no hat'.  
The answer stopped me in my tracks. I thought better than questioning her further, I could see for myself she was busy and, most importantly, that I had crossed a line. 'Of course' I said and moved away. 
That day I learnt an important lesson about professional boundaries. One should not question, on a job, a stylist's careful choice (or a make up artist's for that matter). Only the director can. 

I also learnt something else. It was the 'regal' bit of the stylist's sentence that gave me food for thought. In that context, it was not meant in a complimentary way at all. Yet I could not fail to admire the adroitness with which she had managed to shut me up. And that word, regal, has haunted me ever since. 
What does it mean to be regal? Let's see. Regal  means befitting a king or a queen. It is not the same as being royal,  one does not need to be a member of a royal family to be regal. Yet though everyone can be regal, only very few succeed.  Being regal is to do with being noble, dignified and elegant in character, not only in appearance. 
There is an anonymous  quote going round the web, a meme, often appearing on Facebook, on Twitter  or in blogs. You can even buy postcards with it, coasters and T-shirts. It says "Always wear your invisible crown" (paired with the more tongue in cheek "Queen of awesomeness"). It sounds daft but think about it. Imagine feeling the weight of a crown on your head. You would begin to move differently, your posture would change and that would affect your behaviour and the way you come across to others. It is also about confidence, feeling confident about yourself in any situation, reminding yourself that YOU are a queen (or a king), so stop beating yourself up for this or that reason. 
Being regal is ultimately about seeing yourself as worthy and believing in yourself, your abilities and your uniqueness. 
And, last but not least,  you can get rid of people that are being petulant and bothersome within seconds if you tell them they look regal enough. Just like the stylist did with me. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Amnesty and prostitution: sex workers should be listened to

Photographer: Todd Hart. Model: me 

There has been a lot of discussion around Amnesty International's vote on  decriminalisation of sex workers. Several people have commented that Amnesty's resolution is most flawed, that it protects pimps and exploitation of minors and a bunch of Hollywood stars have written a public letter asking Amnesty "not to legalise pimping".
Then this morning I watched Sunday Morning Live and listened to various people offering their views on the matter, some invoking extraneous issues such as the morality of selling and buying sex (not a point of discussion here, surely), some accusing Amnesty of endorsing heinous crimes such as exploitation of minors and trafficking -  wtf? are we really talking about Amnesty International here? - and finally a most articulate woman who introduced herself as Charlotte, a practising sex worker, currently happy with her career choice and not coerced by anyone. She put it most succinctly: decriminalising sex workers is not about endorsing pimps but it's about giving the sex workers the safety net they need so that they can be free to report violence to the police without fear of being prosecuted themselves.
And this is why I support Amnesty's proposals.

 In no way does Amnesty endorse pimps and traffickers, in fact Amnesty goes to great lengths to distinguish between enforced and voluntary prostitution. The so called 'Nordic' model, advocated by many and applied in Sweden and Norway (hence the nickname) makes a mockery of sex workers because even though it decriminalises them, it makes it illegal for punters to buy sex and, as Molly Smith reports, it makes it possible for police to harass the sex workers themselves.
Amnesty has listened to the sex workers  and I believe this is why it has come under fire. It recognises that the women and men selling sex are people and have a voice.
There are strong and divided opinions on prostitution and countries within Europe alone deal with it in different ways. Prostitution is enmeshed with other problems, some of which quite endemic and no experience of prostitution can be described as representative.
The French government, with a moral paternalism that is quite bewildering, has declared war on prostitution and plans to abolish it, which means that sex workers are being stigmatised and prosecuted.
As Julie Blindel (not Julie Bindel!) tweeted (you can see the clip below her tweet)
  1.   retweeted


