What It’s Like to Be a Model at Melbourne Fashion Festival

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Tuesday, March 8, marked International Women’s Day. It also marked my second time strutting down the Melbourne Fashion Festival Runway, as a curve model.

Arriving at the fashion festival is always a mixture of chaos and excitement. There are people with lanyards, coloured hair and designer shoes. The smell of La Labo fragrance is in the air, and beautiful people are running around in all directions. Someone is usually clutching a very full tray of coffee orders. There are a lot more high heels than usual. Everyone looks a bit stressed, but the overall energy is electric.

This year, MFF is being held at ACMI in Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD, which is currently abuzz with pop-up lounges, bars, exhibitions and projections of the shows, dedicated to MFF.

I went in for my fitting — where you try on a bunch of outfits to see what looks/fits best, so the stylists can plan the show — on Sunday morning, and the room was full of wall-to-wall racks of designer clothes. Imagine the fashion closet that Stanley Tucci takes Anne Hathaway in to find an outfit in The Devil Wears Prada; it’s a slightly messier (but equally as exciting), version of that.

After trying on four different outfits, the stylist heading up the show I was cast in — Jana Pokorny — seemed pleased with her options. She had four potential outfits for me, which would most likely be cut down to two or three. “I’ll figure it out!” she told me, in her calming, cheery voice. One was a tight Anna Quan dress, which I secretly hoped she’d dress me in because it’s not often you see a curve model, walking down the runway in something figure-hugging.

For curve models, fittings are always a bit complicated. Unfortunately, many Australian designers still don’t go past a size 12, which means that oftentimes, things don’t fit properly. I still have to fight myself to not feel guilty when something doesn’t fit. I always remind myself that I wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear me. Fittings are also vital, as it’s near impossible to tell how an outfit will look on someone without trying it on. Because the MFF shows are live, the stylists and designers want to make sure that the outfits are going on the people that suit them most.

Arriving on show day, the energy is even more heightened than at the fittings. Walking into a room of models you’ve never met before is always intimidating, no matter how many times you’ve done it. For me, I always feel a little separate — simply because I feel different to everyone else. While the more “classic” models often work together on campaigns, and therefore know each other really well, work for curve models varies. We often don’t work with each other (it’s rare that more than one curve girl would be on the same job), and we jump around from campaigns, to e-commerce and everything in between.

To be honest, I think the industry is still figuring out where size diversity fits in. In my opinion, we should be scattered throughout more high-fashion campaigns and runway shows — but the progress is slow and steady.

I arrived, grabbed a lemon-flavoured, zero calorie Dash Water (a MFF sponsor) out of the fridge, and took a seat at the model’s table; where we all waited to get our hair and make-up done.

Backstage at a fashion show, there’s quite a lot of waiting around. While organisers are running around, getting everything from the lighting, catering, choreography and music ready for guests, hair stylists and make-up artists have to prepare over 20 models. Each show has a hair and make-up brief, which each artist has reference photos for. The show I was in was all about natural beauty; natural but neat movement in the hair, and a natural glow-y skin make-up.

Ready to slay. Backstage shot by Danielle Castano

The show was Runway 2, presented by marie claire, and the theme was ‘Power Woman’, with all female-designed looks, including Australian female designers like Lee Matthews, Oroton, Bassike, Anna Quan, Viktoria & Woods, Alemais and Nevenka.

Each model had two-to-three looks each, and we needed to do a dress rehearsal to make sure there was enough time to change in between looks, as well as to gauge what speed we’d have to walk to, to the music.

My second look was an Alemais kaftan. Photo: Getty

We did a few run-throughs. We were shown some simple choreography for the finale snake (when you all walk down the runway together), and we were coached on our speed and our eye-line (you’ve always got to look just above the model’s head in front of you, so you look focused, but relaxed). I had butterflies in my stomach as I realised that one of the outfits that Jana had chosen for me was the tight Anna Quan dress (the other was an Alemais kaftan). I was both excited and a bit nervous, TBH. Although I want to exude body positivity and represent the beauty of curves, it’s definitely the most exposed I’ve ever been on the runway, which was nerve-racking, being the only proper “plus-sized” model in the show.

Then, it was dinner time. We were given fruit cups. We all left — with our make-up on and our hair clipped down — and got sushi from across the road, and one of the girls’ sushi roll was yoinked out of her hand by a seagull. She screamed, and we had a collective moment of panic. Media were taking photos of us as we came back. It felt like a bit of a surreal moment; like something I might’ve daydreamed about once, but actually happening in real life.

As showtime neared, and we gathered backstage, the hair stylists and make-up artists went to work once more. Clouds of sweet-smelling hairspray formed above each model’s head, and the hairstylists tamed the fly-aways and revamped the volume. While someone was buckling up my black heel, someone else was touching up my lip gloss and someone else was rubbing moisturiser onto my legs and elbows. I wish I could take them everywhere with me.

Before I knew it, I was standing in line, ready to go on. The music was pumping, so loud and intoxicating that the floor was vibrating. Backstage photographers were taking my photo. “GO!” said the showrunner, looking directly at me. And there I went, strutting my juicy butt and boobs down the runway, in front of media and fashion lovers, in that tight Anna Quan dress and strappy heels.

A candid backstage shot, by Josh Howlett

I feel so powerful when I’m on the runway. I imagine that I’m walking down the street and everyone’s looking at me because I look ravishing. I turn my face on, I feel the beat and I strut it up. All the waiting, the lack of snacks and initial nerves are worth it, for that minute and a half on the runway.

That straight-off-the-runway feel. Photo: Danielle Castano

I honestly never thought that being a model would feel so empowering. Having a relatively negative experience in the fashion industry as a teenager, I never thought I’d be here, many sizes bigger and representing size diversity on current Australian runways. I feel really proud of myself, but also of the industry and industry leaders, for getting us to this moment.

You can find all the MFF events and information here.

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