Fashion by Proxy

Homage to Josephine…and Christine

Today is the birthday of ma belle Christine and I thought I’d dig out this short piece I wrote in the MANDATORY creative writing class I took during the Print Futures Professional Writing Program back in the day (2003-2006). As you can maybe tell from my tone…creative writing isn’t one of my strong suits. This was about 17 years ago so Karis was four and just about to start Mulgrave; my lovely godchildren were aged seven (Georgia) and ten (Dylan). 

Yep, it’s a bit cringey and yep, I edited it to the best of my ability because I am just not that person who can or will publish really cringey work and be OK about it maybe it’s a thing if you’re famous? I also had to correct the tenses so it makes sense now. It’s still unsophisticated but it’s about CHRISTINE (and today is her BIRTHDAY—December 9th) so I’ve gotten over myself and I’m posting it! As you’ll see…this type of writing isn’t really my forte.


For years, every Christmas, Christine and I used to have our Book Exchange. In place of trivial knick knacks that were expensive to mail (she was living in Nelson at the time), I suggested a book exchange. The rules were: one book only, no boxed sets; hardcover or paperback; a novel you have read and loved. The book she chose for me for Christmas 2002 was Sandra Gulland’s the many lives and secret sorrows of Josephine B. (And yes, that is how the author wrote it…sans capitalization…see image.)

The exchange of books is not merely an easy out for problematic gift buying. We choose our books with care. She chose this book for me because aspects of Josephine Bonaparte reminded her of me. Another reason why she chose this book is because we are both Francophiles. We met in Europe in 1989 on a six-week Art History tour through by Langara College and have been kindred spirits ever since. We both love Paris, its people, history, buildings, museums, and that certain je ne sais quois that other cities don’t seem to have. Also the bread. From this book, an idea took shape that resulted in a trip to Paris, a visit to the Chateau Malmaison and the gift of time.

PARIS: August 2003

Paris via Manchester. Air France flight 403 was carrying Christine and I and only ten other brave souls flying to the ‘City of Light’ to experience the soaring 40° plus heat of August 2003—it was actually a significant heat event in that over 15 000 people died in Paris alone and temperatures hit 111°F! Christine and I were so thrilled to be away from our respective husbands and children that the heat barely dampened our spirits. Yet.

It had all started with our Christmas book exchange. Christine wanted to break one of our “rules” to give me a boxed set of “the best books she had read in a long time.” I stood firm though; one book only (we’re both known for excess). I received the many lives and secret sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland, the first in a trilogy. Little did I know that this innocuous trade paperback would lead us to Paris to walk in the footsteps of Josephine Bonaparte.

Christine and I met in London in 1989 on a three-month European Art History Tour (this tour was actually awesome and so valuable and pivotal to my life and I’m SO GLAD I did it even though I was enormously opposed to ‘group travel’ at the outset and only went because Tracey made me) and knew instantly that we would be friends. Though our lives have taken very different paths, we remain close. Her children are my godchildren and mine is hers. She lives in Nelson and we get together about four times a year, which is not nearly enough. (UPDATE: She lives in VanCity and my godchildren are now adults 😱 and I don’t see her very much because she works in the film industry and the plague.)

Christine and I in a train station in Italy…possibly Rome…when we first met on the Langara Art History Tour 1989

I had had the good fortune of traveling quite a bit in the early 2000s and every time I went anywhere, especially Paris, I always asked, “If you can buy the ticket, I’ve got the hotel room anyway…” 

Little did I know that this particular time she would pause and say, “You know…, I think I may be able to swing something this time. I’ll talk to James and get back to you.”

I was elated. This had never happened before. It was always “maybe next time when we have more money” or “when the kids are older.”

Christine belongs in Paris. Armed with her eyelash curler, red lipstick, and nail polish, she always looks classic and elegant. She is that person who wears clothes well as my mum would say. She’s got an eye for fashion and always has whether it’s an outfit from a high-end store or a thrifted vintage piece. She is a gourmet cook and she believes that life is too short for cheap chocolate and Costco bread. Her formal education is incomplete as she dropped out of college to give birth to my godson; however, the nuns taught her well and she is one of the cleverest, well-read people I know. She can speak knowledgeably about art, architecture, films and politics AND she actually looks at all the paintings in the museums. When I picture Christine in my mind’s eye, she is sitting at a sidewalk café with a cigarette (not anymore though— qu’elle horror!) and a café au lait

We decided that Josephine’s life would be the theme of our trip to Paris with the highlight being a visit to the Chateau Malmaison — not the best name as it means ‘evil house’ — see here for some history —which is kinda like the Milan airport being called Malpensa which can be roughly translated as ‘bad air’ and doesn’t sound very auspicious for an airport in my opinion. ANYWAY, this comparatively small house on the outskirts of Paris was the last place Napoleon and Josephine lived together. Malmaison was also where she died just five years after Napoleon has their marriage annulled to marry Marie-Louise of Austria in order to provide a legitimate heir for the French Republic. Which he did.

