FASHION: PARIS Diary of a catwalk debutante
Scary hair, tricky trousers - never a dull moment when you're a couture model, as Chrystele Saint-Louis-Augustin's journal shows
She could be a veteran of modelling by now, for she was approached by a model scout when she was ice-skating, aged 14, by which stage she was already aware, because so many strangers had told her, that she was beautiful. Her mother tore up the agent's card. A year later, she was roller-skating and the same thing happened. This time, she tore up the card herself. "My obsession was to be cultivated. Then I chose the time when modelling would happen to me." Needless to say, it was a mere moment between that decision and the cover of French Vogue.
But haute couture is something else. "I am French, I have been brought up hearing these big names, of all the fame of Paris fashion. I wanted to remember this week. So this (scribbled on the Metro, between fittings, and between courses while we eat) is my diary."
`"First I go to my fitting with Mr Ferre at Dior and we are being filmed for television. Christian Lacroix then tells me at my fitting with him that he has just seen me on the television. Then I go to Chanel for fittings with Mr Lagerfeld. For Guy Laroche I was wondering if I would really do the show. Nothing fitted at first. Everything had to be altered. At couture, the difference is in millimetres.
Monday lunchtime I turn up at Dior for the show and we go upstairs for hair and make-up. My first concern is who is the hairdresser because I want to look good like all the other models and sometimes hairdressers are scared of my hair. I'm lucky in that there are two Italian hairdressers who I like a lot and who can prove that, like any other model, my hair can be done quickly, just hot grease instead of lacquer to keep it back. Often I keep it tied back. Imagine, in university with my hair out, no one will see the teacher. When I was younger, I straightened it. In school one of my black friends had a fringe and I said: "What on earth does that look like, why do we have to look white, we're not." I find my hair beautiful.
When I'm first at Dior, Karen Mulder [a supermodel] saw my hair first and not me and was like "Oh God, do we have to have frizzy hair for this show! It takes so long to comb out." Then she saw it was me and she relaxed.
It's showtime, I'm really nervous and I'm late to line up because the dresser can't get my trousers on me. You can't be late. If you don't go out on the catwalk on time you don't go out at all. They can't have the model in the pink outfit once all the models in the black outfits are out there. Mr Ferre has to cut the beltloops, otherwise the trousers won't undo.
Then there's this hat with feathers and because everyone is so nervous of my hair they keep pressing it down and the hat is going in my eyes while I'm saying "I can't see!"
The worst nightmare is shoes. If the dresser doesn't do them up and they fall off you think someone backstage is trying to kill you. Sometimes you have one dresser at your feet, one putting on the dress, another the accessories and another the hat.
I've done ready-to-wear shows, just the last season, when they cast maybe 40 models, but at couture there are only 15 of us, so I feel really special. And the clothes which are made by hand look like genius to me. Dior has two shows and in between the famous model girls go off to see their boyfriends, or whatever. But I stayed put and found myself being interviewed for television.
Then it's the next show and I feel so much more happy. Before I was shaking when I had to hold a jewelled cigarette holder and I don't know how to smoke. At the second show I'm really enjoying myself.
Straight off to a Christian Lacroix fitting, except I don't know where the House of Lacroix is. I ask another model, and then because I'm in a hurry I get lost on the Metro. Do I get scared on the Metro? Yes, when I'm with your photographer. Usually I pretend I don't see anything.
The fitting lasts for three hours, until 10.30pm. I end up getting a cab only because your photographer says he's starving and too tired to go by Metro. You know that he gets all white when he hasn't eaten anything all day.
[For the record, the next day at dinner, Chrystele eats two courses, proper stuff, not rabbit food.] Tuesday is Chanel and I start with make-up. Someone makes me jump and oops! a plate of salad ends up in the hairdresser's bag! I'm cleaning it up, going "I'm so sorry"! And then I find an old rotten peach in the bottom of his bag and I say, "Ah! It's not the first time that's happened to you!"
A couple of times I've heard people in the audience calling my name [a mark of appreciation]. My first thought is it's my friends or it's my Mum. My Mum is beautiful. Someone asked her to be a model once but her big sister tore up the man's card.
Outside Chanel, I met my first fan. This man says to me, "I'm following your career and here is a picture of you I have drawn and a note of where you can contact me." I say, "Thank you for the picture, but I will never contact you."
But he's from the Caribbean, where my people are from [Chrystele's parents come from the French departement of Guadeloupe and Martinique] and he's written something that means "Stay tough, don't give up" in the language of my island. I can speak Creole but actually I just speak it when I talk to myself.
Another man came up to me today and told me I have an aura, that his mother is a clairvoyant who has told him I am strong.
Does this scare me? No, unless they say they'll put magic on me! In the Caribbean, you don't give out the name with which you have been baptised so that no one can put a spell on it.
They can do what they like with your family name, which often came in the first place from the names of plantations, but your own name, you keep that protected.
I often don't say my name. I say I'm Lucie, Caroline or Analise, because for as long as I can remember people have come and spoken to me. I try to be nice, but there's no reason I should surrender my privacy. "
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