It’s the late 1980s — hair is big, Lycra is rampant, and supermodels rule the earth. Every girl in America dreams of becoming the next Cindy, Claudia, or Naomi, and 17-year-old Emily Woods is no different. She plunges into the glamorous but grueling world of professional modeling. But Emily is more than just a small-town beauty with stars in her eyes: She’s been accepted to Columbia University, and she’s not about to let couture and klieg lights get in the way of an Ivy League education. Robin Hazelwood visited “Weekend Today” to discuss “Model Student,” her first novel based upon her life as a model turned co-ed. Here's an except:
Chicago, 1988 Chapter 1: Northern Lights
Frauke, the studio manager, adjusts her glasses, moving them lower on her nose. Wordlessly, she extends her hand.
I cross the foyer. The soles of my tennis shoes squidge against the marble. I give her my modeling portfolio. My heart pounds.
“Chicago, Inc,” she murmurs, scanning the cover.
“It’s-a-new-agency-Louis-is-my-booker,” I say in a rush.
Silence. The pages start to turn: one, two. When Frauke gets to page three, a three-quarter of me peeking through the strings of my tennis racquet, the first of my two “sporty” test shots, her eyes rotate.
“You’re how old?”
The pages of my portfolio continue to turn. I watch myself go by, unseen.
“Seventeen. I’ll be eighteen soon. In a month. July 5th actually.”
Oops. Louis told me to stop doing this. “Models should never call attention to the aging process,” he has said. Then again, Louis also told me to stop being such a motor mouth. “Do you think of Marilyn Monroe as chatty?” he asked me once. “I think of Marilyn Monroe as dead,” I said. “Exactly,” he replied, “Icons don’t talk.” I get it: Shut up. But I can’t help it; I’m nervous. I’ve been nervous ever since I got within twenty feet of this place, my fifth and final stop according to my list of appointments:
Conrad Fuhrmann (photographer)25 W. Burton Pl. (xDearborn)Ask 2C: Frauke (studio manager)
It looked harmless enough on paper, I thought. What did I know? I arrived at 25 West Burton Place to discover not a grungy fourth-floor walk-up, an “industrial space” filled with loose wires, dust bunnies and futon seating, as per usual, but a large townhouse, a mansion, really, smack in the middle of Chicago’s swanky Gold Coast district. Cream-colored and modern with a gravel driveway and sculptured trees, it looked like it belonged in Paris. Not that I’ve ever been. It looked like what I imagine Paris looking like. It looked imposing.
The inside is imposing too. Or maybe it’s just Frauke. With long limbs, glittering, ebony eyes and glossy black hair, she sits in the all-white marble foyer looking more than a little like a spider in her web.
Wham. My portfolio cover slams shut. With sudden and surprising crispness, Frauke rises up and leans forward, her red nails gripping the desk’s edge, her eyes skittering up my Adrienne Vittadini ensemble (a carefully chosen navy and white striped skirt with matching sweater) and across my chin, nose, cheekbones — every inch of flesh — until they lock with mine.
“Follow me,” she says.
I catch up with Frauke’s dark form just as it enters a room. My eyes adjust: small study. Two suede couches. Dozens of glossy books. A smattering of silver frames with beautiful people in them.
“Conrad, this is Emily.”
And a man. Conrad Fuhrmann lifts his glasses from the V in his cashmere sweater and hooks them around his temples. “Hello,” he says.
I swallow. “Hi.”
Rising, he clasps his hands together like a dance instructor. “Turn around.”
He laughs. “Not so fast. Again. So I can see you.”
I spin around slowly, feeling very revolving cake, until I’m facing the couch again, facing Conrad and Frauke, who’s now seated beside him. Physically, he’s the antithesis of her: small, almost petite, with cornflower blue eyes and delicate features. Surprisingly, I find myself relaxing in his presence.
“How old are you?”
“Almost eighteen,” Frauke answers crisply, as if my own might have been different.
When Conrad sits down again, his body tips forward — a question mark of keen interest.
And then it begins.
“Do you exercise?”