As our plane touched down and taxied to the terminal we could feel the heat even though it was the middle of the night. We entered the terminal and retrieved our luggage in relative comfort; however, as soon as we went outdoors it felt similar to Bangkok in June — hot, steamy and polluted. Weather like that was unusual for Paris. We cared little though; we were together in Paris, we were there for a week and there were no children or husbands! What utter bliss.

The city was buzzing, even though it was well past one am and the temperature had only cooled to a mere 38°C. The taxi driver drove with the windows open as his air-conditioning could not keep up with the heat. He told us this temperature was average in his home country of Nigeria and assured us that we would acclimatize. I seriously doubted it. 

Our hotel, which was just across the street from the Pantheon and was appropriately named Hotêl du Pantheon, was beautiful and quaint, though the staff looked harried and hot and were seen muttering “…fait chaud, tres chaud” under their breath. It was slightly cooler inside than out, though the continuous stream of water from garden hose rigged over the air-conditioning unit in the inner courtyard was slightly alarming. The clerk informed us that the air-conditioning unit had a “petite” fire as it was unused to coping with 40°C+ heat, but was now fixed (it was not). Since it was still so hot and we were too excited to sleep we decided to go out. 

We wandered down the road towards the Luxembourg Gardens. The gardens were locked (I believe they did end up leaving the gardens open as the heat wave continued), but the roads were still busy with people out having drinks, smoking, and walking their dogs, still formally dressed despite the heat and the fact that it was the middle of the night. Christine lit up a cigarette and decided that her self-imposed limit of one cigarette per day did not apply while in Paris. As we wound down toward the Seine we saw the last Batobus leaving. “Should we go for it?” I wondered out loud. (Cringe. Dialogue is challenging to write naturally.)

“Why not? We’ll never sleep anyway and maybe there’ll be a breeze on the boat.” The sea breeze we had hoped for more closely resembled being blown with a hair dryer and was not remotely refreshing. We didn’t care as we sat on the top deck in the front row, half listening to the garbled four-language commentary while checking out our fellow sweaty, tired passengers. 

Just past Pont Neuf there were four grandstand areas that opened on to the river. Each one had music and people dancing on the stage—just regular people, not professional dancers. One stage had an actual band playing big band favorites and people were jitterbugging! In the middle of the night! Another one had ballroom dancing and yet another had break dancing. (I often wonder if this still happens.)

Most of the buildings along the Seine were floodlit emphasizing their Gothic, Napoleonic, or Art Nouveau origins. The Eiffel tower twinkled in the distance. People who lived in houseboats along the river were out on their decks, smoking, drinking, and calling out to each other. Strangely enough, on this polluted grey river the air smelled like summer and there seemed to be music everywhere. Reluctantly we headed back to our stuffy hotel room around 4 am. (And sat with our feet in the bathtub filled with ice drinking Champagne because it was too hot to sleep. Ever.)

The next day we got down to exploring the Paris that Josephine would have known. It was so incredibly hot that it worked best to keep moving very slowly and never stop because the momentum necessary to start moving again was too much to summon in the heat. We checked out all the “Napoleonic” sights: Les Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb), La Madeleine (church inaugurated during Napoleon’s reign), and the two Arc de Triomhpes: Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the BIG one) and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (by the Louvre). The heat sapped our strength and our initiative and we ended up spending a lot of time exploring Les Galeries Lafayette, Paris’ oldest department store, as it had the best air conditioning in the city. And it’s really quite something to see anyway—the lingerie, linens and children’s wear are epic. We ate breakfast at the hotel because it was free and served in the cool basement (la cave) and mainly ate ice cream for the rest of the day because it was impossible to sit at a cafe and eat with sweat pouring off your body. 

During the next few days, we did the run of the tourist gamut, maybe more so because Christine hadn’t been out of the country for fourteen years (aforementioned children). We signed up for the “Eiffel Tower at Night/Moulin Rouge” tour and had dinner at the restaurant on the premier étage, of the Eiffel Tower, with the senior tourist set. It was actually fun and the view was stupendous. In the spirit of never-having-done-it-yet-or-again, we took the stairs to the bottom of the tower and forfeited our “transport to the famous Moulin Rouge.” We caught a cab with our new friends from New York to Montmarte to rejoin our group of blue-haired American tourists and claim our complimentary glass of champagne at the Moulin Rouge (where one of Karis’s jazz teachers danced for years) before the show started. Kinda cheesy but fun to be honest. 

