By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
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I am not a model. I'm tall and thin and a few years ago I did some runway shows as a favor to a friend who's a local fashion designer. But as far as teetering around on stilettos, gulping vodka before noon, or subsisting on lettuce-on-lettuce sandwiches goes, I'm no model.
But when I heard a few months back that Voltage: Fashion Amplified 2007 would be holding an open model call, I decided to audition. This annual rock 'n' roll fashion show, which takes place Wednesday, April 11 in the First Avenue mainroom, gives budding Twin Cities designers a chance to show their work in front of a large audience.
My 20 seconds of runway glory during Voltage 2005 were some of the most exciting of my life. I cascaded down the runway in an asymmetrical black jacket, my hair molded into a crispy hairspray helmet, while the Hopefuls wailed away onstage behind me. A chance to relive that night seemed too good to pass up.
The tryouts take place in a large, one-room studio overlooking First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. It feels a bit like American Idol, except there aren't any cameras and the only music in the room is coming from a boombox on the floor. At the end of the makeshift runway—four pieces of white tape placed roughly 15 feet apart—a panel of two judges lounges on a couch with clipboards and photos, ready to analyze the strut of each girl.
Unlike previous years in which many designers found their own models, Voltage organizers have decided to stiffen their criteria. Models are now required to be between 18 and 25 years old, at least 5-foot-7, and no larger than a size 6. The irony is that, across the pond, some high-fashion agencies and fashion shows now want models to meet a minimum body mass index, in response to complaints about skeletons on the catwalk.
Most of the girls I see in the studio meet the new prerequisites with no problem. They stroll into the room looking young and fresh in the afternoon light, pose in front of a tall, white wall for a few quick photos, and stand up straight and suck it in as the measuring tape comes out. Then, at last, they walk for the panel, looking confident and "fierce," as Tyra would say. The whole ordeal takes no more than 15 minutes.
My audition goes relatively well. I cringe as one of the judges reads my measurements aloud and stumble a bit during my runway walk. But the panel is friendly and the exposed nerves of the other models calm my own.
A week and a half after the tryout, I receive an email that says, "Welcome to Voltage Fashion Amplified," and an Excel spreadsheet listing the designers whose clothes I will wear.
Visions of iceberg lettuce dance in my head; I drown them out with pizza.
Is modeling work? I'm not getting paid to show off the designs of Anne Selden, George Moskal, and Labrador. And looking good is supposed to be 100 percent genetic inspiration and 0 percent perspiration, anyway, right?
Still, a lot of preparation goes into making sure my walk down the runway isn't marred by a torn seam, a loose thread, or an accidental crotch shot. The way to prevent such catastrophes is through a fitting. This typically entails visiting a designer's studio, trying on a muslin mock-up or an actual outfit, and getting poked and prodded until it looks just right.
For my first fitting, I visit Anne Selden, a 26-year-old recent transplant to the Minneapolis fashion scene. She's originally from Michigan, but just moved here in October from Paris, where she was studying the works of Cristobal Balenciaga and Madeleine Vionnet (two heavy hitters in the clothing world) on a Fulbright grant.
Selden works in a cheese shop in Edina and rents a two-bedroom apartment in St. Paul. Like several designers I've come across, she has turned one of the rooms into a studio. Her place is clean, with concrete floors, large windows, and a modern kitchen stocked with black appliances. She gives me a brief tour and I notice that the wall behind her sewing machine is decorated with sketches and photos of outfits ripped from magazines.
Selden, who says she enjoys working with "bold, strong, solid colors," often produces one garment and then recreates it several times, varying the shape, color, and movement. "I can honestly say that every single piece I make is one-of-a-kind," she explains. "Making clothing, for me, is comparable to sculpting, painting, and drawing."
Making clothing is also, of course, a business. And to this end, Selden has items for sale at Design Collective—an Uptown boutique that specializes in locally made work—which range in price from $25 cuff sets to $1,200 wool coats.
Trying on someone else's clothes in someone else's home feels kind of funny. Selden loads me up with a chocolate brown strapless dress and a pressed red overcoat, and I tiptoe into her bedroom to strip down. Having just moved in, Selden hasn't finished furnishing the place. I try to be delicate with the clothes, but there's nowhere to hang them, so I drape them across a mattress on the floor.