Jessica Carvalho explores the highs and lows of model training, and just what it takes to walk the walk, led by model coach expert Maxine.
Fashion Week unearths a plethora of things within me. Some of my best outfits, a fine tuned eye for upcoming trends, and the staggering realisation that there is a lot more to the modelling industry than coordinated footfalls. It’s often too easy to discredit models and label their craft as simply walking, but there is an entire blueprint to the art. So, if you too want to brush up on your modelling knowledge, I bring you Maxine Griffiths: creative director, events coordinator, model coach and all-around cool girl who’ll give you a taste of the world of model training.
How would you define The Model Workshops and model training to someone who isn’t familiar with the modelling industry?
The Model Workshops was created initially to give the opportunity to aspiring models who wanted to get into the industry of catwalk. As you know that doesn’t always work for everybody, and when I was trying to get into the industry, I found that height was a big problem. I was around people that were already in the industry, and I just sat under their wing and just learned as much as I could about walking, and because I was a dancer as well, I mastered how to hold my posture.
Getting into the industry and doing the training, I devised the workshops to educate. To give the opportunity to those who may not have it or may not even think that they can get onto a runway. The opportunities I was given once I mastered my walk are one of the reasons why I started the workshops. To put it simply, The Model Workshops is there to help aspiring models to understand their walk and their posture.
How long have you been training models and how was The Model Workshops founded?
About 20 years, comfortably. I’ve been training models for shows, events, and doing lots of things with them, getting them through [events]. The Model Workshops was founded based on a company that was called The Platform Artist of The Stage, and it was a place where people could come in and use the stage for work, hobby, interests, or just to gain experience. After that, I looked at all of the elements of what was on offer when I started in the industry – anything to do it, drama, music.
Back then, it wasn’t deemed as a profession, but lo and behold; 35 to 40 years later, people actually have this as a career! We’ve got actors, influencers, singers, dancers doing not just the stuff that they love but also what they’re talented at. I formulated the workshops thinking they need to be open to a lot of people who want to understand the stage, platforms, and runway for an educational purpose. Not enticing you with the glitz and glam, but giving you realistic experience, realistic situations that may occur, learning what the runway is, learning terminologies, learning speech, and the right words. You might not know what a portfolio Is, what does it mean to have a deck – a lot of girls and guys, they don’t actually know, especially if they’re new into the industry! I see the workshops as a safe space that you can work within, get experience, get hands on [help] from the professionals I collaborate with, so you can get to the next level if you want to.
I was going to say that it’s really nice to have a safe space, especially for starting models.
That’s what I’m about, safe spaces. Having safe having spaces that you can go into with no experience or as much experience, and you can share knowledge knowing that everybody will be up to the same level, and nobody will know more than someone else. Otherwise, you’d come in thinking that you know it all and not actually assume you’re coming to learn; you’re coming to take away something that you can implement practically and realistically into your next step on your journey within the industry.
Would you say model training is “one size fits all” or is it a is a tailored experience important?
A tailored experience for me is important, very tailored. That’s one of the elements that we have; our more intense workshops like Runway Ready, Own It for Yourself, I came up with the content that goes within it. No two people walk the same. No two models walk the same.
I’ve just recently finished working with Des O’Connor on his live catwalk auditions, and I found that even then, we had so many women from different walks of life, some who never graced the catwalk before or did anything like that prior. [The workshops are] about allowing them to understand how to walk confidently, how to own a room when you go into it, how to put on a pair of 4’5-inch heels and be able to stay in them for longer than an hour. To be able to get your heels out and express yourself because, as women, we all like a pair of shoes.
We’ve gotten so used to wearing trainers and chilling out that people don’t dress up anymore. With The Model Workshops, I have a tailor-made package for every individual that comes through the door. I take my time, I look at them, and we just work it through; I guarantee that anybody that attends one of the workshops will definitely come out walking a lot taller than they came in.
Do you think there are a lot of misconceptions about the hard work that goes into model training both for the trainer and the trainee?
Not just model training, anything! If you want to be a scientist, somebody’s going to have to teach you the ins and outs and the mechanics of it. If you want to become a doctor, you will go to the necessary colleges, complete the training.
The day and age that we live in now is so fast paced that someone can present photos on Instagram, get a few likes, and then suddenly, they think based on their looks or great figure, that’s going to lead them to the job. A lot of girls don’t like to do the training because they think they’ve got enough experience, but in certain parts of the industry, you really have to put the hard work in. Everything needs teachers, none of us know everything, and I had to sit under some really good gurus and teachers to even be where I am today.
With that said, have you witnessed an opinion change at the workshops? For example, someone who came in expecting it to be useless, but leaving with a completely different opinion?
Hell yeah! People have come in thinking this was really simple, and then they’d say “I never knew walking could be so hard”, and I’m thinking yes! Some people have it naturally, but everybody can always do with a brush up. It’s like most things in life, but look at any model whatsoever; look at what they do behind the scenes.