We went to Versailles and Giverny in pursuit of art and flowers. The heat was mind numbing; Christine slept on the way to Giverny and I took an abbreviated tour of Versailles in order to sit with my feet in one of its numerous fountains. The Louvre, the Musée D’Orsay and the Musée de la Mode et du costume de la ville de Paris (now the Palais Galliera) were enchanting as well as wonderfully cool—gotta take good care of the art. The numerous tiny galleries in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area were not so cool, but were equally enchanting. 

The pinnacle of our trip was to be a journey to Château de Malmaison — Josephine’s last home. We kept putting off this excursion in fond hopes that the weather would cool down as the journey involved the Metro, the bus and a bit of walking—formidable in any temperature—but over an hour in 40°+ is daunting. We asked our sweaty, yet chic hotel receptionist how we would get to Malmaison if we should decide to brave the transit system. “Hmm, Malmaison, ce n’est pas possible…trés difficile… peut-être un taxi?” We explained that we thought a taxi would cost over 200 Euros and that would be too much. “No, No, I will telephone Maxine, she will come—100 Euros only!” I wondered who Maxine was—her mother, her sister, a friend? Maxine—who turned out to be a bona fide cab driver—subsequently arrived and drove us to Malmaison, puzzled that two Canadian housewives would have such an interest in an obscure and not particularly well-kept chateau outside of Paris. We haltingly explained about Josephine and the books in our very basic French. I think she thought we were writing the books ourselves. 

Malmaison was a charming house set on once-beautiful grounds. The grass was dry and long and the famous rose garden was faded and brown from the heat (reminded me of the BC Heat Dome in summer 2021). These minor details did not detract from our excitement at actually arriving at our destination—the end of our odyssey (so dramatic). As we wandered through Malmaison looking at the very rooms that Josephine had lived in, the view she saw from her morning room, and many of her clothes and personal effects, we were awed by a sense of history that was tempered with sadness. This was the house of a woman who had died alone because her husband had put his duty to the “Republic of France” before his love for her. A man who insisted she change her name from Rose to Josephine because “she looked more like a Josephine.” This was the house of a woman that would have been ordinary would it not have been for her extraordinary life. 

Our pilgrimage to Malmaison was the pinnacle of what was really a journey about us and our friendship. Having a week to ourselves to talk all night, eat whenever we wanted, shop to our hearts content and be responsible to no one but ourselves was the real journey. Our busy lives, husbands and children took our time and energy, which we freely gave; however, this time was just for us, no responsibilities, no ties, no “Mummy do you have my hat?”; “Honey, where is the map?”; “How much is that in dollars?”. It was a break from being the holder of the map; the tour guide; the carrier of band-aids, money, cold drinks, sunscreen, bus tickets, guide-books, crayons and paper, snacks and sundries. It was a respite from being responsible and in charge, in short, from being a mum. For eight fabulous days we had the freedom to walk out of the hotel room whenever we wanted, completely unencumbered, to do whatever we chose in our favorite city and that was our ultimate homage to Josephine.

The Other Mother

The Graduate Rockridge 2016Almost everyone who knows me, knows that the child graduated from high school in June and moved to New York in August to pursue a modeling career. And for those of you that don’t, she graduated and moved to New York to pursue a modeling career 😉

I’ve received mixed responses from people when I tell them what Karis is doing—and any parent of a recent grad will know exactly what I mean. You cannot get through a conversation where post-high school plans are not discussed. Reactions to Karis’s modeling plans run the gamut from barely veiled disapproval to genuine excitement and support. I’m pretty sure a lot of people are silently thinking, “Thank GOD I don’t have to deal with THAT,” relieved that their child is safely ensconced in some temple of higher learning—though I feel compelled to point out that this is a costly endeavor with no guarantees either.

I’m not going to waste a whole lot of time on the haters (especially since I’m pretty sure most of them don’t read my blog) but suffice to say that yes, we thought long and hard about this; no, this was not a spur of the moment decision because she got bad grades (she did quite well thanks very much); yes, we have been planning this with her mother agent Liz Bell of Lizbell Agency since she was fourteen and no, she is not working illegally as a slave or forced to go to nightclubs to earn her keep. Though that does happen. Just not if you’re with a proper agency. And most people do ask me if I know about that.

Karis has a US work visa and a social security number and it’s all quite above board. The majority of her costs are covered because she is working with people who believe she has a very good chance of success which is what Liz has told us from the beginning. In the early days I demanded that Liz “be honest” and “tell me what you really think” in terms of Karis pursuing modeling as a career. At which point Liz gently reminded me that this was her business (and not some obsessive hobby that she spent ALL her time on) and that if she thought Karis should pursue academics instead of modeling she would most certainly let me know in a timely manner. #gotit #secretlyhopingshewouldsayno

Anyway, I digress. Many people have asked me how this whole modeling thing works and I will attempt to address this in a variety of blog posts, hopefully in a logical order. Well, it will be logical in my mind at least. To begin at the beginning, we must start with the Mother Agent.

