Behind the Scenes with former Liz Claiborne Fit Model, Gloria DeSilva
When people think about fashion models they usually envision a glamourous career; models jet-setting around the world and photoshoots with ocean-view backgrounds but, what people do not see is what actually takes place behind the scenes, before the clothing we wear makes it onto the racks of our department store.
Enter the “fit model”…
The fit model plays a vital role- in that she is the person that ensures that the garment we purchase will fit us properly when we wear it.
The “fit” of a garment has tremendous impact on the sales of an apparel item and can help create what a company views as a “best seller” A best seller drives the company’s profits and can either make or break an entire season. If a garment fits well, there will be easier sales and fewer returns.
The life of a fit model can be quite challenging. and at times may not seem glamourous These human mannequins are required to stand straight and to maintain a good posture, as they convey invaluable feedback regarding the quality and feel and of the garment. They communicate this vital information in technical design vocabulary.
It’s not easy to find racially diverse models in this part of the fashion world even today, but we got to speak to the legendary, Gloria De Silva, who was a Latina Fit Model in the 80’s.
Rocio: Gloria, can you tell us a little about your background, family and education? And share with us how you ended up being a fit model?
Gloria: My parents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to Manhattan back in the 1930s, where they met and fell in love. Then decided to move to the Bronx where they started their own family. I was born in the Bronx in April of 1947 and I was the youngest out of three brothers. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been very passionate about fashion. From a very young age, my mother taught me how sew and cut fabrics for my very own dolls’ clothing. As time went by, when I got older, I discovered Vogue patterns which I then incorporated into my own wardrobe. During grade school, my 6th grade teacher discovered my talent in art and then recommended for me to be placed in a special arts program in junior high school. As an aspiring fashion designer, the school submitted my designs to The High School of Fashion institute in Manhattan. The school was interested in having me and sent me positive response with an offer to interview for admission, however, my parents declined due to the traveling distance with public transportation. I was broken-hearted unable to accept the opportunity to attend the school but God had other plans for me in my fashion career and I ended up as part of the fashion industry in 70s as a single mother.
Rocio: As a Latin woman working in the fashion industry in the 1970’s and 80’s can you tell us what types of challenges you might have faced?
Gloria: In the 1970’s, as a single mother, I worked as a receptionist in a Real Estate company in Manhattan. As life went on, I met some wonderful people that became life-long friends. People would often encourage me to pursue a modelling career due to my height, beauty and sweet personality. One of my friends which was my hairdresser at the time, knew a friend who was a designer looking for a newbie to train as a “In-House Showroom/ Fit Model”. I fit the measurements he was looking for and I was hired. Little did I know, he was a famous Couture Fashion Designer Matej Sherko. Although I didn’t get paid a lot, after working for him for five years, I was rewarded with a million-dollar education in fashion design. When he retired, I ventured out and knocked on doors looking for opportunities in the industry. Some doors opened and some did not. But I persisted.
I went to modelling agencies, some told me I did not fit the criteria they were looking for by telling me I was not tall enough, my lips were too full, breast and behind too round and to stay away from the sun to keep my skin complexion as light as possible. These were some of the challenges I faced as an upcoming model back in the 70s and 80s. With my new gained experience, I learned that in order to be part of the industry, you must master how to have tough skin and how to handle rejection while at the same time never giving up. So, I dusted myself off and decided to continue to work as a freelancer showroom/fit model which overtime I gained great connections with.
Gloria models in the 1970's
Rocio: I understand you had a long- term relationship as the in-house fit model for Liz Claiborne. Can you share some of your work experiences in that 20-year span of time?
Gloria: In the 1990’s Liz C. advertising Women’s Wear Daily (Fashion industry’s newspaper) seeking for an experienced fit model. After seeing the advertisement, I went on the interview and was hired on the spot because of all the facets of the fashion industry that I worked in.
There were other in-house fit models at Liz C.’s, they were younger than me and not very welcoming. They felt threatened and jealous of me because of my Latina beauty and experience. I took the opportunity and ran with it. I loved working for Liz C and fitted for all of the company’s divisions: Collection, Liz Sport, Liz Wear, Soft Dressing, Lingerie, plus all Knitwear.
As part of my contract’s agreement, I had to be able to travel overseas to countries including: Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Central America and U.S.A. I was able to travel with the Design/Production teams to many factories where I fitted the garments to expedite production for on-time-delivery to the department stores. I also launched a new division: Active Wear (exercise clothing) which I won an Award for being an outstanding employee called “Couldn’t Do It Without You”.
I worked with a wonderful group of people plus it opened my horizons to a Garment of Fit experiences, which I took with me when I left Liz Claiborne. I still have my three passports of traveling which I cherish. This was a beautiful part of my life and I will never forget.
Gloria in Pisa, Italy
Rocio: Some people might imagine that the role of a fit model might be glamourous but insiders know that it is quite a rigorous job. In fact, aren’t you required to stand still for hours and be subjected to all the designer’s pins, prods and pokes all the while answering questions about the fit of the garment?
Gloria: One of the worst parts of working as a Fit model is getting measured.
I had to meet all specifications with the required measurements in order to work.
Before travel and when you returned. But every Monday mornings you got measured, so the day before I would have a strict diet of asparagus and water all day. Why asparagus? Model’s trick because of its dietetic properties in order to have a flat belly the day of measurements. I was happy when the company ordered several Wolf Mannequins of me to ship overseas.
Rocio: We all know that a fit model’s job may be grueling, but do you have any funny stories about your experiences during your fit sessions?
Gloria: When the design/production team and I traveled together, Liz C would give us time off to tour the countries we were working in. It was so much fun and so adventurous and we learned so much about the countries’ cultures. We would experience all the delicious cuisine. Those were the happy days. I am so grateful to God I did have my Dream come true!
Rocio: What is your lifestyle in these present days? Do you have any mentoring projects or workshops relating to young Latinas entering the fashion world?
Gloria: As a Fit model you have to keep your measurements in check. I was always exercising on my own or in the gym. I decided to pursue a new career as a Personal Trainer and Group Training. Today I am a group trainer for active seniors in Community Centers. I also work for Living Assistance Facility and Memory Care Facility for residents who have Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although it’s very challenging, it’s also very rewarding and I love all of the residents.