Where Fashion and Asbestos Poisoning Collide


“This is not the look I was going for.”

Towel in hand, the photographer is wiping up the dusty remnants of a weekend renovation spent dividing two windowless studios into three windowless studios. It looks like a stable for animals and something about the encroachment of space has made the task seem less humane. They’ve taken away the sofa in the corner and now everyone has to share the same music while we shoot ecommerce all day.

“Couldn’t they have, I don’t know, had someone come in here to clean?” he asks no one in particular. The bottom of his towel is covered in a blackish soot. Looking at the floor is even scarier still, crumbs of drywall left unswept, filling the cracks of the concrete floor. Very rarely has my job been glamorous. If I had to give it a percentage, “glamour” would clock in at about 3%.

Things that fall into the category of “asbestos poisoning” and “eating your lunch naked in a closet” would account for the remaining 97%.

He’s funny, the photographer, and self-effacing in a way that I prefer. There is no ego in ecommerce. Every person in this room is just one little cog in the machine: the photographer, an aggrandized button presser; the model, a faceless mannequin; the stylist, a thankless administrator of binder clips and hem tugs. All so that someone sitting at their computer in the middle of the workday can scroll through shot after shot of clothes they don’t really need, imagining themselves in a pair of pants, a lace tank top. Yes, we provide the blank portal through which you can transport yourself to another, better dressed world, distraction-less as possible so as to maximize spending potential. Smooth light, neutral makeup, friendly-looking shoes. Buy! Buy! Buy!

Eight years ago I was hired practically in-house with a company I’ll just call “Bon Chic, Bon Rip Off,” which made billions of dollars per year ripping off the designs of legitimately creative people. What started off as getting hired for my whole person—that’s head-to-toe, recognizable, we’re-not-embarrassed-to-use-your-face-to-sell-clothes type of work—later devolved into doing four days back-to-back unrecognizable ecommerce, which basically amounted to standing facing a white wall, attempting to thwart the swoon of vertigo while someone by the computer kept asking me to move my thumb “juuusssstttt an inch to the left.” Wondering what the hell my career had amounted to, I eventually had a nervous breakdown, took a trip alone to Paris, came home, and chopped off all of my hair—all in the name of finding myself. The ego part of modeling, while a little nasty and base, is essential, because it cons you into thinking what you’re doing is vaguely important and that you, in turn, are important. It’ll get you through the day. Without it, good freaking luck.

The photographer is still wiping up dirt while I pick at a cup filled with walnuts and dried cherries. “Every time I come through these gates and walk into that elevator, I think, ‘Henrique, what did you do wrong? Where is your town car, your cover of Vogue?’”  And we’re all here, in very much the same Vogue-less boat. No one starts out a career aiming for the bottom, but sometimes that’s just where you land.

And no one here is really complaining; you can make a lot of money at the bottom. Not a lot compared to the Steven Meisels, the Jessica Stams, the Pat McGraths—but something ashamedly comparable to the hourly rates of lawyers with graduate degrees. Which is to say, there are a lot worse looks to go for.

Or at least less lucrative ones.

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