Karis has wanted to model since she was eleven. I was initially skeptical for most of the reasons any parent would be skeptical—it is a recipe for eating disorders, exploitation and superficiality—and she was too short and too shy anyway. And she had braces and a lime green retainer. Furthermore, it seemed a strange choice for a child who didn’t particularly enjoy or demand to be in the spotlight. However, she persisted and I reluctantly started looking at local agencies when she was thirteen. We submitted photos online to Lizbell Agency as instructed. And heard nothing. Ultimately, a mutual friend (thanks Karen Delaney-Wolverton) contacted Liz and we got our meeting.

After the meeting, Liz told us Karis needed to be at least 5’8” and preferably 5’9” and to contact her again when Karis was fourteen and had her braces off. One month after Karis’s fourteenth birthday (no, she still hadn’t forgotten about it), we met again with Liz and signed with Lizbell Agency that week. We did look at other agencies but chose Liz for a variety of reasons:

  • Liz is a former international model and knows the industry.
  • She is well-connected and has current relationships with agents and casting directors in New York and Europe (Milan, London, Paris). This is important.
  • She is a mother herself (bonus points from me) and understands that this is your CHILD, not a commodity (well, she’s a commodity too, but also your child).
  • Lizbell Agency is a boutique agency meaning each model gets a lot of personal attention.

TIP #1: If you have ANY connections at all to a modelling agency, use them. Agencies are inundated with photos and don’t always get a chance to have a close look at all submissions. Alternatively, check out social media channels (mostly Instagram and Snapchat these days) for open calls for new faces as it is a sign they are actually looking to sign new models OR if there is a live scouting event GO. It’s a great opportunity to actually get a face-to-face meeting with the agent…not always an easy feat.
TIP #2: Do your research. Ask friends for recommendations. Almost everyone will know someone whose daughter is a model and they’re usually happy to answer questions (I’ve met with four parents of ‘prospective’ models). Local photographers, stylists and make-up artists (MUA) are also a great resource as they often work with agencies to develop new faces and have some fairly good intel on the local agent scene. That being said, meet with agents, ask questions and consider your ‘gut’ reaction as you will have a close relationship with this person for a long time and you need to be able to work together.
Tip #3: READ THIS E-BOOKThe Guide for New Faces It only costs about $2 and is very informative about the modeling industry. Also follow their blog as it’s chock full of relevant information and plus they’re Canadian! I found out about this from a Scottish model while I was in Tokyo with Karis.

fullsizerender-19Also, funny story. After I found out about them, I followed them on Instagram. They posted a photo of one of our favourite restaurants (Mamma Luisa’s Table owned by an Italian guy who only speaks Italian and Japanese) in Tokyo which was just around the corner from the model apartment we stayed in. So of course I commented on the post which initiated a dialogue and ended up with me writing an article for their blog.

But what IS a mother agency you may still be wondering and why is it different than any other agency. Basically pretty much ANY agency can call themselves a mother agency in relation to a specific girl. It means that they ‘discovered’ and developed the model and arranged or facilitated her being launched with other agencies in other markets worldwide. A Mother Agent usually has input (in consultation with the model and her other main agency) on career direction and choices and has a ‘mother(bear)-like’ relationship with the model in that they will protect their model’s interests.

Once a model is signed with their first agency—AKA their Mother Agent—the agent will work to develop the model over a period of years. This involves education about the industry (meetings or handouts from the agency), walking lessons and photo sessions (known as ‘creatives’ or ‘testing’) to get images for a portfolio. The agent will take what used to be known as ‘Polaroids’ but are now ‘digitals’ or ‘digis’ in a basic outfit (tank top and jeans or shorts) and bikini shots to post on the website. Digitals are also taken without makeup as it is necessary to see the bone structure and skin clearly. (Before I knew this, one of the shots I submitted was Karis with stunning makeup done by a senior MAC artist. I thought it was lovely, but they want to see bone structure. Live and learn.) Models will also have their measurements taken for height, bust, waist and hips. *Not even going to open this can of worms as any discussions of weight and measurements in the modeling industry results in a highly charged emotional discussion. It’s a personal decision.*

However, I will offer this advice, if your daughter (or son) has any issues at all around eating or body image, do not even think about allowing them to model. The industry is not kind. Karis regards fitness and healthy eating as part of her job: much as a university student needs to study, she needs to stay in shape. I think this is probably the healthiest way to think of something that could, and often does, go badly awry for many models.

