WORDS Leigh Kimmins McManus
It's a thing we say, isn't it? "I'm so and so." Well, I'm a fashion model, and to some people, just a fashion model. But I AM Leigh Kimmins McManus, much more than just a mannequin.
I am from the beautiful country of Ireland, more specifically, a small working class city called Newry. It is a quiet place with not much going on except pub drinking and reminiscing. In terms of fashion, you’re likely to find bootcut jeans and crosshatched shirts lining the bars on a Saturday night, with the flat caps of farmers visible in the crowds during the day. Understandably, then, fashion was never really on my mind until a chance encounter with a model scout in London soon led me to the runways of Milan, Paris and beyond.
That short conversation ended up completely changing my life, as before I was plunged into the crazy world of fashion I could be found scrubbing pots in a football stadium in Liverpool, or studying journalism in university. Those words on the bridge adjoining the Tate Modern to the far bank of the Thames are also the reason you are reading what I have to say; where would I be had I not stopped to talk with Jonathan Quentin? God only knows.
Fast forward to present day and I have had the extreme pleasure of having walked for Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and met childhood soccer heroes David Beckham and Rio Ferdinhand, along with exchanging pleasantries with Jared Leto backstage at an exclusive stroll for the aforementioned Gucci. Good actor, great guy. So why are you hearing from me? Why are you reading my words? Well, because I have a voice, and I am using it, not to make noise, but to speak and to open a window into a world that very little is known about by those on the outside looking in. Call me the David Attenborough of fashion.
I love writing, I take great pleasure in putting words together. So when I graduated from university I started a blog in fear of stagnating, in fear of losing the ability to write these gorgeous flowing sentences you are currently processing. Call me the George Orwell of fashion.
The most interesting thing in my life is of course my irregular line of work, and so, I decided to document what life is like as a model with the twist of using my “Gift of the gab” as we say in Ireland. The narrative of the blog took on a cheery and jovial tone from the get go, but soon became a damning decree of a ragged industry, and that's why you meet me at this full stop.
I have used my blog as a platform to sound out the issues in the world of modelling and to delve into some home truths about a world that has so many hidden facets behind the glossy pictures that enchant the masses. But, I have also used my blog as a window to a fantasy world, I try to give my readers a sense of what it’s like to be scrubbing pots one week and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jared Leto and Golden Balls the next!
When I am at home in Ireland, a night out can be anything from listening to a drunkard blast out "Nine to Five" by Dolly Parton on a karaoke machine, to drinking way too much cheap vodka before hitting a sparse dance floor with a vengeance and a dodgy stomach. Life can be slow and uninspiring at times so when fashion week fever descends and I am ferried off to a fashion capital the parties really do take on a whole other level.
There’s a lot of irksome and tiresome attributes to modelling but the parties are exactly as one would imagine. I am partial to a drink as it is, so when Gucci were putting on a fine evening soiree fuelled by as much free gin and wine as one could drink, you can imagine the shapes I was cutting on the very well dressed dance floor. Think octagons...trapeziums, even!
I have only ever rubbed shoulders with celebrities in my daydreams, often imagining what word vomit would the unsuspecting a-lister be subject to, had they had the displeasure of meeting me. Imagine then, how it felt to see the likes of Wiz Khalifa wondering around a party with Annie Lennox blasting out a private sing song for Alessandro Michele upstairs, this really had me considering what the hell was in that fine red wine that I so gleefully consumed. Luckily for Mr Wiz and Mrs Lennox, they escaped my chat for the evening. The same can’t be said for Rio Ferdinhand, who was subject to five minutes of me stuttering and repeating my questions in an onslaught of extreme fangirling, if you’re reading this, Rio, I am sorry.
The Parisians really know how to party, there is a universal opinion that they are introverted and snobbish, but I’ve seen them really let loose and get looser well into the small hours of the night. My French agency, Marilyn Paris, had an end of fashion week do that had the most fun yet dangerous facet to a party that I’ve seen: a slide; who’s idea was that? Aren’t the French concerned with health and safety? I literally walked through the door and my eyes lit up, before I knew it I was plummeting down this slide, straight past the cloakroom and through the red velvet curtains into the epicentre of the party. I’d like to say it was slick, but I feared for my life, they must have polished that slide. So fast. I would love to have snapchatted this beautiful moment, but I feel a responsibility here to encourage you to not snap and slide.
