TOKYO (AFP) – Plumes of hairspray create a suffocating fug over a group of fashion models waiting to be beautified in a room overlooking Tokyo s trendy Shibuya district.
A full eight hours before Rei Hamada is set to grace the catwalk at Tokyo Fashion Week in a designer kimono, coffee is gulped and snacks munched between pit-stops for hair, nails and make-up.
“Before I started I didn t imagine modelling would be quite so hard,” she tells AFP. “The runways and photo shoots look gorgeous but it s tough. It can be a bit chaotic and you do need a lot of self-control.”
As a conveyor belt of hair and make-up artists work on the models, celebrated designer Jotaro Saito pops in to greet the statuesque women carefully selected for one of the hottest tickets of the week.
“We look for models who can be kimono-sexy, kimono-elegant,” said the Kyoto-based Saito, whose eye-goggling pieces can cost up to $30,000 each.
“We don t want the old geisha-style. A model must have confidence, worldliness, and know how to express her beauty. She has to have an awareness of her sexiness and eroticism. She s symbolic of the modern world, of modern style.”
Hamada, 29, got her big break in the cut-throat world of fashion after finishing runner-up at the 2007 Miss Universe Japan pageant.
She could easily have ended up following a very different career path had she not been spotted as a 13-year-old whilst playing piano at a family wedding in Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Japan.
“I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher,” she says as long, fake eyelashes are delicately glued into place to make her almond eyes seem bigger and rounder.
“I came to Tokyo when I was 18 but it was a struggle to get work at first. I did think about quitting if I didn t make it pay by about 23.”
Now a catwalk veteran, she insists the job is more complicated than it looks.
“When you re young, you re just young and pretty. But when you get a bit older you have to think more about how to make clothes look beautiful,” she says.
“People think models are like this everyday but it s not true. You have to control everything in your daily life — look after your weight, your body balance, diet, skin.”