You know you got a good thing going when someone asks you to work on a Sunday at 9am and you exclaim, “Yes!” I’ve recently scored an awesome internship at the biggest mainland China based modeling company, where to put it politely, they don’t pay me diddly squat. Okay maybe diddly, but for sure not squat. And yet, coming in and being bossed around by booking agents, working in sometimes less than ideal, and bordering on the chaotic (often downright cray cray) circumstances, I still beam like the sun when someone applauds me for my work. Sure, I’ll admit, it’s not as impressive or humbling as inoculating orphans in Somalia, or discovering a cure for cancer, BUT.I.LOVE.IT! It’s not permanent or anything, and sho’ nuff, I’ll be growing in different directions, but I’m learning so damn much, and not just about managing foreign models in mainland China either. I mean I have front row center seats to the ins and outs of a newly thriving fashion world, only recently discovered. And the work your willing to do for near to nothing, just because you enjoy it, well I’d say that’s a calling.
This weekend recently tested my strengths on levels I didn’t even know existed. I began my day at 8:45 am on a Saturday at my first fashion show, a foreign client peddling Paris designs in Shanghai. The show– immaculate, professional, and above all things beautiful–provided a pretty misleading backdrop for how the rest of the weekend would proceed.
I would not make it home until 11pm Sunday, the next day after rehearsal and another show in Changshu. Even if my function was not entirely clear, from helping the models in their preparations, to watching the rehearsal and the models get made up, I enjoyed every minute of it. Last week I assisted in a catalog photo shoot for Hermes. Nothing major, just some shots for a look book or online shopping, but being around the process of creation inspires me. And I definitely love feeling inspired. My day to day tasks aren’t exciting, what with creating presentations for clients, organizing model information, and scheduling and executing castings, but being constantly in the vicinity of industry professionals and beautiful people has its perks.
For one I am meeting a lot of interesting people in the Shanghai fashion world. These people are artists. They think, eat, breath creation and even in its most frivolous form, it’s a refreshing break from academia with the whole “holy is me” attitude and outlook on pretty much the rest of the world. Walking in like soldiers on a do-or-die mission, make-up artists, photographers, and creative directors run the show, take themselves VERY seriously, and can often be very difficult to work with, which brings me back to this past weekend. Before the show even began in the morning part of my Saturday workday, I had to rush over to a meeting point to take a bus full of models out of town for evening rehearsal for another fashion show the very next day. On more than several occasions I seriously considered packing all my things and getting the hell out of China-STAT! But let me skip to what I learned so as to not dull you with the dirty details. I can do a quick superficial snapshot by telling you that I now seriously understand Micky D’s will always be part of my diet, sleeping is for lazy people, and even if it’s not true, the client is always right (I do mean ALWAYS)…Working with people you sometimes can’t stand isn’t all bad. After all, pushing your limits is uncomfortable because discomfort indicates stretching your threshold in tolerance. And pushing your threshold to its limits, and then past means growing stronger and learning about what you can withstand in the process. That is exactly what learning is; discomfort and growing through that discomfort into a more experienced and resilient individual. The fiber of my whole being was definitely pushed to parameters of myself I didn’t even know were alive and kicking. Being on the outside, that is not Chinese like the other booking agents, so Western, but not the service provider like the Western models, gave me quite the vantage point. As Fitzgerald famously quotes, “I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
Being on the edge of the edge makes you not just see all sides at once, but simultaneously embody its demands. Trippy experience, don’t I know it, but invaluable in this line of work. See, sometimes perspective is all you need to in order to understand a situation very differently. And my ever-constant shifting perspective, not to mention my natural tendency to want to please everybody, guided me in extremely difficult situations. Yes, sometimes I will work with clients who rub me the wrong way, or whose methods I don’t agree with, but after all, they are the client, and professionalism demands I try to please them without too much condescension.
Further, models love to get a kick out of you. I mean not on purpose, but just because sometimes they simply can’t help themselves (and I’m speaking generalities of course). I, on more than one occasion, had to dodge very shameless flirt tactics in order to stay on this side of what I was doing. I do not work for the model 100%, but 50% and so had to keep my eye on that number. After all, how easy is it to want to answer to the demands of some charming individuals who’ve internalized the notion that their most valuable operational asset is what they can do with their looks? And so it went this weekend, straddling the line of trying to stay objective to two distinct parties, one who I genuinely enjoyed working with, the other who I could really care less to please, but had to, even if I believed their demands to be incredibly outrageous. This is work, what it means: to do what you sometimes don’t want to do because it’s what the task demands. And to do it well, without losing sight of your function as facilitator, that takes patience, emotional energy, and a lot of teeth clenching to boot. So let’s just say that even through all this fog of work, I emerged a stronger more enlightened individual, and hopefully one that on the second go can better deal with the diva demands of some unbelievably imperceptive clients and some hard-to-say-no-to (or counteract) oober attractive personalities.