Images above are from a short video Karis did with Liz for Fashion One

To develop a model, you need to think of it as a training program—it is not a way to make easy and consistent money, especially in Vancouver. When you factor in your time as the parent (and yes, it will take up YOUR time driving to castings, shows and shoots), parking and money spent on clothes you will NOT be in the money at the end of the year. If you cover your costs in the first year, consider that a roaring success.

That being said, in Grade 11 and 12, Karis did make a decent amount of money, though this is not really the name of the game. Learning how to model, how to walk, how to deal with clients and agents, building confidence and interpersonal skills and learning how to manage your own correspondence is the goal of modeling during high school. The secondary goal for some girls is building up a portfolio that is comprehensive enough to support a Visa application to pursue a modeling career in the USA after high school graduation. (That whole paperwork thang is another story. OMG. The trees that died for Karis’s career.) Anyway, throughout the years, Karis has done many creatives; fashion shows for Blanche MacDonald, LaSalle College, Eco Fashion Week and various charities; Lookbooks (fancy word for ‘catalogue’) and campaigns for local designers all in the name of honing her modeling skills and creating content for her portfolio. See below for images.

TIP #4: Do not ever pay anything for modeling or personal development courses or to ‘join’ an agency. A good agency will work with new models to teach them the business and will have relationships with local photographers who will do creatives/testing in exchange for images to develop a portfolio for free. The only thing we pay for is a small annual fee to maintain Karis’s portfolio on the LB website and for any comp cards, printing costs or courier charges. We also buy a basic model wardrobe, some of which is suggested by Liz (would likely vary from agent to agent) and some items that are necessities.
Basic Necessities: Model bag, portfolio & comp cards (provided by the agency) black thong and strapless bra; nude thong and strapless bra; black and nude bras with no padding and no underwire (bralette); black bikini; plain black heels, casting outfit #1 (usually something simple that shows the lines of your body like a tank top and jeans); lip gloss and cover-up; hair elastic and hairbrush.
Options: plain nude heels; ankle boots with low heel; casting outfit #2 (simple black dress).

Now you’re probably wondering WHY an agency would bother to develop new faces and act as a Mother Agency especially since I’ve pointed out that it takes years and if the model isn’t earning much money, the agency certainly isn’t either. Cost/benefit analysis = FAIL.

It’s true, scouting and developing a model takes a lot of time and does not pay well. Most US and Canadian agents charge 20% of the model’s fee and 20% on the client side…so if a model earns $1200 in a year the agent will make $480 and the model takes home $960 before tax as (N.B. models file taxes as a contract worker not an employee). That’s not much money when you consider the time and administration necessary for new models.

The payoff for a Mother Agent is when one of their models starts working internationally and earning real money. And that is because the Mother Agent receives an ongoing commission, paid out of the booking agent’s cut (in that particular market) for every job the model does. If you have a good eye, good relationships with international agents and you train your development girls well, a Mother Agent can make a decent income from ‘her’ models who work internationally.

Before you decide you’re going to rush out and open a modeling agency to get a jump on this passive income stream, let me tell you that being a Mother Agent is not easy. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are but you have to develop a lot of girls in order to produce a working model.

Many things can go wrong. Some girls hate it; some aren’t good in front of the camera; some choose sports or dance or school; some are unable to deal with the insensitivity of the industry as a whole; some girls do not grow tall enough or cannot maintain their measurements in a healthy way; some parents change their minds and a myriad of other reasons can make a girl opt out of modeling.

Even if a model makes it to that magical gatepost of graduation and is launched in New York and internationally, there are still no guarantees they will be successful or even if they are successful, if they will continue to work. Modeling is HARD work and many girls give up before they achieve their potential because they’re too homesick, they miss their boyfriends or they simply can’t manage the lifestyle because of the uncertainty and inconsistency associated with the industry.

All these girls—the development girls and the working models—represent hours, weeks, months and years of time invested by a Mother Agent who has no guarantees and no compensation if a model decides to quit.
Also as a side note, if you like to sleep regularly and through the night, being a Mother Agent is not a great career choice. When your models are working in Europe, most of the frantic emails about options, jobs and other incidentals occur from 11pm -9am PST. It’s easier when they’re in New York #justsayin’

Models can, (and usually do), have different agencies in different markets worldwide unless you are signed with an agency with a global network like IMG or The Society/Elite Worldwide. The Mother Agent is the link to all the agencies representing a model and they all need to work together once a model gets busy in various markets. When I say the Mother Agent is the ‘link’ it also means that they have developed and continue to nurture relationships with the bookers at these agencies (not necessarily the agency themselves, though sometimes this is the case). THIS is the most important thing. Someone could be the most organized and well-intentioned person ever but if they have no key relationships in the industry, they aren’t able to secure the best contracts for their models. So as you can see, a good Mother Agent is invaluable as their particular experience and skill set is not easy to come by…I don’t think there’s a course anywhere for this. Their key relationships aside, they are are also meant to provide input and suggestions to ensure that the model is casting for, and getting work that reflects their ultimate career goals.

