Not a Cakewalkhttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/fashion/not-a-cakewalk/

Not a Cakewalk

Stilettoes and style — a behind-the-scenes look at model auditions for the country’s biggest fashion event.

Models during the auditions for the country’s biggest fashion event. (Source: Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)
Models during the auditions for the country’s biggest fashion event. (Source: Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

The makeshift green room at the model auditions is a factory of clones. The Autumn-Winter 15 edition of Amazon India Fashion Week is more than a month away but the casting call for female models is underway at The Lalit in Delhi on a Wednesday afternoon. Backstage, there’s a brigade of more than 60 girls, dressed in Zara, Forever 21, or shorts and skirts from thrift markets. Most sport heavy mascara, bright lip colours and ironed hair, with dangerously high heels. While one fixes a bra and another frets over a broken heel, there are some taking selfies. Even in their laughter, there’s tension, as the mix of Indian and foreign faces nervously awaits the order of model coordinator and backstage manager Pujan Kapur Sharma.

There are no names, just coordinates — A6, B11, C8, D9 — and the shortest is 5 feet 8 in. It’s these combinations of numbers and alphabets that have to walk impressively enough to be shortlisted by a jury that comprises designers Poonam Bhagat, Rohit Gandhi, Ashish N. Soni and Rakesh Thakore. “Girls, are you ready? Fall in a line, fall in a line, fall in a line…,” says Sharma, seconds before No beef by Afrojack and Steve Aoki starts playing. The first batch of eight models is a mixed lot — some natural ramp scorchers, others so awkward that Gandhi and Thakore shake their heads in disapproval.

Under the light, as these newbies walk, their details become more prominent — tattoos on thighs, arms, napes and necks; piercings. One girl sports mehendi till her elbows; another has Band-Aid on her ankle. “It all happened too fast, tell them to hold a little longer,” says Thakore to Nikhil Lal, Head of Production, Talent and Event Management, Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI).

It’s been a few minutes and rather dull. Then, B9 struts down the ramp. The jury perks up and one slips in a “wow”. B9 is in a red shirt dress, accessorised with a thick black belt, paired with red heels, a silver neck piece, and wavy hair tied back.

Round one is over, and the designers are shortlisting the models with the help of Lal and Sharma. B9 is called back on the ramp for another look, and then sent back. The list is with Sharma, and she sends 40 of them back home with a sweet but razor-sharp “next time”.

Round two begins with the same drill, except that the models smile, almost communicating a “thank you” to the jury. There are a few more faces that garner some excitement, and one of them is A11 — she’s no siren like B9. Quite the opposite, she looks like a sweet teenager.

Over a quick lunch break, another list is taken backstage and all but 10 are sent back home with the “next time” wave. “I am like the mother hen here. If I see potential in some, I go and tell them how, in the next round, they need to have more energy or shouldn’t slouch. When you reject some, you have to be very encouraging,” says Sharma.

The third round is gruelling. The selected models pose together in a line, as the jury stares and discusses among themselves. It’s also when you find out their names. A11 is Edna Abigail, a Mexican, who walks the ramp again and almost trips. “Darling, you want to change your heels?” says Bhagat, adding, “or just walk barefeet for us.”

In the meantime, two more foreigners — Anna Lupareva and Lucia Hrinakova — are brought up front and asked to smile, and they comply. Next in line is the red stunner, the judges’ favourite, B9. Her name is Sheherazade Dakhlaoui from Paris. “Can you change into something else?” ask the judges. She lifts her dress and shows denim shorts under it. “Someone lend her a vest,” screams Sharma, and the two run backstage. Dakhlaoui, 22, returns in a white vest tied up to make a crop top and the shorts. Another round of “wow” from the judges ensues. Dakhlaoui arrived in India only three days ago and her place on the ramp for one of India’s largest fashion events seems assured.

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The day is over and all 10, including five Indian faces, have been shortlisted. The designers do a quick photo-op on the ramp, the models profusely thank them, and one goes ahead and wishes Soni belatedly on his birthday. Did he spot the next big thing in the industry? “The era of the supermodel is over,” says Soni, “some will be successes on the ramp, others will do better in print. You don’t find a star every season.”