Catwalk, cat fights

By Thien Huong, Thanh Nien News

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Models make up backstage before a fashion show in Ho Chi Minh City. Many models say they trust no one as a friend in the industry since people are willing to sabotage each other for prominent positions in a show or to hook up with influential, wealthy men. Photo by Doc Lap

It may not do for a man to beat a woman, but woman-on-woman violence is okay, many in Ho Chi Minh City’s modeling fraternity seem to believe.
“Without greed and hatred, you cannot be a model,” one woman model told an undercover Thanh Nien reporter, who managed to enter the industry as a communication representative for an agency earlier this year.
Insiders said their world is full of backdoor lobbying, bad mouthing, and lies about one another in the fight for prominent positions in a catwalk show - like opening or closing.
There are rumors that witchcraft and threats to use it come with the mix.
One model said hair-pulling and scratching backstage happened no longer but people fight “more discreetly.”
“For example, if they want a particular dress or position, they will sweet talk the manager or the organizer instead of kicking up a fuss.
“Many times a ‘sister’ would come to you and say ‘this will not look good on you’ and you have to understand she has eyed it and you had better find another one.”
Lan Khue, who won the Supermodel Contest 2013, said once a senior model stole her prominent position in a show but she could do nothing about it.
Minh Tu, who took up modeling as a profession at just 18, is an independent model but faces unhealthy competition from modeling companies.
Tu, who used to work for the city’s leading agency, Venus, said companies that want to promote their models lie to organizers that independent models like her are busy or sick and would not be able to perform in a show.
Those lies are only exposed when an organizer cares to call a model to confirm, she said.
“There are many problems in this job. You have problems whether you are famous or not and have many shows or not.”
While she herself has not faced any real problem, she has witnessed conflicts between models and even the designers, she said.
There had been a myriad of backstage scandals for which she might not have proof, but believed “there is no smoke without fire.”
One such caused a stir earlier this year when Do Manh Cuong, a top dog in the fashion design industry, claimed on his Facebook page that a competitor had used witchcraft to evict him from the judge’s chair on Vietnam’s Next Top Model, an adaptation of the US reality show that is now considered the biggest stepping stone for aspiring models.
It also hurt others related to him including a model who had shot to fame from the contest, Cuong said without naming names.
Insiders, while unable to confirm Cuong’s claims, admitted that the use of witchcraft against adversaries is not unheard of in the industry, adding that some popular young models quickly quit the scene after receiving black magic threats from seniors.
Models the undercover Thanh Nien reporter spoke to uniformly said that with all the games and tricks going on, they do not trust anyone as a friend.
They are not confident of finding someone who can genuinely feel sympathy for them, they said.
Trang Pham, a freelance model who moved from Hanoi, said there are models who share houses, but she prefers to live alone since “if your schedules do not suit each other, there will be problems.”
A model, only identified as B., is usually seen sitting alone in a corner while waiting for the show since she has become shy after being bitten once.
When she first came to the city, she was pretty close to another model, a senior in the industry who later backstabbed her, she said.
“She walked me through every step, and I really appreciated it and trusted her.
“But when I started to draw attention from show organizers, she tried to pull me down and steal my opportunities.
“I only found out later and since then have never trusted anyone in this industry. Every relationship stops at being acquaintances.”
Her colleague, who wanted to be identified only as T., said it is not as if there are no friends in the modeling world, but “there are more gangs than friends.”
She learned a big lesson after complaining to a famous model for cutting across her path on the runway, she said, sadder but wiser.
All kinds of mishaps befell her soon afterwards – her shoes would go missing, her costumes would be damaged – and she believed it was because of the model and others in her gang.
“In this job, it is very easy to create an enemy but hard to find a soul mate,” she said.
Sometimes, models sabotage each other just to win the attention of wealthy men who would buy them fancy clothes, cosmetics, and other stuff.
This option is chosen by many models, both newcomers and experienced ones, since having a rich partner does not mean just more cash but also opportunities since their partners are more likely than not to have influence in showbiz circles.
Some freelance models said they chose to go indie to avoid the “beauty and the rich” circle, which they consider an insult to their dignity.
One of them, identified only as H., said she realized that many shows her ex-company managers organized for “sponsors” were just a pretext to parade models for them.
“In one of the shows, my manager introduced me to a seafood businessman, and he started to make blunt sex and money talk after just a few words.
“I felt very offended.”
She said some can boast of being well provided by their rich boyfriends, but not about having to spend most of their time alone since most of the boyfriends are married or have so many women at any given time.
Le Thi Phuong, another freelance model who entered the industry after competing in Vietnam’s Next Top Model, said once she became well-known in the industry, she started to get many “offers” but she turned them down by lying that she had a boyfriend.
“So you really don’t need more money?” she would be asked.
She said the stereotype of models being rich men’s playthings caused her family to try to make her quit, but she decided to prove that it was not true of all.
When a model accepts rich men’s offers, she devalues herself, Phuong said.
“It could be US$2,000 the first time, and then when you are in difficulty you would even accept VND500,000, nothing different from a sex worker.”
But some models having rich partners countered that it was not wrong to get gifts from the latter as long as they loved each other, and that those who criticized them were just jealous.
Khue said: “There are many temptations in this industry. The important thing is you think it through.”

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