I am a professional writer. I’ve been an editor at a few publications. I work full-time in marketing. I run this blog. I dabble in graphic design. I’ve been a cashier at several stores. I’m a nationally certified tutor. I was once an Avon Lady. I worked at a mall pretzel stand. I’ve been a lot of people’s babysitter. I even used to be a phone solicitor for an organization based on a religion of which I am not a member.
I’ve had a some odd jobs. And now, I can officially add runway model to that list. Sort of.
Supermodel Karlie Kloss recently partnered with clothing store Express for a new collection, and 10 winners were selected to model the line at a runway show here in Karlie’s hometown of St. Louis. I was one of of those winners. The prize included, more or less, a 48-hour model experience for you and a guest. And while I thought it would be fun, it blew away even my highest expectations. It was like being in a Karlie Kloss sorority for two days; sure, it was a little bonkers, but it was also very fun and involved matching shirts and woo-ing.
This is going to be a long post, guys. Get ready. Also there are probably typos. I’m too excited to proofread. Not sorry.
DAY BEFORE SHOW
9:00 AM I’m not going to lie: the morning was a little rough. I live in St. Louis, but I’m in the largely residential South City – meaning, downtown is still a tid bit intimidating. I’m not great with the streets, or the traffic, or the rushed pace… It can be stressful. So stressful, in fact, that I became flustered by a rude driver while trying to valet my car and I left my latte in the cupholder. Naturally, I actually ran after it like a crazy person. Great start, Jules. Gotta get all my low-brow behavior out of the way early so I could go full-on class (cough, Kloss, cough) inside.
Things calmed down once I checked into hotel. The Express team and the contest winners stayed at The Magnolia Hotel downtown, which is absolutely stunning. I had a suite on the fifth floor complete with a huge living room and two amazingly comfortable queen-sized beds. I normally have some issues sleeping at hotels – my mother has a theory that many people sharing a bed screws with the energy, and I’m starting to agree – but at the Magnolia everything was perfect. I settled into my room, hung up my outfits, and headed to breakfast.
9:30 AM The Express team had a huge ballroom on the second floor broken into multiple spaces: a private interview room, a dining area, a rehearsal space, a video production area, a sewing station, and a fitting/clothing room. The food was abundant and delicious (a serious theme for the week), and as if everyone was just as excited as I was, the entire crowd was beyond nice. Members of Express’ and Karlie’s teams introduced themselves and gave us a rundown for the day. I ate bacon for breakfast, but tried to make it a classy amount of bacon. According to my math that is 2.5 strips. Take note in case you ever find yourself in this situation.
10:45 AM The main purpose of Wednesday was fittings. Fittings were staggered, and mine was pretty early in the day. (A perk, as it meant I got to enjoy more of the hotel room after!) The fitting room was frankly surreal – banquet tables meant for weddings lined several walls with hundreds of accessories and pairs of shoes neatly in rows and ready to be grabbed. Garment rack after garment rack created little mazes of apparel, and stylists were darting in and out carrying new sizes and colors. Our photos were up on the wall, along with pictures of some of the looks.
Behind a small partition was a changing area where a handful of stylists brought me my first look: a printed black maxi dress with ample cleavage and a boho print. We’d been asked to define our style in one sentence before the fitting – I said “edgy boho with a sexy twist!” – but I’d assumed it was a courtesy ask that would likely be ignored. They have looks to put down a runway, I’d told myself. There can’t be room for everyone to get their favorites. But then hanging in front of me was an edgy boho dress with a sexy twist. It was so perfect. I could visualize exactly how it would fit. I was ecstatic. The coffee and bacon and happiness all hit and I think I looked drunk.
The dress fit perfectly, and the stylists paired it with chunky heeled sandals, a silver cuff bracelet, and silver hoop earrings. (Did you realize hoops were back? How rad – I own a ton!) There was a small discussion about if I could go braless (I can’t/won’t), then a decision to wrap the back of my bra so it would appear black if it happened to show. Then I was directed to the larger area to take photos.
What kind of photos, you ask? The kind you see of models not smiling all lined up backstage at fashion shows. The kind I assume used to be Polaroids. She kept telling me to have a neutral expression, but my Resting Smile Face kept poking through. It was a struggle.
