Have you ever wondered how the real life of a model is? It might mean cool parties, glamour and the trendy bags as gifts; but it has also a raw and much more mundane side. Film director Niels Benoist and French model Manon Leloup partnered to direct “Speaking dolls”, a short film that explores that unseen side: “the fashion week from inside and from a model eye, like we never seen before”, as Benoist explains.
Everyone sees model’s pictures in the street and usually imagines a very glamorous lifestyle round the girl. It’s not always true.
“Speaking dolls” was filmed during fall 2013’s NYC, Milan, Paris and London fashion weeks in a complex shooting as models were running from one shoot to another. That many of the models filmed were Manon’s friends obviously helped. As Manon explains, “they trust me and let me tap everything, forgetting the camera and allowing Niels to follow them to castings”. Manon started modelling three years ago walking for Calvin Klein, Prada, Jil Sander or Dior and doing campaigns for Balmain, Alexander McQueen or Just Cavalli. However, she soon realized that “everyone sees model’s pictures in the street and usually imagines a very glamorous lifestyle round the girl. It’s the idea we sell but it’s not always true”.
It was that dual reality that attracted both to the project. “Cinema is my first love. It’s where I dream to work. I was always taking a lot of backstage pictures and I’ve always been thinking there is much more to say and show about this job”, explains Leloup. When she met Benoist she immediately thought his aesthetic and sensibility was what she needed to give the best value to the film. Benoist, whose works are mainly related to the arts, considers there is a kind of parallelism between modelling and other arts such as dance or music. “It is all about movement. For me, fashion shows are like ballets and models are great performers”, he claims. “There is always a lot of giving spirit and sacrifice in those great careers which is very interesting to catch with a camera and, as a director, I wanted to ‘scrape the glazed paper’ and give the truth about the profession, without judgement, with sensibility and a touch of humour”, explains.
As a director, I wanted to ‘scrape the glazed paper’ and give the truth about the profession
The life of models is exposed more than ever, adding more pressure to that ‘casting based’ existence the film shows. As Manon claims, “I was the first one having a wrong idea of the reality of the job. For example, I didn’t know that you are not paid to be in magazine, that to do a show can take only one hour, that you have to go in casting the whole career…”
Models can easily become “speaking dolls”. Just bodies and faces. Leloup knows this well. She feels the documentary “summarizes what people think a model is and how I sometimes feel during a casting or fitting while not having the possibility to express myself”. The most difficult part of the job is to find the right balance between “be able to ‘just be’ beautiful to let people work with you like a Barbie, but then be aware of the market, be curious , be spontaneous, make smart choices, have a good sense o style, be a good performer for shooting…” Or cope with the new Social Media demands as followers are now closely watched by the industry, which can be stressful.
As a freelance video director-editor and photographer, Benoist has a wide experience in backstage videos at shows like Yves Saint Laurent or Valentino and “like Manon, I was very impressed by the backstage’s life and I really wanted to say more about it, so the documentary was the good way to express a vision. A model’s speech is rarely highlighted, so I was very happy to work with Manon in this project”.
A model’s speech is rarely highlighted, so I was very happy to work with Manon in this project
Broadcasted on French television and available on Vimeo to obtain a worldwide audience, “Speaking dolls” aims to go beyond what we see. Beyond those magazines editorials and those catwalks. Beyond glossy publications’ adds and shows. Beyond simple speaking dolls.