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The Untold Tales of Fashion's Invaluable Fit Models: Claire Cannon

In our new series, we'll share the stories of fit models, past and present, who will divulge the fascinating minutiae of this little-known but very integral (and well-paid) line of work.

Working very much behind-the-scenes and without cameras documenting the process, fit modeling is an invisible but invaluable segment of the fashion industry. Each Friday in the coming weeks, we'll share the stories of eight fit models, past and present, who will divulge the fascinating minutiae of this little-known but very integral (and well-paid) line of work. Next up: Claire Cannon, who's been fit modeling for nearly a decade. You can read the rest of the models' testimonials here

Photo courtesy of Claire Cannon

Photo courtesy of Claire Cannon

Past and present clients include: Able, Maude Vivante, and Jane Summers, M Patmos, Rent The Runway, Catherine Malandrino, Hanley Mellon

"I knew since I was 19 years old that I wanted to do something in fashion and something along the lines of modeling. I was too short and fat for runway, and really awkward on camera, so I never found my strength. I think that especially in New York, it's important to know what you're good at and what to stay away from, because everybody is so good. A few years ago I was getting fitted for a bridesmaid dress for a friend's wedding, and the lady fitting us looked at my measurements and went, 'Oh, you're the perfect measurements, we don't need to alter anything.' I didn't think anything of it and didn't know that fit modeling was a job.

Years later, I was doing a hair-modeling job — 'modeling' is a stretch, you just have to hair — and while they were styling us, I started talking with the girl next to me. She told me her best friend had just quit her day job to be a full-time fit model. She gave me the name of her best friend's agency True Management; a year later she moved away, and I happened to have her same exact measurements, so I took over her fittings for Catherine Malandrino. Then I started working for Tahari ASL. But for the first year, I didn't really get many jobs.

Finding fit models is hard: You're looking for the girl who doesn't know she can be a model. You're not looking for a size-0, 5'10" girl; you want an average body that can bridge the gap between the brand and the consumer. It's also important to find girls that naturally look the way they do — that they're not starving to be a certain size. Brands want fit models who are toned, but they don't want models who exercise too much and are too [muscular], because that’s not what average looks like. Some brands are pickier than others, and want their fit models to look like [print] cover models.

If anything, I get told to eat more, not less, by my agency. That's unlike runway models, or even commercial or print models, since the camera adds weight. If you're not filling out a garment, the designers can't tell if that size 27 waistband is actually sewn properly. 'Perfect proportions' for fit modeling actually doesn't mean an hourglass figure. They want more of a square shape, because that's more average: Most women that are larger in the bust or the hips are not ultra-narrow in the waist.  

Sizes 6 and 8 are prime for fit models. Years ago, an 8 was more popular, but now it's kind of shifted to a 6; there are even some brands that fit on a 4. They're trying to gauge what size they sell the most of, get the fit perfect for that size and then scale accordingly. A lot of high-fashion brands do prefer more runway-esque 5'10" fit models. Showroom models tend to be a size 2 and 5'10". A brand might also say a prospective fit model is too 'soft,' meaning she's a size 4, but if she were more active, she'd be a size 2.

I'm a pretty conservative person, so I've stayed away from lingerie fit modeling; with that, you really have people in your space. Even if you're trying on bras, it's considered unprofessional to flash the design team. You change as discreetly as possible. When I do fittings, all the lingerie I wear is nude, seamless, with no lace; there's nothing sexy about it. You need to be clean and groomed as a fit model, and most of the time, they don't want you wearing any makeup because it can get on the clothes. I never 'look' like a model!

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If I'm doing my job right, I'm giving valuable feedback to the design team, so they know what's wearable, sellable and what will reduce the number of samples it takes to get a garment produced and on the sales floor. My agency does a great job of training us on how to give feedback; they'll bring in a technical designer to explain what they want to hear from a fit model. They'll also talk through different terminology, and show what certain things should look and feel like. So instead of saying, 'These jeans are digging into my butt,' I'll say, 'I think you need to scoop that out.'

Cannon behind the scenes at a fitting.

Cannon behind the scenes at a fitting.

A big part of my job is listening to everyone's opinion in a fitting. Sometimes it feels like a firing squad, so giving value to everyone's opinion is important to making sure a garment is successful. Something selling well is our end goal, and it's how we keep our jobs. You also have to know your audience: Some design teams want to hear your feedback and others don't want you to say a word. There are times where I've said too much, and they're like, 'We're not paying you for your thoughts.'

The process goes from a prototype sample, to a first sample, to a second sample as the design team figures out if they want to keep a particular garment in a collection and actually have it produced. Then, there's TOP, or top of production, which is what's hitting the sales floor or may already be available. If something got messed up in production, or by the pattern maker, a brand doesn't have to pay for that mistake. Every garment has to come in within a variance of a quarter-inch or half-inch. I have to think about whether I've mentioned the armhole, the sleeve, the neckline, the hemline ... I make sure that's all written down before we move to the next garment. There's pressure on the fit model: The designer or tech designer is overworked, and there are not a lot of people in the room.

I will do design development sometimes, where I'll come in and try pieces on as the team figures out, 'Where could we see her wearing this?' or 'Do we like this color?' It's very different than seeing something on a hanger. That work is easy, because they don't care if it fits; they just want to see you wearing it. I get anxiety sometimes after fittings; I'll think, 'Did I tell them to scoop the armhole out correctly?' How much money has been poured in by the time it hits sales floors across the country? And if it gets returned because it pinches in the underarm area, that's on me. But in a design development booking, if everyone agrees a floral print is good and that print doesn't sell, it's not my fault.

I fill in with babysitting and other jobs usually, but fit modeling pays by the hour — by the minute, even, because it's broken down into 15-minute increments. I've never been booked for less than $100 an hour without my permission; that's the bare minimum. Usually, I get $200 to $300 an hour. They pay for every minute with you, and well. High-fashion lines that only produce once a season won't result in as many fittings as a mass brand that produces all the time, like Victoria's Secret or American Eagle. Those girls make a killing. The ideal is to have standing appointments, like three days a week for two hours each day, instead of piecing together work. It's like winning the lottery to get those regular clients.  

You do have to be careful with burnout in fit modeling, believe it or not. It is physically demanding to be standing on the balls of your feet for hours on end, and they book you for a few hours at a time, with 15 to 30 minutes to get to the next appointment. There are times where I've said during a fitting, 'Guys, can I please go the restroom, I'll stay five minutes extra' — they're literally using every minute that they're buying your body for.

I grew up on a farm in the country, and I used to think that fashion was vain and pretentious. One of the things I love about fit modeling is that you get to work with the design and tech teams; it's given me such respect for these people. It's so humbling to me that someone spends so long on something — that they dream it up, sketch it out and then invite me into the process and ask me for feedback. To give me a voice on something they've worked so hard on is really humbling. I hope I get to do it for as long as I can."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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