If she were not a model, she says, "I'd be living in the country, growing my own vegetables, sewing, and making furniture. I'd be living like a hippie."
Modeling Work :
* Mother Agency
Plucked from a country town via a magazine model search, Australian model Pania Rose is living the dream on the catwalks of New York.
It's been a big year for Pania Rose. Since arriving in Sydney earlier this year from her hometown of Manjimup, south-east of Perth, the 19-year-old has been run off her feet. Discovered in a magazine model search, she has been signed by the Chic agency. Campaigns with Country Road and Bonds, as well as a debut on the catwalk at Australian Fashion Week and appearances in Australian Vogue, have boosted the down-to-earth teenager's profile.
Like many young fashion hopefuls, Rose has put her plans to study on hold in an attempt to break into the competitive American and European markets. Her first big challenge was surviving New York Fashion Week in September. Here, in her personal diary, she reveals the not-so-glamorous side of life on the catwalk.
On the plane to New York, I flick onto a fashion show and it hits me. I am supposed to be one of these awe-inspiring creatures in a few days. Me? A lump rises in my throat as I watch their towering stilettos effortlessly grip the catwalk. I live in thongs and sneakers. Their faces look all shiny and plastic. Their body language says, "Here I am. Don't I look bloody fantastic?" They're so confident. Glued to the screen, I take a mental snapshot of their every move.
I kick off the week with 22 casting appointments for parades. It sounds like a lot in one day but every model in New York is doing the same thing. We all want our place on the catwalk.
First up is Calvin Klein, the biggest cattle call of them all. Calvin isn't here - big-name designers hire casting directors to find the talent - but this is still a huge deal for me because he can launch careers. It's the whole Kate Moss fairytale. I feel nervous but I try not to get too worked up over castings. It's pointless. If they like me, they like me. If not, I don't take it personally. This industry is about rejection. Sometimes they just like the next girl better.
I knew that hundreds of girls would be lining up for this casting so I arrive early and get my name at the top of the waiting list. When I'm called into the casting room, I hand over my portfolio - a book of images from my magazine photo shoots - and introduce myself. "Hi, I'm Pania Rose." They'll hear hundreds of introductions today but this is my five minutes in the spotlight. The casting director scans my book and asks the occasional polite question, while the six other members of the panel look me up and down. I try to appear as though this is the most natural thing in the world. You have to pretend you're confident and comfortable with yourself; there's nothing worse than a girl who's obviously feeling awkward.
The scrutiny is intense and I try to stay calm as we move onto the appointment's most crucial moment - the "walk" down the imaginary runway. If I don't move right, I won't be hired, regardless of whether they like the way I look.
I haven't had any catwalk training. Like most other models, I learnt to walk by watching and mimicking the movements of more experienced girls. Fingers crossed I picked it up right.
I've met with their approval for now because they take three Polaroid photos - head shot, profile and full-length. This is the only way you really know if they like you. No photo, no interest. I'm relieved that I'm in with a chance.
This is the sequence I repeat over and over again for the rest of the day, racing between appointments on foot, by cab or on the subway. It's like being on an orienteering course at school camp. With a list of addresses and times in one hand and a map in the other, I navigate the fastest route and join the next casting queue.
Each casting appointment overflows with stunning girls all playing the waiting game. Sometimes the line is so long I feel like walking out but that's not an option. I'm here to work. The routine is the same at each casting. Sneakers and thongs are removed and replaced with sky-high stilettos for that all-important walk. Faces get touched up with make-up to mimic that unattainable effortless glow. Long, slender legs are restlessly crossed and uncrossed. Mobile phones ring. Heads are buried in books. It's a sea of beautiful, bored faces.
I crash at my agent Stephen's place until a room in the agency's model flat is available. I'm exhausted. Most appointments have resulted in a Polaroid, which feels good. But right now all I want to do is sleep.
The morning starts in a panic. Nervous about my first fashion parade, I didn't sleep well. And to make matters worse, I get stuck in a traffic jam on my way to Bryant Park, which is located in the middle of Manhattan and is the hub of Fashion Week.
