Travel

Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
25 Feb 2014
6:00 am

Model citizens turn out for Mercedes Fashion Week

Kulani Nkuna

The casting is swift. Hopefuls walk into a room, initially two at a time, to meet their fate at the hands of the three judge/producers of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg.

A model 'walks' for the producers of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week during a casting in Sandton, 18 February 2014. Picture: Refilwe Modise

The triumvirate, it seems, make up their minds the second the models walk into the room. And as if walking in two at a time is not rushing things enough, the models are asked to go in three at a time.

The overseers are courteous to the models for the most part. For models, finding work when there are a plethora of agencies involved and thousands upon thousands of competitors is a hard task, but the hunger is there, as the long queue illustrates. Most of the models are young – some young enough to be chaperoned by their parents.

Reality television shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway have given regular Joes insight into the workings of the industry and have, in some ways, attempted to steer it away from negative trends like eating disorders and what “suitable” body sizes and beauty are deemed to be.

Models 'walk' for the producers of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week during a casting in Sandton, 18 February 2014. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Models ‘walk’ for the producers of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week during a casting in Sandton, 18 February 2014. Picture: Refilwe Modise

 

America’s Next Top Model presenter and producer Tyra Banks has done a lot for black women in the industry and for women who are not as skinny as a twig. In fact, the third season of her show produced the first African American winner in Eva Pigford, who was shorter than the traditionally long-legged belles of the catwalk.

But locally, it seems, height and weight remain at the forefront. Contestants who catch the judges’ eye are measured against their portfolio cards.

Modelling on the catwalk may look like easy money, but the nervousness at this casting is palpable. Walking in toothpick thin high heels takes training. The judges constantly require the girls to walk faster, which always proves a challenge. Most immediately take their shoes off as the casting concludes. The discomfort sometimes shows on their faces and they walk as if their heels could snap at any given moment.

One of girls catches the eye of the judges – but they’re not too sure about her walk.

“I need you to strut and walk fast,” instructs one judge.

The girl retreats to her position and adjusts her heel. She executes her walk with aplomb, but the judges are doubtful. “You need to work on your hips; we need you skinnier than that,” a judge says.

“Next time I’ll be a whole lot skinnier than I am today,” she promises.

A model adjusts her shoes during a casting for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Sandton, 18 February 2014. Picture: Refilwe Modise

A model adjusts her shoes during a casting for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Sandton, 18 February 2014. Picture: Refilwe Modise

To the untrained (or more cynical) eye, the girl already looks like a stiff southeaster would blow her away.

There are equally tough requirements for the men who go into the casting with too much muscle as a result of too many days spent at the gym. One fellow came in wearing a vest showing his impressive muscles, but the judges were not impressed.

“It is detrimental to your career if you are too big,” one of the judges tells him.

“If you are too big you can’t fit in suits, and that will not be good.”

Most of the guys strut about with a fierce look on their face; some look like they are on their way to beat somebody up.

Luckily they don’t have heels to contend with…