The fashion industry, filled with glitz, glamour and all kinds of personalities, is dynamic to say the least. At fashion shows, individuals as well as the media come to fix their gazes on the clothes, the pieces, and details of everything being worn.
Focusing on what brands are being showcased or what faux-pas is allowed on the runway, the audience often seem to gloss over the reason that makes the show go on in the first place — the models. These models are seen only as a means to an end to the onlookers, but they probably know the inner workings of the fashion world the most. On today’s RADRPlus, we get an inside look into this world through the eyes of rising model, Lolade Manuel.
It’s surreal what can happen within few months to a man in his early 20s. A reserved personality by nature, Lolade is a man of few words. But behind the required straight-faced elegance of his runway version, there’s more to him. “Before this interview, I ain’t ever spoken for so long [at a stretch] before,” he says with a smile on his face. “People that know me know what I’m about; with me, it’s all [good] vibes, learning what life is really about, and not trying to find the quickest scheme to make money, except it’s by luck, strategic positioning or whatever.” In a country like Nigeria where infrastructure is sketchy to put it lightly, it’s easy to get sucked into these schemes that promise a quick buck, but to Lolade, easy come, easy go.
That is probably why he ventured into the world of fashion and modeling in the first place. He says that seeing a friend achieve big things coming off the back of a modelling competition made him realize that excellence was attainable. He was a finalist at 2016 Elite Model Look, but even that wasn’t enough to propel him into immediate spotlight.
“After Elite Model Look, things didn’t really pop off. At a point, I didn’t think it [modeling] was gonna work out. My mind was just somewhere else. But last year, someone saw a shoot I did in 2015 and contacted me. Suddenly there was a buzz and Manni Kwen [his agent] spoke with me about getting signed, now mans international.”
With image rights clauses in his contract Lolade isn’t allowed to take just any job, a move by his agency, Fuse (one of three which he is signed under) to maintain his exclusivity. They also took the liberty of revamping his Instagram page to help him sell his brand better, as image is everything in the business.
Growing up in a Nigerian home and due to the African mentality, jobs considered unorthodox do not appeal to the regular Nigerian parents. Anything that breaks the norm of arranged fields of study or the old school ‘engineer’, ‘lawyer’ ‘doctor’ narrative is frowned upon. The unofficial national anthem of ‘it’s not good for you’ or the more common ‘finish your degree then we’d talk’ wasn’t the case for Lolade, or Lodi-san as he’s fondly called by friends.
Instead, he speaks of his family’s unconditional support. “My mum and my brothers have always been mad supportive. I remember during the time of Elite Model Look, my mum drove me to the hotel where the camp was holding. Even before leaving for London earlier this year she helped me sort out logistics. She was sort of like a manager-mum. It was super cute.” He says that he feels the reality of what he is today because of the support from his family.
The reality of the life he lives today dawned on him when he landed in London on the 31st of December, 2018. A new city, a new life — the thrill of uncertainty kept him moving. The possibility of walking the London Fashion Week was now so close, he could reach out and touch it. “It was a new city for me, actually living in London proper. I got to London on the 31st of December and was out in preparation for the fashion week as soon as the 3rd of January. It was difficult, getting used to the transport system so soon and doing it all on my own. No one held my hand. I remember being lost for about 2 hours after going for my first casting for Wood Wood.”
During his first month in London, all he ate, breathed, and lived was fashion and rightly so, too, due to the demands of the industry. Casting calls and fittings came out of the blue almost at a whim, that spontaneity is one of Lolade’s favorite parts of the job. “One night past midnight at around 12:30am I got a phone call from my agency people asking me if I was awake, they needed me for a fitting. Right in the dead of the night, these people were still working. The fitting lasted 2 hours, so I was back at around 2:30am. I needed to be out again at 6:30am though, so I didn’t sleep that night. I spent that whole day running on sleep from two nights prior.”
He says these demanding conditions made him stronger and it’s something he genuinely enjoys doing even with all the stress it comes with.
It’s a different world completely once you step on that long stretch, with all eyes watching you. It feels like a microcosm of life itself, with the audience criticizing your every move, and news of any slip or blunder will certainly spread like wildfire. The model holds the image of the brand right in his gait as he takes that walk.
“My first runway show was for Stefan Cooke. I didn’t really like the way the pictures looked, everyone said the pictures looked nice but i didn’t really like them. I was nervous and to me, it showed.”
That could have also been his mind trying to play tricks on him, but Lolade’s mental resolve helped him break through that barrier at the second show. “At my second runway show [for Craig Green], I felt the confidence. In my head, I was like ‘oh yeah I’m definitely killing this’ and it showed in the pictures. I had a lot of fun doing it.”
It is easy to rest on your laurels and believe you’ve achieved it all, but that mentality isn’t what got Lolade Manuel signed to different agencies, Rock Men in Paris being one of them. He says he’s not going to get done off the hype that’s come with this. “I believe to whom much is given, much is expected. My people gave me a lot of support, and I know I have to do everything to give them back the rewards of my hard work.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
Lolade admits that the intensity for female models is more and goes ahead to show his admiration for the effort they put in. He took a sip of his drink and said, “Honestly, they [female models] are the ones who really do this. A lot goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know about; the casting directors really set the tone for them. If they say you need to be slimmer, then you need to be slimmer.”
He spoke about a Russian colleague, who is vegan and goes to the gym everyday to maintain her “money maker”. This was Cara Delavingne’s reason for quitting modeling, she believed models were overworked and were made to hate their bodies. Exploitation is rampant, sometimes the pay is below par and working conditions are poor, which in turn may affect passion for the career — especially in the era of the #MeToo movement, where it’s been revealed that there are sexual predators in almost every facet of life. According to veteran casting director James Scully in an interview with Harpers Bazaar in 2017, “you could be in a room with six abusers at once.”
It’s easy to doubt yourself in this industry. One, two, three failures will have you wondering what really is wrong with you and if you are really enough. “Self doubt starts creeping in when you stop booking shoots. You start wondering ‘what did i do wrong?’ and sometimes you wake up in the morning and don’t even want to go for that casting. But you just have to pick yourself up and go on.”
All we see is the polished version of these vessels of elegance, but behind the scenes the work is draining. But, Lolade is a testimony that success is attainable, and sometimes it really is about internalizing the fact that you are searching for an opportunity. “At a point I was even insecure about my height. I’m 5’11.5” and I felt I wouldn’t cut it. But backstage I saw people even shorter than I am. It’s hard for them to ignore you if you got it.”
Modeling is really an art form in itself. The poses, the facial expressions, down to the fitting of the clothes makes us realize even more that you might have a great body but not know how to use it. You become the object of the desire of many fashion designers when you strut your stuff to the max, and for a guy like Lolade, the sky is truly the limit.