She’s Got The Look

Aspiring models audition for designers at marathon casting call for Ottawa Fashion Week.

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Ottawa Fashion Week held an open model casting call at the Novotel Hotel in Ottawa, on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Photograph by: David Kawai, Ottawa Citizen

Montreal designer Helmer Joseph thought selecting the models for his runway show at Ottawa Fashion Week would be a slam dunk. He sat down on Saturday afternoon in a boardroom on the third floor of the Novotel Hotel with plans of choosing 10 black models and then heading home to get back to work on finalizing his collection.

But when he laid eyes on Caileigh Riddell, a 15-year-old blond-haired beauty with sparkling blue eyes and a sunny disposition, his careful plan suddenly went awry.

“When I saw her, I was reminded of a painting by the great Spanish artist Diego Velazquez. She caught my eye and I could imagine her in one of my pieces — a big dress. I need the models to finalize my show. This is why casting is so important to me,” said the soft-spoken Haitian-born designer, who owns a boutique in Montreal.

Standing in a hallway a few feet from the “model room” were hundreds of hopefuls sat huddled on the floor waiting for their moment to shine, Helmer scratched his head and said simply, “She lit up the room.”

Riddell, who has only ever modelled once before and that was just in December, was thrilled by the news.

“This has made my day. I can’t wait to tell my parents,” said the Stittsville resident, grinning ear-to-ear with a mouth full of braces.

Helmer, who is the OFW’s headliner, plans on featuring 20 looks at his show, which closes out the three-day event on Feb. 10. Fashionistas should expect to see plenty of fitted jackets, artfully constructed corsets, hats, dresses and lots of silk.

“I’m at my best under pressure and will be working on the finishing details right before my show. Galliano doesn’t sleep for 32 hours before his shows. I work till the last moment,” said Helmer, who spent 20 years honing his skills in Paris working with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and John Galliano.

Close to 300 aspiring models turned up at 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday to audition in front of 16 designers. They came clad mostly in black jeans and leggings with fitted T-shirts and the mandatory 3-inch heels. The crowd of mostly teenaged girls hung out listening to music, texting or doing homework while waiting for their number to be called.

Most were affiliated with modelling agencies in Ottawa, including Models International Management and Angie’s Models & Talent International, but some turned up from Montreal, Kingston and Cornwall for their chance to walk on the catwalk. There were also plenty of familiar faces in the crowd, including veterans of fashion week such as 19-year-old Shay Ishola.

Originally from Texas, the fourth-year integrated science student at Carleton University student, has sashayed down the runway in Ottawa numerous times and took part in several shows in Toronto and Montreal last season.

“I started modelling two years ago for fun. I’m curious now to see how far I can go. I’d like to be in Europe by next December,” says Ishola, who was selected Saturday by at least three designers, including Helmer.

Smashbox Cosmetics is back once again as an official sponsor for the show with Ottawa’s Leslie-Anne Barrett, a stalwart of OFW, taking over as lead makeup artist. On Saturday afternoon, she met with Toronto-based designer Lucian Matis to nail down the look he wanted for his models at a runway show and Winterlude event Friday night called Whirlwind of Taste and Style. The evening will include a delicious five-course meal by chef Marc Lepine of Atelier and two fashion shows in the ballroom of the Ottawa Convention Centre.

Matis, an alumnus of Project Runway who is turning heads in the fashion world with his penchant for bright colours and exquisite tailoring, is sure to heat things up with the show he’s calling Moroccan Dream of Marrakesh.

“I’ll feature 25 looks with modern silhouettes, drop shoulders, A-line dresses, lots of colours, exotic animal influences, crocodile-embossed leather and beautiful fabric. It won’t be boring. The colour will be broken up with nude. I’ll be ending on a high note,” said the 33-year-old designer, who moved to Canada from Romania with his family in 1999.

“I’m looking for models about five-foot-nine with long hair parted down the middle. The makeup will be minimal with light eye shadow but bold, strong lips. My clothes are so busy with lots of detail that the hair and makeup must be simple,” said Matis. “I promise to warm up everyone.”

Ottawa Fashion Week

Winterlude fashion & food event: American Express Whirlwind of Taste and Style on Feb. 1 with wine and a five-course meal by Atelier’s Marc Lepine. Tickets are $165, and include runway shows featuring Toronto-based Lucian Matis’ editorial collection and another show produced by OFW featuring Canadian designers with fashions selected from Holt Renfrew. To reserve, call 613-599-3267.

What: Ottawa Fashion Week presents runway shows of 2013 Fall/Winter collections, Feb. 8 to Feb. 10.

Where: Ottawa Convention Centre

Designers, schedule & tickets:

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