Catwalk Confessional

Jab me with pins! Feed me lettuce! Insult my ass! How I became a (not-so-super) model for Voltage, Minneapolis's rock 'n' roll fashion show

I want to be a fabulous runway model!


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.

 

Go into the bedroom and get undressed

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.

I pull on the brown dress, twirl around, and feel like I'm on my way to a dinner party. The dress is made of a soft, stretchy jersey material and has a loose, low waist that falls just beneath my hips—it would be perfect for a woman who wants to hide some extra pounds. (This is not a confession.) The lower half of the dress consists of intricate layers of fabric bunched together like an accordion, and it bounces up and down when I walk.

"I'd never seen it done before," Selden says of the bunched layers. She circles me, fluffing the loose waist, pulling it down on my hips, and declares that it fits perfectly, but does not flatter my rear. Rather than let my ego seep out my pores and form a puddle on the concrete, I take her remark as artistic criticism, and hear my mother's words echoing in my head. Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes.

I pull on the fitted red overcoat to cover my ass (and Selden's, too). The coat also fits perfectly, and I ask Selden if I can keep it. She laughs and I assure her I'm kidding. But I'm not. (It costs $248 for an unlined version and $278 lined, and has already sold in blue; Selden has custom orders for two more.)

This is the garment that I'll be donning for the Voltage LookBook, a catalogue of band bios and designers' photo spreads. It's an eye-catching number, with a stiff, upturned collar, cropped sleeves, and a matching wide belt. The bottom half has large pleats in the sides to allow for poofy skirts, which the brown dress fills out easily. Cinching the belt, I feel like I should be strolling the streets of SoHo with a tiny dog in my arms.

Selden hasn't decided yet which outfit I'll be wearing for the final show. A rack in her living room reveals many options, but she admits that her collection has shrunk. People keep buying her designs, which isn't the worst problem an up-and-coming designer can have.

 

Forgive me Tyra, for I have sinned

I can handle walking a runway: pacing, posing, and pouting. But a photo shoot is like walking the runway in extreme slow motion. Lower your chin and shadows appear all over your face; twist your waist and your silhouette turns into a lumpy pear. Step off your mark and you might as well be sitting in the corner wearing a dunce cap.

Time for my catwalk confession: Most of what I know about modeling comes from watching Tyra Banks berate overambitious waifs on the CW.

And yet here I am in the same downtown studio where I auditioned six weeks ago. Large windows flood the room with natural light, and a cluster of makeup artists and hair stylists scurries around a table near the door. They look like fashion designers themselves, in denim miniskirts, chunky belts, and thin, layered tees.

A girl in a polka dot top bounces up to me. "Hi. Are you one of the models?"

I answer yes—what Tyra doesn't know won't kill her—and she invites me to take off my coat and have a seat. But all the chairs have been claimed by girls being fluffed and primped. So I slip my bag behind a potted plant and lean against a pillar, pretending to know what's going on.

When it's finally my turn to get dolled up, I plop down in a green metal chair and fold my hands in my lap. My hair stylist is a blonde named Kelsy Osterman who works for Juut salon in Wayzata. She's dressed like an Urban Outfitters window display in a bright red shirt and gold belt, with a comb jutting out of her pocket. We exchange pleasantries and she starts running her fingers through my hair.

"It's so fine," she says. "Did you wash it today?"

"Yep," I reply...and as soon as the word leaves my mouth I realize that I broke the number-one rule of fashion modeling: Never wash your hair on the day of a shoot. It's easier for stylists to work with slightly greasy hair because it stays put and holds its shape better than a headful of clean, limp locks. "Sorry," I groan. "I completely forgot."

I try to hold my head still as she divides my scalp into sections and secures chunks of hair with tiny rubber bands. Di Medlock, my makeup artist and the girl who greeted me at the door, wanders over and discusses my look with Kelsy. They're aiming for a futuristic, space-age style, with bright colors and a zero-gravity 'do. Di considers the instructions sent from Selden, tilts my chin upward, and gets to work. The professionals lavish attention on both sides of my head, touching my skin, fluffing my hair, narrowing in on every pore. Because of my elaborate look, Kelsy recruits an additional hair stylist to curl half my head as she works on the other hemisphere. Di slicks red and blue eye shadow over my lids, and creates a ruby lip gloss that inspires such pride that she calls another stylist over to see it. When they're finished with me, I have a giant mass of curls framing my head, and my eyes—now with caterpillar-size fake lashes—resemble Elizabeth Taylor's in Cleopatra.

After nearly an hour of beautifying, it's time for my photo shoot. The photography area consists of a massive paper rectangle suspended as a backdrop with metal poles. A boom light hangs overhead and an X on the floor serves as my only source of instruction. I feel like an actor in front of a blue screen preparing to converse with a cartoon penguin.

The photographer crouches behind a tripod 15 feet away as I take center stage. We start with straight-on shots, and I worry over the placement of my legs. Right leg forward? No wait, the left leg will make a better "V."

The photographer suggests that I try taking big steps to get some action in the shot. This is what it must be like to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The backdrop is roughly six feet long, so taking more than one step sends me veering off my mini-runway and out of the frame.

After 15 long minutes, we finish the full-body shots and another photographer joins in to collect some close-ups. One of them snaps my profile and the other takes pictures head-on. I'm more comfortable with this because it doesn't require taming my gangly limbs. I wink at the camera, smile, flash my best sultry stare. And then the shoot is complete.

