I meet my old friend Alice and her photographer husband Claudie Crommelin in trendy Shoreditch, the hipster neighbourhood of central London. And where else? We walk to the Ginger Pig café , grab some food at their new favourite place and catch up. It has been a while what with work and travel commitments and we need to catch up. The last time I saw them Claudie was promoting his book, New Street Art, a collection of his photographs showing the best of the Shoreditch Street Art scene, a great piece of work that I have signed by both Claudie and his personal friend and “the new Banksy” Stik. Since then fate has thrown half the world in his direction. Claudie was the resident photographer at the Amsterdam club The Roxy and his archive of photographs covering his time there were found by a Dutch newspaper and then splashed on the cover, and scanned onto Flickr. Next thing, he has had 4 ½ million hits on his pictures. I am very proud of Claudie and his work is stunning. He will drop in anecdotal stories of this guy and that guy being here and there and taking their picture and you then see that it was Andy Warhol, and Nico, and Henry Rollins.
And Alice is just as cool. I do have a standard set of interview questions to run through but looking at my notes now, the conversation was organic, so give me a little rope here as I try to put together TheBritishFashionista.com’s first FASHION INSIDER interview.
TBF: Was your modelling career both catwalk and print?
AG: Primarily print, I did a bit of catwalk but was not very good at it. I was never very good at walking in heels. When I think of myself walking on a catwalk all I can think of is “clunk-clunk-clunk”. I walked for Zandra Rhodes, Michiko Koshino and Martine Sitbon. As I said I was not very good. I remember the Martine Sitbon show in Paris when I was walking along, “clunk-clunk-clunk” to the end of the runway, turn, and then I saw Iman floating by and realised, I was not very good at it.
TBF: How did you get into it?
AG: I was working as a waitress in Toronto when a famous Canadian model and her male companion came in. I talked to them and it turns out the guy was a session hairdresser. He cut my hair and put my photo up in his salon and recommended a few agencies. Ironically the first agency I sent my photos to told me my hair was too short and to come back in three months. So I waited for 3 months, let my hair grow out and then got back in touch. And again they didn’t want me. So I went to the next on the list and they did.
TBF: What agencies were you on the book of?
AG: Premier in London, Marilyn in Paris, Ford in New York and Beatrice in Milan. And I was lucky because I started in London, which is a very sane scene. I was lucky and met one of my best friends in the business Linda here. She had more of a traditional trajectory. She was from Chicago so would start in New York. NY is more harsh and, if they don’t like you immediately they send you to Europe to learn your trade.
TBF: Can you list the publications you were in?
AG: As I said, I was lucky. On my second day in London I got work for Harpers Bazaar, on the fifth day German Vogue. I also appeared in French Elle, German Cosmopolitan, Lei (Italian Glamour), Italian Vogue. I was on a shoot for Vanity Fair, but I think I got cut. Flare magazine, which is big in Canada and like Elle. So pretty quickly I had a decent number of “tear sheets.” Tear sheets are literally photos of yourself you can tear from a magazine and put in your portfolio.
TBF: What are your fondest memories of your modelling career?
AG: Do I have fondest memories? (She looks at Claudie, who is looking at TripAdvisor as the Street Art tours he co-runs have been listed as the 21st most popular thing to do in London out of 3,045 attractions, sites and activities)
CC: Meeting me?
AG: Yes, meeting Claudie. One of my favourite memories was being at the Paris Fashion Week. You tend not to see the other girls too much because you are all working around the world, so we tend to meet up when we can. So we met at lunch, me and 6 other models, and Claudie. He is then sitting in this Paris restaurant with these 7 models around him, and then walking down the street that evening with 3 girls on one side, and 4 on the other and people are just looking at him jealously and asking “what does that guy do?” Another funny thing, once in a while we’d go to Agency parties that Marilyn threw. Being both Dutch we were drinking beer when champagne was free. The French were shocked.
TBF: Out of all the clothes, who’s were the best? What outfits stand out?
