It’s not an understatement to say that I have been asked some pretty random things since moving to India. From questions asked to me that I can’t write here by drunken men to questions that stem from the misconceptions of Americans to dozens upon dozens of things that I didn’t understand at first at restaurants and shops and my beauty salon. But one of the most random questions I’ve ever been asked was just about 10 days ago when the marketing manager of an Indian fashion brand asked me to be a judge at a model hunt for the fresh faces for their upcoming ad campaign.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not really a shopper. Well, not in India so far but that has more to do with the fact that I’m still only working part-time and life ‘economically’ has changed for me so drastically since my arrival. And when I do shop I am SUPER happy to buy shoes and bags every month but I typically only buy clothes a couple of times per year. Not sure why, I’ve been like this for a long time. Anyway, I sidestepped there! Here in India there is a retail chain for a fashion brand called Pantaloon and I happen to know their marketing manager, Vinita. So when she asked me to spend a whole Sunday basically playing judge in X-Factor style to a bunch of young, hopeful aspiring models … I said hell yeah!
Pantaloon is a growing brand in India and present across the country with shops typically inside the bigger malls. They offer up affordable clothes for the young, modern shopper with a brand image that uses famous faces for their ad campaigns. Until now! This time around Pantaloon is trying something new, which as a marketing executive myself I applaud. They are on the lookout for the next hot top male and female model of India by conducting their Fresh Face Model Hunt 2012 in states all around the country, an activation being pushed through Hydrooo, run by two friends of mine. They received over 4,000 applications, around a thousand boys and girls will have auditioned by the end of it, with two new top fashion models emerging from the finals in Mumbai on June 23, 2012 as the Fresh Face of Pantaloon for their upcoming campaigns across the country.
And so it began. Damn early! Our start time was 10am, which is the earliest Bangalore activity I’ve set for myself EVER on a Sunday aside from a flight maybe. This meant I couldn’t have a late Saturday night but the night before a dear friend had a dinner party at his home and it was the first time I’d been invited to a in-house dinner party so there was no way I was staying in for the night … but I was good girl and was sadly the first to leave the party around 1am.
So there I was – up and at ‘em on a Sunday morning, rushing to get out the door on time but still a little unsure about what to wear. In the end I threw on a plain black t-shirt, a black scarf, a white skirt (the only Jean Paul Gaultier piece in my closet) and a pair of Prada shoes. Seemed fashiony enough for me so in the taxi I went (no Shiva on a Sunday) and I arrived on time’ish at Hint (the club venue they had rented out for the day) …and wouldn’t you guess it? I was the first judge to arrive because everyone else was running on Indian Standard Time. Come on!!! I had to jam to get ready and ended up just throwing my hair up in a messy bun because of my ineptitude in picking out clothes … and in the end I really could have chilled and taken my time. Oh well, I’ll know better for the next time around, right?!
There were hundreds of aspiring models in queue starting from downstairs in the parking garage, all wearing denims and a plain white shirt. That was the instruction sent by Pantaloons to each of the selected 250 applicants. For me that seemed straightforward enough and for the most part everyone adhered to their set of instructions. I wasn’t really sure what to expect given that this particular round was one of the preliminary rounds, so in X-Factor terms we were at Round Two. The candidates had been screened from the thousands who applied via mail but there was still a bunch more screening that needed to take place there in person.
Personally, I would never enter myself in a modeling contest, not even when I was in my teens or early 20s, fat- and wrinkle-free. I’m not unattractive but I know what a model looks like. Of course there is diversity in what a model looks like all across the world but generally speaking we all know that fashion houses design their collections and have shows using a certain body frame to showcase their creations. I am 5’ 8” tall so I hover around almost six feet with massively high heels. Yet even then I still know that, even at my skinniest, my body frame is simply too curvy, my hair is too thin, my nose is too wide, and on and on. But that’s not the mentality of the majority of the Indians who my co-judges and I critiqued that day. For the most part there were three or four girls and only one or two guys who really might have what it takes to be the kind of model who professional fashion designers in India and around the world would eagerly want to work with after they were trained up and styled.
My co-judges were all in the fashion world, either professional models themselves, a photographer or a show choreographer and each of them really sweet and funny. We were asked to judge each participant on a variety of criteria, including body shape, attitude, confidence, the style of their runway walk and more. This is how we did it:
- Participants would start off in a distance in front of us and then the DJ would hit the music and the contestant would ‘runway walk’ towards us, giving us our first indication of how professional, confident and experienced they were.
