Our fashion-challenged writer struts his stuff on the runway

When I get dressed in the morning I tend to grab whatever clothes are clean and weather-appropriate with only the vaguest sense of what “goes” with what. So when Canadian supermodel Stacey McKenzie declares “You need to eat sleep and breathe fashion” I know I’m out of my element.

I’m participating in McKenzie’s Walk This Way modelling workshop surrounded by high heels high cheekbones and dazzling legs. The workshop is part of Calgary Fashion’s ACTLIKEUKN_W series which provides training to emerging fashion professionals.

McKenzie has done it all: shared a runway with Madonna appeared in a Calvin Klein campaign graced the pages of Vogue Harpers Bazaar and Essence appeared on MTV’s Stylissimo and Canada’s Next Top Model and shared the screen with Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element . She’s kind of a big deal and this workshop is a good sign for Calgary’s burgeoning fashion scene.

Day 1 covers the business of modelling — and make no mistake says McKenzie “modelling is a business .” When you’re on a gig there’s no smoking no drinking no gum no perfume no fake nails and no whining. Don’t be late. Wear clear deodorant. Don’t force the clothing if it doesn’t fit. And above all: “Be regal. Always.”

We run through various types of modelling: high fashion commercial showroom plus-size body part. (McKenzie tells us about a foot model who makes $10000 per gig and protects her feet with multiple layers of socks.) We talk agencies portfolios skin care strapless bras and casting calls — but what most interests me are glimpses into the psychology of modelling.

“You’ll need an invisible shield” says McKenzie. The biz demands a thick skin and a strong sense of self: critical clients will pick your body apart and you’ll face rejection after rejection. One particularly sage piece of advice speaks volumes: “If your body isn’t meant to go skinny don’t.” As in don’t go skinny.

On Day 2 we hit the red carpet learning how to pose and walk in different styles. For high fashion it’s all about arched backs and hard angles; for commercial we try to look “natural.” As we strut photographers fill the air with flashes. Then to top things off the Jamaican national bobsleigh team shows up to say hi. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a supermodel.

With our training complete on Day 3 it’s time for the real deal: a fashion show at the HiFi Club.

I arrive in late afternoon for a game of “hurry up and wait.” There are three stations — clothes makeup and hair — and more than a dozen models so the prep is slow going.

As the models filter in I note with dismay that even their everyday clothes reek of style. In my torn jeans and scraggly goatee I feel frumpy.

The women get decked out in MINKPINK a splashy Australian brand but since the two men were late additions we’re dressed in simple black. In place of fancy outfits we get the full makeup treatment from Stila Cosmetics: a rockstar mix of silver and gold. Next Edges Salon & Spa styles my hair into a purple-splashed peak and a pair of Doc Martens rounds out the look. (“If you go out into the snow with those shoes you’re paying for them!” warns Kimberly Jev founder of Calgary Fashion.)

Just before the doors open we test the runway. “Don’t swing your arms so much” Jev advises. I give it another shot. “Swing your arms more” says a fellow model. “Just walk like a guy” suggests another. Despite having walked like a guy every day of my adult life I have no idea what that means.

With the clock ticking we hustle backstage… and wait for nearly two hours as the public filters in. We fill the time with small talk and Instagram selfies as I resist the urge to scratch my nose or lick my lips for fear of smudging the makeup.

Suddenly it’s showtime. We line up in order buzzing with nervous energy. The music starts and the first model launches onto the runway all poise and attitude. As each model completes the circuit the line gets shorter and shorter — until it’s my turn. Game on.

With every step I go through the checklist: shoulders back suck in the gut neutral face ferocious eyes. Swing the arms (but not too much). Own the runway: you’re the sexiest man alive.

Halfway there’s a photographer. I strike a pose hand in pocket elbow crooked knee bent. Then I’m off again striding past dozens of shadowy faces. The runway ends and I swerve retracing my steps. I am hot. I am fierce. I am regal.

And then I’m done. After hours of prep and waiting the whole runway experience wraps in less than two minutes.

Every month Mark Hopkins will step outside of his comfort zone and write about the experience. Do you have an adventure to suggest? E-mail him at mark@swallowabicycle.com .