Saturday, January 7, 2012
West Linn High School student takes
on the world of high fashion modeling
BY CLAIRE OLIVER
When she’s not hitting the basketball court or hitting the books, West Linn High School sophomore Hannah Matthiessen is hitting the runways in New York, Paris and London as a high fashion model.
And, although she just completed her first season in the spotlight, she has already worked with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry. She even appeared in the December issue of British Vogue.
Matthiessen, 16, said she was first approached about modeling by a talent scout at the ClubSport pool in Tigard when she was 12. Her family didn’t pursue the opportunity at the time, but in 2010, when she was 15, she was approached once again at a Justin Bieber concert by three different scouts.
Matthiessen and her family then began talking about the details over the next few months with the Portland office of Pulse Management, and she attended her first photo shoot at a hotel near the Portland International Airport.
Two days later, she received a call from Pulse’s partner, Elite Management, telling her to get on a plane to New York City as soon as possible. The call came in February 2011, during finals week of her first semester of freshman year.
“It was the craziest week,” Matthiessen said.
In New York, Matthiessen did nine test shoots in eight days, meeting people at Elite Management and networking with people at a variety of magazines.
She said this first trip was about getting her name out there and learning the ropes of runway modeling. She also took walking lessons similar to the ones shown on the television show “America’s Next Top Model,” and she even worked with “America’s Next Top Model” judge and fashion photographer Nigel Barker on a shoot.
Matthiessen, who — at 5’11” — has always been taller than her friends, said she felt right at home among the other models in New York who had come from all over the world for fall fashion week, which is held each February to preview the next season’s collections.
While she did not appear in any shows last February, Matthiessen made plans to return in June for another two and half weeks’ of training for spring fashion week in October.
Matthiessen returned to New York once again at the end of August, beginning a six-week season of modeling as part of New York, London and Paris’ fashion weeks.
While it was a hard decision to miss the first month of school and give up participating on the WLHS volleyball team, “I (decided) I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t go,” Matthiessen said.
And, she would still get to play on the junior varsity basketball team.
A big start
Matthiessen’s mother, Julie, said she had a chaperone at all times during her trip and that a rotation of relatives flew out to meet her at each of her locations.
First Matthiessen attended two weeks of castings in New York, for which she would arrive at a design house, hand the designers her lookbook, walk for them and take a photo. She repeated this about nine or 10 times a day, riding the subway to each appointment.
“Riding the subway during fashion week was crazy,” she said, as each train car was packed with models in full hair and make up traveling from casting to casting.
Matthiessen did one show during New York fashion week — Hexa by Kuho — and was placed on hold for the Calvin Klein Exclusive, the week’s headliner. Although she did not appear in the Calvin Klein show, she turned down several others just in case.
Once New York fashion week wrapped, Matthiessen then packed up and headed to Europe, boarding a plane on her 16th birthday.
“I’ll never forget it,” she said.
In London, she did up to 20 castings a day, traveling by car from place to place with drivers who acted as tour guides of the city.
Because London is a slightly smaller market than New York, Julie Matthiessen said it was good place for her to truly launch as a runway model.
Matthiessen appeared in six shows throughout London fashion week, including those for Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Amanda Wakeley and
And, when Anna Wintour — the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine with a notoriously demanding personality — requested a private viewing of Mary Katrantzou’s line at the Ritz-Carlton London, Matthiessen was chosen as one of two models to show the collection.
Wintour is widely believed to be the inspiration for Miranda Priestly, a fictional fashion editor in Lauren Weisberger’s novel “The Devil Wears Prada,” who was portrayed by Meryl Streep in a film of the same name. And Matthiessen said the portrayal was an accurate one.
She said she was given strict rules to follow during the viewing and was told not to speak or get too close.
When Katrantzou got caught in traffic, Matthiessen and the other model had to start the show without her. During the viewing, an assistant stood behind Wintour and read her body language. If she did not like a piece, she would gesture to the model to leave quickly.
Matthiessen said one of the most nerve-wracking moments of the experience was when Wintour motioned to her to come forward so she could feel the texture of a sweater she was wearing.
Aside from these runway experiences, Matthiessen’s time in London also gave her the chance to model for magazines as well.
Just before she left for Paris fashion week, Matthiessen’s agency called her and said she’d been selected for a job for British Vogue.
Decked in a gown designed by Sarah Burton, creative director for Alexander McQueen, Matthiessen appears in the magazine’s December issue alongside the designer herself in a feature about today’s influential fashion figures.
Burton now boasts one of the biggest names in the fashion industry, having designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress for her wedding to Prince William last April.
This fame, however, hasn’t gone to her head.
“She’s so down-to-earth, sweet and modest,” Julie said.
For the shoot, Matthiessen met with Burton and worked with her for three to four hours. She said Burton was actually a little nervous about appearing in front of the camera, as she normally works behind the scenes.
Later, in Paris, Matthiessen was selected to appear in the Alexander McQueen show — the biggest show of the week.
The dress she was set to wear was an intricate one, and she said she had to wear a plastic bag while design assistants glued on individual black roses.
Because it needed so many adjustments, Matthiessen’s dress was unfortunately pulled from the show’s line up at the last minute.
However, she did visit the Alexander McQueen design room several times over the course of the week, and at one point Burton immediately recognized her, crossing the room to give her a hug and say hello.
“She’s a good connection to have,” Julie said.
Off the runway
Matthiessen did three shows over 10 days in Paris — a bigger market than London — and had time to sightsee and catch up on homework.
She said she was basically caught up with schoolwork when she returned to school in October and that her teachers and school counselors were all understanding and accommodating. Instead, she said she was most anxious about returning to her peers.
“I was nervous,” she said. “I didn’t know about the transition.”
After a day of “questions, questions, questions,” however, her routine quickly returned to normal.
Matthiessen said she has often been asked how the real fashion world compares to “America’s Next Top Model.”
“It’s not like it (at all),” she said. “It’s not as dramatic, it’s its own small little world.”
Students also ask her if she will appear on “America’s Next Top Model” in the future. However, as she already has a modeling contract, the show’s top prize.
Although New York’s fall fashion week is coming up in next month, Matthiessen said she’ll be sticking around West Linn to concentrate on basketball and finals.
She may, however, fly out for a few days to do a show or two. And, she’ll be flying to New York in June to prepare for next October’s fashion weeks.
While she was homesick at times this fall, Matthiessen said she’s appreciated the opportunities modeling has given her to meet new and interesting people and travel.
She said she was scared about making a mistake at first but she has found that people in fashion industry are, in general, kind and easy to work with. And, she’s learned that rejection is just another part of the job.
“You can’t let it get you down,” she said. “I’ve learned to not take it personally, because you don’t know what they’re looking for.”
Julie said Elite Management has been good about emphasizing that modeling can’t be all that you are.
“She needs to be Hannah in all parts of her life,” she said.
Otherwise, others who focus solely on modeling tend to get beaten down quickly by rejection.
“It’s been fun and so rewarding to watch Hannah experience the incredible opportunities that she has been given,” Julie said. “We don’t know where this will take Hannah, but we are so proud of her for going for it when given the opportunity and also for keeping it all in perspective with everything else important in her life.”