Twelve hopeful girls are learning how to pose, pout and strut their stuff on the runway for tomorrow’s final of the Elite Model Look 2013 UAE and Qatar competition, where one will be chosen to represent the Middle East at the world finals in China. Tessy
Preen. Pout. Pose! Backstage at ‘boot camp beautiful’ where 12 young hopefuls are vying to become Elite’s next top model.
Priya D’Silva sits in a swivel chair before a make-up mirror with her face frozen. Her eyes are lowered, and there’s no expression except for the faintest smile. She has been warned not to move a muscle and the 21-year-old Indian law student obliges. She’s not the victim of Botox – she is waiting for a thin strip of glue spread around her false eyelashes to dry. Finally set, her lips are painted a bright red, and Priya has what make-up artists term the iconic Marilyn Monroe look.
She’s not alone. There are 11 other Marilyn clones parading in high heels vying for a slice of supermodel life on day three of a five-day boot camp at the first Elite Model Look 2013, UAE and Qatar. Selected from hundreds of hopefuls in four rounds of nationwide auditions that began earlier this year, these 12 contestants are being groomed to strike perfect poses in front of the camera, walk elegantly on the ramp in vertiginous heels and along the way discover the arduous backstage life of a model.
“We are not only looking for a beautiful face but also someone who is disciplined and a team player,” says Adriana Usvat, managing partner of FLC Models, co-organiser of the hunt. “The boot camp will give us an opportunity to observe each girl and see who can make it as a model.”
The boot camp kicked off with fittings for evening gowns at Si Fashion Galerie, Jumeirah, followed by a makeover at the Elite Beauty Studio. The camp schedule involves several photo shoots including one during a city tour of Dubai as well as on a beach; fitness tips from experts, and a spa session and ramp walk lessons by model coach and choreographer Marketa Halamek. All the boot camp training will come down to selecting one lucky young woman at a fashion show tomorrow, September 14, at The Oberoi Hotel, Dubai. The winner will represent the Middle East at theWorld finals of Elite Model Look International to be held in November in China.
So far the wannabe models have spent two days having the fittings, makeover and photo sessions at the chic Light House Studio in Al Quoz, the dusty warehouse jungle of Dubai.
It’s now past noon and as soon as the make-up is done, the girls move to hair, where stylists Donnabel and Joan use an assortment of hair clips, volumes of hair spray and deft fingers to give the girls what they describe as the latest trend in hairdos – the side up.
“It gets tricky if the girl has thick hair or if it’s too silky,” says The Elite Beauty Studio’s Donnabel, while braiding Natalia Siam’s voluminous blonde hair. Natalia stifles a giggle as she realises that her thick hair is the challenge that Donnabel is referring to. All of 14, Natalia from Australia is transformed
in minutes into a fashion diva with her new side-up hair. “I love it,’’ she says, swinging her head to admire her hair before the mirror. “I enjoy being in front of the camera and want to be a model. This contest has been a great opportunity for me. It has taught me how to walk, pose in front of the camera and be in shape. It’s been amazing.”
Ready, she trots off for her photo session – today the girls are to be shot in abayas and evening gowns.
“I’ve always been in casual, sporty clothes and sneakers so wearing long evening gowns while balancing in high heels was a challenge,” confides Natalia. “But I am learning. I’m looking forward to the final.”
A career full of challenges
There will be four catwalk rounds at the finale. “They will first come in the Elite T-shirts, then in casual outfits followed by abayas specially created by designer Lamya Abedin and finally in evening gowns,” Adriana explains.
“A career in modelling is full of challenges – you could have late nights and then be expected to get up early for photo shoots that can go on all day; you’ve got to take care of your skin and be fit, it’s hard work but a lot of fun as well.”
The girls are being filmed at every stage of the boot camp – the footage will be flashed behind each contestant at the final. “As each girl comes on the catwalk a screen will showcase her photographic journey from the castings through the boot camp,” Adriana says. “The goal is to show their transformation through the event, how each girl has improved and fitted into the role of a supermodel.”
In studio B, Lebanese schoolgirl Lia Saad, 17, from Abu Dhabi prepares to strike a pose, dressed in a pretty flowing abaya that has a panel of grey frills in the front. Before the shoot starts, she pauses for a few seconds, then looks into the camera with a new confidence.
“Is this fine?” she asks Adel Rashid, the Light House Studio photographer
“Yes, and now give us a cover girl look,” he shouts from behind his tripod. She places her hands on her hips, thumbs pointing back, thrusts one leg forward and with a practised pout looks straight into the camera like she has been shooting magazine covers all her life. Adel clicks away before giving her a ‘brava!’.
Slipping out of the abaya, Lia poses for close-up shots in her black Elite T-shirt. In her jeans and chewing gum she instantly becomes a teenager again.
