Who: Models, Photographers, and the People Who Like to Look at Them
What: Fashion Fight Night 3, a fashion extravaganza where models and photogs duke it out in the ring
When: Saturday, February 28, 2009
Where: Uppercut Boxing Gym, Northeast Minneapolis
Why: For fashion’s sake, also some of the events proceeds support The LEAD Project
A little over a week ago, I was at Uppercut Gym—Lisa Bauch’s sparkling new digs in Northeast—with my college philosophy professor Dr. Gordon Marino.
We were shooting Doc for a story I’m writing for the April issue; we
were in the ring because when he’s not down in Northfield at St. Olaf teaching Freud and Kierkegaard, Doc writes about boxing for The Wall Street Journal
and trains amateur fighters. In between setups, Doc waved me over. “Put
the gloves on,” he said. “I’ll give you your first lesson.” What am I
going to learn, Doc? He looked at me like I had just fallen off the
noob truck and rasped, “Stance and jab, man.”
Doc’s physical and philosophical lessons were on my mind as I returned to Uppercut on Saturday night for Fashion Fight Night 3, an extravaganza that has become Metro Magazine’s signature event. Doc’s concept of how Hegel’s master-slave dialectic
is central to the brotherhood of fighters. Doc believes the ring is a
good place to build character—a workshop to work out your fear and
anger. “According to Hegel, a person really becomes himself only when
he risks his life,” Doc says. “That’s why so many people go to war, to
pick up the red badge of courage. You put your ego at risk, your pride
as risk—and you do it together. And when you come out of there, there’s
a special brotherhood.”
My own personal Fashion Fight Night master-slave dialectic actually started way before the event when Metro associate publisher Michael Delgado
told me there was no way I was getting into his party. “I’m sorry,
Steve,” he said. “It’s absolutely oversold, and the comp list has been
stretched beyond common sense already.” When I persevered, invoking
professional courtesy and explaining that I had a long-standing
interest in the special combat that goes on in the local fashion world,
Michael insinuated that I wasn’t even planning to write anything. “I
don’t see Deb Hopp letting you mention Metro.” Ouch.
So he actually thought that the glossy magazine I work for was involved
in a petty conspiracy to forgo all mention of the glossy magazine he
works for, or he suspected that I just wanted to come to a big party
and drink for free. What kind of person would do that? What kind of
character did he think I had?
Encountering such spirited resistance, I started to think that maybe Metro
needed me at this party. Maybe we could overcome our glossy-glossy
pride and fear together. Maybe, like Hegel’s self-consciousnesses, the
only way we both can really feel alive is if we put it all on
the line at a hoity-toity fashion event. I sort of made this argument
to Michael (along with sort of begging) and, per Hegel, his “I” finally
realized my “I.” He put me on the list.
Let’s get ready to rumble.
In the registration line, I ran into my first spiritual battle of
the night. I had brought along my photographer (and, OK, full
disclosure, my friend) Jaclyn Khoury. Helplessly, the
registration lady looked to the registration lady sitting to her right.
“We only have you down for one, sir.” And then that registration lady
looked to the registration lady sitting to her right. The first one
spoke up. “He says he has a photographer,” she said. There was another
moment of awkward silence until the alpha registration lady finally
made her decision. She lowered her voice a couple clicks. “It’s OK,”
she said. The three of them looked away and simultaneously waved us
through. I had overcome my fear over going in without a verified plus
one, but now my ego was surging. Something would have to be done about
Walking into the gym, I marveled at how Dale Kivimaki and his production people
had transformed this Spartan training space into a high-class fashion
party environment. There was a gigantic bar featuring Bacardi drinks
separated by a gleaming curtain from a cocktail area. Somebody was
throwing one-two-ones inside a glowing cube—a sort of shadowboxing
sculpture. Pretty cool. And then at the back of this cavernous
warehouse gym, there were the two rings, the “red ring” and the “blue
ring,” set side-by-side, connected by a catwalk where models would
strut to loud DJ music between bouts. A quick note on the Fashion Fight
Night format: It’s fashion photographer vs. fashion photographer, with
each ring holding a photographer, a model, and a team of stylists. Each
snapper would shoot for three five-minute rounds, and then their
results—the photographs—would be projected on a big screen hanging on
the wall, and the crowd would hoot and holler, and the judges would
cast their votes and come to a decision. At which point the ring
announcer, KFAN radio’s Dan “The Common Man” Cole, would lift the arm of the winning photographer.
But as any boxing aficionado knows, the undercard always goes long,
and tonight would be no exception. We had another hour of drinking
before the bell would even ring. After settling on something raspberry
called the Roberto Duran, I bumped into the LEAD Project’s Uri Neren.
Tonight really was going to be a philosophical trial. I still have
purple marks from trading spiritual blows with LEAD in a party column
on its event at the W
last fall. “Hey, are you guys still pissed at me for that Party Patrol
write up?” Yuri refused to engage. “Oh, no, I think we’re good,” he
said. My ego would have to wait to get some work in. He said he was
just excited to judge the fights between the models and the
photographers tonight. I asked him about his criteria. “Oh, mostly
crowd reaction,” he said. “But I’m on a panel with some real
fashionistas—the Mall of America’s Sara Rogers and Robyne Robinson—they really know what they’re talking about.”