“Do you dance?”
“Do you eat?
“How often do you drink:
“How many hours of sleep do you get a night?”
“How tall are you?”
“How tall are your parents?”
“How much have you grown in the last year?”
“How much do you weigh?”
“Do you wear contacts?”
“Do you use sunscreen?”
“How would you describe your hair?”
“Please state your morning and evening skincare routine, beginning with your cleanser.”
And on and on. It’s like one of those nightmares where, suddenly, it’s finals and you’re being grilled by a panel of experts on a topic you haven’t studied, only this test’s for models, so it’s not that hard.
Finally, we’ve exhausted the Health and Beauty category. Conrad gets the distracted look of someone doing complex numerical calculations in his head.
“So … almost eighteen. You‘ve graduated, correct?”
“Are you going to college?”
Not here, too. This is the question plaguing every single one of my classmates this summer, the question asked by every parent, every relative — everyone, that is, except people in the fashion business.
Conrad’s back on his feet again, stepping toward me. “What about Northwestern?”
What about it? “Umm, it’s a good school,” I say. Did he go there? “But I want to be in New York.”
Conrad eyes me steadily for one beat. Then another. “We’ll see,” he says.
See what? As far as I know the admissions process is over, thank God. But we don’t discuss this further; instead Conrad takes me by the hand and guides me into the photography studio, which is vast and white, of course, and nice. Very nice. Against one wall, thick art books and scores of spindly magazines are interspersed with sculptures. A sweep of Calla lilies rises out of a crystal vase next to a sleek leather sofa, one of a pair. A lacquered coffee table gleams. Chrome equipment glints in the bright light.
As I look around — really take it in — my stomach roils. From one thought in particular: this guy is major, really, really major, in a totally different league from anyone I’ve ever worked with.
And that’s before I see the photograph. Hanging right in front me, only a couple of feet from where we’ve stopped, is a small black and white, that I stare at and gasp. Because, there, wearing nothing more than a few ounces of Lycra and a sultry smile, is the one and only Cindy Crawford — America’s superest of supermodels. Only I’ve never seen her like this: with her short spiky hair and big soft cheeks, she looks about seventeen. My age.
Wow. I knew Cindy was from Illinois but … I turn to Conrad. He’s still smiling, his blue eyes still soft and glowing. Slowly, he extends his hand towards my face. “Let’s see: if we moved this ...” A finger tip lightly touches a mole near my hairline before sliding down my cheek “… we’d have her.” Then taps the location of the famous Cindy sweet spot.
No way. In Wisconsin, where I’m from, it’s always been Brooke. We don’t really look that much alike except for the eyebrows, but that doesn’t stop people from accosting me, convinced I really am Miss-Nothing-But-Her-Calvins, though why the famous star would be wandering around the Midwest in a Balsam High sweatshirt was a mystery to me, unless it was a very earnest attempt at going deep undercover. Still, it’s a compliment and who doesn’t love those? Yet it’s nothing like being compared to Cindy — and by someone who’s actually photographed her! This is huge. I grin from ear to ear, even though it’s not exactly ladylike. I can’t help it.
And that‘s it, or a minute later it is. I say good-bye and walk along the gravel driveway. The iron gate purrs shut behind me. It’s raining and a bit brisk, so I shove my hands in my pockets before trudging down the wet, gray avenue, turning at the red light for one last look. In contrast to the dull brick buildings surrounding it, the townhouse twinkles captivatingly, almost magically, like one of those shiny stones you find on the beach, the ones that look sprinkled with gold. The inside was like that too. I think of the bright gleam of the foyer, the cozy glow of the library, the clean luminescence of the photo studio — light emanated from every corner of that place, and the world outside seems flatter, duller in its wake.
I have to work there, I think as I continue on. I just have to.
For more information and Robin's slideshow “My Life in Bad Fashion, visit .
Excerpted from “Model Student: A Tale of Co-eds and Cover Girls,” by Robin Hazelwood. Copyright © 2006, Robin Hazelwood. All rights reserved. Published by . No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.