Monday, 10 August 2015

Still on grey hair and the Duchess of Cambridge

Photographer: Isabella Bambagioni. Model: me

Oh God, this is getting a bit boring, please forgive this new post again on grey hair. But it is in the news and for all the wrong reasons.  Now the Daily Mail seems to have taken up the cause of grey haired women,  coming out with, wait for it, headlines such as "I am proof going grey can make you look years YOUNGER". Oh dear. Oh, dear, dear, dear.  Once again the lure of looking young. I absolutely hate the spin given to it.
I have grey hair (silver). Have had it this colour for years. I even have Rapunzel style hair, to my hips. Don't get me wrong I love my hair as it is. Would not colour it, would not cut it. In my line of work I often have to negotiate with hair stylists who suggest that a good four inch off would do wonders to my look. My reply is always no - it has cost me bookings.
Yet I think headlines like that of the Daily Mail are seriously, I mean, seriously wrong. Grey hair does not make you look younger, not particularly, no more than coloured hair does. Once you are a certain age, you are a certain age. Age goes up. It never goes down - only in Kubrick's 2001 that is, demonstrating the universe shrinking, you go from being decrepit to being a foetus.

Photographer: Justyna Neryng

Grey hair may suit your complexion better, because as you grow older harsh dark colours do not. So grey hair may give you a softer look. But...it still needs a lot of styling - if you are not blessed with a thick mane you need a good cut. You still need to complement your grey hair  with the right make up, with colours that, once again, suit your skin tone. And...you still need to hit the gym or the yoga studio or whatever does it for you and work out regularly  because toned arms and legs go a long way NOT to take years off you - that will never happen - but to make you look and feel good.
We have a very high profile example of a woman, still in her thirties,  who is battling her grey and that is the Duchess of Cambridge. No doubt she is under tremendous pressure to colour. The fact she is not yet forty goes to show that grey hair can happen when you are still young. It is a genetic thing. But neither it is a marker of old age nor is it of young age.
If the Duchess were to embrace her grey that would be so immensely liberating for so many women. In their article on going grey The Guardian said that only courageous women dare to go grey.
I wonder whether the Duchess could be that courageous.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Again on grey hair

Photographer: Ania Mroczkowska. Model: me

Appearing on  ITV This Morning on 30th July celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke who owns salons all over the UK and a well known brand of hairstyling products commented that grey hair was most unbecoming for women (not so for men, apparently). Viewers did not like this at all, judging from their response to the subsequent poll and  many women were quite outraged by Clarke's comments.
The various Fb grey hair support groups made their views known, and Denise O'Neill who writes the Grey is OK! blog even tweeted to Clarke an image of herself taken by photographer Vanessa Mill, declaring  that women can go grey very gracefully -  Clarke graciously retweeted it.
To be honest, I am not  sure Clarke really believes  his own words, one wonders whether he was asked to take on that view for the sake of having a debate. The whole thing was an opportunity to 'take the pulse'  and suss out how the general public position themselves vis à vis this issue. It helps advertisers. We might be seeing more grey haired women in ads - we already see them as grannies, but we might, just might, see them in more glam roles. Such surveys do eventually help to change attitudes.

Photographer: Ania Mroczkowska. Model: me

I particularly liked Sarah Harris' response to Nicky Clarke later published in The Telegraph . The beautiful Ms Harris has been grey since the age of sixteen. She did not take kindly to Nicky Clarke's remarks and dismissed him as being outdated.
Then The Guardian also published an article "Do or dye: why women daren't go grey (unless they are very brave or very young)"  ending with  the views of a London  colourist, who colours her own grey,   whose clients  apparently have confided they felt under pressure to dye because with grey hair they would be taken for imbeciles.
Really?  Excusez-moi, but  colourists presumably make money out of colouring hair, so their views cannot be taken as unbiased and I take these comments with a grain of salt. If women stopped colouring their hair it would affect a massive industry built around colouring, something of which Clarke too, whose business is after all that of colouring, is well aware.
As for the imbecility allegedly associated with grey hair maybe I have been particularly lucky, I have had long grey hair - silver, if you please - for a longtime and no one has ever taken me for an imbecile on account of my hair colour (or lack thereof).  I have had lots of compliments, have had a few people suggest that if I coloured my hair I'd look ten years younger - no, thank you, I don't want to look ten years younger, what for? I just want to look good - but an imbecile, no, no one has ever said I was one because of my silver hair. Nor have I ever felt under pressure to colour for fear of being taken for an imbecile - never heard of that one before.
 Imbecility is nothing to do with hair colour, I should hope everyone would agree on this. Colouring or not colouring is a personal choice and no more should be said about it. The day we are ready to accept this will definitely mark a great achievement.