While some of us may pride ourselves on high levels of self-esteem, I find we falter in the presence of beauty – at least the kind that makes it to the fashion ramps and glossy magazine pages. This was confirmed to me when I took time to rest my brain from all the depressing issues of the world; the barrage of bad economic indicators, tanking markets, alleged threats to press freedom and other political shenanigans.
Cape Town Fashion Week came to town and I somehow winged my name on a guest list for the “pre-party”. Here, it was all about rubbing shoulders with the rich and extremely beautiful.
I generally wouldn’t admit that I felt a sense of achievement for having made a list at such a superficial event. It’s mostly frowned upon in my circles. I spend my days with intelligent bankers and reading documents written in sophisticated diction. So I constantly have to hold my own in terms of smart conversation and wit.
But like most people, I worship at the altar of beauty. In this arena, all the makings of inner beauty such as kindness, intellect, a good sense of humour and social service have very little place.
As everyone knows that models and other beautiful people don’t have to bother themselves with the tiresome task of conversation. They are beautiful. Their mere presence is sufficient. But, of course, beautiful people find themselves having to bother with being clever and conversational – bowing to social pressure which seeks to belittle their God-given standing in society as superior creatures who need not justify their existence with conversation. It is us, the less aesthetically endowed creatures who need words to impress – always under pressure to say something. To be honest, I tried to have a conversation with one of the models at the party, but it wasn’t long before I realised that it wasn’t going to come to anything, unless her butt grew ears. Yes, she was tall. And she was beautiful.
As I said, the party also had the extremely rich, prominent among them Patrice Motsepe and his wife, Precious. And so it seems the South African fashion industry is soon to be a multibillion-rand industry, if only by its association to Patrice, whose Precious is a major player.
The fashion industry itself works very much like the drug-dealing industry, as explained by Steven Levitt the book “Freakonomics”. The foot soldiers or the reps, are the models and don’t make much money and struggle through it. It is the top dogs, the drug lords, who cash in. For an average editorial in a glossy, the model you see makes around a thousand rand for the picture. Most models will never reach the top, unless you are the likes of Linda Evangelista who is alleged to have declared that she does not get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. For the rest, who after spending hours and hours at the gym, eating dust and spending hours at castings, may not even make R5,000 a month.
But for designers, modelling agencies and other serious players like Motsepe, the business can be quite lucrative. As one designer told me, the world is getting more and more excited about African fashion.
If this is true, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a major industry in Africa, providing countless jobs and contributing to GDP. In Europe and America, established fashion houses rake in billions of US dollars in annual turnover. I suspect this is why fashion has attracted the interest of the business astute such as Motsepe. Not for the same reasons Cape Town Fashion Week attracted the likes of me.
I know that if I persevere at my job, I will make enough bucks to get myself something beautiful to be by my side for the rest of my life. Of course, I hope it comes with all the other nice things like love, affection, companionship and other fuzzy and socially loaded goods. You can judge me and pretend you think differently, but I know you don’t. And for a smart model who never makes it to Paris, Milan and all those international glossies, here is an opportunity for a comfortable life.
It you are looking for me this weekend, find me along the catwalks or the after parties.
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Xhanti Payi is a writer short of a few best selling books and a Nobel Prize. He works as an economist, researcher and advisor to various institutions. A staunch believer in clever blacks and would-be clever blacks short of opportunity. Proper pronunciation of the click is optional.
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