An Asian woman with black hair, black pants, and black Uggs spots me immediately through the glass doors as I get out of the elevator. Usually I have a moment to gather myself, fixing my hair and putting on chapstick before I see a client; I am still wearing my Natasha and Boris rabbit fur hat when she opens the doors.
Her question is more like an assumptive demand than an actual inquiry. It’s the type of tone that makes you think it’d be easier to just play along and tell her that’s who you are and you’ll do anything she wants. Besides, we all just look the same to other people. German. Russian. Polish. Eastern Block.
She scans her memory bank. She’s flustered and has barely looked me in the eye for more than two seconds since I arrived. Her mind is somewhere else, namely getting a model in here for a last minute appointment with WWD. I doubt she even remembers asking to see me even though she’s only asked to see two girls.
“What size are you?”
She’s squinting and looking at me and I already want to tell her to fuck off because it would have said all of my sizes on the website and I wasn’t the right size, she shouldn’t have called me in. I don’t. Instead I tell her I’m a 2.
“Could you take your clothes off?”
We’re still in the lobby when she asks me this. Usually it’s customary to at least be led into another conference room with racks of clothes or perhaps a door of sorts. The fact that I’m naked almost as a profession doesn’t change the fact that this question/demand strikes me as a bit odd. I realize as I pull off my giant jacket that she must just be referring to removing my outer layers: coat, hat, scarf, gloves.
I got this casting last minute and I am entirely unprepared. I left my house with no makeup and only decided after much deliberation that I should take off the smeared mascara that I didn’t manage to get off in my shower that morning. Makeup removal isn’t my thing. Neither, for that matter, is application, of which I did none before I walked over to get coffee. My skin is splotchy and discolored from the cold and my own bad habits. I wish I had at least been able to put on some lip gloss.
As I take off my leather jacket I remember that this outfit is not intended to be disassembled. Without my coat and giant cream scarf from Catherine Malandrino, I look like your average run-of-the-mill lesbian in an oversized black shirt from American Apparel and a pair of high top sneakers. Some people might be endeared by this utter lack of pretention and finery. I do not think that these are those people.
The Asian girl leads me to see who I assume is the designer but she never introduces herself. She is wearing a leather poncho that easily took two cows to put together. Her boots are knee-high and have a patent leather strip running up the back. The designer stares at me and tells the Asian girl to get some dresses for me to try on. That’s the first test; they could have just let me go right then and there. That being said, her lack of enthusiasm is palpable.
“Did you bring your book?”
It’s the Asian girl again. At this point I feel like I’m running down a conveyor belt at a meat processing facility, being taken apart and chopped up, moved aside, assessed for quality. Before I was told to rush all the way up to midtown to see this client for a job happening that afternoon, I was sitting on the wooden windowsill of a coffee shop, sending emails off to people who matter, who could change my life so that I don’t have to subject myself to this shit anymore. So no, I don’t have my fucking book. And aside from that, this is showroom modeling. The people are coming here to make sure the clothes look good on a body and that people will perhaps buy them in real life. Buyers aren’t coming here to double check whether or not I’ve been in Vogue.
“Oh, God. No, I’m so sorry. They called me so last minute, I didn’t have time to go home.”
But she knows this. She’s the one who called me in.
The woman I am still just assuming is the designer tells someone to pick out the smallest dress available and have me try it on. It’s a Litmus test for fashion’s required BMI (ideally in the negatives). Admittedly, I am nervous. The girls out here are tiny and clothes are molded to their bodies. Zippers give me anxiety. Measuring tapes make me want to vomit, which would probably be a good career move if I just committed to that impulse every time. I’d fit into everything.
A woman hands me a silver dress with a lace top and a silk jersey bottom. Silver. The woman is overweight and think she knows more than I do. She tries to readjust the direction I am going into the dress but I know what I am doing; I try on clothes for a living. Literally. Later I will renegotiate the terms of my temporary hatred of her when she gives me a bathroom decorated with cherry blossoms and Chinese birds so that I don’t have to stand around an empty office naked and barefoot while someone tries to find me another tiny outfit to try on.
For now, we are still getting me into the silver gown. The neck hole is small and I take my ponytail out in order to get it over what is probably an unusually large skull. The woman comes to my left and starts with the inside corset zipper. I look down and notice that it buckles in a way that only means I’m probably an inch too wide for this dress. The dresser notices, too. “Uh, oh. This isn’t going to fit.” I tell her to try. I’ve seen miracles happen. I exhale and squeeze the ends of the fabric together and just like magic, I’m in.
The designer comes in. “Oh. It fits,” she says. She is surprised. She tells me to turn around. I rotate slowly and turn back to her face. She stares at me like people stare at paintings in the Louvre, sizing me up, assessing my value, determining just how much she hates my look. Her body language makes me think that she would have preferred it to not fit as she would have had an immediate reason to release me, but since they’re in a pinch and this job is supposed to start in less than an hour I know that she’ll hold on to me just as a last resort. Flattery knows no bounds in this sterile hell hole.
I am sitting on the floor tying my shoes when the next model comes in. Tatiana. The real Tatiana. I worked with her years ago, but I don’t say anything. She is half my size and she always has been. There is no fat on her thighs and she reminds me of a Russian version of those African tribesmen that blend in easily with giraffes. Well, that’s it for me, I think to myself. I put on my shirt and tell the Asian girl that I’m going to just wait in the lobby. “Yeah. Yeah. Okay,” rushes out of her mouth. No one here gives and shit and I hate them. I want to put my jacket on and just leave but I don’t.
I wait in the silent lobby with its brushed chrome colored laminate floors and white walls, listening to a janitor mop the corridors. Shush. Shush. Shush. Across from me are two chairs that remind me of knock off Andy Warhol “art” in 3D.
The door opens and Tatiana comes out wearing a sequined mini-dress with sheer sleeves. It hangs on her and she looks like an emaciated bird, a look that has ever eluded me because of my Dutch and German bones and a childhood dedicated to sports.
The designer comes in and just says, “Oh. She’s too small.” It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They leave her in the room to change into her own clothes. No one says thank you for coming. Similarly, no one has told me what they want to do with me. The Asian girl told me earlier to please just hold on a minute, which I’ve currently been doing for the last ten. Tatiana comes back out of the office, blonde and thin and foreign like every other girl here with cheekbones and big eyes.
She walks through the doors and leaves, probably annoyed that these people have wasted thirty minutes of her time. I sit on the red velvet bench and wait for someone to instruct me as to what to do. No one’s confirmed that they actually wanted to keep me here and I’m in a model holding pattern. After a few minutes I hear the Asian girl ask the receptionist to print out the card of Evelyn at Supreme. At this point I know they don’t want to keep me because if they’re still looking for girls and they only have ten minutes left and they still don’t want to use me…well, I’m not an idiot.
I start pulling on my jacket and when I catch the Asian girl’s eye for the third time in thirty minutes I ask her if it’s alright that I leave and if they want me they can call my agency. The Asian girl says, “Yeah, thanks. Okay.” I know they won’t. I walk into the elevator, annoyed and rejected. I get rejected every day, but generally you don’t see the inner workings of it. People flip through pictures and cards of me without me in the room, liking me, not liking me – but I never see it. When you do see it, however, it shakes you. It reminds you of your place in this world. Your lack of control. Your total and utter replaceability.