LONDON, United Kingdom — “She saw me at a dinner party and she just liked the way I wore clothes.” She was Phoebe Philo, and the woman she spotted at a party went on to become the fitting model for Philo’s debut collection at Céline.
“Either you are chosen because you have a style that the brand connects with, or somehow you embody what the designer senses in terms of creativity and design,” says the model, who wished to remain anonymous as being a fit model is not her main line of work. At 5”7 (170 cm) she falls a few inches short of the average height of a runway model, but “A lot of it is just personal and emotional. The designer has to be attracted to you and somehow, on a very human level, want to be around you all day when you’re half-naked.”
The fit, or fitting, model is a vital but rarely talked about role in the fashion industry. A living, breathing mannequin, a fitting model tests out garments to make sure the cut and proportions are right, and helps designers, pattern cutters and garment technologists identify problems that could impact sales, such as shallow pockets, or armholes cut too tight.
At 6”1 (185cm), with a 40-inch chest and a 32-inch waist, London-based fitting model Janko Stano has the “perfect average medium” proportions (medium is the best-selling size in menswear). “I hit exactly the middle of medium — it’s tailor-made on me, and then sizing is by scaling up and scaling down,” he says.
For fitting work, companies want models to test out clothing in the sizes that actually sell.
Stano’s work ranges from high-street brands like Zara, where he whips through 10 pairs of trousers in half a day, to high-end brands like Burberry and Dunhill, where he can spend months working with design teams on one garment. Some of Stano’s clients also have mannequins custom-made made to his exact proportions (costing £3,000 to £5,000 apiece), for emergency fittings when the model himself is unavailable.
But after six years in the business, the Slovakian-born Stano — who has never worked in runway and editorial modelling — is more than a figurine. “I built relationships and I proved I had the ability to tell them what could be better,” he says. “Now, I’m in that stage where the designer asks me, ‘What do you think about how it looks?' It’s not only about how it feels. And, ‘Would you buy this?’”
“They ask your feedback on things like if it’s easy to move in, if it’s tight on the crotch, if you can sit down,” says Katie McGoldrick, a part-time fitting model who has worked for ASOS, Topshop and Whistles. At 5”4 (163cm) and a size 6 (US size 2), she fits clothing for brands in the final stages of production, when the garments are graded into a range of sizes. “They just need to make sure that, you know, it’s always knee-high or the sleeves always hang the same.”
According to Gemma White, who launched London-based fitting model agency Fittings Division in 2003, fashion fitting models are like gold dust. “High-end fashion agencies easily cover skinny girls, 5”8 (173cm) upwards,” she says. But for fitting work, companies want models to test out clothing in the sizes that actually sell. “Size 12 (US size 8) are the girls that everybody wants to get a hold of… It isn’t plus-size and it’s not a [runway] model size, so it’s really hard to find. When you do find one, you try to keep them with your agency as long as possible.”
Fittings Division, which works with brands including Victoria Beckham, Burberry and New Look, has “thousands” of models on the books, but still struggles to get hold of exactly the right proportions because every brand has slightly different sizing requirements, says White. “It might take me six months to find one model for one brand. Some days I measure 20 girls a day,” says White.
For those with the right proportions, fit modelling can be a reliable option in the world of fashion modelling, where unpaid gigs are common and regular work hard to come by. “We have such strict rules,” says Stano, who works with a fitting model agency in London. “Even ten minutes overtime for a fitting, I can charge them an extra hour.”
For a menswear fitting model in London, rates range from £20 to £40 (between $28 and $56) an hour through an agency, while women can make up to £60 (almost $85). Models earn more at higher-end fashion houses, and New York and Paris pay better than London, according to fit models and agencies. In Paris, a female fitting model at a luxury label can expect €125 to €250 (from $137 to $275) an hour, or €1,000 (over $1,100) for a day of showroom modelling at a brand like Christian Dior.
Fitting models reflect the proportions of a brand’s target market, rather than an aspirational image of the brand. As a result, a fitting model’s shelf life is considerably longer than a career on the catwalk. “You can fit forever as long as your posture is good,” says Gemma White. “We’ve got girls who are 18 and girls in their 80s.”
While Stano says runway and fitting work are “two different worlds,” luxury brands favour thinner fitting models with runway experience, so there is some overlap. Chanel’s in-house fit model, Amanda Sanchez, has been walking in its shows since 2001. “I know a lot of fit models. They are fit models because they want to get on the runway. It’s one of the ways they can connect and be noticed by the brand they are working with,” says Céline’s former fitting model, who has also fitted for Thomas Tait and Huishan Zhang.
However, the job can be tough. “If I say, ‘Can I go to the toilet?’ after five hours of fitting, it’s like, ‘Do you need to go now? Why now!’” says Stano, who says part of the job is standing incredibly still for hours at a time, amongst designers and technical teams working under pressure. “Sometimes they act like it’s the end of the world, all this drama, shouting, people crying. People actually cry and have arguments,” he says.
“I would say you have to be very tolerant,” adds White. “Because a lot of times you’ll be pinned and poked. I’ve had girls cut by scissors, numerous times.”
Indeed, a fitting model must be calm — and confident. “They always make comments about your body, hair and skin. Most of the time it’s not nice comments, so it can be tough. I have been in an argument with designers a couple of times,” says Stano. However, he adds, “You can’t complain when people touch you. They have to go for it; there are loads of hands around… Even though I’m very shy, I just take down my trousers in front of people. When people are around your zip, accidents can happen,” he laughs. “You can’t take it seriously. It’s part of the job.”