New York Fashion Week | How I became a runway model!

9.07.2021


It was in the year 2019-20 that I lived my dream of being a runway model at the most prestigious fashion show in the world - the New York Fashion Week. As an amateur in Fashion Week shows, those seconds on the runway felt like a ticking time bomb.


                           Wearing Harlem Heaven Hats at Couture Fashion Week, NYFW

What happens if I lose my balance? Malfunctions are possible, or are they? What if I come to a halt due to stage fright? Is my smile elegant enough? Is my make-up still on point? Finally, am I even cut out to be a model?

The high expectations of excellence coupled with the elegance of movement and poise may make it seem as if each model is born with it; however, the truth is that it takes a lot of sweat and teamwork to achieve what may seem to many to be an impossible dream.


 
NYFW is back. From runways to interviews to behind the scenes, check out my experience as a runway model and a first time host. This was a chance of a lifetime as I not only got a chance to walk for them, but several other shows during the NYFW including the Couture Fashion Week , Downtown Fashion Week etc.

 



                                              My Ramp walk at AWF to Paris, NYFW
 
Yet I wouldn't trade it for a dime, as I learned so much. I remember the first time I walked and the sweat on my forehead. It was both terrifying and thrilling. Touchwood, God has blessed me that even during Covid times, I got published in two New York-based Magazines.


                              Published in International Fashion & Arts Magazine, NYC.

My family in India always warned me that modeling was not a respectable career. The tales of prying eyes lusting for the cobwebs of greed and superficiality continued to circulate. It wasn't until I took the plunge that I understood that, though I wouldn't refute these arguments, I can always admit that there are good people and bad people in my 1.5 years in this business.

Although no one speaks about goodness, people are eager to label the whole industry as trash based on what they've read about it, even though they've never worked in it. Coming from someone who wasn't born on a silver spoon but managed to smash it with grace, as did many of my peers, I'd say that not everything you hear is entirely accurate.

It is also necessary to be cautious than naive in this industry, as a few may be willing to take advantage of you. In some instances, you must know how to shove off men - I wouldn't say that creepy designers or camerapersons don't exist. They do, and you will get the hint. It's unfortunate when things happen to a select few; however, being vigilant matters for the most part. This holds for all industry; fashion it is a little more. I never felt the water running under the bridge. If I were uncomfortable around a designer or a cameraperson, I would say no. You must know where to draw the line.

Yes, a few models are lounging around; no, it isn't every one of us. If your fears are holding you back, it's time to learn the truth.

Shortcuts to being a model

1. Pageant Participation

Winning a prestigious pageant is a pretty sure way to gain immediate attention and connections. Participating in a pageant necessitates a high level of commitment, and the competition is fierce and reasonable. When judging the finalists, the talent round, their ability to walk confidently, their introduction, and their answers in the question-and-answer round are considered.

Most of us have already watched Pageants on television. I believe that each of us should participate in a Pageant at least once in our lives. If you win or lose, the possibilities are potentially rewarding in the long run. In the next blog post, I'll tell you about my pageant experience.







2. Paid Participation

Other opportunities may arise due to honing your modeling aspirations as a newbie, depending on the types of pageants you've completed. As a result, if you have an interest and manage to interact with the right people, pageants can be an excellent introduction to the world of modeling and even acting.

I discovered from my own experience that most of these opportunities cost the models extra, as participating in fashion shows would cost anything between $100 and $250 (in the United States). The choice is entirely yours; some people don't want to spend time looking for openings by the book, so these approaches will get you results quickly and with minimal effort. Depending on the type of Pageant you have participated in, the cost can be complimentary or vary.

I wouldn't rule out the possibility that specific organizers are taking advantage of your desperation to walk the ramp walk and charging exorbitantly on top of it. Even so, some genuine ones can be found through solid connections and ramp walks with reputable designers. Participants are less likely to be clawed because pageants are seen as respectful.

There are several different styles of pageants held worldwide, and it's essential to know which one will get you where you want to go and how prestigious it is. 

Miss / Mrs. India New Jersey was the more prestigious and well-known of the two pageants I competed in: IFAB Model of the Year and Mrs. India New Jersey. In the United States, it is done state-by-state, then country-by-country, and lastly worldwide.  It is by the same franchise as Miss India, so the participation stands solid and legit. However, one must neither disappoint themselves nor stop at just one pageant - there are several, and if we compare, they also give the same benefits as this one. In New York, there was Mrs. Bharat, Miss Tourism, Miss Bollywood, Miss Immigrant. There are plenty, but one must be eager to know what leads to where and what that pageant's motto is.

The winner is invited to prominent state events because they proudly represent the state and country from which they hail. Through the victory fund and invites, some of the winners end up undertaking charity activities. Overall, it's a fantastic chance for personal and professional development.