- We would ask for their name and registration number to complete our forms correctly. I often needed them to spell their names.
- Our group took turns asking them to “tell us a little bit about yourself”.
- The same person or someone different would ask follow up questions. As for me, ever since I dated my first Indian man in the summer of 2011, I have a fascination with facial hair so when a guy showed up with some sculpted “do” on his face I asked questions about that. We asked about modeling ambition. Their experience (some were beauty contestant winners or had been in fashion shows).
- If we liked them we’d ask for more. Sometimes we’d ask them to walk for us again if we knew we didn’t like them to get them to move on without hurting their feelings. Sometimes we asked them to walk for us again if we did like them to catch a second glimpse as we tallied up our scores.
- When they left, if they were fabulously good or somewhat quirky, we’d have a quick hushed chit-chat, with funny or fab comments being thrown around.
- We’d score them and then on to the next one….
Check out the pics here, Hydrooo did a great job of being snap-snap-snap-happy all day: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.316584285090784.73429.139397922809422&type=1
It was interesting to see that the large quantity of guys and girls who signed themselves up following a simple shopping trip to Pantaloon where they collected a flyer and subsequently sent in their application simply out of a love for models and modeling. A large percentage of the group were totally a-stereotypical model types…boys with bellies not abs, girls who were just barely taller than five feet, wearing flat sandals and no makeup, etc. Also, something I found quite odd was that 95% arrived to the competition looking more like the girl or boy next door instead of chic fashion models, which I didn’t fully understand. I mean, if you are competing to be a runway and print ad model, wouldn’t it make sense to glam up, style up and LOOK like a fashion model? Why would any of the girls wear flats when they know fully well that runway models wear heels and why not style themselves for the event … YET they happily arrived by 10am, signed in, competed in front of hundreds of people and then diligently waited around seven hours to see if they’d won? Doesn’t make sense to me but okay….
It was also quite interesting for me (someone now in the outsourcing space in India and from a high-tech start-up background) to see how many of the aspiring models were engineers for BPO and tech companies in Bangalore. I mean, honestly, who’da guessed? I assumed that we’d be seeing a landslide of semi-pro models but the sweet reality was that the majority of the candidates were everyday fresh-out-of-uni kids just looking to try something new, who had a high level of confidence in themselves and weren’t afraid to put themselves out there and hoping to catch a break. Some of our favourite candidates were the guys and girls who had charisma and wonderful personalities (who scored really well in those areas) but they simply didn’t have the looks (skin, teeth, hair, body) that Pantaloon models need to have for the runway shows and the print, online and hoarding ad campaigns.
We had around 150 candidates to evaluate and at first we gave everyone an equal amount of time, around 1-2 minutes per candidate. Then something happened, they gave us wine! Once the wine started flowing mid-afternoon, the climate of the candidate analysis process shifted slightly. We were still nice and open to giving everyone the same opportunity but instead of giving everyone equal time, we started being a bit more X-Factor-like and cut them short sooner than later when we knowingly knew they were a “no” so as to not waste our time (plus, probably more importantly, it was getting late and we needed to cut time). It was really fun all day but the latter part of the day was definitely the most fun part of the event for each of us.
In the end we chose close to 10 guys and 10 girls to compete in the semi-final in Bangalore. From that, winners will be selected to travel north and compete in the final round. In my opinion, it’s a pretty great way to engage the Pantaloon’s audience and generate some buzz for the brand in a unique way that gives anyone a shot at something quite glam and exclusive. I can’t wait to see who the winners are!
So what was my favourite part of the experience? First, I loved the obvious reason that it was something new and different to add to my list of yet another one of the “real life” non-traditional activities I participate in here in India (I have yet to take a yoga class or go to an ashram or try out henna). But secondly, given the fact that I am constantly being looked at and I’m sure we can all agree – judged – here in India because of my white skin and blonde hair (and my exposed “from the knees down” legs) it was a nice change of pace to be doing the judging and looking this time around. It was sort of like jumping into an alternate universe in a comic and I liked it! Now…how to get on the judges panel of a real X-Factor style show or competition here in India!?! That would be a hoot and a half!
© 2012 Angela Carson, all rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written approval from author.