But I'll keep on smiling for you, fashion gods.
Hi. I’m Melissa. I’ll be writing a weekly column for VICE until I run out of things to say or you stop reading, whichever comes first. It’s like the car warranty where you’re covered up to 50,000 miles or for three years, at which point they bend you over the trunk and fuck you in exchange to fix your brakes. That happens to everyone, right? Anyway, to start things off here’s a bit of an introduction to my life.
I’m a shitty model. I book the shitty jobs. I’ll occasionally book a huge print ad that supplies me with enough money to support my coke habit for at least a few months. I’m kidding of course. My salary disappears into designer clothes and therapist appointments. Well spent if you ask me (my life is a disaster). I don’t do drugs because if I put any more chemicals into my body other than the copious amounts of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and anti-everything-that-makes-me-a-nervous-wreck pills, I would be a walking zombie. Not a cool 28 Days Later zombie, but an apathetic, self-loathing zombie. And that's not the most productive mindset to be in when you are any kind of model, let alone a shitty one.
The shitty jobs I’m talking about are called showroom modelling. Four times a year, when new collections come out, designers hire models to wear their new threads when they arrive, fresh off the boat, from some sweatshop in Thailand. Important clients from Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman will make appointments to see the new collections to decide which pieces (if any) they want in their stores. The models that book these jobs are not the ones in Chanel ads or strutting their strange, 16-year-old bodies down Valentino runways. They are the models that don't receive any sympathy from fawning landlords come rent day because they aren’t clones of Kate Moss. This is the category that I call home.
I call showroom work the “office job” of modelling because it is a mind-numbing, steady work of changing into outfits for eight hours a day, five days a week. Often it’s the only job you have for an entire month. For the duration of those months, my life can basically go fuck itself.
This past June I booked a showroom job for a French designer. Their usual model was in Germany doing more important things like eating bratwursts and riding her bike around Berlin to art galleries that were former squatting headquarters for homeless people whose fashion sense was comparable to hipsters in Brooklyn (that’s what I imagine people in Germany do), so they needed a replacement model that looked like her. I have bangs and blue eyes, so I won. My job is at nine in the morning, I leave my midtown apartment at eight forty-five and cross 8th avenue to take the A train downtown.
A bird shits on my head while I'm waiting at the crosswalk. Shit. On my head. Bird shit. I try to casually wipe it off while I’m walking down the subway stairs searching for my metro card. I find a receipt from last night’s ice-cream run to the deli and use that to squeeze the foul-smelling goo out of my hair.
“This is the worst day of my life,” I say out loud, as I cram my way into the rush hour subway car. I share a seat with a sassy Latino mother of three, an overweight but cute secretary with designer glasses, and I stare directly across into the eyes of a Christian Bale lookalike circa American Psycho. He’s got a fancy briefcase that’s full of legal documents, silk panties from his hot date the night before and a bag of goldfish crackers. At least I hope that’s what is in it. I pray that no one standing near me looks at my hair or smells the shit. Six stops later I exit the sweaty packed subway, walk a few more blocks, and arrive at my job exactly on time.
It’s chaos already. A cute, young intern wearing a neon yellow pencil skirt, embroidered blouse and bright pink stilettos grabs me immediately and yells, “Oh my god, you’re late, the client is already here, we need you in the first look now!” I ask her, “Umm, okay can I, umm, bathroom… umm? Bird shit…” but she’s not listening to me and pulls me into a makeshift closet with a metal clothes rack and two other models standing in bras and thongs waiting to be dressed.
She hands me the first look and asks my shoe size. I tell her eight, she hands me a seven and says, “These will do.” There’s nothing more horrifying than knowing you will be in uncomfortable shoes all day. The first thought that comes to mind is, “I’d rather get fucked in the ass than wear uncomfortable heels for eight hours,” but that’s just ridiculous, and funny, so I’m leaving that sentence right there.
I’m squished into a silk sample size dress that looks great on me until it hits my thighs. I’m very flat-chested and my waist is small, but my hips are a tad larger than standard issue model size. I like to think of myself as an “LA face, Oakland booty” type of model. I waddle my way over to the buyers and stand there with remnants of bird shit in my hair and a smile on my face.
At a table topped with fresh fruit, espressos and water with lemon wedges sit four older ladies clad in Chanel watches, earrings, suits and the hue of eye shadow that make them look like 1980s transvestites. “Her thighs, why is the fabric bunching up right there?” one of them squawks while pointing at me in disgust. The sales exec says, “Well I think her hips might be just a little disproportionate to her waist, what size are your hips, sweetie?” “36,” I say, quietly. “Oh, well can we see it on a smaller girl?” I smile at the clients like they are doing me a favour and waddle back to the closet wondering if they noticed that, as well as the silk dress and the tiny fucking shoes, I'm also wearing something else's excrement. I take off my outfit and hand it to another anorexic girl with size 35 hips. She looks great in the dress. Five minutes into my first day of a three-week-long job and I already feel like crying.
I sneak out of the closet and go to the bathroom to wash the bird shit out of my hair. I stare at myself in the mirror and have one of those “What am I doing with my life?” moments. I think about how big the cheque is going to be if I stick it out for the next few weeks in this showroom. I think about how lucky I am to be making a relatively great salary for the actual work I’m doing. I tell myself that I shouldn’t take for granted the fact that I’m employed and could be doing worse things, like working at fucking McDonald's or the front desk of a tanning salon, but I can't stop myself spiraling into a vortex of doubt and self-pity.
I miss my best friend and my cat Kitler who I left behind in California. I worry that I’ll never be happy without anti-depressants. I tell myself that I’m only eating vegetables for lunch and I won’t sneak into the kitchen for chocolate covered espresso beans. I start to cry. My mascara drips down my face and now I look like a sad stripper. I worry about where I’m going to be living in a few weeks because my ex-boyfriend needs his extra apartment back. I remember that the new Hot Chip album came out today and I make a mental note to download it. I hear the door open and I immediately wipe the tears from my face and walk back to the closet like nothing happened.
Back inside the closet, I find a young Russian girl and another quiet, doe-eyed blonde – your basic models. They are tall, thin – but not anorexic – and pretty, but not Victoria’s Secret pretty. They are quite plain actually. Showroom models wear limited makeup and try to be the least bit distracting from the clothes as possible. The Russian speaks broken English but she’s very nice. I just nod and agree with everything she says. The only words I could understand are “big bird”, “chocolate” and “pregnant”. Who knows what the fuck she’s saying, but I make an effort to have a conversation with her because I need to work on my social skills. Better to do it with someone who barely speaks English, right?
We talk about our passions and what we want to do after modelling. The Russian says something about cats and doctors so I’m assuming she wants to be a veterinarian. Our conversation is interrupted (like it will be periodically over the next few hours, days and weeks) to put on another group of outfits for clients from Neiman Marcus. I quickly put on the absurdly expensive clothes, small fucking shoes and stumble out to the client’s table like I’m overjoyed to be there. “I love her!” one of the well-dressed men sipping his lemon wedge water says. “Is her chest really small or is that how the shirt fits?” I stand there with the fakest smile on my face, mentally preparing myself for the next three weeks of life as a walking mannequin.
Follow Melissa on Twitter: @MelissaStetten