Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Grey Rebellion

Grey Model Agency has launched The Grey Rebellion, which officially begins on 1st May 2018. What is it?
Briefly, it is an accelerator programme to help  kickstart the modelling career of anyone thinking of  taking up modelling professionally. Though Grey is a model agency specialising in men and women over the age of thirty-five, the Grey Rebellion is NOT ONLY for older models, it is for anyone who is seriously thinking of turning modelling into a full fledged career.
Grey is not your run-of-the-mill model agency, it represents models and talent in the arts and in sport, writers and influencers, men and women who are recognised as having reached the top of  their field eg the Olympian Tessa Sanderson CBE,   People who can model,  but can also speak and  be fashion and lifestyle icons.  Models of today are neither manniquins nor clothes horses, they tend to be role models - the unprecedented success of someone like Adwoa Aboah, recent cover girl for Vogue UK,  with her Gurlz Talk, is representative of this shift.
Grey's MD, Rebecca Valentine, is a formidable woman. With a background as expert curator for photographic work, graphic illustration and street art, a past judge of the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, and an award winning photography agent, not to mention her accolades as talent spotter (she discovered Morgan Silk ), her pivotal role as Creative Director of the Cancer Research UK Sound and Vision and her experience as consultant and tough negotiator for  usage licence, copyright transfer and global print usage of images, Rebecca started Grey in 2015, after running for a while a supporting artists agency.
She realised that models over the age of thirty -five were under represented and there was a need for a professional  agency that would help these models build a career and reach the top of their profession, in so doing changing perceptions and cultural expectations of age.
However,  there is a problem with modelling in general in that, unlike other professions,  there is very little in terms of preparation for it. Shrouded in glamour, real or fake, models of all ages are often clueless about what they are doing. Traditionally, the modelling business has been full of cowboys and pseudo agencies, that would extract extortionate fees from wannabes to get them  a mediocre portfolio and then, having taken the money, would vanish. Many years ago I fell for that, a young woman  asked me for £250 upfront to put me on the books of her  agency, and more money for a portfolio that was nothing of the sort, she had just started the agency, I was new and inexperienced and  fell for it.  I never got even a call for a casting from that agency, which unfortunately still operates, under a revamped name.
So, understandably, everyone who embarks on modelling is rather wary of parting with any sum for the purpose of training.  What kind of training anyway? You do not need to know much, you just have to be photographed or filmed and smile, right? You just have to be beautiful and that is genetic.  Wrong, very wrong. There is a lot more to modelling than that and not all agencies are equal. Some will select a handful of models on their books, the ones they deem to have real potential of making it  and provide what is called 'development' (and they are never the older ones)  others will just fill up their websites (it's all done online now, the days of physical books are over) with photos of hundreds, even thousands of models who in fact will never do a day's work. They are just 'fillers', many of them living abroad and most unlikely to be booked for jobs, as clients tend to go for locally based  models - there will always be exceptions, but exceptions only confirm the rule.  Older models are never thought to be worthy of any development. They just come and go.
There's the nitty gritty of the business. Image rights that need to be negotiated. Some models will often agree to a minimal fee and be effectively shortchanged when it comes to how long and where their images can be used.  Many models and many people in the industry still think of it as an 'honour' when their image appears somewhere, they are being seen - oh my god I am a model!  So the practice of unpaid editorials is growing. We don't have a budget for the model is a common refrain. Imagine using that as an excuse whenever you are involved in any other business transaction.
 Models are always promised  'amazing' images, that should be enough - images which they do not even own!  The times I have been offered 'amazing' images by complete start-ups cannot be counted. The times images for which I posed (totally unpaid) ended up as art works in a photography gallery and were sold, with nothing given to me, also cannot be counted. The times when images of me were used and I was not credited or credited with the wrong name also cannot be counted.
Many models do not have exclusive contracts with agencies and sign up with more than one. This leads to serious problems and it totally devalues the model. The same job briefs go to all agencies. If more than one agency represents you, the client will choose the one that asks for less money on your behalf.
Models need proper training, like actors do, a training that encompasses the practicalities of the business and also the actual modelling - what is right for you, how to behave at castings and on set.
You may not want to sign up with an agency, you may want to manage your modelling career by yourself - I know several unconventional models who work without agency representation, think of someone like Ivory Flame, who has defied all odds and is most active in every field of modelling, standing at just 5'3  (thus throwing out of the window a common misconception, that you have to be super tall to model).
You may want to do the course to learn how to manage models and a model agency - in this industry we need capable, professional bookers and serious model agents. Or you may be a client or would-be client, new to hiring models and wanting to know how to do it properly and fairly, what can be expected, what can be demanded and what definitely cannot.  As a client think of it as part of your HR training and development and management of human capital.

