A Glimpse Behind the Glamour

MiMi Yeh

Designer duds that could make a dent in the national deficit with the amounts people are willing to spend. Models that resemble bundles of kindling with higher maintenance fees than the Rose Garden at the White House. More often than not, those are the negative images associated with the world of haute couture, otherwise known to the layman as high fashion.

In talking with Skyela Heitz, an Art History major at UMass Boston, house model for VintageFresh, and self-described “tom-boy” extraordinaire, I got an insider’s look at the thought that goes into making these pieces and just why people are willing to pay for such, not to mention her own initial doubts about the myths of the model mystique.

Where beauty brings in big bucks and superficiality seems to be the norm, it was strange to hear the fashion industry discussed in such startlingly casual and artistically critical terms that made you think twice about the models beneath the makeup and take a closer look at the creations making their way from the runway to the sales racks.

Heitz started out as a small town girl from upstate New York, specifically Cooperstown, home of “James Fennimore Cooper, ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ The Baseball Hall of Fame, and one traffic light.”

In high school she was a jock, playing soccer, videogames, and working on her art. Her favorite games: Virtua Fighter and James Bond 007. “That is my action.” Her standard outfit was comprised of Birkenstocks, Gap jeans, and J. Crew sweaters. So how did she make the leap from Gap to Gaultier?

Heitz started by supporting her best friend who was then trying to get into modeling. After going to auditions, agencies, and various casting calls in New York City every weekend, she got used to being around it without much thinking about being involved in it.

It began with a job as a promoter for music industry groups such as The Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan that brought her to Boston. In coming here, she became involved with VintageFresh, a company that, in their words, creates pieces “restyled from 1940s, 50s, and 60s clothing, highlighting the classic stylings and fine, natural fabrics of those periods.” Think high funky fashion made affordable for the likes of you and me.

How does she justify paying exorbitant amounts of cash for a single piece of clothing? “The difference between T.J. Maxx versus Versace is like the difference between tap water and Evian. It’s a perfect fit; like a glove.” As she described the contrast between cuts and labels, I started to understand that there is a definite gap in quality and quantity. She said this in jest, but there is a certain truth to it.

“I always thought: ‘clothing is clothing.’ Paying $300 for a sweater? It’s not just about the label; it’s about the fit, the comfort and guarantee that you’ll have this for a long time. It’s like collecting art.”

To Heitz, clothing is art, although she didn’t look at it like that until she met Michelle Fournier, designer of the 2002 Fall/Winter collection for VintageFresh. She was impressed by the skill and effort Fournier put into revamping these former fashions and giving them a new life and look while retaining the essence of the times. The labor and thought that went into it impressed me as well when I went to the trunk show in Lexington on October 3, displaying the aforementioned collection.

The show was an effort to create not only a look, but a mood as well. The makeup, drama, music, and lighting that went into this production enhanced and, in some ways, heightened the pleasure and expectation of seeing these new designs. Although they would seem overdone to the casual eye, one must take into account the body language, strut, and seemingly effortless countenance and carriage that it takes to walk like you’re blind to the world around you.

“Modeling is acting. Whatever you’re wearing, you have to fit that character into those clothes and work it.” Heitz laughed as she said that, but felt that it was truly one of the points that made the show so interesting. “I think anyone can model…Timing is everything. If someone likes your look, they’ll use you.”

Yet, when approached by agencies, she refuses to sign up. “I don’t look at this as a long-term goal. They’re always concerned with weight and you can’t do anything drastic [to your appearance]. I don’t want to be misrepresented.” She is becoming more and more recognized but maintains the down-to-earth demeanor she’s always had and hopes to continue on with her art.

One could simply dismiss this with a cynical eye as nothing more than “pretty faces and pretty pictures.” Or you could take a good long look at the work that clearly went into re-making these clothes and open up to the fact that it required not only thought but hours of hand stitching for such labor-intensive creations and an eye for the unusual.

Spend your money at VintageFresh, 36 Tanager Street in Arlington, call at (781) 646-6375, or email them at [email protected]