What Fashion Week Is Actually Like For A Model

Photo courtesy of Jess Cole.
I started modelling a year ago and entered fashion at a time when the industry could no longer drag its heels in terms of diversity and model welfare. Since then, I have already noticed the new developments happening at castings, catwalks and backstage. That isn’t to say that the industry has not been slow in its uptake, and still has a considerable amount to improve on, however, I do believe modelling is a vocational choice that is an incredibly selective privilege. When it's good, it is exceptional, but when it's bad it can be mentally and physically exhausting. Each fashion model has an experience as unique as their appearance, and I personally came at a time of progressive changes.
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. This unbelievable opportunity for me is also an indication of the broadening of fashion’s diversity in ages and ethnicities.
Photo: Jonas Gustavsson/Sipa USA/REX/Shutterstock
Sies Marjan AW18, New York Fashion Week, 11 Feb 2018
The job of being a model requires you to be available 24/7, which is why we are constantly glued to our phones. There are no set start or finish times and the call times vary from location to brand to job type. As I am a new face, my schedule during New York Fashion Week was especially erratic. I needed to meet all of the casting directors a week before, to then be invited back for specific brand 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 NYFW can be tedious; quite often you will be in long queues 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 aspect of fashion week is rejection, which is also inevitable; the most bizarre part is being photographed by the small hordes of street style paparazzi stood outside many of the casting locations.
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. During this period, I wouldn't know my schedule until the evening before, and it could change throughout the night and following day. Most days would begin around 9am and finish in the early evening, depending on how many castings I had that day, which could range from one to five. I would then return to the normalcy of my friend's Brooklyn home and be in bed by 10pm as a way of keeping myself refreshed, and energised for the following day; being tired is not an excuse for eye bags. I like partying and modelling has definitely been a big learning curve in taking better care of myself physically, and learning how to conserve my energy.
I'm signed with IMG who are proactive in their models' welfare, and prepped all of us new faces for the lows and highs of NYFW. 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. Preparation evenings like the one I received are relatively new and not a statutory requirement of all agencies. 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 love that fashion gives us gangly, odd-looking folk such an incredible opportunity to travel the world and come together in a sort of dysfunctional clan. Being away from home for over a month and having no fixed abode, finding and befriending other models is a way of retaining some warmth and familiarity at the castings, and staying grounded during shows. As the scope of diversity continues to broaden in the industry, so have my friends' nationalities, which have widened and continue to educate my worldview. I respect the models of colour 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 just 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.
My first experience of 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 my sequin suit, 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. This is definitely one of the best parts of the job and it humbled me to be sharing this moment not only with models of colour, but also with the people of colour staffing Tom Ford.

You oat me ( innit )

A post shared by ✊? (@_jesscole) on

This New York Fashion Week was meant to be the first time that all shows would have private dressing areas for models backstage. Having been publicised 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 honoured with walking the Sies Marjan and Derek Lam shows during my NYFW. Each show had its own separate area for us to change in with our dresser, and dressing gowns for us to wear while getting ready for the show. However, this wasn’t the case for all of the shows, as 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 private dressing rooms was an area in which "there is a place to change without photographers present". Although steps such as the ones being publicised are edging in the right direction, they are still only guidelines, which allows for some brands to continue trivialising concerns surrounding models' working conditions.
However, I am optimistic about fashion not falling behind on welfare and diversity. I believe that we are already seeing a lot of progression, which is being spearheaded by advocates such as James Scully and continues to gather momentum. The next steps need to be strides towards ubiquitous standards for every person employed as a model, which unlike the privileged position of modelling should be expected and not have to be demanded.
If New York is the place to get ahead in the fashion circuit, then coming back to London was the opportunity to try out the shows on my home turf. I debuted on my first women’s London catwalk with Port and closed my stint with the new label Symonds Pearmain at Fashion East. London is the city for nurturing and developing new designers who have their own, very eclectic sense of style. For me the additional perk with walking for Symonds Pearmain was that I got to work with [stylist] Max Pearmain, who has styled me on shoots and campaigns before. It was comforting after New York, and not seeing my friends and family, to be part of an intimate team coming together to support one another. 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.
Another highlight of LFW was dancing the night away on Sunday evening at Vogue's Fashion & Film party, hosted by Edward Enninful, Steve McQueen, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. I really had to check my privilege as I walked through the bustling cocktail lounge, which was a who's who of the fashion, music and media world. However, the most inspiring part wasn't the famous faces but the real diversity of the attendees of the event, who had been pre-approved by Enninful – an observation which reenergised my optimism for equality, and motivation to push for an industry which in the future has more than just a couple of non-white people in positions of power.

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series