Lessons from the runway | Ashley Zygmunt runway show at the 900 Shops | Photo gallery
I’m just going to go ahead and say it: After three years of reporting on Chicago fashion shows, I was sure I’d be a terrific model.
At 5’7”, I’ve got the height. I’m not scared of plunging necklines or short skirts. (Ask my friends about that last one.) I once walked in high heels from the Merchandise Mart to Will’s Northwoods Inn at Racine and Nelson.
So when local designer Ashley Zygmunt, a Zac Posen prodigy who crafts ultra-feminine silk blouses, skirts and dresses under the label Zamrie, asked me to model in her spring show at the 900 Shops (she planned to pepper in members of the media among her real models), I cleared my calendar. Actually, I wrote “Marissa’s Modeling Debut” on it in big letters and alerted all of my friends.
They say to really understand someone, you should walk a mile in his or her shoes. I needed only about 50 feet. Modeling is hard.
The easy part: getting runway ready. At Sine Qua Non Salon in Lincoln Park, April Eslami, my stylist and a former model herself, meticulously va-va-voomed my locks with the perfect ratio of Bumble & bumble thickening shampoo, hair dryer and flat iron. She also showed me how to walk. “Pretend you’re taking a sobriety test,” she said. “One foot directly in front of the other, in a straight line.” She flounced across the salon like a pro.
Sine Qua Non’s Anna Schwabero, a former artist, labored over my makeup for nearly 45 minutes until my eyes looked like a deep purple sunset. At the 900 Shops, Ashley’s assistant led me into a small curtained dressing room behind a larger curtain blocking a makeshift runway, where I changed into a navy Nicky tunic (read: a silk dress that barely covered my butt) and a long chain necklace, both Zamrie originals, plus sturdy brown fishnet tights that Ashley had picked up at Ricky’s, a wacky costume shop in New York.
Backstage at a runway show is exactly how I pictured it: a gaggle of gorgeous women running around hollering about shoes. Folding chairs set up as styling stations, with tangles of cords from hair dryers and curling irons plugged into various outlets. All in a back room strewn with cases of vitaminwater.
Here’s the hard part: the runway walk. TOUGHER THAN CHUCK NORRIS. I’m a reasonably confident person, but when I emerged from behind the curtain and had to start striding—just for a test walk, mind you—I froze. My gait suddenly seemed clompy. “Slow down, Marissa!” yelled Ashley. I looked over to see her holding her hands up as if she was calming a horse. Easy now!
I fled to the back hallway and tried to focus. “Arch your shoulders back,” said my friend Katie, a fellow media model. “Relax your shoulders!” called out one of the caterers, who was prepping hors d’oeuvres for the guests.
In the end I gave up, downed several glasses of wine and just walked like me, only slightly more awkwardly. Did I look like a real model? Probably not, evidenced by how my eyes seem to be goofily closed in all of the pictures. Did I care? No. Once I let loose, the whole thing was not only terribly fun, but left me with a whole new admiration for professional models.
And the real question: Did I get to keep the tunic? Sadly, no. But as soon as it hits Zamrie in fall, I’m buying it. Although in the real world, I might need to pair it with jeans.