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FIRST PERSON

Outside, Looking Back In, It's Only Human to Wonder

November 17, 1994|LAURIE GEHEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — When a friend asked me to help photograph L.A. designer Richard Tyler's recent spring fashion show here, I didn't think twice before saying yes. It had been almost three years to the day since I walked into the townhouse on 59th Street and told my bookers at the Ford modeling agency that after an 11-year career, I was quitting.

They called it "retiring" and scarcely flinched when I proclaimed my plan to move to the Caribbean and open a vegetable farm. Models, after all, have poetic license to ponder the bizarre.

Now, no longer a model, I found myself backstage during the preparation for Tyler's show. Activities glowed under the lights of TV cameras. Long tables with full-length mirrors were propped sideways, teetering against makeshift walls, and everyone scrambled for space to do what they were there for--work.

Tyler had booked his share of first-tier femmes fatales. Stick-thin and fuchsia-clad Stephanie Seymour chatted with Tatjiana Patitz as the two sipped champagne in the other room. Kristen McMenamy slouched about while Nadja Auermann dwarfed the room with her towering blond presence.

What is it about this business and the people who swoon around it--that takes a woman with some connection to the rest of humanity and turns her into an Untouchable, a Superwoman, or in this case Supermodel to be looked up to and emulated by the rest of civilization?

The crowd seemed to clear a bit and I spotted Cindy Crawford having a heart to heart on her cellular phone. In the super realm, the ultimate goddess award surely goes to Ms. Crawford Inc. She posed both ceaselessly and effortlessly. She found her lights and angles, but gave the illusion of being oblivious to the hum around her. I had seen her work before, or not work before, when we were booked to do the cover of Bride's magazine together. (She got the white dress and I got the peach bridesmaid's gown.) I had marveled then at how she exuded a wanton sensuality that captured the entire studio.

My associate came up behind me. "I'll need you stationed where we set up earlier. Soon."

I found my way through a room filled with clothes and dressers, casually waiting for their mannequins, and headed for the portable lavatory.

For most of the evening I had found myself strangely detached, no consuming longing to be the object of the immense attention being showered on "the girls." So far so good. Maybe I had gone beyond the allure of all the paparazzi.

Perhaps the desire to be Cinderella had left the fabric of my being. Yet when I was in the ladies room, I peered in the mirror and started taking inventory. Obligatory black outfit, check. Minimal makeup, check. Good bone structure, check. Hair, total disaster. I should have left it pulled back in a do that had been ironically similar to the coif du jour the hair wizard was whipping up outside.

Why was I looking in the mirror anyway? Glamour was no longer my job and comparisons at this stage in my life seemed childish. Crawford walked in and we locked eyes. We gave each other half-smiles as I made my way to the door.

The frenzied energy of the gathering crowd electrified the tent while I pushed and pardoned my way from backstage to the end of the catwalk. By snatching a security guard's unattended seat at the door, I regained my turf from rubbernecking onlookers. Standing on the chair and surveying the scene, it was obvious that everything was set.

I thought I heard my name: "Laurie GEHEN." I turned.

"Ron Contarsy! How are you?"

"Fantastic. What are you doing taking pictures? You look fabulous! You should be up there," he said, pointing to the runway.

He had voiced the unspeakable.

As the models sauntered down the runway in procession, I had flashbacks of a particular haute couture Per Spook show I had done in 1989 at the Louvre and unwillingly found myself keeping score. Not "good, fair, poor," but "I could have done better," "not bad" and "how does she do it?!" Nadja, the model of the moment, pouted and puffed, with nostrils perpetually flared and lips parted to exactly nine millimeters as laser beam eyes wiped out entire star fleets. "Go girl," a fashion groupie beside me said. Girl, she was not.

Would the businesswoman in Chicago or the homemaker in Iowa keep this extravaganza in perspective and not feel the tug to look in the mirror and compare herself, her face, her thighs to these creatures? Can any of us, men or women, not have these voluptuous vixens enter our subconscious on some level and smile coyly at our humanness?

If I had my doubts whether or not I was on the right side of the camera, an embarrassing misstep confirmed my position.

The fervor peaked as the now G-string adorned models searched for their own clothes, Sigourny Weaver waited to speak with Richard Tyler and the fashion buzzards continued their assault. I saw an interesting photo opportunity in the making and rushed up some stairs to get the best angle. My right foot went one way and I went the other.

I wiped out in front of this mass of walking chic. Weaver blanched and I thought I heard someone chuckle as my colleague rushed over and helped me to my feet. Humble pie.

I told a friend about the experience the next day. "Superman doesn't trip, James Bond doesn't trip, but we do," he said, comfortingly. "We're humans and humans trip."

Shhhh. Don't tell the fashion world. We just might start a new trend.

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