Showroom Modelling: Survival Guide
Showroom modelling is where a designer shows off their latest collection to buyers. After the glitz of a catwalk show (or somewhat lesser glitz of a presentation…We like to stomp!) comes the nitty gritty part where the designer has to sell as much as they can to the right places to make money and get their pieces seen.
I’ve done showroom for some really incredible top end designers like Balenciaga and Giles Deacon as well as Diesel and big fashion sales companies where they have a collection of top labels.
No matter how fancypants the designer, it’s always very hard work that can veer into eat-your-own-fist-with-boredom-territory. It generally results in scratched limbs, knackered bodies, numb-yet-raw bloodied feet and a general feeling of malaise if you do a lot of days in one go.
Here’s how it works: we sit around on alert, while the client awaits their guests. These are fashion buyers from shops, department stores and online shops who are given a frothy coffee by the harangued-looking intern and schmoozed a bit by the designer/company. They’re then talked through the collection and pick out outfits for you to try on and show off. Like a swan paddling, you have to get changed super fast and then glide out to show off the outfit and sometimes get pictured in them.
Fact: some fashion buyers will say hello and thank you each time you come out. Others will not give you the time of day. I have been pinched, prodded, the linings felt without my permission, I’ve been treated with utter disregard and felt utterly dehumanised, more of a mannequin than a model. Once I came home from a week or really intense showroom in Paris and cried because I just felt so very low and mistreated. My friend had to bathe her feet in ice water every 20 minutes because the shoes were so killer. We also often have to change in the toilet or a tiny stationary cupboard, where we’re often directed to stay, hidden like Harry Potter, until we’re needed as otherwise we clutter up the space.
Why do we do it?! It’s often paid by the hour, and can be over the course of two or three weeks so you can really rake it in. There is a lot of down time, meaning you can get a lot of your own stuff done. Plus you forget how boring it can be. Sometimes the client is lovely, you get per diems and nice food, and sometimes they let you buy the clothes at cost price. Lastly, you get to try on amazing clothes: I did it for a couple of years for Catherine Deane and basically just imagined my wedding in each of the glorious gowns. I actually really loved it.
I’ve done so much over the years, I’ve made ALL the showroom errors so I have a bit of a handy range of hints and tips to help you through showroom season.
1) Turn up looking neat and fresh.
Nude underwear is a must, as is a microfibre thong. You’ll be in all sorts of looks and I remember one model being bitched about by the client for wearing French knickers, which looked terrible under the tight trousers.
You also want to get your hair back in a neat bun, maybe spray it a bit, and take your hairbrush and a spare hairband as you’ll be changing so much you’ll look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards in about ten minutes.
Oh: and careful with deodorant white marks! And don’t wear make up so you don’t stain clothes.
2) Bring something to do
In the old days, I’d just scroll through my phone or stare into space. Your brain turns to sludge quite quickly and it gets hard to concentrate on a book. Now I have Modeltypeface I can do writing between clients or I buy shameless chick lit/magazines, which I can read more easily, and it means the dead space becomes productive space (or at least a bit less brain-frazzling).
3) Eat light
It’s SOOOO hard being in an office and not nibbling on biscuits and treats laid out for the client. But as the days add up, so do the calories, and it gets a bit depressing feeling like the clothes are getting tighter. It’s better to take your own supplies if you’re at a place for a week or so, or to bring in your own snacks/lunch so you don’t spend your earnings.
I recommend a good breakfast to keep you going: scrambled eggs for protein to keep you full, porridge for slow releasing energy or whatever works for you. Avocado, nuts, seeds to snack on, apples to refresh your mouth and a good hearty lunch (roasted veg, humous, quinoa?) for lunch so you’re full but not bloated and lethargic.
Also, I take peppermint teas so I stay warm and refreshed throughout the day.
4) Do exercise afterwards
A day of showroom is knackering and makes you feel totally washed out, but following with some yoga or a quick bit of cardio will give you a bit of oomph and feel like you’ve shaken off the stationary cupboard.
5) Be polite, quiet and invisible
Unlike a shoot, showroom is NOT about getting your personality across to everyone. You’re an unwelcome distraction if you do so. They don’t want you to join in the conversation or give you your opinion on their clothes. Just keep quiet with a serene smile, model the clothes and stand by politely until you’re dismissed.
Obviously be really polite to the client, offer them a cup of tea – but it’s a busy stressful time for them, so it’s better to play by ear and assume they want you seen but not heard.
6) Be on time
You’re being paid by the hour so it’s totally about getting there ten minutes early. They will be SO annoyed if you’re late. Even though the fashion buyers are nearly always an hour or so late themselves.
7) Think of the money
Yes it’s boring, but it’s just a few hours and it’s decent pay. Don’t show how bored you are. Don’t keep staring at your phone. Just be zen.
8) Compliment certain clothes
Sometimes there’s a total winner in the collection: a coat that feels amazing or a dress that makes you feel like a filmstar. Don’t come out like a burlesque star about to strip but it’s cool to give of a bit of a vibe for the knockout outfits, it gives the person selling the outfit something to say: “Rebecca especially loves this, she said it makes her feel really cosy.” A little bit of help with their job, but not too much imposition.
9) Don’t moan when they give you every outfit to try on
Sometimes you get someone who wants you to try on EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT even though they don’t seem interested and don’t even look at you when you come out. Sometimes it feels like you’re done and then they give you the fiddley catsuit with the boots that take ten minutes to tie up and make your feet bleed. It’s not great, but it’s your job so there’s no point in pulling a face or exuding pissed offness. Remember: seen and not heard. You’re a serene swan. This is your job.
10) Keep your stationary cupboard tidy
This is really important. You get given so many outfits and have to change so much that it very quickly starts to resemble a bomb site in your cupboard. Hang up the clothes after wearing them (another key to getting rebooked). Have one side with the clothes you’ve worn, and the other with the clothes you have yet to try on. It’ll keep you sane and help the client, too.
11) Bring slippers
And a comfy dressing gown/sweater dress. You will resent getting back into the tight, complicated clothes and high heels you arrived in. Not only will you be sore and weary but you may have to get back into them numerous times throughout the day. Wear a good coat so you look smart and stylish when you walk into the showroom, with a mega cosy Waynette Slob outfit underneath that you can slide in and out of with ease.
Look, showroom is pretty much the opposite of doing catwalk shows for Gaultier or shooting Vogue with Testino. HOWEVER! It’s well paid, it’s only over a few weeks each year and it’s a great little flexible earner that fits in between jobs – or gets you through quiet periods. I also know lots of models who are working in fashion now and learned LOADS about the industry from listening to the interactions between seller and buyer.
Plus now you have my survival guide to get you through unscathed!