Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you find yourself naked at a dinner party? Or wearing a clown outfit at a funeral? Self-consciousness, insecurity and embarrassment are such strong psychological forces that they regularly haunt our dreams.
But you can turn them around. Here’s my story.
Early on last year, I was booked to walk in a fashion show for a department store outside Munich. It was my first job for a new agency and also my first catwalk show in years.
As far as my runway CV went, mine was fairly thin. My experience – and comfort zone – lay more in fashion showrooms for wholesale fashion buyers, photographic work and modelling for TV shopping channels. Rather chillaxed, really, compared to hot footing it down the catwalk trying to keep cool and collected when really you’re sweating like a builder!
My catwalk debut was moons ago, circa 1985. The Top Shop store show in Plymouth was a culmination of a six week modeling and deportment course, oh yes. I walked out heavily buttoned and shoulder padded to a thumping version of ‘Mack the knife’, my hair was sprayed to high heaven and I was shaking from head to toe with nerves.
Then came wedding shows in freezing marquees amongst prize winning cows and bulls, Laura Ashley events in (far too many) brushed cotton floral dresses, and a couple of Liz Claiborne shows that had more twists and turns than the aforementioned clown with his pants on fire.
So, on that fatal winter’s day last year, I pulled on my grey wool dress, extreme thermal tights and five inch red sheepskin wedges to meet a couple of models I was going to be working with, at the local train station.
I spotted the girls immediately (and not only because they were the only ones up at 6am on a Saturday morning). They were tall. Really tall. Standing in their ballet flats, they came to the same height as me in my super wedges.
Something felt immediately wrong, but I let it pass in my early morning stupor. On arrival at the store, I met the remaining models (including two friendly and exuberant males). They greeted each other in high fives and air kisses, and politely said hello to me. It was clear that they had previously worked together and were furiously catching up.
Brilliant, all of them were the same towering height. Almost a head taller than me, way over six foot (1.90 metres). And insult to injury, the girls were one or two dress sizes smaller than me. Taller and smaller! Just my day.
I felt I had been set up (like Channel 4’s ‘Faking It’ series) where they take a wrestler and train them up to be a ballet dancer to compete in a final showdown. Judges get to decide who the fake is. Sometimes they guess, but often they don’t. But there’s no faking height and size in a live show. All I had was my ability to walk, smile and show the clothing to the best effect.
Looking up at the high domed ceiling of the department store, I willed anyone to hoist me up and out of the building. To that effect, I even rung my husband but he was busy. So I was stuck with five fashion shows and model colleagues twenty years younger.
One of the girls I travelled with, became my partner. We practiced to be in sync with one another (as much as I could with her longer stride) and created a series of routines, turns and walks that we could remember.
It was then that the woman in charge caught my eye, and saw the discrepancy of choice in her new model. I felt like a pink pig trying to learn synchronized swimming in a sea of long limbed flamingos.
Rather than pretend NOT to see what was happening, I walked straight up to the boss.
‘Well, its obvious isn’t it?’ she said, crossly pointing at me up and down with her finger. ‘You are clearly not the height you said you were. You’re going to knock my whole show out. Everyone looks the same, EXCEPT YOU’, she bitched loudly.
I went on to explain that, perhaps, there must have been some kind of mix up in the measurement conversions, even though she had already seen me in person. Smiling hard, I promised her that she wouldn’t be disappointed, which she already was, obviously.
We got ready in our first outfits, but to make things more challenging, we didn’t walk out onto a level catwalk, common in most shows but immediately down two steep flights of stairs onto the department floor. My calf muscles were like steel by the time we finished!
I kept in time with the music, twirling to our memorized routine. I also kept telling myself: keep smiling, keep walking, don’t look down and please, please don’t fall on your pink pig arse! Fortunately, I completed the shows without a hitch.
In the last show, I was calm enough to take a look at the largely female audience. How on earth would these women in the audience wear the clothes and styles on models with a dress size eight and the height of Olympic athletes?
It was an abruptly absurd and exhilaratingly comical vision. The models were definitely Haute Couture, the clientele, of course, were just your average women, somewhere between a height of 5 feet 4 (1.65 metres) and a dress size 14 (42). Don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly as it should be!
My main job as a style coach is to help create and refresh a personal image of an individual person, who, in all likelihood, is not a supermodel. To do this with lasting results, things must be done in an authentic way. A successful image transformation not only has to fit to the personality, character (and comfort zone) of the person but should highlight the best of their body shape and unique features regardless of age, shape or size.
I couldn’t see how a catwalk show like this could carry this important message across. It looked manipulative to say the least.
I thought of the customers trying on the clothes after the shows, and wondered if they thought they could look like the models once they bought the clothes. I also wondered, how many were disappointed with their reflection and walked away empty handed and dejected.
As I made my way back to Munich I thought of my sometimes conflicting jobs as style coach and model. One creates and improves an image of reality, of what we do look like. The other participates in creating an illusion of what people think they should look like.
By now, I know which aspect I prefer. I hope you do too.
If you would like to know how a style session can help you, please get in touch!