Into a fashion model’s world
By Philippe Wojazer
Now I know where United Nations negotiators should be trained: in the fashion world!
If you want to cover a “not usual” story in the world of fashion, you have to learn what negotiation means. If you want to take pictures backstage at a fashion show, you have to be ready to send 120 emails and call the recipients to explain what you meant in your messages and hear “I am afraid this will not be possible”. But, once those people are convinced – they might change their mind the very next minute – but if they don’t, you enter the fashion and model’s world and realize, it was worth it. I didn’t know if I would be able to photograph this story untill the last minute. Once I finally got the accreditation for the Valentino show, the model had to be rushed to the dental emergency and was not guaranteed to work that day. But suddenly the clouds opened and I started seeing the sunlight of the fashion world.
My goal was to show the part of the fashion week we usually don’t see – a model’s life backstage.
I first met French top model Marine Deleeuw at the Elite agency flat where the agency gathers the models during fashion week. The young French woman, Marine Deleeuw, opened the door with a large smile, happy to welcome us (Elite press attachee and myself) into her world. I started taking pictures as soon as I entered amid beautiful early morning light. One thing I learned during the Haute Couture shows was that the models have to be at the show a minimum of 3 hours before (for the renowned houses sometimes 6 hours) so there was no time to spare.
The Valentino show was at 7:00pm and her call time was 3 pm. So at 8 we left the apartment to start the race. First to the agency to check all her train, plane, hotel, contracts for New York Fashion Week. Then, her eyes twinkled, an hour of shopping but just before, her agent told her that she had an unexpected casting for Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad so there went the shopping. We rushed to the Murad casting location. It was a welcome surprise for me, I wanted to take pictures of a casting and usually designers do not let you but when we arrived, I realized that the booker (person who hires models) was an old friend I had lost sight of for years. So I received the authorization to take pictures during the casting.
Once the casting was done (two hours), we were late for Valentino so we needed to race again. Arriving at Valentino, photographers are usually allowed a few minutes inside and I was planning to stay 4 hours, but Marine came to my rescue and with a smile and a couple of blinks of her eyes she convinced the security guard that my presence was absolutely crucial to her.
Backstage at a fashion show is like a hive – a lot of busy people running in all directions including make-up artists, hairdressers, seamstresses, all kind of workers and people but all very professional. Models are made-up, have their hair done, are checked, go back again to make-up, hairdressing, then everything stops for an hour of rehearsal. Backstage is then peaceful until the whole thing starts again. When the models are ready the dressing starts. There are last minute touches to dresses, ironing, shoes… A whirlwind during which the only steady person was me, the photographer, still and discreet or the penalty would be eviction.
I liked this assignment because I think it produced beautiful images of an often glamorous but sometimes tough world.
On Sunday Marine left for New York where she will attend fashion week there. For a photographer being on the “dark side of the moon” is always a great opportunity – an opportunity to meet people, to see and to understand.