Aged between 14 and 22, most finalists are not new to the world of fashion and photo shoots. Lia has been modelling for a couple of years and already has shoots for big names such as Chanel and Pizza Hut in her portfolio. “Entering this contest will give me more experience,” she says.
For a shot at the glamorous life many have put studies and even careers on hold. While 18-year-old Isabella Haycock from Qatar has
taken a gap year after high school, 22-year-old Dubai resident Nicole Martin quit her job at a top airline to concentrate on modelling.
“I have already wasted years and I can always go back to my job,” she says. Nicole resigned after she was selected in the castings held in Dubai in April but is not optimistic about making it. “I know I am not going to win this,” she says in a matter-of-fact manner, “I am way too old. It’s the 14 and 16-year-olds who will make it. I am here for the exposure it will hopefully get me.”
Although it’s 1.20pm, none of the girls seems hungry. While a few are busy shooting or getting their face and hair redone, some are preparing for a fitting for evening gowns by Tarannum Khanzada from Si Fashion Galerie in an adjoining dressing room. The make-up style is changing. The black eyeliner has given way to smoky eyes. The braided hairdos are undone for stylish evening waves.
Sporting 4-inch-plus heels, suddenly all the girls appear to be towering over the make-up crew. At 183cm, Mehrubon Oeva, a 20-year-old aspiring model from Tajakistan, is the tallest contestant. She settles on the black sofa for a change of make-up with artist Naima Bennani from Kryolan Gulf.
“Most gowns were short for me, except this one,” says Mehrubon, flapping the long black gown, and promptly gets a scolding from Naima for smearing her eyeshadow. Mehrubon air blows a kiss to soothe Naima and goes on to recount how she had made it to the castings at the last minute.
“It was a lazy Friday and I got an SMS late afternoon from a friend about the castings in Festival Centre in Dubai. I made it just in time and was selected for this round. Apart from making it here, I also made a friend for a lifetime in that queue,” she smiles, pointing at fellow contestant Anita Nayyar. A student of Mawakeb School, Dubai, 16-year-old Anita has been modelling for her mother’s fashion store since the age of six.
The leggy beauties are now good friends as teenager Anita shares her years of experience with Mehrubon, a relative newcomer to the world of fashion. This friendship comes as a welcome surprise in the otherwise competitive world of catwalk queens.
“I don’t see the other girls as competition because I know my strengths,” says Anita with a shrug.
Watch and learn
At 3pm it is still chaotic inside Studio B – the photo shoots in the gowns have finally begun. Even though the girls have been standing all day in high heels, posing and smiling for hours under the harsh lights, nobody seems tired. For Lia it’s her third change of hairstyle. “Of course, I have no complaints,’’ she says. “Anyone would kill to be in my shoes.”
Nicole and Priya huddle in a corner to grab a quick lunch of salad and grilled chicken when Adel shouts, “Girls, watch this.” A pro at photo shoots, Anita’s ease in front of the camera impresses Adel and he wants the other girls to take some tips from the way she’s posing. Pouting and showing off her purple burgundy bejewelled evening gown, it’s clear she’s done this countless times before.
Cheering her on is the visibly pregnant model coach Marketa. With 15 years of experience as a model and choreographer Marketa’s job is to teach the girls to pose and walk. “Nobody likes a stone beauty, you have to express yourself in front of the camera,” she says. In seconds she twists her facial muscles to pull off the baby face look, the angry look, the cover girl look and the wild lioness look. The girls watch and learn.
Then Marketa is showing them how to strut the runway in a variety of styles, the fast street walk to show off casual clothes, and the Versace walk, a slow graceful walk more suited for gowns. “Modelling is a lot of hard work,” she says, instructing them to practise again and
‘Nobody likes a stone beauty, you have to express yourself in front of the camera… Modelling is a lot of hardwork’
again. By 4pm, some of the girls are exhausted but their smiles are plastered on their faces. In a corner, Ewa Sepiolo borrows a pen and does her French homework. Amanda Berthomier, who was late because she couldn’t miss school, says that studies are important. “You have to have a plan B if modelling doesn’t work out,’’ she says.
At 5pm it’s time for a group photo. The girls gather in front of Adel’s camera. One look at the beauties in bejewelled silk gowns and coiffed hair and it’s hard to imagine most of them are still in school. They look ready to step out at a red carpet event – and the next one will determine their futures.
Only one will succeed but right now they all think they could be the UAE’s next top model.
p.24 Nothing is left to chance for the models, as every strand of hair is placed perfectly
Law student Priya, left, could have been in a sticky situation… Lia, this picture, Anita, right, and Isabella, far right, learn the tricks of the modelling trade Lia, above, has been modelling for a couple of years but has found new confidence at the boot camp. Natalia, above right, has beautiful thick hair, which posed a challenge to the stylist
Mehrubon, left, and Anita met in the queue at the castings. Theirs is a welcome friendship in a competitive business