Pageants can also lead to acting opportunities. 

I know a few of my pageant-winner ladies who have acted given the opportunity. It could be a small role; it could be significant. It could be in a television commercial, a serial, a regional film etc.

When you see your real-life friends do it, all the rumors you've heard vanishes. So, I wouldn't suggest that the catastrophe stories you hear aren't true, but they aren't everyone's reality. Many people have broken the ice, worked hard, and gotten where they are sole because of their abilities.

My mom still refuses to believe it. Till about a year or two back, she didn't even think that one can be a model for real if they have no prior legit connections, and even if they do, the industry will heavily exploit them. None of that happened. The threat may be honest, but realities are beyond that.

My first modeling break occurred just after I competed in a pageant. During Pageant rehearsals, the contacts I made helped me land my first modeling gig in Nach Baliye USA, where I got to walk the runway with other contestants. Tarang, the organizer, instructed us to perfect our walks and practice in front of a mirror.



Following that, I approached fashion photographers and designers, who gave me a second chance and scheduled another runway walk for me. Following my pageant victory, I paid to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week's Couture Fashion Week as a first-timer. 



I later joined simply on the basis of relationships created and auditions without spending a dollar. So yes, there are both ways to participate. 

3. Going the Traditional Way!

  • Know your city's local fashion walks

Even though the ramp walks through Pageants were sufficient to establish some profile, my heart yearned for that extra mile where I could experience it as regulars do without having to pay money.

What if I wasn't a contestant in a beauty pageant? Did you know that the walks in Pageant are primarily different from the ramp walk? 

That's because the attention in the Pageant is on you; in the ramp walk, it's on what you're bringing out, i.e., the designs. And it isn't a cakewalk either. 

Since there is a lack of knowledge about ramp walks, people are intimidated when you tell them about your modest origins because they imagine you as a model from the start who knows everything.

You got the chance because you were in New York, as everybody claims. Yes, I believe that New York provides us with many choices, but as with anything else, you must take risks. Just because someone enjoys flying does not mean they are already a pilot.

Cut to the chase; as Pageant contestants, we were unaware that we still needed to get outside of our comfort zones and keep things going on our own because the Pageant's glory only lasts a few months before it becomes obsolete and stalled. As Pageant contestants, my friend and I began meeting new people, and one thing led to another.

I cannot overstate the importance of each stepping stone in this industry. Thanks to designer Philippe Valy, I got my first break as an impromptu model for his designs at an art exhibition. After that, I attended fashion gatherings with him and his team to Westchester Fashion Week Party by Joe Corbalis in New York(That is also where I met Saimaji), Scarsdale Fashion Week, and got featured in a pop band 'The Lox' by Mills Miller Productions. 





My friend Itishree (who has two young children) was more motivated than I was. We joined Facebook fashion forums as a result of her foresight. We would not have known about such fashion events happening every week in the city if we hadn't met Jewelry Designer Saima Chaudhry at an Indian Fair and walked for her.

Participating in local fashion events (whether at the Skyroom in Times Square or elsewhere in the city) helped us believe in ourselves. It also allowed us to get some fair practice on a smaller platform to let loose and let learning take its course.

We met many entrants from college, models modeling in their old age, models juggling their children and lives, and friends of models who were interested in giving it a try and were permitted to do so.

They instructed us on where we should walk, pause, and pose. It even included photoshoots and even after-parties for those who were able to wait and mingle. I also discovered that the majority of designers were aware of your requirements. If you were uncomfortable wearing something, you could respectfully decline, or you could tell them that you aren't, and they can give you something else to wear if they have.

In addition, modeling has something for everyone. You could be as reserved as the girl next door who has to use the restroom to change, or you could be someone who becomes relaxed, changing in front of select few (primarily females in front of female designers); at the end of the day, it becomes as professional as it is. 

Most people don't have time to assess the semi naked bodies, and since the show is time-intensive, everybody focuses on making it a success!

One must always be grateful for the crew in any fashion show. The makeup & hair artists, photographers, assistant designers, and designers themselves are all a team. So many times, makeup has transformed me into a better version of myself, and a few times also has been such that it made me burst into tears of disapproval. Hence, models need to learn how to do their makeup, angles, weaknesses, and strength despite everyone surrounding them for quick fixes. Of course, comfortable pair of high heels hurt no one.


                                                           The transformation with makeup!


During the same time, we met designers (such as Shamsun Elite, Natasha Berezhnaya, Pamela Quinzi, Dean John, Annitta Ausar, and Alexander Gurman) who wanted to exhibit their work in between New York Fashion Week months. 