I change out of my Selden overcoat and stick around with two models for the Hyper Lush line as they get pretty. Derek, one of a handful of men in the room, only recently fell into modeling after accompanying a friend to a photo shoot. During our conversation, Kelsy braids a strip of auburn hair down the middle of Derek's head, rooster style. He doesn't appear fazed by the strange hairdo—or by the fact that he isn't wearing pants.

Part of the concept behind Hyper Lush, created by Anthem Heart and Hardland/Heartland, is to represent a post-apocalyptic world in which people return to their tribal roots. For Derek, this means cut-off nylons, a garish loincloth, and a skin-tight yellow shirt. His face is painted a sickening yellow-green, and rich red circles hollow out his eyes as if all of his capillaries had burst at once.

His partner for the photo shoot is Lola, a sweet 24-year-old with perfect skin and a rail-thin body. She's wearing white, high-cut moccasins and a pink dress that has a baggy cowl neck draped with animal skins. Her hair has been ratted and teased to form a chaotic halo around her head. Thick, white tribal lines run from the bridge of her nose down her cheeks and around her mouth.

"I'm going to go home like this and scare my mom," Lola laughs. "She thinks I'm not normal anyway. I might as well just show her."

Voltage will be Lola's first show. With her slender physique and high cheekbones, she didn't even have to audition—a Hyper Lush designer simply signed her up. I ask if she plans on getting into modeling now, but she says that she wants to be an actor. Sounds like a great idea, I say.

But just before I grab my bag and head for the door, Lola cries out with a line that makes me think she may have a future on the runway: I feel fat! I haven't worked out in ages!

 

How to look like Jackie O's crazy cousin

George Moskal is not a starving artist. At 30 years old, he works in the textile department for Target Corporation and lives in an upscale warehouse-turned-condominium in downtown St. Paul. Behind a brown sectional sofa, a plastic wall bearing Moskal's logo divides his living area from his workspace.

Moskal's studio mirrors the tidiness of his living space. There's a shelf along one wall with a plethora of design books and boxes labeled "Pins," "Bobbins," and "Pompoms." Five mannequins stand guard around a long metal table in the middle of the room. Moskal talks about how happy he is to finally have a full-sized dress form. Testing the limits of shape is a big part of his work and it's hard to see the whole picture on half a mannequin.

Moskal has certainly been waiting long enough: His preoccupation with fashion began when he started sketching outfits "like crazy" as a 13-year-old. He landed his first internship three years later, working for a hair stylist who made clothing on the side. Like several other Voltage designers, Moskal went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout and majored in apparel design. He spent time in London studying under Zandra Rhodes, a prominent textile designer. Back in the states, Moskal got a gig at Marshall Field's before scoring his current position as an assistant designer for Target's intimates department.

While he holds down a corporate gig, his creative energy is going into his Voltage line, which was inspired by the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. The film (which opened as a stage musical last year) profiles a pair of Jackie O's barefoot cousins—fallen aristocrats who live in a crumbling East Hampton mansion. Moskal drew on their unkempt style—extravagant rags in neutral colors—to create nine looks for the show. Afterward, the garments will be for sale at Design Collective.

I try on a handful of different looks from his Voltage line. First is a gray, backless cocktail gown with a top half that wraps around my neck and down across my breasts...and that's about all there is to it. My chest and stomach are exposed to the world. The bottom half features a wide belt that pours into a flirty skirt—part Lorca, part Katarina Witt.

Moskal crouches down and plays with the hem, apologizing for the stray pins jabbing my thighs. "Where are your knees?" he asks.

I direct him upward and, as he hovers, it occurs to me that he might be discovering something that could be a serious problem. But more on that later.

My next ensemble covers slightly more leg. The bronze cowl skirt sits high on my waist, rippling down my hips like drapery before tapering off around my calves. Instead of hiding a fuller bottom, it creates one, embellishing a woman's natural curves. The look is silky and Arabian, like I'm two seconds from a magic carpet ride.

I pair the skirt with a heather gray jersey top pleated around the bra line. Moskal tugs on the folds around my waist and deems the shirt baggy in the right spots, but ultimately too long. He scribbles notes on a pad of paper and I trot off to change into another outfit.

Despite sporting a bevy of bloodthirsty needles, the next, still-unfinished dress instantly becomes my favorite. Moskal admits that it's the most popular garment among his stable of Voltage models. With dainty polka dots, a baby-doll bust, and billowy sleeves, it exudes a childlike innocence and playfulness. I long to pair it with skinny jeans and bangle bracelets like a chain-smoking Olsen twin, or at the very least to wear it in the show.

 

Time for the elves to do their thing

For all the hustle and bustle I've seen in the designers' apartments, the next week will be when the real work gets done. There's nothing like a showcase in front of a couple of thousand people to force you to make those creative decisions you've been putting off. Either that, or I'll still be getting jabbed by pins during my walk down the runway.

Whatever happens, I'll be posting about it on the City Pages website until the last minute. And unless I fall off the catwalk—and then walk straight out of the country in shame—I'll post some more pictures after Voltage is over.

In the meanwhile, there's not much for me to do now except wait and worry—and pray to the acne gods who reward our virtue by giving us clear skin. Actually, that's not quite true. There is one decision about the show that I've been putting off myself—a painful concession I'll have to make to become a model.

And so to George Moskal, Anne Selden, and Labrador, I make this pledge: On the Tuesday night before Voltage, for the first time in five years, I'll break out a razor and shave my legs.

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