A Runway Model: Here’s What New York Fashion Week Is Really Like

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Ivey Mansel
San Francisco 

Today’s good. I’m in Hawaii, but it’s the last day of vacation. I got my real estate license at the end of last year though and just started out in San Francisco. So when I get back I get to deal with a crazy lender, which is worse than a crazy buyer. The buyer is really sweet, but she’s backpacking through Greenland right now without internet and cell service so she’s missing the entire rodeo. I got into real estate because you reach a point as a model where you can’t take it anymore. Real estate agents always laugh when I say this, but I was honestly looking for some more stability in my life. The joke is that being a realtor is an incredibly unstable profession, but I’m pretty used to that, so those ups and downs aren’t a big deal.

I started modeling in Seattle before I moved to Los Angeles. I’ve done jobs in Singapore, Australia, London and Italy. I’ve lived in Athens, Greece, and shot a Sony commercial in the Czech Republic for two weeks once. It’s a thousand percent not the stuff you see on America’s Next Top Model. If you’re lucky you only have one other roommate on a twin mattress from Ikea. It’s the same standard setup in every model apartment — the cheapest crap they can find. It’s a trip: “Oh, this is the same bed I slept on in Singapore and now I’m in Prague.” Americans tend to be over 18 but a lot of girls from other countries are 14 or 15. I remember in Hong Kong there was a girl who had her 16th birthday at the model apartment. Her family saw modeling as an opportunity to make money

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“One of those ’Welp, my nipples are out’ runway shows.”

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When I was 10 I remember looking at the Sunday newspapers and seeing Nordstrom ads and thinking, “Oh, I could do that. That looks fun.” I wanted to start modeling when I was 7 or 8 and my parents resisted for so long. Finally my mom got sick of me pestering her and took me to an agency. I booked a job with Nordstrom the next week. I had to start paying taxes when I was 10. It was my responsibility to do it. I also invested some of the money I earned when I was a teenager. My older brother was in an economics class in high school and created a fake a stock market tracker. I got supercompetitive, so while Kevin was fake tracking, I bought stock in Starbucks. I’d literally go and grab the newspaper and look at the Nasdaq.

But my first fashion show was a trunk show for Chanel. I was the show opener, which was a big deal. I was 15 or 16 — I remember doing my driver’s ed homework backstage. But there were a ton of men, makeup artists, hairstylists, production crew, audio, cue people, lighting people … and here I am at 15, going, “Um, I need a place to change.”

This older model was like, “Get dressed. You don’t have time to be modest.”

I remember trying to cover myself as I was changing. But when you come back in off the runway, people are ripping things off you, so that modesty goes out the window real quick. One time I had to wear these 6-inch spiked stiletto heels. I remember looking at them — the heel was a pearl and the strap was a gold chain — and thinking, “I’m gonna die. This is not going to end well.”

There was a grand staircase I had to walk down and those lights on the runway are blinding. The whole time I was thinking, “Oh, God Jesus, please.” I’ve never fallen but I did have a wardrobe malfunction. Once I was doing a runway show for WESC — a very Euro brand — and as I was walking I could feel something start to slip. But you can’t do anything about it, so by the end of the runway I was completely topless.

I’ve done three seasons of New York Fashion Week, in 2010, 2011 and 2012. I had done big fashion weeks before but obviously New York is the biggest. It’s such a mixed bag of emotions. You think it’s cool to be there, then you think about how disgusting it is. Fashion Week is 22 castings a day for the two weeks leading up to it. Twenty-two castings and getting screamed at by your agency for only making it to 13 or 14 castings a day because you’re a human being.

Or, getting told you’re “too fat,” “too thin,” “weird-looking,” “not exotic enough,” “too loud when you walk,” “not strong enough in the clothes,” “just no,” “NEXT!!!” “Oh, you look different than your pictures” 13 or 14 times a day. It’s suddenly sharing your apartment with 15 models instead of just seven, general bitchiness because they all starve themselves. Getting booked on four shows a day. Hair teased. Hair flatironed. Hair brushed out and ripped out, teased again and then braided around a fallen branch. Four wildly different makeup looks for each show and everyone getting sick because makeup artists don’t clean their brushes between girls. It’s having to get undressed in front of complete strangers and the press who take photos backstage. Wearing shoes that Jesus couldn’t even walk in but you’re expected to do it and not fall because nobody will ever book you again. 

People don’t realize how quickly things turn around to make the show work. It’s not like when you go to the makeup counter at the store and it’s a pleasurable experience.


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