When I finally arrive at the backstage entrance half an hour late with frayed nerves, I'm bustled past security by an impatient coordinator and placed in the production line where a team of hair and make-up artists are busy transforming 28 models into 1930s society girls. It's a lot of poking and prodding.
From my chair I watch the designer, Lloyd Klein, have his hair blow-dried and face powdered to prevent shine when he takes to the catwalk at the end of the show, darling. He doesn't look happy.
I heard that hardly any models turned up to last night's fitting, which is so unprofessional. I'm glad I wasn't one of them.
Once in character from the neck up, I'm told to practise walking in my dress. It's so narrow at the ankles that I can only take baby steps but the design assistant seems satisfied. I'm also instructed to remove my underwear for the parade - apparently it's spoiling the look of the gown.
The show is running late and the atmosphere becomes chaotic as make-up is retouched and producers scream at models to get in line. Funnily enough, I feel calm amid all this hysteria. It's on the catwalk that my heart races. The backstage area is packed with security, who are supposed to be looking after the diamonds we are wearing in the parade. I can't help wondering if a room full of semi-clad models might compromise their attention to detail.
The music finally begins and we glide out, one by one, onto the massive horseshoe catwalk. I have pins sticking into my skin but force myself to look straight ahead. Be confident, I tell myself. I desperately hope it's working as I repeat a "please don't trip" mantra with every step.
The moment I step off the catwalk and into the backstage area, four "dressers" descend upon me and remove the gown I'm wearing.
I stand there completely naked for a few moments before they fit the next garment. Can't think about the security guards standing nearby. There's no time for shame.
Today I have three shows and seven appointments thrown in to keep me on my toes. The first two parades go smoothly. Geova - a small-time Brazilian designer whose clothes are simple scraps of fabric sewn together to make fascinating collages - is a relaxed, fun parade. Hey, I didn't trip, which always feels like a success.
My next show is with Rebecca Taylor, a New Zealand designer who booked me on the spot because of my Polynesian heritage. I'm the only girl she's seen all week who fits the bill and it feels good to stand out from the hundreds of beautiful girls at every casting and parade.
In a cab on my way to appointments between shows, I realise that I haven't got any cash. I scrape together a few coins, which isn't enough. I brace myself for abuse as I explain my predicament to the cab driver. To my surprise he is really sweet and lets me off. See, New Yorkers can be nice.
At the last minute I'm cast in my third show for the day - for designer Jeremy Scott. I'd heard some people at the agency commenting that the first of his three shows was a bit out-there, so I'm interested to see what it's all about.
When I get to the gallery where the show is being held, there are podiums set up with huge posters announcing, "Jeremy Scott's Sexibition. Live peep shows." I immediately feel uncomfortable. The concept, though controversial, doesn't bother me. The fact I may have to pole dance does.
Backstage, the girls around me seem unfazed but I sense they are concealing their terror. The production manager assures me that my role is "passive", whatever that means. Just breathe. My outfit is very revealing. I think my corset is actually a mini saddle, but I figure that once my hair and make-up are done, I'll just step into character and find the confidence to pull it off.
By the time we're guided to our spots for the show to begin, a few models have walked out. At this stage, I'm still trying to be professional and optimistic. The show begins and people wander around my booth as I kneel in hay and try to be "provocative" as briefed. But 15 minutes into the hour-long show I just feel degraded. My knees are bleeding, my top isn't staying up and I feel ridiculous. I desperately want to walk out but my window of opportunity has closed. I stay and swear that the next time some ego-tripping designer wants to get attention using shock tactics, I won't be there.
I wake up at 6am feeling bruised, sore and very tired. I didn't follow the advice of a veteran model to stretch before and after each show and as a result, my legs were cramping all night. No sleep for me.
This morning I have a make-up test. Basically, this is where I sit in a chair for three hours while a make-up artist and hair stylist determine a fashion parade's final look. I'm their guinea pig so I try to zone out and let them do their thing.