Grey, whose professionalism is beyond doubt, has taken up the challenge and decided to provide proper training, inspired by the accelerator courses provided by Mastered with whom it has consulted. Before launching this initiative, Grey held two successful training days in -house, in September 2017 and, more recently, in April 2018 aimed at the many would-be models that had applied from all over the world to be represented by Grey.  It became clear that more was needed.  This is what really sparked this new and unprecedented Grey Rebellion.
What can you do? Come Tuesday 1st May  sign up website. You will not regret it.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Fashioned from Nature

I returned to London at the weekend, after a rather eventful journey (I managed to leave my passport in the front pocket of the bag that was, at the last minute, put in the hold) and the weather was wonderfully warm.
 On Sunday I decided to go and see the new exhibition at the V&A,  Fashioned from Nature.  It explores the relationship between fashion and nature, from inspiration to exploitation, with a thought-provoking section on sustainability.
It is an important exhibition, one that needs to be visited more than once. I certainly intend returning, at the earliest and I will probably buy the catalogue too, except that with all the books I amass soon my apartment will resemble a public library.
If there is a fault in this exhibition, it is the usual one: a degree of ethnocentrism in considering fashion as entirely Euro-American. Sure, there are comments on British colonial  power and its emphasis on  profitable global exploitation of natural resources, but it goes without saying that such a detail could not be omitted, for the sake of historical accuracy.
 The V&A has a great collection of Asian textiles, many of which , at the very least, are inspired by nature, whereas others are made with natural materials.  I would surmise that it should not have been difficult to integrate a few such pieces in the exhibition.  Fashion is global:  it might be a good idea to move away from the usual notion that fashion only concerns the Western world or worse, that every fashion item  made in Asian countries is part of the fast fashion cycle.  I am not denying that, sadly,  the latter plays a huge role in Asia, but it is also true to say that fashion in Asia is a complex and nuanced phenomenon and is not just about manufacturing for Western brands, at lower wages,   polluting the environment in the process.
The exhibition occupies two floors. The section on the ground floor is historical and there is much to be learnt from the exhibits, some of which are undeniably beautiful though it is heart-rending to realise how exploitative they are of the natural world - from fur to beetle wing cases used for decoration on gorgeous dresses.

The section on the upper floor discusses modernism and moves on to sustainability and fashion futures, focussing on the fashion life-cycle. The dress worn by Emma Watson at the New York Metropolitan Museum Gala in 2016 is on display, as an example of how ethics and aesthetics can come together. The dress was made by Calvin Klein with recycled plastic bottles. This does not mean, of course,  that everything made by Calvin Klein is to be regarded as ethical fashion, only that this particular dress is.
There is a discussion of toxic threads, with an image of the 'Detox catwalk' held by Greenpeace in West Java,  Indonesia, in 2015,  to highlight the chemical pollution caused by the textile and clothing industries, with an impact on both wildlife and humans and on drinking water.

Like it or not, the fast fashion model still dominates the fashion industry. Awareness of these issues is not so widespread, not as much as it should be.
The good thing about this exhibition is that is forces us to ask ourselves questions and in particular why we need to concern ourselves with a responsible fashion. If we care about what we eat and drink, we should also care about what we wear next to our skins.
After seeing the exhibition,  I walked down Knightsbridge, soaking up the sun and stopped at some shops, searching for a pair of sandals. I checked out Harvey Nichols - not for my pocket, I went into Zara and exited as fast as I could - it was unbelievably crowded and the sandals were all cheap looking and not particularly well made, though very affordable. I went into Harrods  but I nearly got lost in it and again it was overrun with shoppers. I then came across a charity shop with a second -hand designer section in the basement. Out of curiosity I decided to go in. It was a wise decision as right there I found a beautiful pair of Lanvin sandals  from the 2009 summer collection. They fit me perfectly. They are  incredibly well crafted and very strong. I bought them for a slightly higher price  than a pair of Zara sandals, but I got so much more.

My sandals  needed some new heel protectors,  necessary to avoid slipping when walking.  I took them to my local MasterCobbler branch and the guy who took them in, without initially realising they were designer sandals, commented on how well made they were.  Nearly ten years old, limited edition, and still in great condition, heel protectors notwithstanding.
Whenever I can, I choose recycling. I believe it is important to do so.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Again from Jakarta #3

