Milan’s a fashion town. I didn’t have to tell you that, but I thought I’d start by stating the obvious. If anyone comes here, somehow miraculously unaware that this is indeed the case, he or she will soon figure it out by bumping into an inordinate number of tall, gangly girls between points A and B or F or Z.
I have always found this phenomenon simultaneously entertaining and irritating. And let’s be clear (obvious statement #2), I’m not getting any younger, so the inevitable comparison between myself and “them” is getting harsher by the day. I’m not over-weight. I’m not ugly. But when I find myself navigating between the sort of bevy you see pictured above, I feel nothing if not fat, squat and less than attractive.
I remember when I came to Milan and I’d yet to see a fashion model, someone warned me. “You’ll see. They’re different,” she said. “They’re like…another species…they’re not like you and me.” It’s true. They’re not.
They come from elsewhere, many from Eastern Europe. They walk around, hunched over their maps in groups of 2 or 3. They speak accented English if they speak it at all. You can tell which of them will be successes. You can tell which ones need to go home. Now that I’m a mother, I often look at them with maternal eyes. I want to take them in, give them a decent meal, ask them how it’s going. Suggest career alternatives. They often seem lost.
Several years ago, I covered a shoot with Juergen Teller for Telecom Italia. He’d just finished compiling the images for his portrait book, Go-Sees. I cannot look at these girls without thinking of him. He’d recently had a little girl, if I remember correctly, and I wonder if that influenced his decision to approach the models at his door with a democratic eye. Here he is, in a tiny movie shot by the Tate Modern, telling you himself about the young women outside his studio, wanting so much to be seen, to be photographed, to be chosen:
I have no idea who the photographer across the street is. All I know is that he’s somewhere behind that brown door, and periodically there’s a gathering such as this one down on the sidewalk. Each one waiting for her name to be called. Far from home, looking for fame and fortune, at least for now, her hair hanging on either side of her face in listless swags, like curtains revealing an as-of-yet blank canvas.