They have eating and fitness regimes, they have things that they do to make sure that they stay on top of their game. You’re not always going to see it, and it’s not always posted – though I think more recently you kind of see what a lot of the high end [models] are doing behind the scenes – even down to their make-up. Some girls don’t know how to do their make-up, and you should know how to do the basics. I sometimes just feel that a lot of those stepping into the industries of fashion, music, and entertainment don’t feel they have to put any work, that it’s just based on looks and likes. But, disappointment, heartbreak, it’s all part of the experience.
Like most fields of work, it doesn’t sound like a linear growth at all.
Tears, lots of tears. Lots of disappointment, lots of rejection. When you get that kind of rejection, you think “oh, I don’t want to do this anymore, I can’t do it”, but there’s always somebody somewhere that can see potential, it just depends on how hard you work. There are models that I’ve met, and I thought “three to four months with me and by the time I’m finished with you, I’ll have you walking certain shows”. You can get testimonials – even this season, a young lady hadn’t walked in two years since we’ve been in lockdown and I got to witness her walk, and it’s just nice to see when the girls get to another level. I can actually tell the difference of those that had been trained. Those taking the time to be coached and those that have taken time to be trained, coached, and mentored through their journey until they get to a point where they think “I’ve taken all the help I could, I’m ready to go to the next stage, and I can do that on my own”.
How did being trained shape your career?
I knew I wanted to do performing arts, and I took my time and wanted to learn about everything; from production, lighting, to set design and sound. I just wanted to learn it all, some people only like one element of the fashion shows and it’s the one that we usually see. But there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes, like with London Fashion Week, what you see in the magazines, on music videos; there are such great people behind the scenes really putting their hard work in, and some of the time they don’t even get paid their rates. I find it quite sad because some of these companies have the budget to help people but choose not to at all, even though these people are indispensable to the industry.
Take me through a day of training; what can be expected from the moment training with you begins, right until the end?
I’d be giving away my secrets!
If it’s all day, we have courses which are broken down into series. They range from Handle Your Heels, which is one of my favourites because it is for women and men, with no restrictions on height, gender, or race – just bring your heels and make sure they’re over four inches. There’s something about when you put your shoes on before you leave the house and you just feel dressed, you feel complete. That’s one of the other reasons why I created Handle Your Heels, because I just feel there is a level of empowerment that comes with wearing a pair of heels, your shoes are fantastic, your bag, your clothing.
When I was developing the course, I looked at how I how I wanted to feel if I was coming along, what is the journey I want to take people on, so at the end of the three and a half hours that we were together, you leave with something you can implement into the rest of your journey. I also have Feel Like a Woman, Walk Like a Boss. That’s more for empowering women to be bosses in their own right, but also maintain their morals, have integrity, know that you’re strong enough to do it but also weak enough to stay feminine at the same time. I don’t mean this in a derogative way, but female empowerment sometimes is very “I can do all this by myself”, but the truth is that need your community. No man is an island, as my parents always said.
Apart from getting these models further in their career, what is the most fulfilling part of model training for you?
Their success is my success. After the training session with me, having the coaching and the mentoring, I know that when they step into an arena, they are walking comfortably and walking proud knowing that they’ve got this, so that means I’ve been successful.
Though training is very good for fine-tuning skills, do you think it is an essential step towards success or can it be skipped (due to financial issues, lack of time etc.)?
Anything that anybody wants out of life, you’ll make time for. We can always use the excuse of “I don’t have the time” or “financially, I can’t”, and I understand it with coming out of a lockdown into a new normal, but if you want to be as good as you can be, or you want to be the best at what you are doing, you will make time. It will then determine your commitment, level of experience, professionalism, and everything else that comes with the industry.
What are some things that models trained by you went on to do?
Magazines, videos, large Fashion Week shows in Paris, Milan, New York. Since we had the Black Lives Matter movement, as a British-born black woman, I feel we have a lot more visibility we didn’t have before. I’m actually seeing people in adverts, doing things and I’m thinking “Yep, remember you when you came”, and I’m genuinely very happy and excited to see where it goes from here.
Just being part of what happened in the past two years and part of the Windrush generation as well, watching the work that my parents put in all those years ago so that we could have a say; it’s amazing to witness people that have gone on and on to be better, be greater and have the time of their life on the runway of life.
The doors that don’t open, you kick them open!
Do you have any words of encouragement for models hoping to get into training?
Come and see me! To date, I don’t know of any other woman that is doing what I do; training is an integral part of success in this industry, and often I see a lot of flaws as a consultant myself. The big agencies can only take a certain number of models of colour, models with ginger hair; training will ensure that they see you as someone worth their while, and someone worth representing them. Training will get your foot in the door.
So, should you itch for a heaped spoonful of female empowerment with a sprinkle of first-class discipline, let me know. I know just who to call.
You can find more of Jessica’s work on her Instagram @whatjesstypes. Follow Maxine on Instagram @the_model_workshops for castings, advice, and news about upcoming sessions.