From Tampa to the Big Apple: Rider freshman walks runway in New York Fashion Week
By John M. Ververis
For 18 year-old Gillian Dittmer, a freshman musical theater major from Tampa, Florida, growing up tall meant people always asked if she was a model.
As of a little over a year ago, the answer to that question became yes.
Dittmer’s modeling career had skyrocketed within the last year in an incredibly short amount of time, all while she balanced the process of applying and auditioning for schools, before eventually settling on Rider for its musical theater program.
Her ability to juggle modeling and school had followed her from Florida to New Jersey, and such is evident to those around her.
“She balances the two so well — it is crazy how professional she is with modeling,” said fellow freshman musical theater major Jillian Ferguson, Dittmer’s roommate. “She is incredibly determined.”
Dittmer started out as a young actress in Tampa and was immediately exposed to the field of modeling — a career similar to acting because it requires mental and physical stability, especially in the face of pressure. However, she dove in head first, unafraid and willing.
Dittmer was, in no time, noticed by an agency by the name of Alexa Models in her hometown of Tampa. Little did she know that her career would quickly soar within the course of only a year.
“Once I was old enough and tall enough, they started sending me out on modeling jobs.” Dittmer said.
Dittmer had only walked in one runway show before coming to Rider, however, that did not stop her from booking a spot in the coveted New York Fashion Week. Along with an agency by the name of Nova Management, she was connected to Ozlana — an Australian clothing brand that quickly took interest.
The brand was so interested in Dittmer, she received an honorable opportunity: she was asked to open the show.
“It was cool. Because I was opening the show, I saw those pictures around a lot on the internet. That was special,” she said.
To be the first model to walk the runway signified not only incredible importance, but pressure. In essence, Dittmer represented the brand, making the very first impression, not only with what she wore, but with how she walked.
New York Fashion Week was a time of incredible diversity, as every show demonstrates personal style, décor and flare. For the models, it was a matter of finding an inner connection to the brand’s method of fashion in order to properly showcase it.
Dittmer said, “If you have a ‘good’ walk, runway shows won’t be difficult to book, as they tend to cast around 20 or so women.”
Not only does having a “good” walk come into play, but Dittmer fortunately wielded what casting directors might call the “blank-slate look.” She had a simple beauty, without specific features that might make her stand out.
“The make-up artist can do what they want with my look. There are a lot of trends too with modeling and, since I’m more neutral, it’s a more long-lasting type of look,” Dittmer said.
Although standing out may be viewed as an advantage, in the world of modeling, fitting in could work in an individual’s favor. Dittmer’s look allowed designers to more easily envision her within the standards of their plan of attack, as her look proved to be easily flexible and moldable to any idea or look.
While Fashion Week came off as a vibrant experience, Dittmer shined a light on how stressful it may be, as well as the act of balancing modeling in general with school.
“It is tough right now because I want to go into [New York City] more to model, however, it is hard not having any days free to make it to castings,” Dittmer said.
With not being able to make it into the city as much as she would like, she explained the art of “direct bookings.” Modeling through direct bookings meant being reached out to directly by designers who have taken interest in a model’s look through an agent’s website or social media. Instagram was often a hub for direct bookings as it was a mainstream visual platform and had become a virtual casting network in the world of modeling.
Dittmer said that, although opportunity was sometimes scarce with direct bookings, she had been able to book castings anyway — whether through her agent or not.
When asked about what she saw in her future with modeling, Dittmer said, “I just know that I hope to be able to do it after college, I hope to move to New York and do it along with musical theatre.”
Dittmer planned to model along with pursuing a career in theater — the two allowing great quantities of opportunity in New York City. She hoped to someday walk for big-name designers as well as travel, especially to London.
However, before accomplishing these goals, Dittmer’s main focus at the moment was to gain confidence, specifically when in photoshoots.
“You have to just start,” she said. “It’s like an improv exercise.”
She explained the importance of exerting the ability to simply be unafraid to ask questions. Going into a shoot, models were typically unaware as to what the designer wants — the vision could be broad or narrowly pinpointed. There was a significance to “taking over” a shoot, Dittmer said, as encouraging personal flare may add to a designer’s interest.
Having began modeling recently, Dittmer had found herself within a time of movement in the industry. The hashtag #MeToo had become a staple example, allowing women as well as men all over the world the chance to speak up in regards to experiences with sexual assault, bringing awareness to the fact that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, in any environment. This matter had, since, poured over and into the field of modeling.
Dittmer explained new rules that have been implemented in response to the hashtag #MeToo. For instance, it was now common for designers to require a model to be 18 years old to model.
She mentioned how consent was crucial when shooting, as well as the fact that more designers were encouraging body diversity so that others do not feel they have to conform to unattainable standards. Such standards had always existed in the field, however, Dittmer said she believed that designers are finally striving toward safer modeling environments.
There was a complexity to the field that Dittmer discussed — complexities that many did not realize.
While the job may come off as a quick point-and-shoot and done, there was a large amount of effort and various people that go into getting the right shot.
“People don’t know about the amount of castings before actually getting a job,” she said.
While shooting may be quick, Dittmer explained working models could have up to 10 casting calls in a single day.
“While shooting can be easy, it’s possible to have long hours,” she said.
However, if not yet finding success with photoshoots, it can be quite difficult to land one. Once you’ve got one, there were extra factors that come into play. Does your skin look perfect? Have you gained weight? These were questions Dittmer said models have to seriously think about before attending a call.
Dittmer admitted that “once you get one pimple, it is difficult to work until you get rid of that pimple.” The reasoning behind this was that companies have to pay extra for touch-ups, which they, of course, prefer not to do. They saved time and money and made the process easier by choosing to hire those with the less problematic skin.
“They will choose to not hire you over someone who already has flawless skin,” she said.
Dittmer had risen despite hardships within the business and had proudly made a name for herself.
“You perform for a look and you make connections doing it,” she said.
Published in the 11/28/18 edition.