The glamorous, jet-set world of international modelling is one far removed from the tribulations of student life. Or is it? Nicky Woolf talks to someone who has found a way to balance both and stay sane
“Ok. So the agencies that I have are in… Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, New York, uh, Tokyo, Cape Town, Athens, Lisbon, I think… and London, obviously. That’s it, I think; I can’t really remember. Oh, and Amsterdam. I get booked by people directly at the moment, so I don’t need to go to any castings, thank God.”
Amy Browne doodles nervously on the table with an elegant finger. Her tone is apologetic, embarrassed almost. “This is awful. I can’t think of anything to say.”
She takes a deep breath and a sip from her black coffee as I ask exactly what a casting entails. “Ok. Ok. So when I’m in London, my agent will send me nine or 10 addresses to go to each day, which will be for magazines, advertising companies, casting production agencies, and I will go along, take my book…” she pushes her hands outwards and upwards in the motion of an opening book, a gesture of humble supplication, “and then if they like me they’ll book me through my agent, or… you just never hear from them again.” She shrugs. “So that’s how a casting works.”
Fusion President and international fashion model, Amy Browne has every right to be the most arrogant, commanding figure I can imagine. But when I meet her for the first time, in a crowded pub, she is endearingly down-to-earth; with an unassuming, pleasant air that is stopped short of shyness by her quiet self-confidence. She dresses stylishly, but not extravagantly, today in whites and greys. Her figure is implied rather than expressed, and her very long blonde hair is worn loose, voluminous and messy.
The world she’s describing is one of tightly controlled rigour, though. “Last term, I got called and they said, ‘Ok, you’ve got a flight booked to Valencia’ or, ‘You’ve got to be at Leeds airport by seven in the morning and you’ll get back the day after and you’re going to be working for this company.’ So I just had to be like,” she swivels at the table and addresses the air to her right, “Ok guys, I’m going to Madrid tomorrow, or wherever, see you in a couple of days…”
She pauses. “Um. In fact the last one I did was in Ibiza. I went, and everyone was so jealous – but then I didn’t get to see any of it at all. Everyone said, ‘Did you go to some cool parties?’ Nope. I got there – the plane was delayed so I got to bed at three in the morning – woke up at five to get hair and makeup done in time for the sunrise, then worked until seven at night and got a plane back at ten. I did a job in Antigua once, and I was there for less than two days. A nine-hour flight from London to Antigua for a day and a half. It’s ridiculous. Such a huge carbon footprint. So that’s literally how fast it works. And you never, well, rarely, hear about a job more than a day in advance.”
I ask what the people she meets are like. “Some are very nice,” she says, then grins, “some are really not very nice at all. I haven’t met any models who I’ve really kept in contact with, apart from my best friend, but I met him through school rather than through modelling. The thing is, you meet people – like in Athens, the first time I went abroad to stay with an agency, I was with a girl from Slovakia non-stop for three weeks. We were sharing a room, we were going to the same castings, and we got on well – but then after that three weeks, she goes away to New York, or Milan, I come back to London. I go to university, she goes to Tokyo, and then we never really cross paths again, and even if we do it’s just for, like, a day. It’s really difficult to make good friends in the business. It’s a really lonely business, actually.”
I am finding it very difficult to imagine this distinctly illuxurious view of the modelling profession. It would seem that far from being a life of first-class tickets and champagne receptions, it is actually more like an industrial production-line: flight, through make-up to photography, then another flight home, all in swift succession. It seems midly depressing, and this is all before we have even started to talk about issues such as anorexia and drug-use.
Is it really all that bad, I ask? Is there not a sense of glamour to it, a sense of self-satisfaction at least?
“You meet people who you’ve seen in magazines millions of times, all the models from all the big campaigns. You meet them in a casting room and they look just like everyone else, chatting away and being completely normal. You see these girls, some of the girls who’ve been in the most glamorous campaigns, they look completely ordinary. They don’t look particularly happy, they’ve always got problems with money – I mean, you do get the few who don’t have problems with money at all, but that’s a very select handful – but the rest… it’s not a good lifestyle, it’s not healthy at all.
