She walks in beauty—and gets paid damned well for it
She walks in beauty—and gets paid damned well for it
You’ll see them at the glass-roofed Courtyard Café in the ivy-covered Windsor Arms Hotel in downtown Toronto just about any time of day: actors, actresses, directors and assorted creative types; rock/pop singers and musicians from the nearby Soundstage studio; elegantly coiffured, suitably bored jet-setters and aspirants pausing between shopping and hairdressers; and, inevitably, nubile oglers stargazing through heavy mascara and cow lashes. Everyone under this glass dome of confidence gets a cool, critical eye, for a second at least. But arrive with Susan Illingworth and heads don’t just turn. They snap around. Among the beautiful people at the Courtyard, she stands, at six feet two inches in heels, above the crowd. Illingworth, 24, is one of the precarious few at the top of the small but hustling, bustling world of Canadian fashion modeling. For
this London, Ontario, native raised in Virginia, turning heads is pleasure as well as business, a not so subtle revenge for imagined teen-age awkwardness.
“I never thought I was pretty,” she enunciates through pearl-white teeth, “just languid and lanky. I felt I wasn’t as good as anyone else. Now that I’m at the top, I’ve gone the other way.” She spends $15,000 a year on clothes; dresses—and undresses— outrageously, attending openings in seethrough blouses and self-designed crotchless panties; and harvests lovers by the handful—rock stars, athletes, huntsmen, artists, photographers, married and unmarried.
She exudes enough self-confidence for a dozen merely pretty girls. That bravado and a consuming attention to new fashions and her skin, hair, weight and figure will keep her on top for perhaps another six
years. The average fashion model’s career lasts 10 years. By 30, most are washed up, replaced by younger, firmer, fairer, fresher “looks.” Successful fashion models lead a frantic life racing the biologic clock. The old-timers past 30 can continue with lucrative television and character modeling, or runway work, where facial age lines don’t show.
But most would-be models don’t get that far. They drop out after a few discouraging months. An exceptional few go on to bigger bucks in New York or Paris. Indeed, Canada has built a lively export trade in beautiful women. “Once you make it in Toronto, you can make it anywhere,” says Elena Domo, fashion photographer and editor of Beauty magazine. Samantha Jones and Cathie Shirriff are probably the
best-known ex-Canadian models. More recently, after failing to click here, Cathie Reid (Saki) and Sam Turkas have become top European models. Illingworth did well in Paris too, but after a few months got lonely for home where she’s a bigger splash in a smaller pond.
Toronto is the centre of her pond, home of our modest few fashion magazines and hub of television and print advertising, both English and French. Montreal, with dominance in clothes manufacturing, leads in steadier but less glamorous showroom modeling.
Modeling is a magnet for thousands of young girls. “It’s the fulfillment of every little girl’s dream to wear a pretty dress,” says Tiiu Leek, a former top model turned television host and actress. Many so-called modeling schools prey on those dreams, painting bright futures for all paying applicants and often their love-blinded parents. Courses can cost as much as $1,200 a year; and instructors may have no qualifica-
tions. “A lot of the schools are really bad rip-offs,” says the editor of one fashion magazine. “What I tell the girls who call me is to shop for them like a dress. Go to the school with a top-notch agency behind it. That’s an indication that they’re not just making money on the school.” Some top agencies are not associated with schools at all; other agency-school operations may only suggest a few specific lessons, say in walking or makeup. However, the lessons may be less important than the attitudes imparted. Once a model has confidence, the rest is a standard bag of tricks. Pretty girls are created equal, but those who succeed in modeling have more than ambition and beauty. “Self-confidence” and “selfawareness” are words that come up repeatedly in conversations with models and agents. With these, the model can develop
her own distinctive style. Though it goes against the popular stereotype, intelligence helps too. And calculated shrewdness pays the biggest dividends of all.
Not that the dividends are all that large in Canada. Modeling agents estimate that three to five million dollars are spent on modeling fees here annually, while New York City boasts single modeling agencies that gross more. And just one U.S. model, albeit number one, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, earned a reported one million dollars in model fees last year. By contrast, the handful of top Canadian models peak at $40,000. Only 10 to 20 earn more than $20,000 a year. Perhaps another 100 to 300 make between $8,000 and $15,000, which leaves little room for glamour. Top fashion models now get $40 to $50 an hour for catalogue work (double for lingerie ads, triple for nudes); runway models up to $45 for a one-hoür show. Television commercials pay $175.50 a day, and possibly residuals. But for every $45-an-hour job, there are countless more at $2.50 to six dollars an hour. And that’s before the agent deducts the customary 10% to 15%.
There is rarely compensation for traveling time, and getting the job in the first place isn’t easy: there are endless “gosees,” often with models waiting hours to see a potential client. One fashion magazine editor sometimes sees as many as 50 models a day in her search, she says, for that elusive ideal of the “intelligent Canadian face.” (Magazine spreads pay $25 to $30 an hour. A Miss Chatelaine cover girl gets only $ 100. But the exposure can be the stepping stone to higher paying ad work. In New York, models contend madly for magazine assignments that pay $15 to $20 an hour.) Against this income, there are direct expenses. The model must have a good wardrobe, especially of accessories, which clients rarely provide. And even before her first job she must spend $150 to $200 for photos and portfolio. Another $90 to $150 goes for a “Z” card—a model’s business card that shows her with a variety of looks: sophisticated, innocent, young mom, bizarre. But there are compensations for the ordinary incomes. “The girls constantly mix in special groups of people,” says Domo. “They’re offered extravagant weekends.” Modeling assignments may involve overseas travel; there are discounts on clothes and cosmetics. And even if a model’s total income is slight, “she’s not working 40 hours a week, stuck away in an office some place,” says George Bell of International Top Models, Toronto.
Dehumanization can outweigh money and glamour. For ex-model Heather Petrie, • a high-cheek-boned Scandinavian type, the moment of truth came when she looked in the mirror one morning and realized that her face had taken on an existence of its own, with its' own needs and demands. “I remember not being able to go to the laundromat without false eyelashes. Christ, if people didn’t turn around, I’d panic.” GARY WEISS
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