Melissa Stetten's Bratwalk

Crash Landing at the Runway Show

When you're a model, New York Fashion Week is a brutal pain in the ass.

Melissa Stetten

Melissa Stetten

Unless you are one of the top 100 models in the world, your payment for a fashion show is equivalent to a mediocre stripper’s tips on a Monday night. Sometimes you don’t get paid actual money at all. "Trade" is the main source of currency during Fashion Week. "Trade" is when you receive clothing in exchange for work. Sometimes that $700 dress or $2000 gift card is totally worth the five hours of work, but when the designer picks out the trade for you, you're very often left with an ill-fitting dress that was ugly and off-point seasons ago. I can’t be seen in that garbage, I’m a fucking FASHION model, for fuck's sake.

That said, runway shows are my favourite jobs. What girl wouldn’t want to walk down a runway with 50 photographers snapping photos of her? You get to wear amazing shit from new collections and have hundreds of people staring at you while you sashay down the runway like a batshit crazy Tyra Banks.

Getting to that point is brutal, though. Here’s an account of my experience with Fashion Week castings.

At about 8PM the night before, I receive the email from my agent with a list of castings for the next day. So far there are nine addresses with a time frame letting me know when I need to be at each place. I plan out my day by google mapping each place and making a mental note of which subways I need to take and where. I drink a Corona Light and watch Project Runway. I put on my zit cream, facial moisturiser and pray that the blemishes on my chin will have disappeared by the morning.

I wake up at 9AM to an updated email with four more castings. Shit. I now have 13 places to be before 5PM. After a mini panic attack I throw on the same skinny jeans I’ve been wearing for weeks and a white, loose-fitting T-shirt that makes me look thin, but has that “I don’t give a shit what I look like (but honestly I do)” look to it. I stuff my model cards, portfolio, bottled water and heels into my oversized Alexander Wang bag, which is now so heavy I feel like I’m carrying around two dead foetuses stuffed with heavy ass rocks. I put on my wool coat and boots because it’s winter in New York, which feels like fucking northern Russia. (It’s cold there, right? All the 16-year-old models I meet from there speak like their lungs have frosted over.)

After being squished in the subway during rush hour I get off at my stop and walk five blocks before finding the first address – no elevator and it’s on the sixth floor. Fuck you. After begrudgingly making my way up the stairs, I sign my name on a list and notice I’m number 178. Ugh. I find a spot on the floor next to a cute brunette wearing leather pants with giant holes in the knees. She doesn’t look a day over 16. There are 30 other models sitting on the cold, wooden floor texting their boyfriends or whomever it is they do. I eavesdrop on two models having a conversation about their weight. “My agent says I need to lose ten pounds so I stopped eating bread,” the bleach blonde girl says in her German accent. “I’m doing Paris Fashion Week so I need to get skinny – like GROSS skinny.” Good luck with that. I recommend throwing up your breakfast, lunch and dinner to get that look, preferably immediately after you've taken each mouthful out onto the table of whatever uptown noodle joint your model rep is trying to groom you in. I say don’t stop puking until you’re so skinny that someone asks if you’re either dying of cancer or a refugee camp runaway.

Happily, after 45 minutes of stalking ex-boyfriends on Twitter, my name is called. I quickly put on my heels and run into the room. I hand my portfolio and model card to a girl sitting behind a table. She asks what shows I’ve done. I tell her, but halfway through my list she isn’t impressed, so I throw in a few lies, “…umm Marc Jacobs, Proenza, Rag and Bone, umm…" She cuts me off and asks to see my walk. I of course trip over my own six-inch heels but pretend like I meant to do it. She snaps my photo and says thanks. "Well I fucked that one up," I say to myself as I walk back to the sea of anorexia to change out of my heels. Casting number one finished: 12 more to go.

I’m walking down Spring Street to the subway and my phone rings. “Melissa you booked a show tonight and they need you for a fitting ASAP, I emailed you the deets. Please hurry!” My agent hangs up before I have the chance to thank him. I check my email and see the fitting is in the Upper East Side. “That’s like, 20 minutes from where I am. Maybe I can fit in two castings on the way or… shit, they need me before noon…” I say to myself out loud, talking to absolutely no one. I decide to grab a cab because the $10 it’ll be is worth my peace of mind knowing I’ll be on time.

I make my way into the loft and see half-naked models changing into ridiculous outfits. “You must be Melissa!” The peppy young assistant yells. “That’s my name, don’t wear it out!” I say back to her. No one laughs. She escorts me over to the designer and he looks me up and down. He hands me a dress and tells me to try it on. There are no closets or changing rooms so I take off everything but my thong and let the girl help me squeeze into the awkward garment. My pale ass and small tits are exposed for everyone in the room to see, but I’ve done this many times by now that my level of embarrassment is basically nonexistent. I’ll be naked around a bunch of gay dudes; I don’t give a shit.

The designer looks at me in the dress. “Girl, you were made for this dress!” Was I made for it? Was I really born into this world, living my entire life preparing for this one moment where some French designer conceptualised a dress without knowing of my existence, but assuming one day I would prance into his runway show fitting and blow his mind with how perfectly his fabric contraption would drape around my hips? Maybe. Who knows. The girl takes my photo with a Polaroid camera, asks my name and writes it on the photo along with my shoe size. “See you tonight at six!” She squeals. There’s no way she’s worked in the fashion world for more than a month. She’s not miserable enough.

I see a couple girls from my agency getting stuffed into garments and say hi to them. I ask one of them if they know how much this job is paying. “I think it’s like, $250 plus trade,” one says. “Not bad, at least it’s actual fucking money,” I say, annoyed. I finish the fitting and look at my email full of castings. Twelve left, and I have five hours to fit them in. The call time for the runway show is at six, so I’ll go to the most important castings first (the ones that pay the most). I put on my coat and boots, grab my giant bag full of model bullshit and make my way out into the cold and walk three blocks to the downtown subway. I get blindsided in the face with a freezing gust of wind that might as well be called Hurricane Chris Brown. Ouch.

By the time I arrive backstage at the runway show, the drama's ratcheted up a few zillion notches. I'll tell you about that next time.

Follow Melissa on Twitter: @MelissaStetten

Photography courtesy of meinmyplace.com. Illustrations by Sam Taylor. Follow him on Twitter @sptsam or visit his website at samtaylorillustrator.com.

Previously: Bratwalk - I'm Drowning in Bird Shit and Self-Pity