I work in advertising, and last month I got my first really good assignment. It was the kind of project everybody waits for, the kind that comes along once or twice in a mediocre career like mine. It wasn't doing ads for a pharmaceutical company, or working on ARMY, the government's current ad campaign to recruit soldiers for an unpopular war. It involved working with fashion models, the true power elite of our society. I was going to shoot a television commercial with a super-famous supermodel!
The shoot took place at the new Steiner Studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It looked like a huge airplane hanger, but it was filled with cameramen, videographers, clients, advertising executives and the model's "people," all milling around a makeshift kitchen, eating breakfast. The model was standing alone next to a folding card table doubling as a kitchen counter, smoking. She was carrying a Balenciaga bag and wore jeans with thigh-high, pointy black boots, and a wife-beater under a short, raggy, vintage fur vest. She looked impossibly elegant at seven o'clock in the morning, way before hair-and-makeup.
I went up to her and held out my hand.
"Hi," I said. "I'm the writer. I wrote the commercial."
She glanced down at my hand without taking it, then gave me a half-smile that said, "Are you kidding?" in model-speak.
Her teeth were pointy, which made me feel better about being treated like shit.
At the behest of my boss, Geoff, the creative director for the ad agency, I stepped away from the model and watched her from a distance, as if she were a zoo animal. She smoked cigarettes like they were breakfast food and spoke on her cellphone incessantly. She seemed happy, and why not? I would be too if I got to swing my head from side to side and be the center of attention while lesser folk lit my Winstons and fed me popcorn, one perfectly air-popped kernel at a time. There isn't much not to like about the life of a model on a television shoot.
After the breakfast table had been scraped clean by the bottom-feeding assistants, the hair-and-makeup people finally arrived. Their job was to turn the model from uncomfortable nasty-girl teenage-girlfriend of a rockstar/drug addict from Knightsbridge into a SUPERMODEL.
The two people responsible for this transformation were so androgynous that I couldn't ascertain their gender. They were both tall and thin. One had gorgeous, waist-length blonde hair, no breasts and smooth skin with a little nose. The other had long blonde dreadlocks, no breasts, round hips and a neutral face. These two were tricksters.
The model stood in a small room, brightly lit by overhead fluorescents, totally naked, arms out to her side, while her genderless cohorts sprayed her with large silver canisters of foundation. They sprayed her from head to toe, airbrushing her into a monotone five-foot-eleven version of a human being with no veins, nipples, nails, lips, or eyelashes.
The makeup artist dug through his/her suitcase of brushes, plowed through hundreds of tubes of flesh colors and began to draw human features onto the stock-still figure in front of him.
At the same time, the hair stylist meticulously sewed, with a needle and thread, strand after strand of long golden hairs onto the model's own thin, light brown locks, creating a thick, full mane of shimmering gold.
The model stood in a small room, brightly lit by overhead fluorescents, totally naked, arms out to her side, while her genderless cohorts sprayed her with large silver canisters of foundation.
In addition, the model had brought her very own chef, who cooked spinach soup for her from scratch. It was fed to her during hair-and-makeup by one of her lackeys, who existed solely for this purpose. The lackey stood in front of her, gently blowing on the soup, and then feeding it to her with a small, silver children's spoon. The model's mouth was barely open, maybe a quarter of inch wide, so that she wouldn't crack the makeup.
The makeup artist was rolling his/her eyes, understandably appalled at the model's desire to eat while he practiced his art, when the unimaginable happened: the soup lackey accidentally blew a wad of spinach from the spoon onto the model's tit. The room went silent. He took a step toward her, presumably to lick it off with his tongue, when the makeup artist pushed him out of the way, flicked the green bit off with his index finger and then asked everyone to back up as he sprayed the model's tit with the silver canister. I watched as her nipple grew huge from the cold foundation, then broke right through the makeup.
It took five hours to turn the model into the person we, the public, recognize, and then finally the director began shooting the television commercial.
The model began to dance on a stage set wearing a short red lycra dress by Martin Margiela, and her own thigh-high black leather boots. The dress was so tight I could not imagine that she had anything on underneath it. Not that I was imagining.
She chose The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" to play during the filming. The music was loud, and Mick Jagger's lyrics ("Rape! Murder! It's just a shot away . . . ") seemed to turn her on. She moved provocatively, dancing up and down the faux runway built for the shot, sticking her butt out, lying down and writhing on the floor under the pulsing blue lights, tossing her hair at all the right moments.
The director, well known for his many MTV videos, kept yelling over the music, telling her how beautiful and perfect she was.
"You're beautiful. Gorgeous. You're Perfect. That's it. Give it to me, just like that."
His words were such creepy clichés, it was hard to imagine that anybody took him seriously, yet even I was beginning to believe him, and this was my very first shoot. I imagined what the model's mind must be like after being told this every single day of her entire adult life.