For example, consider the following scenario: A model is in London doing editorial work (not much pay if any, but good exposure). She gets an option (an option means that a client is interested and is inquiring as to availability, but does not guarantee anything) to go to Paris for two days to work on e-commerce (well paid, no prestige); an option to do an editorial in London for a top designer (no pay, product in kind=free clothes); or a trip to Singapore to do a fashion show for a local designer (paid, plus expenses and clothes). All the dates overlap. How do you prioritize and choose?

This is not as easy as you might think as it is not solely about the money. A mother agent would sort through these options with the model’s main international agent which, for most Canadian girls, would be an American agent, ideally in New York and the agent in the particular market. Now back to the options, there are factors to consider for each one that range far beyond the money.

  • Who is the client? Sometimes it’s about building relationships for the future more than the money or prestige. Perhaps the designer or casting agent likes the model and may want to work with her on a lower profile job before offering something bigger.
  • Who else is on the job? Sometimes it is strategic to place a model in a job that doesn’t seem like much in terms of prestige or pay but it may be an opportunity to meet a top stylist, photographer or Makeup Artist (MUA).
  • What is the exposure? If an editorial is unpaid but is in a decent publication with a large social media following it might be worth considering. Sometimes flight and hotels are covered and sometimes models are paid in kind (clothes). Sometimes not.
  • On the downside, money and potential relationship-building needs to be weighed against the reach/exposure of poor images on the market. Because once you’re noticed, keeps track of everything you do. Which is GREAT. Providing that all the work you do is of the same calibre…otherwise, you’ll become known for lower-level work and it’s hard to work your way up again. Probably impossible.

So as you can see, decisions are rarely straightforward and this is where the importance of a well-connected and up-to-date Mother Agent cannot be overstated. All these options must be designated 1st, 2nd or 3rd or just a flat out no; however, the industry is small and one must also take care not to offend anyone. Because they’ll never forget that either. The importance of having a Mother Agent that can collaborate intelligently and strategically with other agents is a career necessity.

Liz with her girls in NY

So the Mother Agent is like a mother…overworked and unappreciated and always tired. Having to deal with other parents who may or may not be crazy (Not me of course. I am eminently reasonable #bahahaha) but still having to be polite. Ultimately though, the Mother Agent is fiercely on the side of her models in navigating through the crazy, unpredictable but potentially rewarding fashion industry. #thanksLiz


Any feedback, comments, corrections and questions are welcome 🙂

GLOSSARY: (There will be a short quiz in the next post)

  • Mother Agent
  • portfolio
  • creative
  • testing
  • Polaroid(s)
  • digitals /digis
  • Lookbook
  • comp card
  • bralette
  • commission
  • bookers
  • option
  • casting agent
  • stylist
  • MUA

It’s a barbieworld!


It’s technically our last day…though the blog will carry on for a while as I’ve got a few more topics that I haven’t covered yet. In term so of modelling, it’s an odd market this year for a variety of reasons but mainly because there are more girls in town than usual. Karis has more work in Vancouver so we’re heading back to the west coast tomorrow…but hopefully back to Tokyo in the next year or so.

Anyway, back to Barbie. It was sort of apropos that we ended up at the Barbie 55th Anniversary Retrospective as I picked up a flyer advertising it from Seibu (department store in Shibuya) on my very first day in Tokyo…and I remember thinking that it would be a very cool thing to see. As I’ve mentioned before, most department stores here have a gallery and exhibition space and they tend to have some unique exhibits…sort of like 55 years of Barbie 😉 As usual, very well done and beautifully presented. A very complete collection of Barbies in the most amazing outfits, including some collector’s items and a unique Barbie designed by a contest winner. Lots of high fashion Barbie including Burberry, Juicy Couture, Bob Mackie, Christian Lacroix, Dior, Givenchy just to name a few…that I could actually read…the only drawback is that department store exhibits are rarely translated so it’s a bit slow trying to figure it all out but at least I can read the dates and take photos of Karis with the life size Barbie in the display.

Curly hair genius in Tokyo

Hair genius Nepenji

Who would have thought that I would find the best hairdresser ever in Tokyo. Not me. Last time I was here I had a hard time even finding someone who would cut my hair…curly + gaijin is a little too much for most Japanese stylists. One of my students finally recommended a friend of hers who had worked in NY and was willing to take me on. She did a decent job but no better or worse than any other haircut I’d had in Vancouver, which for a foreigner in Japan with curly hair was a huge win!