Walking for designers Alexander Gurman, Natasha Berezhnaya, Dean John at Skyroom Lounge Times Sq;
These designers also had their shows at the official New York Fashion Week


We also encountered several journalists and photographers, some of whom worked for well-known publications and others who were just as eager to get their names on the wall as we were.

                    I really loved walking on Annitta Ausar designs on Vegan leather in a local fashion show.
 
One of the models from the show 'Dawn Mecca' invited me to be an award handler at Winter Film Festival Awards, NYC.

We might have done something if we had known it wasn't just practice but could contribute to something more concrete at the time. Wise models learned this early on and participated in NYFW and be featured on magazine covers. My friend and I also walked in a few shows with designers like Shamsun Elite, with whom we had previously walked in Skyroom.

                    Walking for designer Shamsun Elite in Couture Fashion Week, NYFW

  • Apply for NYFW Auditions/Castings directly

I believe that auditioning for New York Fashion Week on my own was a game-changer for me. I can set all of my previous experiences aside and conclude that this well-organized platform is incredible.

Castings/auditions are akin to exams for me, and I'm terrified of them. For seconds of your walk, you can be accepted or denied. My first audition / casting call was for New Jersey Fashion Week, for which two of my friends and I were chosen. Following that, we got to practice our runs, and one of the designers complimented me, boosting my self-esteem. But that wasn't the only thing there was.

Me, during casting call for New Jersey Fashion Week.
Most of the castings have dress code as black.


As we have resumes in other industries, we have comp card in modeling. A comp card is a one-page profile with your portrait, front and side shots along with your vitals(height, weight etc).

We discovered that while NYFW is a global forum, millions of people apply. We traveled to New York for the audition, waited in line, moved in batches, and were ultimately denied. It happened several times. We were frustrated that the more popular channels may not suit us because they chose the best walks. We would have judged them above us if we were judges.




 
And when you've worked hard to get there, that's a tough pill to swallow. Even though a part of me was mulling about the possibility that it was too far away, I am someone who does not give up easily. That's when I found out about another NYFW casting and decided to go instead of staying at home. And I managed to get through it somehow.

I realized at that point that I needed to do something more specific to pass this audition. I practiced in front of my home mirror, even though my house is cramped and small. Initially, I was hesitant to participate in the show because one of the designers had lingerie in her line, and I assumed that I would have to wear it.

But, as I previously said, saying "no" can be done in various ways. If you're a model, you have the option of walking with other designers if you're not happy with anything. However, I can't stop thinking about how taken aback I was by the whole concept on stage. I regret misjudging the situation when I saw people of all body shapes and sizes walking around in the lingerie of their choice. Initially, I had no knowledge of the designer as a human. In my defense, I was a novice at the time and had thought that the worst would happen.

These castings/auditions typically happen a month or two before the show i.e If you are aiming at February show, you must start looking for auditions in the month of Dec-Jan, if you are aiming at September show, you must start looking for auditions in the month of Jul-Aug. The call to audition posters appears mostly on Eventbrite or are shared on various Facebook groups. Also, if you are part of the local in between fashion shows, you may be well aware of it in advance through word of mouth. 

NYFW Walk Experience   

In any case, everything about being a part of NYFW was meticulously planned. The make-up was flawless and on time. They gave us practice walks and told us what we wanted to work on, such as not moving my arms too much because it's distracting, not doing repetitive poses unless it's planned, bringing the attitude to your face, smiling a little less, and more.

I felt like I was walking on fire to be perfect there. People there gave me feedback and helped me improve for the better. And this occurred on the day of my pre-rehearsal walk after being selected in an audition. I can still feel the terror in my stomach. They might dismiss me at any moment because I lacked formal training and was vehemently expressionless in contrast to my usual cheerful over-the-top smiles.

I'm still unsure if that's me in my show videos because I look like a runway model with attitude and heels to conquer the world. Backstage, I was also impressed with last-minute stitching and repairs; the amount of effort put in by each designer is commendable.

            I prefer the natural makeup over anything. My makeup artist is working on that


Yes, last-minute stitches are a thing. My Che' K designer stitched the entire dress backstage in half an hour before the show, and that's impressively hard work!



Thanks to Bennie Benton, Jammal and Che' K Collection.  

Following that, I appeared in many fashion shows for various designers and even became an NYFW interviewer and host. I could go on and on about it in other blogs, but the point is that the hustle is real, but it's well worth it!

Go through agencies

In the city, there are numerous modeling agencies. I wouldn't know anything about them because I never ask their advice. However, if you want to pursue modeling as a career, it's a good idea to refine your skills and join agencies that will help you get proper exposure. Even if you do not join and agency or a database, you will still learn it. As I said, I never tried them.

