by Jayna Valen
The modelling industry is an extremely competitive one, especially runway (catwalk) modelling. The more elite the agency, the more rigid the requirements for models. Malaysia’s modelling industry is more modest in terms of selection criteria and competitiveness, but still certain rules are non-negotiable.
What Do Top Models Earn?
According to Forbes, 36-year-old Brazillian supermodel Gisele Bunchen made $30.5 million in 2016 alone. She’s currently the highest paid model in the world. In the same year, Adriana Lima and Kendall Jenner earned over $10 million each, while Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevigne raked in approximately $9 million and $7 million respectively.
My Experience with Modelling
I was never a professional model. At 5 feet 5 inches barefoot, I’d fall short of most local and international catwalk height requirements. However, I’ve done some runway work in my late teens and early 20s, though I don’t consider that phase of my life anything more than interesting snippets of experience. I am also a woman of color, and if I am to be brutally honest, that fact wouldn’t have done me any major favors in showbiz, even if I fulfilled all other criteria to make it in modelling.
This is how I ended up modelling: Back in college, I often accompanied my bombshell-gorgeous friends to casting sessions and auditions. That’s how I got offers for local runway modelling shows. The pay was rubbish, but it was a lot of fun.
It also gave me quite a bit of insight into the world of modelling. I LOVE fashion. I grew up on Vogue, adored haute couture and worshipped Karl Lagerfeld, so it was nothing short of an amazing experience for me.
The early years of my ‘real’ career started in fashion and lifestyle magazines, and I helped out close friends on film sets. I also had my own column in CLEO, where I worked as a fashion editor. This gave me the opportunity to work with local and international models. It was hectic but I loved it more than modelling; directing photoshoots, doubling-up as a makeup artist, working with props, helping out in editing and post-production. Working with models and actors afforded me more opportunities to use my creative talents as an artist (which I preferred to being plastered in makeup and standing around in uncomfortable clothes for long hours). I’m just too restless, not to mention easily bored.
What are the Requirements for a Runway Model?
Quite a bit, especially if you’re looking at the big names in high fashion like Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Armani and Alexander McQueen. Local Malaysian standards are a little more lax, unless it’s an elite, famous agency.
International catwalk modelling standards are generally:
- Minimum height (barefoot): 5 feet 9 inches (6 feet for supermodels)
- Defined facial bone structure (high cheekbones, angular jawline)
- A very slim build (US dress size 4 – 8)
- Aged between 16-24
- Striking facial features
- A confident strut
- A clear complexion and healthy hair
- A significant number of followers on social media
Besides that, a model also needs to:
- Have a high level of self-discipline (schedule and timing)
- Stand and walk for long hours in high heels (females)
- Tolerate extended wear of thick makeup
- Be disciplined enough to exercise and eat wisely
- Work long and / or odd hours
- Have a lot of patience (lots of waiting, especially in full makeup and clothes)
- Accept criticism about their physical flaws
- Ignore backstabbing and catty comments from other models
- Travel at short notice
- Have a flexible personal schedule
- Have an understanding family / partner
In a Nutshell
Modelling can be great fun and often comes with a lot of perks. The all-expenses-paid flights, meals, makeup, clothes and other freebies, the beautiful runway setups, the famous people you get to meet and of course, all that glamor. However, it’s a short-lived career for most, as the industry is always ready to drop older models for the next young thing that comes along.
If you’re at that stage in life where you can consider modelling, I say go for it. If you’re fresh out of school, it would be wise to think of a long-term career plan while you try these experiences out. After all, you’re only young once. Just remember to have fun doing it and don’t take things way too seriously.
What Happens Backstage During a Modelling Show?
It goes something like this. Models generally have to be there about 2 to 3 hours earlier to have their hair and makeup done. If it’s a big show with many models, that could mean up to 4 or 5 hours earlier. You’ll be told to come in bare-faced and with freshly-washed hair.
The makeup artist will generally start with a makeup primer (something like a moisturizer), then a coat of foundation (pretty much skin-colored paint) to even out skin tone. Corrective makeup like concealer is used under eyes to hide dark circles, cover up redness from acne and so on. Then the rest of it goes on: eyeshadow, blush, contouring and highlight powders, eyeliner, eyebrow definer, mascara, lipstick, lip gloss, false eyelashes, setting powder and more, all applied with various types of makeup brushes and sponges. If special-effect makeup or face-painting is required, this whole process takes even longer.
