Sunday, June 8, 2014

Part 1: Allegra's Story

New York, London, Milan, Paris.

As a model I was familiar with hotels in each of these cities. Believe me, the star treatment does not exist for models in the hotel industry unless you’re Naomi Campbell and no one else can be Naomi Campbell. I would usually land around 6am in Charles de Gaulle Airport and arrive in a taxi to my hotel looking trashed in a big t-shirt and jeans. I would hop into the shower and run off to a shoot by 8 am. The hotel staff probably thought I was transporting drugs or something.

 I wasn’t the best model and that is why I only lasted two years. I was mainly a runway model and not a print model. I was too awkward with myself physically to be a good runway model too. I had the skinny, lanky looks but never the booming confidence of a Giselle or the mysterious air of a Mariacarla Boscono. The only print advertisements my agent wrangled for me were for a few hair straightening products in which they loved showing my kinky hair in the before picture then adding a wig on top of my head for the after picture in fake long straight silky hair.

I am really shy by nature and suddenly being thrown into the spotlight was distressing, but also exciting because I had never been so close to the fashion world before. Walking on a runway filled with important people you read about in magazines or see on television with all their eyes on you, cameras flashing and music thumping while trying to look serious and walking down the run way in time to the music. I walked the runways for Prada, Versace, Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana and for smaller houses that are now just as big such as Proenza Schouler.

Gone are the Glamazon days of Linda, Naomi and Christy. When I started modeling models were just clothing hangers that did not need personalities to fill out the clothes. Actually, you were never encouraged to fill out the clothes completely but to glide across a stage as a shadow with the only interesting aspect  or focus was the  latest half ripped or digitally printed dress.  Every model was a blonde or brunette clone with the same measurements same walk and same blank expression. I no longer wanted to be the olive skinned clothes hanger only called upon for the before part of commercials for kinky hair and for photo shoots that were "gypsy" inspired.

But despite my brief career, I went to the best parties of my life while modeling. Something about being surrounded by beautiful people in a party that makes you want to continue partying since the outside world was a lot uglier but just as cruel as the inside. I wore the slinkiest dresses, got high off champagne and weed and slept with the most gorgeous men. Parties were outrageous after fashion week especially in New York. One year after some of the girls and I had finished the Marc by Marc Jacobs runway show we trekked over to Brooklyn to a warehouse party. It was literally raining men in the warehouse. Shirtless men suspended mid air from chandeliers just dancing and having a good time. When we got there around midnight the place was packed and everyone was on the happy part of their buzz dancing and enjoying the warm night. My friend Shane and I quickly ran to the bar to drink some shots and ran to the dance floor to just let our end of fashion week energy out and all over the place. I went back to my hotel with one of the dancers and the rest is now a good memory. It was one of the best parties when the people, music, and mood was just right and that only happens once in a blue moon.

I guess everyone’s story starts with being discovered. As if I didn’t exist in my San Francisco bubble before Anton, my agent, found me. I was in my senior year of high school when my friends and I decided to skip school that day and go to the Haight and Ashbury. Our goal was to buy some weed and hang out at Golden Gate Park after making a quick munchies run to McDonald’s off Stanyan Street next to the Rasputin record store. I was incredibly high while walking towards the park with my faithful buddies, Arianna and Karen, while stuffing french fries into my mouth. Since I was so preoccupied with my fries, I bumped into Anton on the street and my Happy Meal fell to the floor. I was so upset because I was looking forward to the apple pie stashed into my little cardboard Happy Meal box  that I forgot in my haze that I had bumped into a human being and not a pole. Anton stood there just staring at me as did Arianna and Karen in their weed induced silence. This process seemed to be taking eternity and I thought it was just the weed in my system making me paranoid, but this man was staring at me in a strange way. I normally would give him my usual scrappy street foul mouth, but I was too high to attempt any smart back talk. He fished around in his pocket and stuck a card in my face while I was still lamenting my apple pie.

"Sorry about that. My name is Anton and I am a modeling scout and agent. You know, I think you would do well in modeling, especially if you stop eating McDonald’s. Here is my card, give me a call if you are interested. My office is in the Marina district. Hope to see you there and sorry for making you drop your food.”

