Monday, February 8, 2016

Ramp Grrrl

2:03 AM

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Former ramp model Michelle Estrada-Bederi lets us in on the '90s fashion scene.

This is Michelle, also called “Chin Chin” by her family and close friends. Growing up in a small town off Zamboanga, it was rare to see a young lady as tall as her. She hated the attention she got because of this, but she found solace in books. Feeling as though she was set apart from others because of her looks, she was ultimately led to introversion—a quality that made her parents worry.

She went on to study at Silliman University in Dumaguete City. Barely even 16 years old at the time, she immediately felt welcomed by the locals of that peaceful, sleepy town. There, she slowly learned to accept her differences and to love herself.

She learned to wear high heels due to the insistent nagging of her friends to join beauty pageants. It was while she was on vacation in Manila that iconic designer Renee Salud approached her in a beauty salon. After graduating from college, Salud encouraged her to join Bodyshots ‘93, which was the first modeling competition Michelle ever joined and won.

Michelle lets us in on the tips and tricks of the fashion industry and tells us what it was like to be a model in the ‘90s.

Making heads turn: Michelle Estrada-Bederi in the '90s
When did you decide to get into modelling? What made it pique your interest? 

I was at a beauty salon when someone approached me and asked if I wanted to model. He introduced me to Renee Salud who helped open a lot of doors for me. I was in college and it was easy money, and I was really intrigued by the fashion industry. I continued modelling even after college.

What did your parents think about you working and studying at the same time?
My parents were excited [about it] but gave specific warning that if and when my grades will suffer then I have to stop. Our priority was to finish college and then I can pursue whatever I want to.

Fashion is such a competitive industry, and I’m sure you’ve had your share of stressors. How did you manage your time?

It was very hard. It required three days for a model to prepare (fitting and rehearsal schedule) for a show. I usually have three shows per week plus some shoots on the side. [I] was able to pull off balancing my time by befriending show directors so I could ask them to squeeze rehearsals and fitting in one day or two so I could do the other shows as well. It’s not easy to be considered a ‘friend’ [in the industry], you have to earn their respect by showing them you value your work and the people you work with.

Fashyown woman: Michelle on the cover of Woman Today in 1993
You were basically juggling Journalism school and modelling. Did you have days when you felt like you just couldn’t go on because of the stress and pressure?
Yes, I've had those days when a scheduled show or shoot fell on a really busy school week. But in a year, I’d have about three instances of those days only. If things got rough, I always turn down work because school has always been my priority. I went [working] full blast right after graduation.

What did you do then? Can you share self-care and/or refreshment tips?
I’d sleep a lot, like when I had no appointments, I just stayed [at] home and read a book or two then sleep. I guess I was one of the lucky ones wherein I can eat anything and not gain weight. I only do cardio work out like treadmill or skip rope just to keep my body toned. It's also very important to keep your skin smooth so regular check up with your derma is a must. Drinking lots of water [also] helps keep your skin smooth.

Did you have any role models at the time?
Naomi Campbell for her signature walk, [and there’s] Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington for being chameleons of the fashion world. They can transform themselves at the drop of a hat.

What was it like being a model in the ‘90s?

The industry was competitive then. There were not much imported labels in the market yet, so the local designers were doing really well. It was also a time when everyone was made aware of anorexia nervosa and bulimia [as eating disorders]. We were encouraged to eat healthy and excercise instead of just dieting to stay fit. They usually hold gala shows at hotel ballrooms—Manila Hotel and Philippine Plaza (now Sofitel) were top favorites. Philippine Tourism [Department Of Tourism] also sponsored shows abroad for our local designers. This was also a time when you got jobs because of your good relationship with show directors and designers. 

ATTITUDE is key. Being on time, having good hygiene and having good working relationship with coworkers and everyone in the industry including the manangs who help us backstage were integral for a model to get a callback. One should also have a sense of who she is and a maturity to face challenges like being told you don’t have the look they’re looking for, or getting replaced by someone else after you’ve cleared your calendar for them [the clients]. It’s a dark and sometimes cruel vortex; you have to be strong so you won’t be sucked in.

Blazin' it: Michelle at a fashion show in Taipei with Sarah Jane Paez
What were the most ‘in’ fashion statements back then?
Platform shoes, bold prints, loose crop tops, distressed jeans, lace, and denims were a staple in the '90s.

Do you think there was a huge shift in fashion on the dawn of 2000s?
The shift is gradual, but fashion tends to repeat through time. For example, skinny jeans were in fashion during the 90s, but [they] were called stretch pants. Bell bottom pants were in style in the late 60s to early 70s, and [are] still in fashion up to now but we call them bootleg pants. Platform shoes made a comeback a few years ago.

Do you have any memorable experiences?
My trips abroad; I love to travel and it's one of the perks of modelling. I did shows in Taipei, Hong Kong, [and] the US. My favorite is New York. I consider myself a ‘country’ girl but there’s something about New York that makes me feel alive. The city feels alive to me, [and] you can be alone but not feel alone there.

Fashion is notorious for using enhancement technologies, like Photoshop or airbrushing. What do you think of these?
Photoshop was not widely used then, well [at least] not in our country. I think the only existing enhancement then was [that] they sometimes lighten or darken the skin tone of the models, [and] not overstate the changes like what it is [they do] now. There's always pros and cons in everything, but I think Photoshop beats the purpose of its existence if we use it to completely change or enhance a person's appearance. I would personally feel insulted if someone touched up a photo of me, with or without my permission. Even Hollywood celebrities are crying foul. Photoshop just validates the need to be perfect all the time which, in reality, is impossible.

What were the most valuable lessons you've learned working as a model during that time that you can share with our readers? 
I was able to survive and do well in the industry without an agent and doing everything on my own due to my good working relationship with everyone that I’ve worked with. I made sure I respect everyone’s time, never complain, never entertain gossip, and just be kind to everyone.
I learned that having a goal or purpose in life will make the journey worthwhile, regardless of what industry or work you have. I was a model for a time but ultimately decided it’s not for me, which is why I stopped early on. Getting a degree while setting goals for yourself is essential, [then] work hard to achieve it, [and] never give up when times get rough.

Article by Sofia
Art by Gaby
Photos courtesy of Michelle Estrada-Bederi
Sofia Ynez is a relatively sizable 14-year-old who loves making art. She is an enthusiast of many things, and she could somehow identify as a professional procrastinator. You can find more of her quirkiness on Instagram (@sofiaynez), and you can visit her quaint space on the Internet at
Gaby is still trying to figure things out. On most days, you’ll find her at her computer, excessively bookmarking links to DIY projects and articles about teenage wunderkind. You can find her writing on this 'ere thing, as well as on Twitter, Young Star, and Rookie.


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