A three-part mini-series about the trials of an older model
Part Two: The Test
Despite not having enlisted in the Grey Rebellion workshop, I've joined the rising tide of older and returning (that's me) fashion models, intent on ousting some of the Young Things from the pages of fashion and lifestyle magazines and the catwalk.
But first I must be accepted by the gatekeepers: The Model Agency.
A booker from top agency Mrs Robinson calls to arrange my Test Shoot. The camera must like me and the test will determine this. I have to get three trains and a blow dry before I get there, and am warned, 'Remember not to pose like you used to, Fashion's totally changed!' A bubble of anxiety wells up.
I book a massage the day before the shoot to get rid of a headache. 'OMG' I grumble to my husband, 'What if the massage makes the blow dry greasy and then the hair looks bad?' 'I think you'll find that's a first world problem' he says drily.
For perhaps the third time that day I mentally question this possible job choice: can I cope with giving so much headspace to my appearance? I mean, before today my legs hadn't seen a razor in months. Modelling at this stage of life feels more unnaturally high maintenance and pressurising than it did at 23...
I pack a mini-suitcase with clothes and shoes, stuff a bag full of every make-up item I own, and go to bed, it's fair to say, drained of confidence.
However, the shoot with Mark the photographer is relaxed and fun. Just a couple of years my junior, he talks incessantly, putting me at my ease. He doesn't seem too bothered about my clothes choices or rustiness. Neither does he give me much direction.
Mark tells me he does lots of tests with older models and that the work is indeed out there. "Classic", "Retro" or "Sophisticated" sections in agencies are responding to the "Silver Spend" or the "Blue Market" (that's silver hair and blue rinses to you and I). '60', says Mark clicking away, 'is definitely the new 40. And grey', he states, a significant twinkle in his eye, 'is the new black'.
Mark and I agree that women in this market have both style and money: advertisers would be missing a trick if they continued to irk them by constantly using 16 year olds. 'Daphne Selfe's still working at well over 80!' he laughs. He also quietly confides, though, that not all fashion photographers will shoot older models. There's still an uncomfortable stigma attached to age in fashion.
A week after my Test I call the agency. 'Oh yes, we've got the pics somewhere, hang on'. I hear shuffling papers and busy office sounds in the background and feel rather small as I wait to hear my modelling fate.
The agency explains that they will choose 10 pictures, and that I should do the same. Then we'll send our final selection back to Mark for retouching. Retouching! A whole new process for a luddite like me - it didn't exist in the early 90's - so I'm surprised when the agency selects a rather tired-looking me in a dress as a favourite. 'Don't worry', the booker reassures, 'he'll deal with it'. Although this easy digital altering runs against the current cultural trend, Jerry Hall's comforting words ring in my ears, ('I got a whole new career with the Digital Age'), and who knows, at this rate, I could even end up with boobs...
Weeks pass. I'm busy on a project and note that it's left to me to contact the agency. When I call the booker mumbles, 'Oh yes, I thought we'd dealt with that'. This doesn't bode well. She sends me the final images and I gingerly ask what they think of them. 'Well, we're not sure you're right for us: we need models who can do different expressions'. Bombshell.
In Part Three: The Reckoning (final instalment), I face the unerring judgement that will decide whether I'm accepted into the ranks of the Classic Model Army.
Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter