You’re Gorgeous! Now WALK!

By John Zirkle, Warren Miller Performing Arts Center

Just as Mahler depends on instrumentalists to carry his gargantuan symphonies, and Chekhov depends on actors to deliver his satirical prose, fashion designers depend on runway models to present their avant-garde styles.

But can we put models in the same category as actors and musicians? Must they spend countless hours rehearsing their walk? Their facial expressions? What really goes into putting clothes on and walking down a runway? You could write similar platitudes about musicians and actors: What really goes into grabbing a tuba and blowing air into it? What really goes into picking up a script and reading it out loud? With modeling, I thought it was all about having the right “look.” For somebody to become successful, does she or he need to be that talented?

My college roommate, Reid Prebenda, is now one of the world’s most in-demand male super models. He usually jokes about it, saying that it requires absolutely no skill. Yet, clearly there is more to it than we might think. I asked him if he considered runway modeling to be a performance art. Here is his response:

“This is a tricky one. It is a live presentation of art in the form of clothing and of how it looks on a live subject, fitted to the form of the model and complemented by his or her appearance and by the way he or she wears it in motion.

“Many people can get away with doing this without a care in the world. Sometimes the most appealing looks on men are when the model is carefree. But in this case the look is altered and affected by his carelessness, so it is certainly a performance. Because runway shows only last 10-15 minutes, and each model is only on the runway for a minute or so, it can go wrong and still convey the beauty of the clothes. For this reason it can be discounted as a talent.

“I believe several elements in modeling bear strong connections to performing. I often feel out the mood of the show and how the clothes look. Are they really elegant and conservative, or modern and deconstructionist, or in between? Are they more masculine or feminine? With women there is more performance, in the sense that they exaggerate their walk. But a male model walking casually is just another kind of performance.

“And although I don’t use an overtly different walk for each style, I am aware and feel it as I move. Because audience time is so limited, there is emphasis on existing in the moment. Otherwise, it will be gone. Hearing music and moving and conveying confidence can be tough when done all at once and without thinking. Usually, subtlety in the face can make the clothes more seductive, or stoic, or strong, or light.

“Some models do well doing absolutely nothing, but it would be foolish to say that there isn’t an element of performance in this. It is also important to state that the clothes are not usually clothes for sale. Often designers will make a show out of extravagance that might not necessarily be on any sale rack. In this case, it is a piece of art.”

To see more of Reid Prebenda, go to models.com/models/Reid-Prebenda.

Spotlight on the Arts is a reflection on the world of performing arts in both historic and contemporary contexts. Each entry features an individual or group of performers that use captivating mediums to communicate with their audiences. The Warren Miller Performing Arts Center is scheduled to be completed by December of this year, and will feature many acts that challenge the way we see and think about performance.