Get Up And Go
Talking of moving at a high pace, as a model you need to be prepared to get up and go at any time. Your life state is subject to change, don’t get too comfortable sipping your Aperol Spritz in Milan because next thing you could be summoned by the fashion Gods to show up absolutely anywhere. Even on your birthday! I put it so tenderly in my blog post titled “Gucci, Mosquitos and More”... “I could be holding my first born child for the very first time, tenderly staring into their innocent eyes and drop the poor bastard in a heartbeat if Gucci came calling. In this case, my twin sister Chloe is the proverbial baby and I dropped her right on her soft, young head. I turned 22 on November 2nd this year and it was the first time in my life I was separated from Chloe on our birthday. The reason? Gucci requested my presence in Florence, and my presence they would have.”
There I was, thrashing out birthday plans with my twin sister at home in the comfort of Ireland when my agent hits my Gucci spot via text. Things accelerate quickly at this stage, and before you know it, there I was, draped in high class apparel in a Gucci studio in beautiful Florence.
The fluctuating nature of the job took on unprecedented levels in that same week when I received a text instructing me not to board my plane home, as soon as I pulled up at the airport! Have you ever been getting ready to fly home but you end up naked in the woods a day later? Bloody hate when that happens.
“Don’t board that plane!!!!” was the relaxed and totally non-frightening message that emblazoned the screen of my phone as I noticed it lying on the seat of the car whilst I was getting out. I had just made the journey from Florence to Bologna by car, with a driver enlisted by Gucci to get me to my destination unscathed. The journey was pleasant, we zipped smoothly through the Tuscan countryside, chatting about all manner of interesting topics. My driver was, and probably still is, of Indian heritage and it was due to our intriguing chat about his grandfather’s experience of the Caste system that I paid no heed to my cellular device. That, and the picturesque countryside.
It transpired that I had a vast swathe of messages dotted across my screen, there were calls from my agency’s main phone, my bookers personal phones and everything from text messages to Whatsapps, via totally unrelated messages from Italian beauties on Tinder, standard.
My driver, now one of my top four best mates noticed the look of bemusement on my face and inquired in his gorgeous and genuine tone, “What is it, my man?” Classic Singh. I relayed to him the info I had just received via phone call, I was needed in Milan for a shoot and although he was not contracted to do so, he drove me all the way to central Bologna to board a train to Milan. I would like to take this opportunity to say, Singh, if you’re reading this, hit me up...I MISS YOU. That shoot took place in subzero conditions somewhere outside Milan I don’t even know the name of, but I will never forget the name of the photographer, Omar Macchiavelli. Although I had to pose naked with leafs infiltrating my rectal region, Omar’s pictures ended up in Italian Vogue so I’m not complaining. I just hope my mates don't get a hold of those images and I escape embarrassment.
The End Is Nigh
At the beginning of one's sojourn into this fantasy world, this is the pace and tone your life takes on. It’s ridiculous, really. My life was very standard until it collided with the fashion world. I had been asked to become a model when I was studying, and in the most sensible move of my life I decided not to fully commit until I had graduated. As quickly as a fashion show starts and ends, one’s time as a model can begin to tear at the seams. There usually isn’t anything wrong that happens per say, but the production line of handsome young men from all across the world can make your position futile, unless you’re somewhat spectacular and sustain a long a fruitful career.
Alas, your fortune fades, you slowly begin to slip down the ladder from the heights of King Louis V and the elegant swagger of Gucci, to the depths of brands you’ve never heard of, zeros begin to fade from your payments and the comradery once enjoyed in the agencies, soon becomes an uncertain paralysis that plants the firm seed of doubt in your mind. You begin to feel the chop is nigh and where once you met every request with a jovial skip in your step, you now see it through the eyes of a sceptic. Doubt lingers as your face appears less and less on the Instagram feeds of your agencies, your phone becomes quieter and you begin to miss the jet set days when your phone was buzzing like mad with those messages, those orders, that kept you prancing around Europe and away from your ‘real’ life for longer. “My agency hate me!” you begin to panic and with the fear of not booking shows looming, you say you’ve had enough. But modelling is like a drug, no one who ever said they were going to have one drink ever actually stopped before another G & T was meandering down their throat. And modelling is the same, you say you won't do it any more then you find yourself penning an article for FOXES Magazine five days before jetting off to Paris for pre castings.
So this is where I leave you, hopefully with a better understanding of my world. A clearer image of something that propels one to new levels of weirdness in the most confusing and wonderful way. I’m off to pack, au revoir!