Now in the age of the internet and blogs you can literally google pretty much anything and get at least some helpful information. Anyway, this particular salon, Nepenji, was highly recommended and also had several blog posts with impressive photos. Kiyoko trained in London at Vidal Sassoon and at the Devacurl Academy in NY which specializes in curly hair. I immediately booked myself in as my hair is a disaster—frizzy, gray and dry as well as in need of a cut (I did it myself in May with the nail scissors).

I have to say it was worth every penny and was actually much cheaper than Vancouver, about $220 (no tipping) for a two-stage cut, Kerastase treatment, colour and head and neck massage. Kiyoko wanted to cut my hair dry but it was too frizzy and had been in a bun/ponytail so it wasn’t possible to see the curl pattern. She cut a bit, then did the colour, treatment and then dried it by hand with a diffuser as well as an overhead spinning dryer and then cut it again, one curl at a time.

I did know you are supposed to cut curly hair dry but it has never actually happened to me. I was given so much information on how to care for my hair that that alone would have been worth the $200. Anyway, in a nutshell, minimal shampooing with sulfate-free shampoo; conditioner (lots but make sure it is free of alcohol and silicone); don’t rinse out the conditioner; use your cupped hands to rinse a little bit; turn your head upside down and gently squeeze the water out using paper towels, old t-shirts or a microfibre towel, scrunching the curls as you do this. Whilst still upside down, use alcohol-free gel and smooth over the hair, again with the scrunching motion. Carefully turn right-side up and separate and arrange the curls. You can use pins to give it a bit of lift and to help the curls to dry. Apparently the key to managing curly hair and the frizzies is moisture which seems counter-intuitive but this woman is a guru and whatever I’ve been doing isn’t working so I might as well give this a go. She said it will take about three months for my hair to repair and rebalance if I follow her instructions. Fingers crossed that I may have found hair nirvana in my 40s. The most exciting thing of all is that she is opening a salon in San Francisco this fall which is a lot closer than Japan!

Lingerie Francaise: A History of Underwear

Lingerie exhibit

One of the best things about Tokyo is the fact that there are actually a decent number of things you can do for free or almost free. For example, most department stores have gallery and exhibition spaces and host a variety of interesting and well-curated shows. There are also other exhibits in various spaces all over the city such as the Lingerie Francaise Exhibit I saw on the weekend in Omotesando.

I read about this exhibit in the Savvy Tokyo site and thought I’d check it out. It was free but very well done and also offered a detailed brochure in English. It has some big sponsors in the lingerie world: Aubade, Barbara, Chantelle, Empreinte, Implicite, Lise Charmel, Lou, Maison Lejaby, Passionata, Princesse Tam.Tam and Simon Perele just in case you were wondering who the world leaders in underwear are.

Basically it looks like there’s not too much new under the sun. Many of the current corset styles are based on some of the first corsets made over a hundred years ago, though the invention of elastic, nylon and Lycra has made things a lot more comfortable. After WWI the corset was replaced by a bra and girdle (often custom-made) which evolved into machine-made versions that were designed to create whatever female silhouette happened to be in vogue at the time–slim hipped, curvy, hourglass. Which is where we are now…whatever your preference happens to be, there is likely a lingerie designer/manufacturer that produces your ideal underwear.

In Japan the preference happens to be very lacy and embellished (ruffles, lace, ribbons, beads) and almost always padded or heavily lined. The idea of the T-shirt bra (i.e. very smooth to allow for a clean line under a t-shirt) does not seem to be a look they are interested in exploring. Also thong underwear is not popular and is difficult to find…also very expensive. The 5 for $25 deal that is commonly seen at La Senza and Victoria’s Secret simply doesn’t exist here in the land of the rising sun. Make no mistake, there is some very lovely lingerie here but it tends to lean more towards the ‘granny knicker’ size than the ‘G-string’ end of the spectrum. Also tends to be cute (kawaii) not sexy…Karis and I actually saw a bra and knickers set made of terry cloth. Yes, for a grown-up 😉


A typical day (Model child)

Karis walking to the agency. It's 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis walking to the agency. It’s 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis’s days are rarely the same in terms of timing and scheduling. She gets a text the night before sometime between 9-11pm telling her how many castings she has the next day and what time she has to be at the agency. She walks there from the apartment which takes about 15 minutes as it’s so ridiculously hot that you just can’t go any quicker. There’s nothing special she has to wear…just a cute outfit. The girls mostly wear dressy shorts or skirts with short-sleeved T-shirts or short dresses. They have to bring heels and a bikini with them to every shoot just in case the client needs to see them walk for a shot or how they’d look for a swimwear or lingerie shoot. They all meet at the agency (whoever is going to the castings) and head out in the fancy bus/van driven by one of their bookers Kai, Tai or Sho (whom I’ve never met but I’ve been told he exists). Most of the castings start in the mid-to late afternoon and go well into the evening. She doesn’t usually get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes later.

