A MODEL ASSIGNMENT 

 

 BY COREY LEVITAN

      To accompany my profile on Tamara Olson's independent mockumentary on the modeling industry, "Fashionably L.A.," I thought it would be interesting to tag along undercover with the young director -- who works as a runway model herself -- through a typical day.

      I could witness firsthand the cattiness among models as they bump their silicone-fattened egos backstage at fashion shows.

      I could witness how abusively they're treated on auditions, during which designers trash them for too much between-meal snacking.

      I could witness how consistently they're hit on by sleazy men.

      Unfortunately, none of these stereotypes rang true.

      I secretly sat in on a casting call at Olson's agency, and the process was thoroughly professional. The designer complimented all the models he saw, uttering nothing when they left. It was impossible to tell who was hired for his show and who wasn't.

      I tailed Olson at the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa, where she helped show an Italian clothing-store line. But all the models were gushingly friendly toward one another. And, although expensive wine flowed freely, none was propositioned by a patron.

      The only sleazy man in Olson's face all day was me.

      My conclusion was inescapably bleak: models may very well have it as good as we imagine.

      What a horrible article this was becoming. And what a waste of good access to stunning women who wouldn't talk to me once I stopped writing about them.

      With Olson's help, I pursued a better idea: posing as a dresser backstage at one of her runway shows. I would help a sexy model slink her sexy body into sexy clothes between rounds on the sexy runway. (Help! I can't stop typing "sexy"!)

      Nakedness is always my backup plan of choice when an article goes astray. But Olson didn't want her boobies in my article, so she volunteered her friend's. Janice Joyce is a stunning Tawny Kitaen lookalike. My job was to hold out a dress for her to change into every five minutes during the annual benefit fashion show for the Children's Hospital of Orange County.

      Swarming all around me backstage at the Anaheim Marriott ballroom were stark young creatures applying makeup in varying stages of undress. Would normal-looking women ever excite me again?

      Of course, to be a male dresser, these models needed to feel comfortable being naked around me. "If there's a heterosexual man in the room," Olson told me, "a model can spot him a mile away."

      I nabbed a bright green feather boa from Joyce's clothes rack and draped it around my neck. I was now free to gawk with impunity.

      "Rotate so that you start with your first empty hanger and put it behind your last change," said my new boss, Melissa the stage manager. I smiled and nodded, like in trigonometry when we got into cosines.

      "Do you have your clothes in order?" she asked. Melissa knew I was a fake, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to ride me like a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred.

      "Of course," I responded.

      The emcee's voice erupted as a distant muffle, followed by a bad disco version of "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From 'Titanic')." It was show time.

      "Your clothes aren't in order," said Effie Seymour, a 28-year-old dresser from Marina del Rey who manned the rack across from me. On the wall by each rack, she pointed out, was written the model's name and a series of numbers, in the order of the dresses to be worn. On each hanger was a tag with a corresponding number.

      My order was wrong. In addition, nothing was unzipped or unbuttoned. As I began frantically readying the garments, Joyce returned, hurling her last outfit at me in a ball and asking for her next. It was a dress with pink elephants in the front. I cringed. (The feather boa brought out my inner Mr. Blackwell.)

      But there was no time to focus on anything but Joyce's bra, which needed to be hooked in the back. I applied my nimble fingers to the task. But, try as I might, I failed. All those starry adolescent nights trained me only for the UNhook.

      It took 90 seconds for Joyce to make one pass on the runway. I was allowed three minutes to change her before she needed to line up for the stage again. A real possibility existed of my holding up the entire show.

      A sympathetic dresser named Grace Yu played cavalry, restraining Joyce's breasts correctly. I knelt down to get Joyce's pink pumps, humiliated.

      "Hang up your clothes, please!" Melissa admonished me once Joyce returned to the stage. Over a bed of high heels and empty Diet Coke cans, the floor in front of me was piling up like a blob of fuscia and teal. (OK, so I had to look those colors up when I got home.)

      A model named Summer was already digging her heel into one of Joyce's previous tops. Or was it a bottom? While the garments looked normal on Joyce, on the floor and in my hands they mutated into shimmering swatches of mystery. I was not used to doing any more with women's clothes than tossing them over my bed.

      I asked Summer to lift her shoe. She was topless, although that no longer seemed important. I grabbed the garment, whatever it was, and tried hanging it back up. But I couldn't tell which part of it was the top, how its holes lined up with the hanger or which outfit the garment went with. Furthermore, fishing line was strung between some of the hangers but not all of them, tangling everything I tried to put away.

      Joyce showed up again. I felt like Lucille Ball on the assembly line when the candy started coming too fast.

      "Unzip me please?" she asked. The back of her dress was completely open even though the zipper sat at the top. Her pink elephant monstrosity was now broken as well as hideous. This happened to me once with a ski jacket in junior high school. But my mom's zipping expertise was unfortunately not available to Joyce at that particular moment.

      It was dresser Grace, under fire, who saved my butt again. I handed Joyce her next top, a white piece of wire mesh.

      "That's not a top," she said. "It's an accessory bag!" Sure enough, inside were earrings, a belt and sunglasses. Giggling ensued nearby. I was the laughing stock of the other dressers.

      I would never dress in this town again.

      Somehow the end of the show arrived and Melissa congratulated me for "surviving the pounding."

      She said if this journalism thing doesn't work out, I should give her a call. (That's before she checked out the new hanging system I invented especially for Joyce's clothes.)

      Melissa said the job pays $25 an hour.

      "But I'm gonna make you dress guys from now on," she said.

 

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