Sara was standing at a cocktail table with Richard Moody,
who had just returned from South Africa, and a . . . I dunno, what do
you call a group of male models? A poodle of male models? A speedo of
male models? “This is Gerrit,” Richard said, “and he’s moving to New
York. And this is Trey, and he’s moving to LA.” Richard laughed. “See,
Steve, these are the local models that need to be working here!” Sara
leaned in to tell me that she had read my feature on local models (as a local supermodel emeritus,
Sara’s in the story). Again, I marched my ego into combat. “Did you
like it?” I asked. “I really like your writing style.” An elision. “I
like how you communicate.” I stood and delivered: “But did you like the
story?” She ducked. “I liked your style.”
This Hegel dialectic stuff is hard.
Here was Scott Schneweis, Metro’s resident goofball, wearing his trademark cream-colored vintage suit. Like his hero, George Plimpton,
Scott’s a former athlete (he played soccer at Gustavus) who writes
funny columns where he makes an ass of himself trying to do things he’s
terrible at. I wondered if humiliating himself like this on a monthly
basis was a way to actually build character, or if by never doing
anything he could really excel at, he actually preserved his ego. Or
maybe that’s actually what all of us magazine journalists are doing,
and he’s just being explicit every month in Semi Pro. I told him about
getting in the ring with Doc, and he told me a story about his
almost-training session with Bruce Lee’s buddy, the Kung Fu master Ino Santo.
“I got the session scheduled, and I was imagining what kind of menial
task he was going to have me do for the first hour of our session,”
Scott said. “You know, to build discipline. Like was I going to have to
construct a brick wall or something.” But it turns out the PR person
was blowing smoke. “Yeah, we had a five-minute interview, and I
couldn’t touch him, and he couldn’t touch me. Really disappointing.” I
told him to try to get in the ring with Brock Lesnar
for his next column. “Yeah, maybe,” he said. Scott looks brave enough
to try anything. Or maybe brave isn’t exactly the word. As Mr. Wolf
says in Pulp Fiction, “Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.” But Scott seems to be working toward something.
On a banquette in the next area was Robyne—as far as I’m concerned,
the Ali, the G.O.A.T., when it comes to local anchorladies—sitting with
my neighbor, 414 Soundbar's lovely and exotic owner, Johann Sfaellos. The last time I saw Johann, the two of us sat up in his office and brainstormed the seed that eventually grew into the Do You Want To Be a Real Model?
contest. I will always remember Johann, in his Bond villain accent,
giggling through his prediction: “You vill get every girl in town to
entah! They all dreeeam of veing mah-dels!” Love that guy. Whenever we go mano-a-mano
upstairs at Soundbar, something good happens. I made a mental note to
return for more of Johann’s unique metaphysical training soon.
Jaclyn and I pushed our way ringside for the first bout. All the
media VIPs were in the corner by the beer booth next to the “blue”
ring. Former Metro and Minnesota Bride fashion editor, now InStyle Magazine heavy hitter Stephanie Davila was in town from NYC with her long-distance boyfriend, Minneapolis music mogul Paul Gillis (manager of Jeremy Messersmith and The Greycoats). Vita.mn’s editor, Simon Peter Groebner, was up here as was vita.mn’s fashion writer, Jahna Peloquin (as a member of the Eclecticoiffeur styling team, Jahna would also be competing later). Mnartists.org's Emma Berg was wearing an outrageous lacey peep-backed dress.
And there, standing in the corner of the VIP area, looking downright smashing in black tie and mustache, was my one-time rival Chuck Terhark.
Chuck is not only a better fantasy baseball player than me (he’s in my
league—a very serious one), but he’s probably the best writer in town.
But unfortunately for all of us, there’s no way to tell because Metro
doesn’t let him write. I mean, not really. He writes unsigned blurbs
for the big “103 AMAZING DEALS!” cover stories and so forth, but he
hasn’t written a real feature in a long time. Metro assumes nobody wants to read anymore. I do remember Chuck wrote a solid first-person organic farming piece in either Metro’s
first or second issue, back before he was hired on as staff (and before
he signed one of those vicious non-competes that have become standard
in this business). But I haven’t seen a bona fide byline of his for a
couple years. And what a byline to waste! “By Chuck Terhark”—it sounds
like somebody loading a round into a shotgun, doesn’t it? Man. I used
to be afraid of him. Honestly. He used to kill it at City Pages.
We used to fight over dibs to punk rock bands. And he’s (still) younger
than me. And smarter. Maybe funnier. So this belt that I’m wearing
feels . . . I don’t know . . . unsanctioned. Here’s the perfect
candidate, a number-one contender for a self-consciousness matchup, and
Metro won’t let him fight.
