Catwalk Confessional p.VI: Put One Foot in Front of the Other

How to avoid a crash landing on the world's crookedest runway

Clips of fashion shows from Paris and Milan always look the same: leggy models prancing down a long, rectangular catwalk, posing for a series of flashing bulbs, then hightailing it backstage. The clothes might change and the lighting might look different, but in the end it comes down to 25 steps and a lot of big hair.

Voltage, the annual rock 'n' roll fashion extravaganza on April 11, is not your typical fashion show. Instead of a simple rectangular runway, models will navigate an elevated platform and a zigzagging catwalk. The S-shaped stage will snake out into the audience, allowing multiple models to strike poses at different points.

I catch my first glimpse of the twisting catwalk during the final rehearsal before the show. The run-through takes place in a dance studio on Hennepin Avenue. I take the elevator up to the sixth floor and step into a hallway of gorgeous, ultra-thin women. They lean against the wall chatting quietly, a sea of grasshopper legs and milky smooth skin.

Mary O'Regan

Perhaps it's all the time they spend with fashion, but these models certainly know how to dress. One trendsetter is wearing a black corset and a wide studded belt; another rocks the Jackie-O with a cropped yellow jacket. Up and down the hall it's four-inch heels, tight t-shirts, and skinny jeans. When did I teleport to the set of The O.C?

I approach a girl on the end of the chorus line and ask what's going on. She has no idea. Confusion will be a reoccurring theme throughout the afternoon.

"Please take off your street shoes and put on a clean pair," a voice bellows from down the hallway. The dance studio has a strict No Street Shoes policy. Until this day, I was unaware that such shoes exist, but apparently, in the dance world, they do Ö and we models are expected to have them.

I brush some dirt off the bottoms of my heels, deem them dance floor safe, and await further instruction. After 10 minutes of hallway loitering, I hear my designer's name called. I shuffle into the studio with a handful of other girls—some sporting heels, some suffering barefoot humiliation.

The dance space is enormous, with tall white walls and a waist-level ballet bar bordering the room. I pray that my unorthodox shoes don't leave black rubber marks on the floor. Glancing down, I notice white string and blue tape outlining a makeshift runway. It looks horribly confusing at first, but once I walk it a few times, I realize that it's simply a series of right angles and an elevated platform. The hard part will be the choreography.

Each designer has roughly a dozen looks to feature over the course of one or two songs. The key to the choreography is timing it so that a model isn't left onstage when the music stops. This is what happened to me during the Hopefuls' set in 2005—a little anxiety dream come to life.

Of my three designers, Labrador has arranged the simplest choreography. Designer Barrett Johanneson has put together a troupe of five men and five women to showcase his spring collection. We strut the catwalk in boy-girl-boy order; I am model number three.

The set opens with a female model stepping onto a platform at the start of the runway. A male model follows, walking the length of the catwalk, then striking a pose. For men, this means just standing there, manfully. The two switch positions, pose some more and make their exits. The process repeats five times as goof-groovers Dance Band wail away on the rear stage. The moment I leave the runway after my Labrador walk, I'll strip down, and get ready to shine for George Moskal . His all-girl ensemble will sashay to Black Blondie and appear onstage twice. It's great recognition for his work, but double the choreography for his models.

Thankfully, my first appearance for George Moskal is identical to the Labrador routine; I can do this. But the second arrangement is a little trickier. I have to remember that I'm not walking to the platform or the end of the runway, but somewhere in between. And my placement on the stage is crucial, because another girl needs room to walk around me. We run through both routines with the music and, though the timing is off, the choreographer seems happy. I'm surprised to notice that most of the girls don't take any notes. Do they honestly expect to remember all of this? I wonder. If one person screws up, it could throw off the rest.

The choreography gets even more complicated during Anne Selden's set. Walk to the end of the runway; pose; exit; walk to the end of the long segment; remove jacket; pose; switch positions with model on right; pose; exit. If I can successfully complete this routine, I deserve $10,000, my own fashion spread in Elle magazine, and an appearance at New York's Fashion Week. (I'll settle for not looking like the slow kid in the school assembly.)

After the Anne Selden run-through, I head for the door and receive some shocking news: Rehearsal is not over. It's time to meet with the runway consultant.

Two-dozen models form a line along the mirrored wall in the dance studio. One-by-one, we walk the entire length of the room as Diondre, our walking specialist, shouts, "Butt out, shoulders back!" "Too much arms are gross!" "Keep it simple, keep it cute!"

The unfortunate girls who don't have clean heels teeter across the floor on their tiptoes like wobbly ballerinas.

When it's my turn, Diondre stops me mid-walk and shoves my pelvis out. "You need to lengthen your stride," he says. I continue walking and pretend that my crotch is magnetically attracted to the wall.

We walk for Diondre four times. Some of the girls are naturals, hitting their marks with ease, while others march like kindergarteners in their mothers' shoes. A male model slips in during the third go-round and Diondre is apathetic.

"Guys?" he says. "No one cares." The man escapes critique-free.

Once every girl's stride has been thoroughly analyzed, we're turned loose. As I pack up my camera, someone hands me a sheet of paper with a checklist of pre-show dos and don'ts. It looks pretty self-explanatory (arrive make-up free, no nail polish, wear clear deodorant), but one point makes me chuckle. Sixth item down, in all-capital letters: WEAR UNDERWEAR.

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