“Also, some of these girls, especially the ones from Eastern Europe, they get pushed into it when they’re like 14 or 15, and they have to be professional from the day they start, which means that they don’t have any childhood. It just gets completely wiped away.”
Upon further discussion of the health problems in the modelling business, I notice her wince slightly. “When I went to Cape Town for a month to work with an agency there during my gap year, I was meant to be staying in a flat full of girls. But when I turned up to the agency they were like: ‘Nice to see you. We’ve decided to put you in a two-bedroom apartment with a male model from London.’ So I turn up at this flat and this guy opens the door, really muscular, gorgeous boy, but half an hour into the conversation it turned out that he’d run away from rehab a week ago for crack and heroin addiction, two months before he was supposed to leave.
“You quite often meet people like that. He started modelling really young, like 12 or 13, and this brought him a lot of money at a very young age when he had nothing to spend it on. So he would just go out. He was with an agency that is notoriously bad for male models and drugs. There’s a crew of them who all get wasted all of the time. Once you get into that set you’re a bit messed up really, especially if you’ve ended up leaving school early.”
Browne herself seems to be remarkably free from this influence. In fact, she professes almost allergic dislike to alcohol. I ask her whether it’s her double life, student and jet-setter, that has kept her sense of reality. “It’s alright as long as you surround yourself with family and friends, and keep your feet on the ground.” she says, nodding. “That’s why I don’t really like hanging out with other models that much, apart from a few.” Her tone turns serious. “It’s not good for your self-esteem and it’s not good for your general view of life, because if everything rests on your looks then you’ve got nothing left for when you get older, have you?
“It’s taken up to five hours to do some hair once. Once I had to have ribbons stuck to my eyelids and then,” she puffs her hair up and threads her hands through to illustrate ribbons, “they took them round, fed them through and…” I must have looked lost, “Do you understand?” I thought I did, and it looked, I have to say, extremely painful, or time-consuming, or something.
I ask her what she thinks needs to be said about modelling, and her answer is instantaneous. “You can be too thin to be a model. And I want people to know – I don’t look now like I do in the pictures that come out in these things, it’s just, so much goes on between the moment the photo is taken and when it finally comes out to print. Make-up, hair, five hours, you know, or whatever it takes and then another ten hours in production with people photoshopping it and retouching it.
“Everything in a magazine is photoshopped, absolutely everything. I went into a shop once, and I couldn’t work out if that was me on a poster or not. It looked like me, but I couldn’t remember wearing that hat, or something, and I stood in front of this poster for ages. I was like ‘Hmmm – yeah, I think it is actually.’ I had to call up my mum and take a picture of it on my phone. Without make-up and without photoshop, I don’t think I’d have a career.”
Was it always this way? What happened to the diva-tastic supermodels of the ‘80s and ‘90s? The Twiggys and the Naomi Campbells? “I don’t think there’s space in the market any more for the egos that those supermodels brought with them. Now there’s so many people in the market who want to work with you that if you’re not a nice person then people just aren’t going to book you anymore.”
I ask if Amy thinks this has anything to do with the new Dove adverts, the ‘real beauty’ campaign. She laughs musically. “I was on an airplane coming back from a job the other day, and the guy sitting next to me was the head of the advertising campaign for that whole Dove Campaign for Real Beauty thing. It was quite amazing actually, he seemed to be really guarded with me, because he thought I was going to be really angry with him for having done that. I was like ‘It’s ok!’ In any case, the models in those Dove adverts are just as airbrushed as in any other advert.”
I had not realised quite how much of a dangerous world modelling is. When the media splash vivid pictures of Kate Moss’s latest drugs scandal on the front pages and her marketability suddenly increases, it is those at the bottom, the youngest and most vulnerable, that get the message. Publicity is publicity; this is how you make it in the fashion industry. The sheer artificiality of it all is incredible.
But it also seems to be fulfilling. Browne, certainly, seems to find it rewarding in a very real way, and I genuinely believe that, for her at least, it goes beyond the simple ego trip of seeing yourself reworked and airbrushed to the pinnacle of beauty.