 After much excitement from Arianna and Karen, they convinced me he wasn’t some street pervert and an actual agent so I called, and I guess you can say the rest is history. Allegra (aka me), the kid from San Francisco started her career in the fashion industry.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Part 2: Making Up My Mind

Anton quickly became my surrogate parent. I would call him whenever I needed help or advice such as when I broke a heel on the way to a casting meeting in the middle of Paris in the rain. I frantically called him and he calmly gave me directions to the nearest shoe store so I could replace my heels. He also told me exactly the type of heel to pick out in the store. A simple black sleek heel with no embellishments and he gently reminded me to straighten my ponytail in case the rain had made me lose my composure.

Anton moved from New York to San Francisco to take care of his dying partner, Will, whose last wish was to die in his hometown of San Francisco. Next Model Agency was sympathetic since he was such a high producing agent so they allowed him to open a San Francisco branch while he took care of Will. A couple of years later, Will died of esophageal cancer with the love and gentleness of Anton by his side. Anton stayed in San Francisco and decided it was his only home, even though he was originally from Marseille, but San Francisco contained happy memories of Will on every street corner. Like me, even after traveling the world and experiencing cities even more exciting and beautiful than San Francisco, this place of hills and fog would always be home.

I realized after a couple of years of traveling from one fashion week to another that I was getting old and that modeling was not going to be a life long career for me, It was a weird thought for someone in their early twenties  to have, but that’s the fashion industry. I didn't want to be part of a story anymore, but I wanted to tell a story. Anton had a whole pitch to sell me to designers saying that I was the new Christy Turlington. I am definitely not Christy Turlington because no one can be as magnificent as her. I had a passing similarity to her and our backgrounds were similar, bu I was darker skinned with an olive tone and had dark eyes and curly hair.

 Also, I had a nagging feeling that I was slightly off target in my career aspirations. I enjoyed fashion, but not just as a mannequin but I wanted to express myself. On the weekends, while stuck in a hotel room waiting in my room for my next flight I would rip t-shirts and dresses and design a new outfit. I’d wear these improvised outfits before a show and some of the other models would comment that it was really cool, or I would be snapped by a fashion blogger and posted on a blog and get lots of positive feedback. The one place I always felt the most comfortable was at fittings in a designers studio. Each studio was different but the creative discussion of each stitch and how it should fall on a model was always something I looked forward to in fittings. Once during a fitting at Suno, a funky design studio inspired by African textiles I was so interested in asking about the prints and touching the fabric instead of standing still while they took my measurements. The designer was so upset that I wasn't focused on staying in one place for my fitting that he dropped me from the show. That’s when I decided that I needed to study fashion design and quit modeling.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Part 3: Central Saint Martins

Being accepted to Central Saint Martins in London was a step in my new direction. At least modeling had allowed me to save enough money to enroll in school and live comfortably for the two years I would be in London, but I had to be diligent. I did not mind selling some Chanel freebies I had received at shows to pay for a new pair of scissors or a sewing machine. The moment I stepped into the dimly lit hallway of Central Saint Martins and saw a student in a green Mohawk and a jumpsuit spattered in paint, I knew I was in the right place.

In my Digital Patterns class I had a group project which allowed me to meet one of my best friends, Ryan. Ryan was an already well known street style blogger gone to fashion school. He was originally from New York city and had decided to go international rather than study at Parsons. Ryan’s signature look was all white skinny jeans, white button down shirt, white shoes and a big Louis Vuitton purse he carried everywhere in the crook of his arm. His usually accessories were his oversize tortoise shell sunglasses (he wanted to be the male Jackie O) and big rings either gold or silver depending on his mood, but he almost always stuck to his all white wardrobe.
He could spot a designer bag on a woman a mile away and tell you the price of the bag in several countries at that moment. He had a keen eye for cost and calculating numbers in his head of how much cloth per square foot would translate into the price of a dress. Both his parents were accountants who would constantly discuss numbers and price of everything in an increasingly expensive New York, which eventually led to their divorce.

Ryan and I became inseparable in school. Our classmates would call us The American Pair, but as far as I knew we were very different Americans. I was West coast and he was East coast but we met in between with Ryan’s witty sense of humor and calculating brain and me with my laid back sense and big designing vision.