AG: The Nefertiti shoot (bottom centre) for Jean Patou with Christian Lacroix. Haute couture is worn by haute couture models (Haute Couture samples are tiny because they are cut on skinny in-house models, and not made to standard French size 36 that Pret a Porter is). When I lived in a model flat in Paris you would get a call from one of the haute couture shows and, if you are as thin as those girls you race there. For that shoot the first dress arrived and I couldn’t do it up. They sent it back by courier. Three hours later, after a seamstress at the atelier had gone mad, a new dress appeared. I still couldn’t do it up, so it went back. Third time I could.
(Alice showed me this photo CENSORED for TBF fans)
AG: Same thing here. The underwear piece had to make it into a German vogue shoot, because it was produce by a company that bought advertising. They wanted the signature piece in the shoot but it did not fit, so I came up with the idea of looking like a hunter, with the jerkin over one shoulder only so they could fire a bow. So we ripped the costume off one shoulder and I posed like a hunter. It worked. I loved wearing Comme Des Garcons, an avante garde label of Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo in Paris. She makes deconstructed clothing. I remember one outfit where just couldn’t work out how to put it on. We needed to call the designer and get one of the assistants to come and help. It was a put one leg in here, and arm in here, fasten there, and voila! It’s a jump suit.
AG: Invaluable advice I had from my best friend Linda is, if you don’t want to spend time with sleazy playboys, join an agency run by a woman. That is why I signed with Marilyn. Agencies run by men are normally run by sleazeballs who want to sleep with models, and who’s friends want to sleep with models and are given access to them, all the while bankrolled by industrialist fathers.
TBF: Tell me about the modelling on a freezing beach experience. (In her “book” Alice a series of photographs taken on a beach. The photos are wonderful, but I know there is more to them)
AG: It was for a magazine I didn’t particularly like and we were in Normandy for the weekend. It was 1986 and the weekend was so cold that the Elfstedentocht was held. It is the 11 cities ice skating race on the canals of the Netherlands. It was so cold the poleroids wouldn’t process. They need to be at room temperature for 60 seconds to develop, and these were stuck together it was -20 Celsius. Also there would normally be two models on a shoot, so while one is warming up the other is shooting, but I was alone. We were shooting in February. Normally you shoot a season in advance, so I was wearing Spring and Summer clothing in the midwinter. This can cause problems the other way, like when you are shooting fur coats in the heat of August. Anyway, back to the shoot. The makeup artist, who I was sharing a room with had terrible food poisoning and kept me up all night. So I was tired and frozen during that shoot and then, after all that, at the end of the last day they wanted to take some swimsuit shots. This was a Spring Summer shoot after all. There was no way I would do it so I thought to myself, I need to cry. I thought if I cried I would ruin my makeup, and they wouldn’t be able to shoot. And it is the only time I cried on a shoot.
TBF: Through the modelling you had a lot of fun experiences, music videos, travel, famous people? Can you list some for us?
AG: I was fired from a Rolling Stones video where they hired models instead of dancers. Charlie Watts was the only one who was nice to me. Why book models when you want dancers? I was the mouthiest so was fired first. I also appeared in a Robert Plant video, and Jimmy Page, Rory Hart, and The Firm. I also met Dino De Laurentis and was being considered for a role in his movie The Year of the Dragon. But the music videos, to be honest, I didn’t like doing. On a fashion shoot the model is the centre of attention and it is their job to sell the clothes. On a music video the musician is centre of attention and you become nothing more than a female prop. It’s childish.
AG: And that is something people do not realise. A model doesn’t just stand there. You need to understand composition and are always thinking of how to frame yourself. You need to know how to show the label on the back of the jeans, or the collar of the top, you need to know how, if wearing red gloves, to have one in shot and the other masked by your body. People don’t realise models do this, all the way through to understanding how to crop the final photograph.
