Culture  Inside the models’ den

Dana Drori gets behind the scenes and onto the catwalk

Ah, Fashion Week: the time when parking spots are denied to common cityfolk, Gazette fashion editor Eva Friede actually gets some attention, and Montreal’s small pond of designers, stylists, makeup artists, and photographers carouse and exchange business cards, sponsored beverages in hand.

Fashion Week also directly coincides with midterm week, when McLennan library becomes more of a distraction than a place to study, McGill students up their coffee and cigarette intake, and the competition and anxiety at the core of our university’s pride is palpable in the October air.

These two events are so complete in themselves that they almost seem mutually exclusive. I was shocked, then – studious coffee-drinking nerd that I am – to find myself leaving McLennan’s sixth floor to rush over to Marché Bonsecours, the hub of this season’s Fashion Week.

There, I was stripped, pinned, sprayed, made-up, forced into spring ready-to-wear and irrationally-high heels, and thrown into that elusive fashion world, down the runway toward Montreal’s teeth-baring arbiters of taste.

But before that highly uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden moment, I endured four high-strung-yet-mind-numbing hours of backstage “prep,” during which I abandoned my vain attempts at studying and looked around, contemplating the meaning of such a gathering.

I must admit that, though I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the models’ den, I knew that my expectations were surpassed. The backstage fulfilled all the basic criteria for something to romanticize. It began, as most glorified events do, with a back entrance that led to a freight elevator. As I stepped out of it and onto the third floor, I felt the excitement pour out of the long black drapes that walled off the changing rooms holding the latest oeuvres of Montreal’s top designers.

Turning the corner, I came upon rows of hair and makeup stations, each equipped with those oh-so-fun vanity lights that seem to exist solely for self-scrutiny. Around me, models practiced their walks, pointed themselves out in magazines called Eye Candy or Naked Eye, and looked every newcomer up and down. I was instantly overwhelmed with the familiar sense of competition between the women there. They’re the girls that I see at the castings; they’re the ones who always get the jobs.

Backstage, I had a choice between three beverages: coffee, water, or Hype. The food, to my pleasant surprise, was good and fattening. And yes, some models ate, although the woman sitting next to me did say to her plate of gnocchi: “Ugh, I’m not even hungry, I just realized,” followed by, “I’ve been eating all day.”

I was wrong to think that I had left behind my high school days of being an outsider. Feeling increasingly foolish and nervous, I turned back to my notes and course pack and tried to distract myself with theories of conspicuous consumption and vicarious living from class. How apropos, I laughed to myself, looking at the beautiful people and appreciating the social truism with a feigned sense of mental superiority.

That’s right: feigned. My ability to synthesize theories, draw connections, and analyze literature, all wonderful skills cultivated at McGill, amounted to nothing backstage at Montreal Fashion Week. Surrounded by the city’s finest – women nearing six feet with bodies that naturally looked digitally enhanced – I found myself making the effort to buy into their world in a desperate attempt to fit in, though I wasn’t quite as tall, thin, or well-put-together as anyone around me.

And as I sat there, timidly squashed between others who thrive in this environment, I returned to thinking about how we succumb to the superficiality of it all. Down the runway, models come and go…and we glorify them, conceding to their false sense of entitlement, and to the whole institution of fashion.

I think Montreal socialite and stylist Cary Tauben summed it up perfectly when, while teaching me how to “own it” on the runway, he said that the best part about Fashion Week was “feeling glamorous.” And I realized that I agree. Though I couldn’t relate to the atmosphere, I still enjoyed the attention and the excitement, if only for a few hours. And honestly – who doesn’t?

Modeling in Fashion Week was an experience that denied me everything that makes me comfortable with who I am. I was shoved under lights for anonymous shadows to scrutinize, like an exotic zoo animal or some rare microscopic parasite. But despite it all, I submitted to its authority; I looked in the mirror instead of at my books, and channeled my femininity through oppressively high heels. I tried to be part of its reality, and not just because I loved the muffins backstage.

Still, at the end of the long and emotionally-winding catwalk, I craved my favourite sixth floor library carrel, and that feeling of steady progress toward self-assurance that I usually take for granted during the midterm fray. Maybe it’s just me, but the nerves that I feel for in-class essays can never compare to how insecure and anxious I felt when I tried to, as Tauben put it, “stomp it out” on the runway.