I decided to give my former models a questionnaire much like the one I do with my other profiles. Here is the first of that series. Join me in learning more about Jennifer Wisniewski.
Jennifer was always the consummate professional and extraordinarily talented on the runway, doing informal modeling in the Store and working with me on small “trend” shows both in and out of the Store for many years. She was a chameleon, in one outfit the girl next door in the next a siren…here are her recollections of her modeling days.
NI: WHEN DID YOU START YOUR MODELING CAREER, WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
JW: I remember walking through the grocery store when I was 12 years old with my mom and a woman walked up to her and asked if I was her daughter and told her I should be a model. That was all I needed to hear after that I was on a mission
One of Jennifer’s model composites.
NI: WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SAKS FIFTH AVENUE SHOW (S)?
JW: Oscar de la Renta! It was my first show for you ever and I was so petrified of doing a good job and after I ran to the phone and called Eva (my agent) and on the other line was your assistant telling her that you wanted to use me for the rest of the season’s shows. I’ll never forget that day.
The finale of an Oscar de la Renta fashion show in the Lobby of Lyric Opera.
NI: WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE DESIGNER AND WHY?
JW: Vivienne Westwood: I like how she takes her particular punk sensibility and makes beautiful clothes from it and still remains true to who she is. That’s a fine line to walk and it’s not easy to be authentic to who you are and remain relevant after decades.
NI: WHAT WAS YOUR MOST FAVORITE “BEHIND THE SCENES” STORY?
After I did a show for Isaac Mizrahi, he lined up to kiss all the girls on the cheek and of course I missed his cheek and gave him a big kiss on the mouth. He wasn’t thrilled!
JW: WHAT ARE YOU UP TO NOW AND HOW DID YOU BEGIN YOUR NEW CAREER/PASSION?
I own a restaurant called Bread & Wine www.breadandwinechicago.com. I write stories and design t-shirts for my company called Tall Orders www.tallorderschi.com and I am director of operations for a PR firm called Six4 Creative www.six4creative.com.
I like to take an idea and make it into reality. That’s what drives me, that and I love to solve problems and boss people around.
NI: WHAT DID YOUR MODELING YEARS TEACH YOU THAT YOU ARE USING NOW?
JW: You (Nena) taught me how to be a model. How to come prepared, how to wear the clothes and be inspired by them and most of all how to be a professional. You were my mentor and what I learned from you I implement in every aspect of my life today.
A couple of runs from the formal in-store launch of Emanuel Emanuel Ungaro Collection.
A Donna Karan show in a Bucktown restaurant.
Jennifer has given me permission to reprint one of her own blog postings …here it is verbatim!! Interesting how people perceive you….oh well, glad she felt she learned something working with me!!!!
“Once upon a time, I used to model for a living. The modeling business and the restaurant business are similar in many ways. One similarity is that the fashion business fosters its own carnival of eccentrics, much like the world of hospitality. There is one lady, in particular, that taught me so many survival skills. Her name was Nena Ivon – and she was the fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. Ms. Ivon also had rules:
- You couldn’t be early and you couldn’t be late. Arrival was/is exactly five minutes before call time.
- You always had to have a makeup hood – which is a piece of fabric that you put over your head to protect the clothes, when you are trying them on. I’ve seen models have complete meltdowns, when they didn’t bring theirs.
- You couldn’t touch the clothes. At all.
- You couldn’t speak.
- If you were chewing gum: you were fucked.
- Oh, and you had to call her “Ms. Ivon”. Sometimes models would get uppity and called her “Nena”. Not smart.
For a fitting (when one tries on clothes, before the runway show), there are probably about 20 girls in the room. You’re totally naked (a nena note, not totally naked at least not at my fittings!), very thin, and standing in silence, while you wait to be yelled at (a nena note, I don’t remember “yelling” at my models) for doing something wrong. I don’t remember those five seconds I was on stage. I do, however, remember being scared to death of her. But, I liked her – I liked and respected her. Now I completely understand why she was the way she was. Experience carves a person – and she simply realized that if she didn’t run the models—they would run her!
Jennifer in a St. John evening piece at a formal runway show at a sit-down luncheon in store.
I loved to watch her. She would walk in a room and people would stand at attention. The thing about modeling that no one ever talks about, is that it takes real discipline to do it everyday – and she taught me that. It’s an art, but it’s also like being an athlete. There is a conditioning and a competitiveness to it.
She liked me, for some reason. (Well, I know the reason I think.) I showed that I respected her, I listened to her rules, and I followed them. Currently, I’m not as tough as Ms. Ivon was, but I have my moments. There is a place you arrive at, when you’ve completed the transition into adulthood and start demanding respect from young people, for who you are and what you’ve accomplished. Out of the blue, a server will greet me with some slang – and my inner Nena comes out. “Excuse me? What did you say?” (I do it with my daughter too.)
Nonetheless, Nena gave me my first break. She was the reason I worked every day. I remember when Oscar de la Renta was in town and he booked me for his show. After I got off the runway, I went to a payphone (yep!) and called my booker to tell her it went well. On the other line with her, was Ms. Ivon. She said – and I quote, because I’ll never forget it: “You can’t take your eyes off Jenny, when she’s on the runway. I want to hire her for everything.” After that phone call, I began working for her (and everyone else) for the next ten years.
My story’s not as grand as other globe-trotting models. But, at that moment, I had to stop and say to myself: “Well, if this fashion icon believes in me – maybe I should, too. Maybe I can do this.” One day I’d like to be able to do that for someone. To help them find inspiration – while being screamed at and told they are worthless, (a nena note, again perception is everything, I didn’t scream at my models nor ever told them they were worthless, why would I have booked them?!!).”
Posted in Tall Thoughts