My ego decided to enter the ring again. I interrupted a conversation Chuck was having with his Metro colleague, senior editor Chris Clayton, and one of Tiger Oaks’s upper brass, Dena Alspach.
I told Dena they really should let Chuck, you know, write. She came
back with some consultant mumbo jumbo about the difficulties of writing
to a specific demographic. “You know how magazines are, Steve.” I
parried by saying I didn’t know how magazines are, actually. I asked
her what she meant. She deflected and jabbed back, “Oh, right—we’ll
just change our entire strategy because Steve Marsh says so.” She
followed her jab with a combination of sipping her wine and rolling her
eyes. Chuck just stood there and gave her a hollow laugh. I retreated
before I said anything that could get him in trouble. (Actually, Chuck,
I hope Dena reads this and that I do get you in trouble. You look ready
I made it back to ringside for The Main Event. Jaclyn was right up
against the ropes of the blue ring, snapping away at the action with
her compact little automatic. Because of luck, or Dharma, or just as a
tribute to the strange hostility in the air, that blue ring would be my
ring of fire tonight. Because of my strange trip through the modeling
world in the course of researching my story, I actually had a rooting
interest in the fights tonight—and that’s all a betting man can ask out
of sports entertainment.
Last fall, I watched tonight’s first competitor, Jen Cress, shoot one of my story’s protagonists, Ashley Hawks (and Ashley’s blue Chihuahua)
outside of Jen’s studio in the Casket Arts building. So I rooted for
Jen, and she came through—winning in her Fight Night debut by decision
over Alli Jagoda. And in the last bout of the night, I rooted for the identical twin models Coco and Breezy, paired up with Nic Marshall. The twins were a last-minute scratch from my story—they had already done the photo shoot with William Clark
and everything—they just didn’t fit the narrative. I’m still following
their story as it unfolds, and I hope to get them into the magazine at
some point. Unfortunately, they lost their match, but it looked like
they had fun. Those girls always look like they’re having fun.
But the Main Event was the second bout, Ingrid Werthmann vs. Justin Grierson. I had no idea who Justin and Ingrid were, but Justin was shooting Cari Jedlicki.
Cari is the Twin Cities’ champion model. She makes more than $100,000 a
year, and we spent a lot of time together in the course of my story.
But sometime in between reporting, writing, and printing, Cari went
capital-D diva on me. First she kept pushing her photo shoot back, and
then she freaked out on our fact-checking department, and then she
rescheduled the shoot twice and finally refused to do it. And then,
after she snubbed our fact-checker, she still refused to personally
fact-check with me. She treated me as if I was stalking her or
something—something had gone haywire in our Hegelian dialectic. I
remember her saying, “I just don’t like your tone, dude!” as I tried to
overcome her obstinacy and get her to confirm things she had told me
within our interview process—innocuous but necessary-to-be-checked
stuff, like where she went to high school and the spelling of her
husband’s name. We ended up using an old photo of her from Macy’s M Magazine, and I factchecked off my notes. It was an inexplicable mini nightmare. I still don’t understand what happened.
And there she was, in the ring, wearing a vinyl black dress,
tottering around in high heels with some sort of weird zippered S&M
wig hanging in front of her eyes, exposing only her red candy-shell
lips. And there I was, almost touching the ropes, pounding my fist,
rooting with all of my being for her to take a humiliating
ass-over-teakettle header. It felt like I was over at my brother’s for
fight night on HBO, screaming at the big screen, as the guy I had money
on let loose a flurry. I might’ve actually been jumping up and down at
this point. Fall! Fall, Cari! FALL! C’MON FALL! Here was nearly six
feet of premium Minnneapolis model sheathed in black plastic, a
glammed-out gimp up against the ropes, barely two feet away from
ringside—and my fellow spectators were turning around to stare at me.
What was happening to me here? Why was I so scared of this 120-pound
blonde woman? Because she made me factcheck from my notes? I don’t
know, but I finally felt alive!
Anyway, Cari didn’t fall.
But she did lose.
The red ring had a male model doing backflips on a trampoline.
Gimmicky, sure, but no more gimmicky than an S&M getup, I suppose.
Ultimately, Cari just couldn’t overcome the trampoline’s mesmerizing
effect on the crowd and, ultimately, the judges. The Common Man raised
the opposing photographer’s hand, and Cari molded a grimace into a thin
smile while quickly looking down at the canvas.
Outside the ring, everybody started wandering towards the bar. Scott
Schneweis came bounding up behind me. “Hey, man,” he said, “you ready
to get your picture taken with Common?” He motioned for me to follow
him. We went around the corner and climbed up on the skirt of the ring,
slipped through the ropes, and all of the sudden, there I
was—face-to-face with Cari Jedlicki in the center of the ring.
On Monday, I’d worked on my stance and my jab with Doc. Maybe the
whole night—the whole week—maybe the whole year—had been leading up to
this moment. The end of my spiritual battle with Cari Jedlicki.
“Hey,” I shouted over the arena’s din. “Are we good?”
She offered me her fist, tightly wrapped in vinyl. I bumped it.
“Yeah, we’re good,” she said.