by rosie viva ~
Although I have so much to say about my experience as a fittings model, I have really struggled to write the first few sentences of this article – I’m not really sure, even after doing fittings on and off over the past few years, how to define it or explain it to people properly in a short sentence or phrase. I’ve also wondered whether to begin writing this, knowing that the role is not often regarded as particularly glamorous or one a lot of girls would choose not to associate themselves with, even if they have had a similar experience to the one I have had.
To anyone who has never heard of the role – the phrase ‘fit model’ might at first sound SO arrogant. (If you google the phrase the search just leads you to a huge collection of models with ridiculously toned bodies). Within the industry, on the other hand, I assumed the phrase may have a greater understanding if I mentioned it at a casting/on set. However, through explaining my own experiences, I have come to realise how few girls who have done this job go on to speak about it when meeting clients afterwards.
The first time I came across the term ‘fittings’, I was watching the documentary ‘Dior and I’. The same model re-appears throughout the documentary, walking up and down in the clothes, yet never once looking particularly made up for the occasion – despite being in front of Raf Simmons and some other amazing designers throughout the collection process. She always seemed so at ease yet powerful – and made the couture collection look stunning throughout the film. The documentary stuck in my mind, it was honestly the first time it occurred to me just how long the process of creating a collection takes for a design team, the steps involved and the story behind each one.
A few weeks after signing with my agency in London I got an email with the title saying ’Yves Saint Laurent casting’. I honestly could not believe it. Before joining Select in October 2015 I had never worked for any high fashion brands, nor believed that I could – my Mum and I just sat there in complete silence for a few moments, taking in the fact that email had just arrived on my computer. The email went into a lot of detail (beyond the usual address/time of the casting) – explaining that the job would be a long term one (if I got it) – based in Paris, working every day with the design team for their A/W 2016 collection. At the casting there where two other girls, one from LA and one from Sweden – both just flying in for the same reason that I was. We were all different heights and looked nothing like each other, so I couldn’t really figure out what the criteria were. The casting took all of ten minutes – I tried on one classic YSL black trouser suit in front of about 8 people, walked in it, then took it off and stood in my bra and pants while they took all my measurements and jotted them down in a spreadsheet that I could see said ‘Le Mannequin’ in the top hand corner. Weirdly, it wasn’t your usual height/waist/hip measurements people need to get an idea of your dress size, but they took unconventional dimensions from me, such as my head size, neck length, and knee to floor length. They didn’t make any comments on what they were writing down.
I realised the fact that all 3 of us in the casting room were different, no longer mattered and that they were just collecting our details in case we got given the job – so they’d know the ‘mannequin’ they’d be working on head to toe (quite literally). It suddenly hit me that experiencing the inside of an iconic fashion house is one most people may not get to do – unless you intern for years/design until you’re appointed a designer there, or work in the atelier itself – through years of learning the ropes and impressing the right people. Being a fly on the wall as ‘The Mannequin’ suddenly became a bit of a goal of mine, I was really taken by the quick glimpse I got of the YSL atelier while at this casting.
Expectations of course change as your career progresses, but honestly, even now, that will still be one of the best days of my life. I have never felt happier and more excited to share the news with my family that I’d be starting work for such an iconic brand, and given the opportunity to live in Paris. To be completely honest I still had no idea at this point what the role involved. I was put up in a hotel for the night – had a bath, ordered a steak to the room & fell asleep at about 8.30 PM very overwhelmed. I wrote my diary entry out that night on a piece of paper by the bed, saying ‘omfg’ at the bottom. The next day ended up being day 1 of 3 months with YSL, mainly consisting of 6 day weeks.
Some days the design team would only need me for 4/5 hours – other days we would start at 9 AM and finish at 11 PM. Every day was filled with trying on pieces, amending them on me and de-briefing the atelier on what needed to be changed before repeating the process the following day. In the afternoons we tended to move to a huge meeting room, where I’d walk in each piece from the collection to highlight to the designers any faults with the way the clothes moved/fell on me. Some days we went to the factories a few hours out of Paris, and tried on the whole collection in front of them to explain how each one needed to be made – almost treating the collection like a baby, where the mum felt the need to go and physically show the factory what to do, instead of sending details over email. Twice I was also taken to Florence to meet leather factories with the team.