I tried on two more looks, practiced balancing a satin jacket on my shoulders while walking (not super easy), and took in every second of stylist Karla Welch fidgeting with my clothing so I could hopefully absorb some of her tips. She kept sizing me down – as in, having someone get me a smaller size – which has me wondering if I do myself a disservice by always sizing up. Room for my normal 6 pieces of bacon, ya know? Definitely good food for fashion thought, though – Karla, who worked on the collection with Karlie, was named Hollywood’s Most Powerful Stylist of the Year, so if she tells me I look good in something tighter I’m going to STFU and listen. [Insert a we are not worthy bow here.]
11:15 AM After my fitting, it was time to meet with the movement coach. Stephen Galloway – dancer, choreographer, all around magical person – served as the runway coach and taught each individually how to best walk the runway. My main problem? Speed. I had trouble finding my sweet spot. Once I finally hit the right tempo, I blurted out to Stephen, “OH! So I just need to go the speed to make my boobs start bouncing!” Insert foot into mouth. Or maybe boob? No, that’s accidentally sexual. You get what I’m saying. Thankfully he seemed to find my mammary metronome equally amusing. Whew.
11:30 AM Upon exiting the runway lessons, I was greeted by parts of the media team. It was time to be interviewed! Some of that footage can be seen in the top YouTube video, and the rest might surface on the Express channels at a later date.
12:00 PM Lights, camera, snack time! I was hungry again, naturally, so it was pretty great that lunch was served after my interview. And during this meal, I met the woman of the week: Karlie Kloss. She sort of popped into a conversation like any ‘ole gal would – no big deal, just there to have fun too. She is staggeringly stunning and also approachable and incredibly nice in real life. No shock, to be honest. Midwest manners for the win! All the same, it was lovely having some lunch with her and getting to gab. We talked about South City, how rad our moms are, and our favorite parts of St. Louis.
1:00 PM Speaking of rad moms, after lunch I headed back to the room to hang out with mine! My mother, Susan, was my guest for this celebratory week and she arrived from Springfield during my fittings. We caught up, talked about the show, enjoyed some hotel perks, and relaxed in the room until it was time to head to dinner.
7:00 PM The Express team and winners packed into a charter bus and headed west to grab dinner at Salt + Smoke in The Loop. Running down the center of this upscale BBQ joint was a banquet table for 50 where we enjoyed a family-style dinner. After eating, we headed back to the hotel for some much-needed beauty rest.
DAY OF SHOW
8:00 AM Breakfast! Ah, my favorite meal. I got up a few hours earlier to get photo-ready, and then I chugged an energy drink because I felt my entire body needed the same pick-me-up I was getting from my eye cream. Us winners were then divided into groups to head to a STL destination.
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9:30 AM I was in the Gateway Arch tour group, so myself and a few other winners (plus some Express team members) hopped into a shuttle and left for the river. We took some photos and video, I shared my myriad of Arch trivia, and we even ran into a Kode with Klossy coder. Perfect timing, right? Once we were done, we headed back to the hotel for a small break. I used mine for coffee, because obviously.
12:30 PM The afternoon rolled around and the nerves started to set in. All I could think about was that time I had to give an impromptu speech and my joke didn’t land. I was nervous enough my mother kept giving me pats on the hand. (Thanks, Mom.) The group headed to a delicious lunch at Pi Pizza in The Loop, and the looming thought of walking the runway as a (non)model was clearly on a lot of people’s minds. Lunch was scrumptious, but fairly quiet; I think we were ready to get the show on the road.
2:30 PM After lunch, we headed outside to check out the exterior of the venue. I happened to be standing next to the door when they asked for someone to be the hair trial model, so I eagerly raised my hand. (Half because my nerves had me ready to get moving and half because I was freezing and getting your hair done meant going inside.)
I headed into The Pageant, a venue I am more than familiar with, and walked somewhere new: backstage. I was escorted to one of the dressing rooms and introduced to Neil Grupp, the renowned stylist leading the mane event (get it?) at the show.
The original hair concept was “1990s Calvin Klein” – the hair pushed back off the face with a bit of texture, as if I’d simply brushed it with my fingers in the middle of my ultra chic afternoon. When I push my hair back, it looks nothing like that; turns out, it’s because I’m missing product. To create this look, Neil demonstrated putting a hefty amount of mousse either on the root of my hair or the brush, then combing it through. He worked in sections starting from the bottom, and before I knew it I heard a stylist earnestly ask if all models should require the full can of product. Ooooh, long hair, you bring me such entertainment.
After hair, and a bit of hanging out backstage, it was time for makeup with Maki H. and her team. We were styled with dewy skin, ample mascara, and bright orange-red lips. Clean, simple, and oh-so pretty. As soon as my pout was perfect, a manicurist popped over to paint a neutral beige on my digits.
