I am mixed race, 23 years old, and a 'new face' model on my first full ‘fashion circuit’ of New York, London, Milan, and Paris. I started modeling a year ago, entering the industry at a time when it could no longer drag its heels in terms of diversity and model welfare — for me, this unbelievable opportunity is an indication of the broadening of fashion’s inclusion of different ages and ethnicities. And while that isn’t to say the industry hasn't been slow in its uptake (and still has a considerable amount to improve on), I do believe modeling is a vocational choice that is an incredibly selective privilege.
Being a model is one of those careers that when it's good, it's exceptional; but when it's bad, it can be mentally and physically exhausting. It's a job that requires you to be available 24/7; there are no set starts or finishes, and call times vary from location to brand to job type.
New York Fashion Week is the most important step for new models because it can decide how well you will do throughout the rest of the fashion calendar. As I am a new face, my schedule during this period was especially erratic. I needed to meet all of the casting directors a week before to then be invited back for specific castings for the shows. As soon as I landed in New York, my agent warned me that ‘I would hit the ground running,’ and I immediately began dashing across Manhattan to get to the various casting locations. The casting days during fashion week can be tedious; quite often you will be in long lines with dozens of other models for hours. Then you wait to receive an email that could confirm a callback, or hopefully a fitting, for the show. The toughest part is rejection.
My first experience walking a New York show was with Tom Ford, which was overwhelming. I was deeply inspired by the dedication he and the in-house team had in custom-making the sequin suit I wore for a show that would be over in minutes. I was particularly impressed not only by how diversely James Scully had cast the show models, but also by how diverse the makeup, hair, and dressing teams were. It humbled me to be sharing this moment not only with other models of color, but also with the people of color who worked the show.
As the scope of diversity continues to broaden the industry, so have my friends' nationalities, which continue to educate my worldview. I respect the models of color who began their careers when there just weren’t the same welfare protections I am now experiencing. They have worked hard for years to be given a respected place in the upper echelons of the industry, and through the stories they have told me it is incredible to see how much the attitudes of the industry have already changed. These girls have been the ones who have given me the best advice, shaped my perspective, and saved me from the expense of model apartments by letting me crash at their homes in New York and Paris. Fashion gets a lot of stick for its vapidity, which there certainly is a lot of, however, there are also the genuine connections you can make with people you work with.
This New York Fashion Week was also meant to be the first time shows would have private dressing areas for models backstage. Having been publicized by The Model Alliance, this seemed like the most active confrontation by the industry in dealing with its own #MeToo problems. In addition to Tom Ford, I was also honored with walking for Sies Marjan and Derek Lam, and each show had its own separate area for us to change in with our dresser, and robes for us to wear while getting ready. However, this wasn’t the case for all of the shows. One of my friends had a completely different experience during the same week; out of the eight shows she walked, three of them did not have any private dressing areas. Her definition of a private dressing room was an area in which "there is a place to change without photographers present." Although steps such as the ones being publicized are edging in the right direction, they are still only guidelines, which allows some brands to continue trivializing concerns surrounding models' working conditions.
My agency, IMG, prepped all of us new faces for the lows and highs of fashion week. We had a nutritional session with a chef, met the team who’d be on call for us, and had a discussion with the casting director Ashley Brokaw, who books shows like Calvin Klein. The evening reminded me that although it can be isolating, every new face is in a similar position, which formed a sense of camaraderie. Preparations like I received are relatively new and not a statutory requirement. Like a lot of the changes now being made within the industry, it is still left to the discretion of individual companies to choose how, and if, they implement protections for models as employees.
I am optimistic about fashion not falling behind on welfare and diversity. I believe we are already seeing a lot of progression, which is being spearheaded by advocates like Scully, Brokaw, and others. The next steps need to be strides towards non-negotiable set standards for everyone employed by the fashion industry, which unlike the privileged position of modeling should be expected and not have to be demanded.