For example, when we walked for designer Saima Chowdhry on her jewelry line, we met several models from the same agency for the first time. 

I met many others from agencies at events such as Downtown Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, Couture Fashion Week, Infinite Exposure shows and others. Designers may choose to take the whole batch from agencies because they are more likely to select qualified models over untrained models. Models can also register on websites such as Model Mayhem, which is a model database.

                     Walking for designer Saima Chowdhury at New York Fashion Week, Times Sq. 
 

Take a modeling coaching.

When I participated in the "AWF to Paris" show during New York Fashion Week, I heard about modeling coaching for the first time. Within an hour, she had transformed me into a much better person than I had been. I loved how, for an hour, she became my guru, as she did with any participant who lacked. Her name in Indigo Blu and she's very good. 

I then inquired about her occupation, to which she replied that she is a plus-size model and a coach. I always regret not making time to practice under her for a month because it would have transformed me into the person I had imagined myself to be, and maybe my battle with myself would have been less.

Limitations - Height, Size & Age but are they?

"It's not something we do on purpose. According to a designer, we do it this way so that we have to make one size ". Before I met with her, I had a habit of taking rejections quite personally. Since most of us are average and plus-sized women, we must open our hearts to them as a world. What sells, though, is what is shown. It's all about business, and it's constantly evolving.

So, the next time you see castings with height restrictions of 5'7" and up, which are popular at NYFW, don't be disappointed; instead, consider it a spectrum of rejection. Several 'not so tall,' 'not so slim,' and 'not so young' people are still doing it so well. In the end, I believe your self-assurance is essential. That is what the walk is all about!

The less confident you are in yourself, the more limiting your feelings about your success would be, and the less invested you will be in correcting yourself. And I'm not saying you can't feel nervous when walking with those svelte models and think you're less than, but the walk is all about positivity. It's obvious when it comes from inside.

Time Commitment & Are We Paid?

Okay, we've reached the end of our discussion. When it comes to modeling, you must ask yourself some difficult questions. Many people expect you to give up your time and contribution to the industry for free. However, after you've collaborated with a few designers, you can request a fee, which many will gladly provide. The majority of people do it as a part-time job, a freelancer, or a hobby.

Unfortunately, many fashion photographers are veterans or former military personnel who are not compensated for their work. After 1.5 years in the industry, it's a shame how expensive photography can become and how insensitive we can become towards those behind the lens. For the most part, staying alive in a pricey city like NYC is a daily challenge. I have heard numerous stories on unpaid assignments from my dear photographer friends - Luis, Alexander (ALEXMTZPHOTOS), Johnny L Sylman etc.

When NYFW shows, it can be very time-consuming, requiring all-day make-up and rehearsal sessions. NYFW shows are usually a day affair like you can be called at 11am for a show at 7pm or can be called at 2pm for a show at 8pm etc. The local city events typically begin at 8 p.m. and last until around midnight. After that, one can linger as long as they want to socialize. Even depending on the producer, some shows might run exceptionally late. 

                          Shooting with Alexander Gurman for Bric TV, Brooklyn.


                                                      It's actually a lot of fun sometimes.

                                                  After show photoshoots are a thing here.
                                            
                                   And designers and models are also like you and me.


                        Even though I am not a social butterfly, I did enjoy talking to prominent show organizers in a select few afterparties, such as this one with infinite exposure show director who had a scheduled NYFW show in the coming week.
       
  
It is not unusual for shows to get delayed by an hour or two or more. And yes, usually, NYFW shows are so hectic that finding time to eat in between shows for a model can be challenging.

So oh yes, pack some munchies always in your bag!

Do you cut it? Different Types of Modelling

Designer Vanny Tousignant, who runs an independent show during New York Fashion week called International Fashion and Arts Week, is exceptionally picky for her models. She strives for excellence in her work and is very straightforward about her expectations. 

International Fashion And Arts Week presented by renowned designer Vanny Tousignant, is held in New York during the New York Fashion Week. Here's my video from my experience from the runway and with the designers at the International Fashion And Arts Week. This was my first gig as a fashion host, and hopefully you all like it what goes backstage during the runways :)  

Similarly, Heritage India's designer, Prashant Goel, wants his models to represent the grace of Indian culture.

And, for both of them, I've seen some models best suited for portrait photographs. As a result, a variety of modeling techniques emerge. 

Some people excel at stills, while others excel at runways. It's all up to you. Building your profile with a skilled photographer in the area, such as Charles Mitchell & Richard Simpson, is a good idea.

Explore differently

After being in this world of wonderment, photographer Luis said, you are good at videos and care if we do interviews together?

Thereafter I began my journey at different shows such as New York Fashion Week, Couture Fashion Week, International Fashion Week, and others, with a microphone and all.




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