AG: My friend, Colleen, had a good celebratory story. I met her on my first ever Flare Magazine shoot. She stayed at an agency flat with the other girls. Her agency was owned by a man, so of course, the number was given out to other playboys. What normally happens is the phone rings, you pick it up and there is a guy at the other end asking for a girl who lives there, say Susan. If Susan isn’t the guy will ask for someone else, maybe Isabelle. No, you say, she is away. The guy then asks “well, I have an important friend and we are having a party and I promised him Susan or Isabelle would be there, what are you doing tonight?” My friend Colleen is savvy and says she is busy. The guy then asks to leave a message for them and says his name is Roman. Obviously it is Roman Polanski. Colleen has a change of heart and goes to the party, where the guest of honour is Mick Jagger at Regine’s. Of course he propositioned her and she declined, but it was a brush with the famous.
TBF: Was there ever any crossover between your career and Claudie’s?
AG: Claudie worked for Vinyl Magazine as a photographer in Amsterdam and I was walking in London Fashion Week. They said they would send him over to photograph the Vivenne Westwood show and he would be able to see me too. But he would go there and take pictures and miss the outfit or that he was supposed to. Problem was that Claudie has no feeling/understanding of fashion. He would come back with photos from fashion week, but his material would be missing some ground breaking outfit. He just shot the cutest girls, without regard for what they we actually wearing.
CC: I just liked taking photos of pretty girls.
TBF: Did you get to the Vivienne Westwood show in the end?
CC: It was f-ing 9 in the morning! (I took that as a no)
TBF: What is your advice for girls wanting to get on in the business?
AG: Have an exit strategy. I had a conversation with another model at 24. My career peaked at 21, hers at 18. We talked about exit strategies. Mine was to marry Claudie and go back to school (Alice is now a maths genius Quantitative Analyst at an investment bank), hers was to become an actress.
TBF: Has she been in anything?
AG: I saw her in Law and Order the other day.
TBF: (Joking) As a cadaver?
AG: No. As a prostitute informant. (I leave it at that).
TBF: Do you have any horror stories?
AG: My best friend Linda, who told me to join an agency run by a woman, who was from Chicago originally tried initially for work in New York. But they did the normal of sending her to Europe to gain experience, so farmed her out to Milan. The agency there was run by a man. One agency party she drank too much and ended up going home with the playboy owner. The next morning this 17 year old girl wakes up with this 40 year old man and wonders what she has done. He gives her the line he probably gave all the girls, “let’s go shopping, let’s go to Chanel.” She realises sleeping with him was a mistake and is not interested. He then likes this and gets interested in her, because he thinks she is not interested in his money, like the other girls. He keeps calling, sending gifts and flowers but he won’t take the hint. Then, when she finally had enough, at a restaurant surrounded by dozens of people from the fashion industry she tells him to F-off and die. That in itself was not the nightmare, most girls end up in that situation or another. Linda’s situation became a problem when he was shot dead the following week. She was arrested and questioned by the police. It turns out he was murdered by his 26 year old Texan model fiancée, who was jealous of him seeing the other, younger girls. Milan is a nightmare. You go there to cut your teeth, and leave as soon as you have a few “tear sheets”. If you are stuck in Milan, you never made it in modelling. The incident did make Linda mature beyond her years. She was the wisest 22 year old I ever met because of what she had been through. It was like talking to a 35 year old.
TBF: Looking back what do you miss and what did you get out of it?
AG: What I’m most thankful for, although my mother will disagree, is that I used to be shy and modelling cured me of that, because you need to sell yourself all the time. On the other hand girls do come out of the business either streetwise, damaged, or both. I think I came out streetwise. Young girls, no older than 16 or 17 are thrust into a very adult world, with adult expectations. You have to feel for the 17 year old country girl from the US sent to Tokyo for 6 months, not being able to speak the language, not being able to read anything, away from family and friends. It is the most traumatising thing. It’s hard enough for a young girl from Oklahoma going to Paris alone, but Tokyo?
AG: One thing I do miss is not seeing ahead, because we shoot a season ahead. What I wore this week would be what is in the shops three months or more down the line.