5:00 PM The evening rolled around very quickly and it was time for the rehearsal – and that’s when all the nerves died down. Stephen gave us a bit of a pep talk and we headed to the dressing area to meet the team.
Midst the crowd, I heard a sweet “Julia!” and saw a few welcoming waves. There I met Amanda and Elly, who explained they were my dressers for the evening. What does that mean? Get me from dressed to naked to dressed again all while smiling and dishing out compliments to ease the nerves. These women were goddesses. The time between outfits was so small that the work of the dressers was what made the show possible. ALL HAIL AMANDA AND ELLY.
My fav ladies got me into a pair of shoes for the rehearsal and I hit the runway. After I felt the non-slip material, the last of my nerves faded away and I was ready to go!
But it wasn’t time for that yet. It was time for a quick hair change and makeup touch-ups. Mild panic returned, but in that fun adrenaline way.
6:15 PM Half way into my makeup touch-up I became too hungry to function. I begged a makeup person to let me leave so I could eat a cracker. Then after eating it, Karla sent me back to hair for a bang change. After not coming back, the makeup person started looking for me; she eventually found me and explained she and a few others had been worried I’d gotten lost. She told me a story of me alone, hungry, trying to find my cracker. It made me laugh way too much.
6:45 PM I used the stage bathroom at The Pageant, momentarily got distracted thinking about all the rock stars who have also used it, and damn near made myself late to get dressed.
7:00 PM It was finally showtime. I found out my looks changed slightly, and Amanda and Elly got me into my first outfit and explained how everything would work. As soon as I was off stage it was time to start stripping. They’d have the next outfit out and ready so I could practically dive in, like a cartoon superhero. With three looks in the show, they had my system down and all I had to do was show up and rip off my clothes. Consider it done. [Insert bad joke here.]
Karlie came backstage and gave us an amazing and emotional pep talk. Turns out, her first runway show was at the same venue. I caught a glimpse of myself in the back of someone’s selfie and was blown away by how all of the hard work of Hollywood’s top everythings made me look like an actual model. Then I replaced any potential emotions with corny jokes because I was afraid I’d cry and ruin the makeup. It was a weird few minutes.
There were so many people in charge of so many things I wouldn’t have ever thought of. Someone was in charge of who lined up in what order. Once in that line, rows of hair stylists and makeup artists and clothing stylists combed and brushed and poked and tucked. After the show kicked off, someone would step forward to enter the runway and the line would shift. Then the next pair of people on either side would perfect your look. At the end of the line was Stephen, Karlie, Karla, and some cameras. Karla popped my collar. Karlie complimented how well I filled out the dress (ahem, she more or less complimented my chest and I AM SO PROUD YOU OF YOU, BOOBS). Stephen reminded me to rock the hips. And someone pushed my arm to signal me to go.
Then it all goes black. Or rather, white. It’s a lot of noise and smiles and lights. And it was fun.
The show is a fantastic blur in my head. You can watch the full runway show here to fill in the gaps in my story (I’m at 18:10, 23:25, and the finale around 24:00) or keep scrolling to see the looks up close.
8:00 PM I’m guessing on times here. The show kicked off “fashionably late” so I know it ended late too. Once the backstage celebration died down, Amanda and Elly got me party pretty and I headed out to the crowd to meet my mother, Lance, and a few of my friends and to watch the Charli XCX performance. I even got to grab some guest snacks; attendees had Ted Drewes sweet treats and BBQ sliders, both of which I was craving.
It was like leaving summer camp, except instead of exiting with pen pals I had dozens of new people to follow on Instagram. I headed backstage again to grab my clothes (Express and Karlie Kloss were nice enough to gift us our looks) and say my goodbyes. It was the weirdest, most perfect experience – and while I won’t be leaving my day job anytime soon, I think I looked damn good.
I cannot begin to express my gratitude for this experience. To Karlie and the Express team, a thank-you isn’t enough. This was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I’m better at self-deprecating jokes than deep feelings, so instead of fumbling around with a message I won’t get right I’m going to go admire these amazing articles of clothing you designed. They’re too pretty to hang out alone in my closet. They need to be seen!
This week I’ll be posting three new looks featuring these #Karlie4Express items. The line is sure to sell out fast, so if you love an item (or five, no judgement) fill up your shopping cart now. These pieces are worth the hype. I can’t wait for you to see how else they can be styled.
Videos + high-res photos courtesy of Express.