The coach was semi packed and the driver mentioned how my Shakyamuni Buddha tattoo looked like a scrap book on my arm, I didn’t know how to take that.
Within moments of entering Centrale FS metro station I was surrounded by selfie sticks and iPhone cables being pushed into my face by a very desperate and passive aggressive African character. That familiar feeling returned, I was definitely in Milan. I grabbed my suitcase, told all the first time models who travelled from the airport with me to zip up there pockets and be very aware of there surroundings while travelling. The problems in Africa have meant a surge of families from the grandparents to the newborn children, all pouring through Sardinia on boats that have plagued the city, a problem even our agencies warned us about. – “Aaron don’t let them put a bracelet around your wrist, once its on there its yours and you’ll have to pay whatever price they tell you or else”.
My first season for Philipp Plein, two models were attacked. It was around 1PM, I had to go straight to my Airbnb before my landlord left for work or I wouldn’t get the keys till 11PM. After unpacking and getting my portfolio ready, I rushed straight on to my confirmed fitting in downtown Milan, I had to tick off at least 6 other castings before I could go back to my apartment meaning I didn’t even have time to visit my agency on the first day. I got home at around 11PM that night and treated my self to a Chinese (never get a Chinese in Italy).
Over the next few days I tried my hardest to go at my own pace, but every hour emails from the agency kept flooding through, meaning more travel money and at least 2 hours in another queue… But the dream must be chased. This was my fourth season in Milan, the first season I stuck out like a sour thumb, alternative models didn’t really stand a chance out here. I would like to think it was more about personal uniqueness and genuine appreciation that leads to models being hired, so this season I decided to take my camera out and document the real Milan Fashion Week experience.
My original plan was to take head shots of all these models who had flown from all around the world, where else to find amazing looking people right? I was shocked by the reactions of these so called models. I would enthusiastically bounce up to these guys with lenses hanging of my shoulders, my own portfolio under my arm and ask for a head shot. The majority of them would stare at me up and down to see if I could add value to there lives, then mumble in a million different accents, “no”. Luckily to me they all looked like clones so as long as I had a head shot of one of these guys I felt like I had shot them all. The people who resonated with me the most and were willing to let me shoot was the black models and people who recognised my south London accent; maybe I made them feel more at home? I definitely remember when I heard a Londoner in Milan during my first season, how gassed I became, no longer “Ciao ciao” but “Wargwan King“.
Castings have always been a time for me to reflect on life or take a moment to learn patience and gratitude. Milan is definitely the place my patience is tested the most. I’d be reading my books on Nichiren Buddhism, diving deep into the realms of my consciousness and considering the future for my generation.
“Please prepare your portfolio, your next”. – Suddenly I’m judged on my jawbone and how perfectly I would walk in a straight line, the whole time I chant “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” in my head. One moment I’ll never forget was when I had just finished my castings, it must have been around 7PM at this point, shattered and ready to go home to order my favourite $5 Napoli Pizza, I receive a phone call from my agent, – “Ciao Aaron, I hope your still out because we need you to go to one more casting, great client, please go right now“. – I turned up to what seemed to be a gritty council estate, anarchy outside, hundreds of models all standing in a massive mosh pit style queue. A sea of thick eye brows and muddled accents all making sure there quiffs weren’t being destroyed by the soft sleet and snow. I thought to my self ‘I see one other black guy, they will either love me or hate me, don’t give up Aaron’.
After a two and a half hour wait outside with no gloves and my ripped jeans on (luckily I wear long-johns under ripped jeans), I finally got to the door for my opportunity. I entered an elevator and went downstairs into a beautifully lit studio with the smell of fresh Italian coffee and cigarette smoke surrounding me. I waited my turn and then introduced my self to the panel, my hand was left hanging. I was asked to prepare my Instagram page for them to see, I didn’t like that. When they asked for my model card, the blatant intern was handed my portfolio for her to snoop over while the whole panel leaned over and scrolled straight to the top of my Instagram page… They were clocking my followers, I guess seven thousand followers is nothing to these “big time” models out here. He looked me up and down, asked me to walk, they watched me while lighting cigarettes and paying no attention. The game really is changing.
This season I was very pleased with my confirmations, I walked in Florence in ‘E-pitti‘, it was my second time taking part, its always an honour to walk for new designers. A camera crew from London flew out and recorded my catwalk and overall experience for ‘part two’ of my life documentary, it felt so amazing to have my people with me to see me shine. I also secured a catwalk in Milan, the designers Door number was 27 (my numerology number), I found this no coincidence. I always feel strong guidance, spiritually. The designers logo was a mixture between Angel and Dove wings, just saying.
When I finally got to visit my agency they mentioned I seemed to be the only model who was genuinely happy, I found this odd as, I actually felt like I was vibrating really low throughout the entire trip, but it goes to show how unsuccessful many models are when they fly to Milan. I overheard a casting director say 90% of the models who fly in for the week go home with nothing, not even showroom or editorial work, and leave in debt to there agency. So two catwalks in a season is tremendous, especially with a lethargic energy and my natty dreads!
Two days before my flight home and I couldn’t wait to be back with my mum, catch up on a solid weeks Eastenders and reenergise. I get a phone call saying I’ve confirmed a campaign video for ‘Nike‘ but its shooting on the day of my flight, am I willing to stay longer? Of course… I eagerly agreed but I was also somewhat reluctant. Was I starting to begrudge these amazing opportunities? My home seems more important, but I’m not one to give up, ever. The shoot was testing again, they created a Nike tick made of models and influencers outside on a basketball court with a drone camera. It was -4 all day and I was in paper thin overalls and a ‘Nike T-shirt’. I was styled by Rihanna’s stylist, everyone was amped but I just saw a swaggy, cool human who no doubt smoked too many cigarettes.
I spent the entire day shivering onset standing next to the only gas heater they had available. Models all across Europe listening to the most ignorant music all day on loud speakers as if they were highly addicted to the base line, ‘21 Savage – X ft Future‘ was on repeat. They finally released me after they could see my skin had turned blue and they had made me wait for a scene that never even got recorded. As cold and miserable as I felt I was truly grateful to have the opportunity to be involved.
When I finally got home it was 23:27, numerology is always strongest when I know I’ve been most tested. I packed my bags for the flight and face-timed my loved ones. The idea Milan had come to an end was such a beautiful feeling. Every morning and evening I did Gongyo (a daily SGI Buddhist ceremony), this really kept me focused on the larger picture and brought strength into my heart when I felt I was starting to struggle.
The series of photos I have taken, I have shot in black and white as I feel this captures the more gloomy experience I have had this season.
Journalist: @Indigoochild / Aaron Miller
Photographer: @Indigoochild / Aaron Miller