Having your own personal space is not a privilege you're afforded during the shows. At any one time I have five pairs of hands on me: someone straightening my hair, applying false lashes, powdering my forehead, smoothing on body bronzer and painting my nails. I'm slowly learning to desensitise myself.
A few desperately needed free hours in the arvo give me time to touch base with friends and family back home, which feels really good. Last night I moved into the agency's model apartment, where I'll stay until the end of Fashion Week. It's in the East Village, which is full of cool young artists and hip bars. The only problem is that the apartment is filthy. I guess it's to be expected when you've got young girls living somewhere that isn't theirs - they don't care if it gets trashed. But I do, so I spend part of the evening cleaning up and making it liveable again.
I now know why models never smile. Scowling is a far more authentic expression than a cheery smile when you're wearing killer heels that are two sizes too small and hurt like hell, your top has the potential to expose your breasts to the international media and you are petrified of tripping. A scowl is a better fit.
As I walk down the catwalk at today's parades, I notice that the designers have pinned up signs: "You're the most beautiful woman in the world," "Don't smile," "You're hot. You know it," "Walk to the beat" and "You are so f***ing sexy." I skim them before hitting the heat of the catwalk lights when I drain my face of expression and stare straight ahead at the wall of cameras perched at the end of the catwalk.
I have to remember to pause for longer in front of the photographers. All I want to do is turn and make my return lap but my job is to show off the designers' clothes. It's that simple. Strike a pose, Pania!
I get a chance to speak to Candace Lake, an experienced Australian model. Australian models have a good reputation here - we work hard and are friendly. I'm so grateful to have someone I can talk to and ask all my questions. Backstage, there's rarely an opportunity to speak to the more experienced models - they don't have time and I guess new models like me are expected to learn the hard way like they did.
I'm starting to glean some of modelling's unwritten rules. For instance, not all girls are happy to engage in a friendly yarn. In fact, judging by the disgusted looks that cross some pretty faces when I've tried to interact, it's a big no-no. I don't let it get to me. In my experience, the friendly people find the friendly people and to hell with the rest.
When there's no one to talk to and I'm not writing this diary, I check out the models around me at the appointments and parades. There are so many different types of beauty. How can it be defined? There are prominent noses, thin lips, tiny faces, hollow cheeks, grey complexions, but each flaw simply adds to that girl's appeal. And the common theme running through it all is very tall and very slim.
I don't have a strict diet or do much exercise but I'm sure if I make it into the European market, there will be pressure on me to lose weight because they like their models very, very thin. I'm very comfortable with the way I am. I think because of my height - 180 centimetres - if I did get skinnier, I'd look like a freak. At the end of the day, models are freaks of nature. We're not normal. We have a rare set of measurements that society has decided is beautiful for the moment.
I drop into the agency this morning and am shown my catwalk shots on style.com, the website that covers all the latest fashion and trends around the world. I'm so relieved. I look confident and in control - the very opposite of how I felt.
Every night when I arrive home, the machine is full of messages from promoters inviting whoever is in the model flat to parties and bars. Beautiful girls are the ultimate accessories for bar owners and event organisers. I'm not into the whole party-hard drug scene but it's there for any model to exploit - hard-to-get invites, VIP lists, free drinks and late, late nights. You can recognise the girls who are living that life. They're slouched in the corner backstage with their cigarettes, a bad attitude and a "don't mess with me" scowl.
I end the week with a lasting souvenir - a scar. The hair stylist at my second-last parade is in such a stressed-out rush to get me finished that she rests the sizzling-hot straightening iron against the nape of my neck. I don't make a big fuss - it won't help the situation - but I'm in agony. Apparently it's one of the most common scars models get, so I guess it's an initiation of sorts.
I feel completely frazzled. After eight shows and 65 casting appointments, my feet are covered in blisters and I'm craving some space. I just have to remind myself that there are people out there in the "real" world who work a lot harder than me for a lot less money. I simply have to scowl harder on the catwalks and enjoy this amazing ride while it lasts.
Additional reporting by Brooke Le Poer Trench
Pania Rose Nude: