As we continue with our Fashion Week series, this week we sat down [virtually, of course] with Linda Oliver, a fit model who has been in the fashion industry for over 20 years. She breaks down what it means to be a fit model in New York City, the journey that led her to this career and how much her day to day has changed with quarantine rules in place.
How did you get your start in modeling and how long have you been doing it?
I came from humble origins, my dad was in the Marine Corps and worked full time while my mom was a stay at home mom, in charge of 4 kids. We didn’t have much growing up which meant I had to use my imagination a lot, especially when it came to my dreams. As a kid, I was so fascinated with fashion that I would cut out photos from magazines and create a portfolio to inspire me. My family would get vouchers from church to get clothing from our local thrift store and I remember going to the store with my mom was always an adventure to me. I loved looking through the dress section and bringing dresses home, remaking them and starring in my very own fashion shows.
At 15, I decided to pursue a life in the fashion industry and researched everything I could find on becoming a model. One day, with my father by my side, I went to Mayo-Hill School of Modeling and met with the program director. I admitted to her that my family could not afford to enroll me in any classes, but that I wanted to ask some questions about what I’d need to do in order to become a model. The director answered all of my questions, took us on a tour of the school and later admitted how impressed she was with me. When our meeting ended, she seemed deep in thought and then said the words that would change my life forever, “We don’t normally do this, but we’d like to offer you a scholarship to attend our school”.
This is how my career officially started. I was able to attend school, learn the fundamentals of being a model and two decades later, am still blessed to be doing something I absolutely love. I am currently signed with State Models, though I have worked with many agencies before this one. They are truly amazing and treat me like family; always supportive and making sure to push my career to the max, which is important to me. As a model, you have to go through trial and error until you find the agency that fits. They won’t always be a right fit and that’s ok, but when you find one that is, it’s truly something special.
Could you break down what it means to be a fit model and what you do specifically?
I get this question a lot as there are many people who don’t know or truly understand what a fit model is or does. As a fit model, it’s not necessarily how you look, but how you fit into a designer’s garments that is important. Clothing is first designed and created on a mannequin, which means that before it can go into production to be made for the masses, it needs to be fit on a person to ensure that sizing is accurate. The purpose of a fit model is for designers to ensure their creations go from mannequin to human seamlessly and without changing their vision for the garment. Think of us as human mannequins that work hand in hand with design teams.
What is the booking process like for fit models?
First, just like any other model, we have to go to castings and go-see auditions to meet with the designers. During these meetings, the designer or design team will ask me what brands I have fit for and worked with. Then my measurements and photos are taken; this is all the information that will be included with the garment pack when the design team decides who they will work with on the fitting. If I am selected, they will immediately let my agent know and I can start working with them right away.
As a fit model, your job during these fittings is to guide the design team and let them know what feels uncomfortable or what changes need to be made in order for the garment to feel/fit properly on a human body. Reputable designers and labels hire fit models to ensure the quality and comfort of their clothing. Without a proper fitting, a label runs the risk of the garments not fitting correctly or being uncomfortable, meaning they won’t sell.
What’s your favorite part of your job and can you offer hopeful fit models any advice?
Being a fit model is so special to me because I get to witness the process of garments from start to finish and feel as though I am part of their creation. Many times, I get to see entire collections before anyone else does, which is also so exciting! I have been very blessed to work with talented designers. To be a top fit model, the most important thing I can say is that you must always stay the same measurements, especially once you’ve found a client that loves to work with you. And also, fight for your dreams no matter what. The old saying, “When there’s a will, there’s a way” is 100% right. You must always find a way to reach your life goals.
At the height of the pandemic, what was your job like when everyone was forced to stay home?
At the height of the pandemic, it was very difficult for the designers to know how to proceed with fittings and production when everyone was forced to stay home. Thankfully, the designers I work with trusted me enough to continue doing fittings on a virtual capacity. This meant that I had to purchase all the necessary items to make that happen at home: rolling racks, pins and all the other tools used during a fitting.
They would then send me their garments (hence the trust part), which I would have to hang and let air out (because, Covid) for a few days before getting on Google Meet with the entire design team. During these video calls, we would go over each individual garment and I’d let them know what needed to be changed or adjusted, sometimes pinning garments myself.
Once everything was pinned and approved by the design team, my roommates would take pictures of every angle of each garment while I was still wearing it. They were a huge help during all of the madness that was the first few months of quarantine! Once the fittings were done, I’d have to pack everything back up carefully and ship it all back to the studio. Overall, the process was long and exhausting, but it worked and everyone was happy. Well, as happy as they could be given the circumstances.
Now that you can go back to work, how is it different from pre-Covid?
So much has changed! It’s sad, really, because so many people have been laid off that it’s hard for designers to do everything that needs to be done in the same amount of time. Also, it’s difficult to see such a difference in the number of people present during a fitting now versus before, knowing that they are no longer working for the company.
Before even entering the showroom, my temperature is immediately taken and I am given a health waiver to sign. Anyone present for the fittings has to wear a mask and there is hand sanitizer around everywhere. Due to these precautionary measures, I always have to leave my apartment or other appointments with extra time to ensure this doesn’t interfere with the fitting time scheduled. I often have to run from one design house to the next and have started packing a lunch since I don’t have time to stop anywhere to eat!
What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
In these 20 years within the fashion industry, I’ve been lucky to have worked with some truly amazing designers who have helped me understand the process of developing a garment. Thanks to their guidance, I am in the process of designing a line of vintage jumpsuits under my name “L’Oliver”. It’s all still very new, I’m working on perfecting the pattern now, but it’s all looking so beautiful! I’m really excited to see the final result and to put it out for the world to see also.
I’m also working on a project called “Hands On Masks” after seeing the desperate need essential workers had for personal protection during the pandemic. My friend and I created a company that makes handmade masks which can be worn on top of N95’s, extending their use. With a group of amazing people that helped us in any way they could, we were able to provide handmade masks to hospitals all over the country and essential workers here, in New York City.
In your opinion, how has Covid impacted the fashion industry?
Covid has impacted the fashion industry immensely. I know of many brands that have had to lay off most of their staff and some that have shut down completely. Everyone is on edge and unsure of what the future holds for businesses in this industry. Imagine being a fashion student right now? No one is really hiring, instead they’re letting staff go.
What future is there for new, emerging talent? It breaks my heart. All of the designers I have been working with say the same thing, “We hope things get better, not just for us, but for future generations – so they have a chance to pursue the dreams we had and were able to pursue”.
With that being said, I think Covid has taught us to always have a Plan B in life and in your career. I am lucky that I am still able to work as a fit model during this craziness. However, during the pandemic and with these thoughts in mind, I decided to go back to school to study a career as a surgical technician. It is a dream I’ve always had and that is now time to pursue. I am excited at the thought of being able to work as part of a team, helping doctors save lives in the OR someday.
From the Founder
Talking to Linda was refreshing – she left our team in complete amazement at all she has been able to accomplish and how much she loves to help others. During times like these, we all need to work together to help push each other forward. Linda’s story is one of perseverance and strength. Even as a teenager, when most people are more interested in high school dances and hanging out with friends, she knew what she wanted to do and found a way to make it work.
Things are particularly difficult for students and anyone trying to get into the fashion industry at the moment. This is especially why we’re here – doing what we do, bringing you all the information we can to help you learn as much about the industry as possible.
Networking, connecting and keeping up with the industry is extremely important right now. And while it may seem like at the moment, all is lost, don’t give up. Companies are doing what they can to stay afloat and continue their business. Be proactive. There is an opportunity where you least expect it. Reach out and see if companies are hiring virtually or looking for help in a virtual capacity. You could find yourself working for a brand you love during one of the most interesting and unique times in the industry. Remember to stay current with conferences and table talks as more and more fashion companies seem to be hosting them.
Bottom line: get creative, get proactive and go chase that dream. You never know what you’ll find.