Rainy Jakarta from my window

The last day of a trip overseas is always strange, at least for me. Most of the time is spent packing and repacking - have I left behind anything that I cannot afford to lose... should I leave anything behind... I am definitely going to pay excess, no I cannot take that...I should have arranged for unaccompanied luggage, why did I not think it of it...too late now...
 I always go through this routine and it is nightmarish.I always leave it to the last minute and pray my excess weight may not be too much. It's the books that do it. I just want them with me, rather than shipping them. And they are heavy.
This time I even managed to break the zip of a brand new cabin trolley, while trying to fit everything in. Fortunately a good friend is lending me one and sending it to my lodgings by Go-Jek, a messenger motorbike service which is very popular here in Jakarta. I just have no time to go shopping nor to take the suitcase back to the mall where I bought it two weeks ago.
Then choosing the right clothes to wear  - I am going from very hot weather to cold, maybe sunny, but definitely cooler and need to have jackets handy.  Here in Indonesia there is always the air con in full blast at airports and in offices  and there is always the chance of catching a chill. I managed to get one while travelling from Bali to Jakarta and so I am travelling back to London with a runny nose and a headache.
But apart from the hassle of practicalities, the last day of a trip is also a time for reflection. Mentally, I have already left. I am thinking of home, I wish I were already there, not very pleased at the prospect of having to fly for  long hours, transiting in two airports, not knowing whether my luggage will arrive with me - always a chance of it being misplaced, it is quite common if you break up your journey at more than one airport.

Yes, there are green spaces in Jakarta!

So at the airport, waiting to drop off my bag, waiting for check in to open - in Indonesia there is always a lot of waiting to do -   I finally have a chance to take stock. 
It has been an interesting experience. I got a much better insight into the role fashion plays in a country where being well dressed  has a long tradition but where the fashion  industry is relatively new and facing new challenges.  I made new friends, met many people, saw many fashion shows - there are more fashion shows in Jakarta than in Paris!
I thought this was going to be my last visit to Indonesia for some time but out of the blue  I was offered to work on a new project by Rizzoli, the leading publishers of  books about leading fashion designers, with splendid photographs - they are collector's items, truly.

Modest fashion by Ghea Panggabean

So I will be returning quite soon, around July/August. I am not yet at liberty to disclose the subject - the designer - of my book for Rizzoli but the new book  dovetails with the current book I am writing for Bloomsbury.
So here I am, embarking on an almost full time writing career. I shall have to call myself a writer who sometimes models, rather than the other way round.
I have had a chance to reconsider what modelling means to me and am ready to make a transition.It's a turning point I guess, and the topic for another post.
Meanwhile, while waiting for my airline check in counter to open I am having some dinner and ordered  a gado-gado, a salad with tempe and various other ingredients, with abundant, rather hot, peanut sauce.
Time to eat.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Again from Jakarta #2

It's been  hectic. Indonesia Fashion Week (you can watch the shows here and here is a TV news item in Bahasa about it) was interesting and different from Jakarta Fashion Week, different management, concept, and to an extent, different aims eg JFW was more buyer focused, IFW was more consumer focused.
I have met many people, had a good audience attending my talk, from whom I really learnt much, and enjoyed seeing some pretty amazing fashion shows that were true spectacles - bowled over by the wealth of imagery and references in Anne Avantie's celebration of 29 years of making fashion (with the participation of a minister turned model for the occasion). Poppy Dharsono's 40 years of chic boutique fashion were a pleasant surprise too.

At the moment  I am tying up a few lose ends and have another full week in Jakarta before taking a long weekend break in Bali. I toyed between Bali and Lombok then I chose Bali only because I am after a very specific break, in a spa resort that is secluded and where I can luxuriate by the pool, not far from the sea, and having treatments done. I will also have an opportunity to follow a fitness programme, as many are offered there, but I will probably do my own Sleek practice, as I did when I went to the Menjangan, which belongs to the same company as the Samata, where I will be going. I can't wait.
I had an opportunity to read the very thoughtful piece written by Jacynth of the Bias-Cut.Com on Enninful's new Vogue out tomorrow and already talked about as for the very first time it shows diverse models on its cover.

But as Jacynth comments, age as also disability are not included. Maybe there is an 'Ageless' issue in the offing but it is quite an omission, I fully agree with Jacynth.
Enninful states that
"When I say diversity , I want to be clear that it is never just about black and white for me. It's about diversity across the board - whether that's race, size, socio-economic background, religion, sexuality. That's what I want to celebrate with this cover." Hmmm.
Being in Indonesia and having just given a talk on changing concepts of beauty, plugging the 'Timeless Beauty' documentary, I have come to realise that diversity does not mean the same thing to everyone, everywhere in the world. Here in Indonesia  it is primarily diversity in terms of faith, this is the primary meaning given to it. And in a country where there is such a great emphasis on developing modest fashion, which is meant to cover the body, somehow body diversity acquires a different  meaning.
Going to a few more fashion shows next week as well as completing my research into fashion magazines of the turn of the century.
Then it's London again. I really want to go back and get started on my writing.