I’ve never really been scared of stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m a curious and adventurous person, which is how a first-time model like myself– and a creative industries student– ended up in the world’s largest, student-organized fashion show: Mass Exodus. Ryerson’s annual exhibition of fourth-year, fashion design students’ work is not just a professional-scale display of the industry’s future leaders, but a celebration of the tenacity and craftsmanship fostered throughout their undergraduate years. Now it was up to me not to spoil the climax of a design student’s university career by appearing painfully amateurish on the runway– no pressure.
The month leading up to the show, I was put in contact with designer Elizabeth Barrette, who was interested in having me attend a casting. The morning of my audition, I learned that the designers largely use professional models. This may seem intuitive, given the scale of Mass Exodus, but it never crossed my mind that I would be asked what agency I was with (to which I awkwardly responded “none.”) I felt like my chances seemed bleak. After what seemed like no more than 10 seconds of walking before Barrette, I left the room in a daze, genuinely unsure of my performance. By nothing short of beginners luck, Barrette later emailed me congratulating me on making the cut for her collection. When I got the news I may or may not have joyfully skipped down the street while calling my parents.
A couple weeks after my episode of poised celebratory skipping, I met with Barrette for a fitting. I was already ecstatic to be modeling, but once I saw her collection, it fully sunk in that I was not only going to model, but the designer I was walking for was a fresh breath of creative air. All white with red embroidery details, Barrette’s designs were clean and strong, with sculptural flair and hints of delicacy. The focal inspiration for her collection was one of the first mystery genre novels, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. This influenced the overall clinical aesthetic of her designs. She fused that with embroidery inspired by Rorschach tests– definitely more conceptual than spring florals or ’60s Mod style.
The morning of the show– which might I add, occurred at an ungodly hour– professional makeup artists and hair stylists dolled me up. The real challenge that day was trying not to spoil the perfect crisp white of Barrette’s designs with makeup. It was a three-person effort to ease my head through the neck hole. It wasn’t until 30 minutes before the show that I experienced a shock of nerves from a caffeine-induced epiphany. What on earth was I doing with these professional models and how did I wing myself into this? I felt the need to crawl and learn how to walk all over again.
The wait to walk on the runway felt excruciatingly long, but when it came time for me to step out, adrenaline dissolved my nerves and I felt exceptionally badass on the runway. As I stepped out, I met the gaze of a herd of camera lens at the end of the runway and I shamelessly looked right back. The crowd looked faceless with the bright lights shining in my eyes. I took little notice of everyone around me as the dreamy electronic music helped me glide down the runway.
Much like my casting back in March, the experience felt like it went by in a flash. Backstage, my fellow models and Barrette were freaking out and tears were welling up. Thankfully this was because of our collective success and not because my walk went atrociously wrong. Looking around, I felt proud, not just of Barrette and my courage to model, but of all the other crew members who played far less romanticized roles in the show. Mass Exodus 2015 was a resounding success, and the runway lights illuminated the futures of the students that the fashion industry would soon be lucky to have as leaders.
Photos courtesy of Arthur Mola and Anna- Maria Stavridis.