What I learned from a decade as a model
When I left my first modeling agency, I was 15 and had made the total sum of £ 27. This amount – initially requested, later explained via an agency spreadsheet breaking down everything they had deducted from my income over the past two years, including the cost of producing portfolios, sending photographs and travel expenses – was just enough to buy me a pair of vintage emerald-colored shoes with gold buckles on the toes. Like a more sorted Dorothy, I clicked heels and realized I was happier at home.
I’ve told this story many times, using it to illustrate the financial vagaries of a once ridiculously unregulated industry that I entered when I was 13. I’ve done. While money was certainly a factor in my conception of what modeling offered, this particular aspect always seemed to be a reward belonging to my adult future – or at the very least a 16-year-old me that would be enough. old to do it. fashion shows.
My immediate concerns were related to other things the industry had promised. These were more difficult to articulate, related to the kind of power rarely given to a teenage girl. The power embodied in the prestige of entering a world that my friends and I longed to be a part of, currently only accessible through the magazines we read. The power born of closeness to luxury (what could be more exciting at 14 than being donned in a black Chanel dress?) And the potential success that my agency told me was likely to come. Being able to be ushered in behind the curtain to witness the inner workings of fashion, full of sights such as studio lights and makeup stations and clothes racks with lines of designer heels underneath.
Of course, this was not about real power – more a kind of temporary status acquired by riding the backs of an industry where money comes in many forms. The chance to participate in the fantasy seemed reward enough.
Only since reading Giulia Mensitieri’s book The best job in the world, translated into English by Natasha Lehrer, that I feel I have found the right words for my experiences as a young model. Mensitieri’s book, an anthropological study of the fashion industry, contrasts the shimmering varnish of fashion with the hierarchies, financial insecurity and instability of employment that have helped build and strengthen this world. expensive. Through interviews with models, stylists, designers, interns and other players in the fashion ecosystem, Mensitieri removes the industry’s “dream shine” to identify the economic and social forces in play in this sphere, highlighting a rather tense relationship between commerce and creativity in the process.