When the girls get work they are responsible for getting there on their own. They are given written instructions detailing which subway or train line they are to take and from which station, where they are supposed to change and the next subway or train line and so on. They also get a map to follow from the subway station which tells them which exit to use which is really important as the bigger stations have many exits…just to put this in perspective, Shinjuku station has over 3 million passengers per day, 36 platforms and 200 exits…servicing 12 different lines from five different rail companies: the subway, the metro, the Keio line, the JR line and the Odakyu electric line.

New Faces like Karis also do photo shoots called testing (sometimes called creatives in Vancouver) to give them experience working with Japanese photographers and stylists as well as learning how to pose. It’s quite a different look than what we’re used to in North America and Europe.

The agency gives them an allowance every Tuesday of 10 000 Y which is a little over $100 for food and sundries. Your flight, accommodation and transportation is advanced to you by the agency. For more information on how this works in Japan (or anywhere actually) check out the Business Model Mag. It’s a very informative site AND it’s Canadian.

Models usually get the weekend off unless there’s a special event or they have a photo shoot. Time to see the sights, shop, workout or just relax. No clubbing though. It’s written into their contract that they’re not allowed to drink or go clubbing if they’re underage. Even if they’re of legal age (20) they’re supposed to keep it to a minimum or they’ll be sent home. And the agency always finds out….

If I had a million dollars….

Fashion_3 Fashion 2 Fashion_1Walked home from Omotesando station today and noticed yet again that I’m definitely out of my element in terms of fashion here…they’ve got ALL the top designers and more than one store within a 10 mile radius! There seems to be many sales right now. It’s funny, the word ‘SALE’ is often in English, French (soldes) and Italian (saldi) but never in Japanese…or maybe because I don’t know what it looks like in Japanese 😉

Anyway, it’s a shopper’s paradise here. Also a good place for a “basic” dresser such as myself (jeans and various black tops with boots in winter; beige shorts with various black tops and flip-flops in summer) to learn about fashion. I must say, it could be quite an addiction. I’ve always kept it simple and pretty inexpensive: a couple pairs of jeans that fit well, a pair of boots, my Prada flats (thanks to Misha for making me buy them–best investment ever), various tops, a purse and my flip-flops. It’s a little harder here. For one, people don’t wear flip-flops in public…they are regarded as ‘shower shoes’ or slippers and I would be mocked. People make an effort…hell most of the women wear stockings when it’s 35+ degrees here! I will never do that. In terms of fashion though, there is so much to see and covet. And I do see it every single day. It’s in my neighbourhood, not in some rarefied downtown area on streets I rarely go to. They have a _______ (fill in the blank–Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga…) boutique in many of the department stores which are literally just down the road from me. This is NOT Sears or the Bay…more like a whole bunch of Holt Renfrews. I think I need to head out to the boonies to see what real people wear.

I’d like you all to know that I do try. I wear skirts and dresses. Makeup sometimes. No shorts in the city. Silk tops and even, dare I say it, colours besides black. Sometimes even a matching hat though I don’t have a Darth Vader visor (yet…be patient Lorna). No one to mock me but the child.


I think I work for the child (the teenager)…

So it was a busy day today. Exercise. Recycling. Grocery store. Creating a professional Facebook page for Karis…her agency just got a new website ( if you’d like to check it out) and they now have the ability to add FB, Twitter and Instagram for the models; however, it can’t be a personal page–gotta keep it professional. So Karis has little downtime to update said FB page so that’s what I did today: source and edit photos, research the names and websites of the stylists, photographers, publications and makeup and hair people. Tomorrow she’s working and it’s her first day on the subway…I’m going with her to show her the ropes. It’s a little overwhelming at first, though her booker gave her very clear instructions with important info like how LONG it takes, which lines to take, where to change trains, how much it costs. She should be able to get the hang of it after a few trips 🙂

Model day

Serious Fashion…

In front of the PRADA store

So they’ve got some serious fashion going on in this city. I was walking Karis over to her agency (got lost…THANKS Google Maps) and the number of amazing stores we passed in 15 minutes was astounding: Prada, miu miu, Alexander McQueen, Loewe, Balenciaga, Ted Baker, Issey Miyake, Gucci, Emporio Armani, Chloe, Burberry, Agnes b, Cartier….

And that’s just in this particular area. We live in Shibuya which is very close to Aoyama and Omotesando, and they have even more shops here, not to mention the boutiques within the department stores (think Saks not Sears)! And THE swankiest district ever, Ginza, is about 7 minutes away by metro and they’ve got them there again. (more…)