Catwalk Confessional p. I

Mary O'Regan

I am not a model. I'm tall and thin and a few years ago I did some runway shows as a favor to my friend, a local fashion designer. But as far as teetering around on stilettos, gulping vodka before noon, or subsiding on lettuce-on-lettuce sandwiches goes, I'm no model. But when I heard a few weeks 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 will take place April 11 in the First Avenue mainroom, gives budding Twin Cities designers the 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 brown 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 try-outs 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 have 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 5'7", and no larger than a size six. 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 skeletal figures on the catwalk.

Yet according to Anna Lee, creator and producer of Voltage, it's not an issue of body image, but one of uniformity, backstage space, and fabric. "We're trying to provide consistency for the designers to have similar body types," she explains over tea, a few weeks after the audition. It's more cost-effective, she continues, to make clothes for a size two than for a size eight because it requires less fabric. And, she adds, "Not everybody can walk the runway in a professional way."

Most of the girls I see in the studio meet these 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 try-out, 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 it out with pizza and feel a little giddy. Looks like I'll have my chance to relive that magical night after all.

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