I found it quite difficult to feel completely at ease not speaking or understanding much french – but having been told on day one not to speak during working hours, it hit me that in such a huge company with so much pressure to get things done – the ‘mannequin’ needed to be a very robotic role. This really forced me to concentrate on what was going on each day/trying to read from the design team’s body language and tone how the collection was getting on in their eyes. My understanding of French also improved tenfold – although it did take me about two weeks to realise ‘jolie’ was not the mannequin before me they kept referring to/raving about – but in fact an appreciation of the collection coming together. The collection seemed to be never-ending, with every piece having about 5 shape variations or 10 colours.
Fittings are indeed very exhausting, as you’re the only person in the team who can’t sit down all day, but you get used to it very quickly. I feel as though at YSL I concentrated on understanding the physical process of how a collection is made. On the other hand, it was my second contract after this (at Celine) – working with a team of English speaking designers – where I saw the creative aspect of how a collection is made, being able to join in with conversations about inspiration and ask as many questions as I could over the months I was here. I also got to know the design team on a personal level without the language barrier and learnt quickly why they were in the amazing positions they all are – each incredibly talented, patient, kind and hard-working.
I started my contract with Celine almost the week after YSL. Before the casting for the job, my booker rang me to say Phoebe Philo was looking for a girl to work with her Spring design team. At first, I was reluctant to tie myself into another 3-month role abroad, enjoying the thought that I may have my weekends back – but going into the London offices for the casting completely changed my mind and got me so excited to work for the brand. Celine’s office at the time was in a building in London on Cavendish Square in a huge old townhouse with so much character but bought up to date inside with whacky furniture and amazing rooms filled with old ID magazines, endless vogues and mood boards. At Celine, every designer enjoyed referencing the archives where ever they could, continuously finding images online, then trying to make pieces of a similar nature but with the Celine touch. There was no pattern to when new pieces were added – sometimes even stemming from me putting a top on as a skirt by accident. The design team on this collection was a solid 6 (plus two interns) and we ended up doing a lot together – from late nights debriefing factories on how to make the clothes like the atelier did, to lunches/evenings together unwinding at the end of busy days.
My days where pretty much 9.30 AM – 7 PM, yet in the last few weeks ended up being till 9 PM most evenings – with some Sundays included. I couldn’t believe (while I was only there for 3 months) that the designers I was working with were between 1 and 30 years into their careers. We worked ‘between’ London and Paris (with ateliers in both cities) sometimes spending the morning in Paris then getting the Eurostar for an afternoon meeting in London, yet going back to Paris again afterwards to be there again for the following morning. In total, I got the Eurostar 63 times in 6 months doing fittings.
My 20th birthday I knew we had a lot to get through before a 9 AM meeting the following morning so I kept quiet and didn’t mention it – only to end up having the best one yet, I was surprised by the whole building with a cake and signed card from everyone. I found it so difficult to say goodbye to everyone on my last day, Celine definitely has a very special family feel – and I could not be more grateful to everyone who made me feel so at home over those few months. The end of a collection was almost sad for the atelier – saying goodbye to the pieces they had been working on. The design team all take two weeks off after the Look Book shoot or show, then come back and start work on their next collection.
There are so many girls I look up to within the industry who have started their careers as a fittings model – yet I only know this from the grapevine (not because they have ever posted anything about this stage of their career on social media etc). Although on a daily basis I loved seeing the process, the hours involved did, of course, make it very mentally challenging at points – especially days where I’d only sit down for half an hour or so. Living in Paris was the best part of the whole thing, exploring a new city as a resident rather than a tourist and I’m so grateful to have had an insight into two iconic brands.
Can’t say I am entirely sure how to conclude this essay, but thank you to anyone who has got to the point! For me fashion is very personal, I see what I wear as my way of expressing myself and allowing myself to feel comfortable leaving the house. Learning a little more about the old fashioned processes still going on in Paris gives me some hope not everyone is consumed in fast fashion, and I will be constantly looking on Depop/eBay for vintage Celine for the rest of my life! Phoebe Philo is an icon.
Rosie is the cofounder of Covert jewellery: https://www.covertjewellery.co.uk/. Covert donates a percentage of all profits to Papyrus a suicide prevention charity working in the UK.
Rosie is also the founder of Viva Fever an events platform focused on mental health awareness in the UK. Check it out here: https://www.rosieviva.com/about