By Zuzu Tadeushuk, Model & Blogger— zuzutadeushuk.com
As February draws near I’m glad I’m not walking in New York Fashion Week. Little do people know, but Fashion Week, which paradoxically lasts a month and spans four cities and two continents, is a dreaded time of year for many in the Fashion Industry. Two times of year, in fact, for the Ready-to-wear cycle occurs in September and then again in, yes, February. Just a few weeks from now, the streets of New York will be teeming with tall young girls bundled all in black and lugging portfolios to sometimes as many as fifteen castings a day scattered all across the city. I never noticed them until I became one of their number myself, but it hardly requires an initiate to identify the lanky figure, Whole Foods bag in hand, that is the archetypal fashion model.
I started modeling four years ago now, when I was a squeaky sixteen year old, and I’ve since walked my fair share of fashion shows. Two months after I was unexpectedly signed by Ford Models, I was no less unexpectedly booked for Alexander Wang’s memorable NYFW show that was staged at the Brooklyn Navy Yards a few days after Valentine’s. I skipped school and was so nervous I thought I’d piss myself there in the sleek pleated shorts that, along with a structural blue parka, comprised my outfit for the show. I managed to put one foot in front of the other, however, and not trip on the runway or leave one of my backless heeled boots behind me, and that was the inception of a career of harrowing, thrilling, astonishing catwalk appearances. Of a cycle of biannual anxiety too, for behind the dazzling runways and the glamorous afterparties of fashion week is a daunting process of castings and fittings that require you to pitch yourself unabashedly to designers and casting directors, again and again, and hope that they like you and choose you from the hundreds of other beautiful girls trying for the same job. Behind every groomed lineup to strut down a catwalk is a process of selection and elimination that often, and paradoxically, is brutally impersonal: such arbitrary features as the shade of your hair, size of your eyes, height, can earn you a place in a fashion show or disqualify you from it for not fitting the particular vision and requirements of a collection. Sometimes you don’t get a show because by the time you have your fitting the brand has run out of shoes in your size. Sometimes you don’t get a show and never know why.
I never imagined I’d be one to speak with any authority on the model experience, just as I never imagined I’d be one to have a career in modeling in the first place. But today as I board New York’s Q train on my way to a shoot for Vogue Thailand, I know as much about the industry as anyone could ever want to. I know what it’s like to be summoned at midnight to Calvin Klein headquarters for a fitting from which you are turned away when you arrive because your outfit won’t be assembled until six am, three hours before the show itself (can you come back then, they ask, knowing perfectly well there’s no way you’ll say no). I know what it’s like to step out onto a catwalk in a dress that has been stitched around your body thirty seconds earlier, as you stood in lineup with your heart pounding in your mouth. I know what it’s like to have a dress fall off your shoulders mid strut during an intimate Marc Jacobs resort presentation, what it’s like to have Anna Wintour stride into the backstage dressing area when you’re naked and star-struck. I know what it’s like to count seventeen distinct blisters on your feet from the unique and challenging footwear of twenty four consecutive fashion shows, to not recall when you last had the leisure to eat a proper meal, to sleep past five am. I know what it’s like to wonder just how the timid and frankly awkward person you are has improbably caught the attention of legendary people you didn’t think existed outside the realm of cultural myth. Perhaps most significantly, I know now what it’s like to embody an artistic vision, to yourself become the physical vessel which brings something abstract and sublime into the material world. Bearing witness firsthand to the evolution of a designer’s collection, through a creative process fraught with chaos and calamity that yields in the eleventh hour something cohesive and provocative, still takes my breath away.
And yet, I am glad not to be engaging in the furor of fashion week this February, because I also know the calmer joy of embodying a secondary vision, of giving life to an editor’s interpretation of those same breathtaking garments that designers present at fashion week. Print jobs, such as today’s shoot for Vogue Thailand, draw on those collections, with stylists selecting outfits from a variety of brands that usually have some common quality to them, a theme that serves as the “story” of the shoot. Today’s story will highlight current garments that all recall the 1980’s: there will be racks of bejeweled Gucci track suits, varsity jackets sent over from Coach, pastel tunics swaddled in garment bags. A crate of loafers shipped to the set from Italy got stuck in customs at JFK and won’t make it. Shoots like this allow for more personal contact with the collections, allow models and photographers and stylists and retailers to play with and modify and elaborate on the pieces that flashed so fleetingly down the catwalk. For beauty, as has often been remarked, is little without the eye of the beholder, and, in this case, the individual eye of an authorized beholder for re-envisioning the once-created in the expression of a new synthesis, a twice-created entity.
I climb out of the subway at Canal street. It’s a crisp and sun-drenched January morning, and there are yet no model hordes stalking the streets. There’s a general tranquility—a regularity to this tame print work, lacking the midnight phone calls and frantic haste that characterize shows. Lacking the self-doubt and the disappointment, too. This here has a deliberateness to it, a predictability suited to my reserved nature. Like a nine to five job, just in white beaded Gucci. Like a quiet way through a furious dream.