The hairstylists will usually prime the hair with a serum or mousse, then blow-dry the hair section by section to the desired style. This can also be very time-consuming, especially for models with long hair. Hair spray is often used liberally on the finished look, and this is just for basic hairdos – more elaborate styles can require ribbons, feathers, pearls, rhinestones, lace and flowers.
Then, it’s time for the outfits. Models usually come in a few days before the show to have the clothing fitted for them (alterations done to ensure a perfect fit on the runway). Putting on the clothes is the easiest part unless the costumes are elaborate, such as in bridal shows. Once the models are dressed, it’s usually a long waiting process before they get to go on stage and model the outfit.
The waiting-in-costume part really sucks, because you can’t really eat or drink anything for fear of ruining the lip makeup. If the outfit is delicate, long or elaborate, it means you may not be able to go to the bathroom for a few hours (after the LONG process of waiting through the hair and makeup sessions, can you imagine holding your pee even longer?) You end up cursing the organisers, cursing the guys setting up the stage, cursing your fellow models with ‘easier’ outfits.
There’s usually a rehearsal or two before the actual show, so that models know their cue to go up on stage. The rehearsals also help models get the ‘feel’ of catwalk strut timing to the music chosen for the show. This part is really important so models are walking on and off the stage in sync and you don’t get some girls walking faster, some slower, or too many models on the stage at once. There are invisible ‘lines’ and ‘markers’ on the runway: places to stand and strike poses, the lines to walk along without colliding into the other models, etc.
Also, models need to be able to handle unexpected wardrobe malfunctions on stage (yes, it happens more often than you think). I remember modelling a saree at one show, and when I stopped at the end of the runway to do that momentary pose, I realized that the threads at the hem of my saree were caught tightly in my stiletto buckle. I panicked, standing there longer than I should, unsure of what to do next. I was afraid to rip the saree or pull it undone in front of the audience. So I did the best thing I could think of at that moment – I pretended to strike a few more poses, all the while twisting my ankle in various directions hoping to free the threads. Thank goodness it worked, and nobody noticed anything unusual. It was a good lesson I learned that day too: keep your cool even if you’ve messed up, and chances are most people won’t notice a thing.
Want to Get Started in Modelling?
First, you’ll need to decide what type of modelling work you’re interested in. If you don’t have the height for runway modelling, don’t despair. You can try petite modelling (height requirements are between 5’2 to 5’6) or just do print and media work like advertisements. There’s also plus-size modelling, body parts modelling and more.
Once you’ve decided on the type of modelling work you want to do, you can either sign up with an agency or do the rest yourself. This essentially means putting together a portfolio of professional photographs of yourself in various modelling poses. An agency may also teach you some basics to begin with, such as catwalk strutting techniques, how to style yourself and how to do your own professional makeup. If you ask me, however, you don’t really need an agency for these things. See if you can collaborate on a TFP (time for print) basis with photographers, fashion stylists and makeup artists – this means you don’t have to pay them, but they get to use your photographs for their own portfolios in exchange for their services. TFP is a good way for all parties involved to get more exposure and credibility in their own industries, especially if everyone’s just starting out.
Last but not least, develop thick skin. Be prepared for rejection and lots of it. Some clients can be downright mean and brutal. The thing to bear in mind is that rejection doesn’t mean you’re flawed or not good enough; the client probably just had a different idea in mind to begin with. Be resilient and keep trying. You may need to work without pay for the first few jobs until you have something to show for yourself (references, photos).
I will leave newbies and young aspirants with one word of caution, especially girls: be wary of who you work with in modelling. The industry is not short of its share of perverts, creeps and shady characters who are willing to exploit naive newcomers. Be very cautious and think carefully before you agree to work with someone, especially if they require you to pay money upfront, insist on nude or obscene shots and so on. Be VERY clear on what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not willing to do, and stand by your decisions. Respect your body. Tell a trustworthy person where you’re going when you start attending auditions or casting sessions – your safety is priority at all costs.