Former models revisit the catwalk

From far left, former models Anne Rohart, Axelle Doue, Christine Bergstrom, Claudia Huidobro and Violeta Sanchez in Models Never Talk.
From far left, former models Anne Rohart, Axelle Doue, Christine Bergstrom, Claudia Huidobro and Violeta Sanchez in Models Never Talk. PHOTO: VINCENT LAPPARTIENT

REVIEW / PERFORMANCE

MODELS NEVER TALK

The O.P.E.N.

72-13/Thursday

Models Never Talk is the knowingly ironic title of this performance directed by renowned French fashion curator and historian Olivier Saillard, in which a group of retired models talk about their glory days.

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    WHERE: 72-13, Mohamed Sultan Road

    WHEN: Today, 8pm

    ADMISSION: The O.P.E.N. Pass costs $45 and allows entry to all events. Registration is required for all events.

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It was, however, their body language that spoke volumes to this reviewer, more so than their verbal recollections.

Much like the couture that these women reminisced so fondly about, the piece felt elegantly understated in parts, yet looked visually gorgeous on the whole.

The seven former models - Christine Bergstrom, Axelle Doue, Charlotte Flossaut, Claudia Huidobro, Anne Rohart, Violeta Sanchez and Amalia Vairelli - may no longer be in the thrall of youth, but they still commanded the audience's attention from the moment they glided on set in matching black leotards and high heels.

This is a group that has worked with and inspired designers and fashion icons such as Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld.

Tall and regal, with a long, coltish grace, the silver-haired Doue recalled her first fitting with the French couturier Madame Gres, who gave her such a long dress she had to kick it out of the way to walk.

"That became my trademark," she said with a wry smile.

At times, the models traced the contours of the dresses they wore, running their fingers from neck to waist and savouring the memory of holding the fabric in their hands.

Fixing the audience with a piercing, soulful stare, and arms draped around her slender frame, Vairelli narrated how she fell in love with a Saint Laurent dress: "It had huge cotton flowers and silver highlights... the flowers were floating as I was walking. I got a standing ovation."

Their slow, sensual physicality and the nostalgia they evoked kept me riveted, even though some of the monologues felt repetitive after a while.

Saillard, who put together the script, did close the distance between performer and audience by including several anecdotes with humanising touches.

Sanchez, who was a muse for Saint Laurent, recalled how her attempt to make a silk and scarlet velvet dress sexier elicited a horrified reaction from the designer, who said: "I have asked you for Lady Macbeth, not Mae West!" Later on, she gasped sharply, clutching at her body, likening the bodice she was wearing to a "carapace".

The show's highlight came when Flossaut, while describing a Gaultier dress, stumbled and teetered precariously on her heels, to show how she had been seized by nerves.

It was a stark moment of vulnerability, a crack in the illusion of perfection, that revealed the soul behind the style - more of such scenes would have made the show deeper and more impactful.

As the show drew to a close, with the aged models replicating their own poses from past photo shoots, I was reminded of how the power of fashion hangs not only on sophisticated couture, but is also sustained by the sheer force of a model's personality.

As Saint Laurent once said: "What is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Former models revisit the catwalk'. Print Edition | Subscribe