All is calm on the surface of this fashion show. But is it really?
By Sila Ogidi
“Stop! Go back! I left so many things in the common room, I couldn’t carry it all by myself.”
Despite the cold weather outside, Getrude Makurumidze, a Zimbabwean sophomore, had on a classy white blazer with a black knit maxi dress meant for summers under the sun with a good book and big sunglasses. With one hand lifting her dress just high enough for her to run, she makes her way to the Pembroke East dorm common room at Bryn Mawr College to retrieve her suitcase and large bag containing everything from shoes to fabric and woven baskets. It was Saturday and Getrude, 20, was on her way to the Bryn Mawr African and Caribbean Student’s Organization (BACaSO) Annual Fashion Show dress rehearsal.
Behind the stage and grand room of Thomas Great Hall stood rows of chairs with names taped to the seat where she began to rearrange them. First alternating, then single file.
-“Getrude what are you doing?”
-“I don’t know if I should alternate them or have them in a single file. What do you think?”
“I’ll just make it single rows.”
She stood alone backstage at 4:20p.m. for the rehearsal that should have started 20 minutes ago. There wasn’t a single sign of frustration or anxiety in her face. Her smooth skin did not wrinkle even with time against her. In the absence of her BACaSO public relations partner, she took charge of the suitcases, unpacking and sorting the clothes for each model before they arrived. No one would think the show was only two and a half hours away.
“We’re here!” yelled Rosemont College model, Vimbai, over the phone. “Where should we meet you?”
Getrude walked out the building to meet the first of her models. Her calm demeanor is replaced with a vibrant upbeat smile and laugh that can only be mastered by someone used to putting on a show.
Back in the hallway behind the stage more models started to arrive and Getrude amps up the take-charge attitude she had when she was alone. The set quickly turns into a lively party as models catwalk to Afro-Caribbean beats of their choice. Everyone is laughing and smiling except Getrude. She is arranging chairs around the stage and if you weren’t watching her, you’d never know she was there. She was a silent force with a desire for perfection.
-“I have to go to the train station.”
“Someone take me to the lotion I see being passed around.”
A head high above the sea of black clothes and colorful head ties makes its way to the impatient model. In a simple pink and brown A-line African print dress just reaching her knees, Getrude takes
her time to decorate the model’s face with what can only resemble festive tribal face decorations using a simple bottle of white body lotion.
On the other side of the walls the crowd is still trickling in at 7:05p.m. but the buzz was loud enough to let BACaSO know they were ready for a show. The parallel worlds of backstage and the runway were about to collide in what Getrude hoped to be a great first event of the semester for BACaSO.
“Hello everyone and welcome to BACaSO’s Afro-Caribbean expo where traditional meets contemporary.”
The show has begun. Her pink and brown dress dazzles audience members as she accompanies her peer to take on the role of Master of Ceremony. A quick introduction gets the ball rolling and models are ready to make their way onto the stage- but not until Getrude lingers just long enough to make herself visible to people still walking in.
A problem has come up. Two of her flag models are nowhere to be seen! Somehow, she smiles calmly behind her square framed black glasses and walks effortlessly in her high heeled sandals over to the DJ to ask a former executive board member to step in and assume the role of flag model. The day is saved.
Pink and brown turn into black and green when she steps on stage again in green pants with a black tank top and blazer. It is time for an intermission and she is ready for a break. Backstage the models are changing outfits and are no longer in need of guidance because the transition from student to model has become routine over the last hour.
The models are demanding their favorite song be played as they strut down the makeshift runway courtesy of Bryn Mawr College Conferences and Events. Tension rises because the amateur DJ is Faatimah Jafiq, current co-president of BACaSO, and she is doing the best she can between Spotify and YouTube as her sources of music.
Satisfied with their modeling, Getrude steps in and tries to please everyone.
She mouths song options to the model about to get on stage next and turns to the DJ hoping her request can be acknowledged in time. Unfortunately, her dream is short-lived when Faatimah cannot keep up with their demands. No matter, Getrude isn’t fazed. She knows her models will walk whether it is to Beethoven or famous Nigerian artists, P-Square. And in fact, they do.
The Grand Finale
Next to the DJ, Getrude is hollering praises to all the models that come up on stage as she sits back and finally gets to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Effortlessly chic on the arm of a chair she can, for the first time all night, laugh with her friends and watch the show. Her masterpiece came together quite tastefully and was about to explode in a sea of applause from a very pleased and engaged audience. Like any fancy high-end fashion show, the night ends with all the models coming out and an introduction of BACaSO’s executive board that made it all possible. As though it were intentionally, Getrude stands in the middle of the executive board as though she personally carried this entire show from beginning to end.
The night ends with an invitation to a party hosted by African–American affinity group Sisterhood and pre-ordered Jamaican beef and chicken patties in the back of the hall. She meets and greets the people who attended the show and takes in all the compliments without a hint of vanity or smugness. Her ladylike persona precedes her and no one expects her to be anything but humble in a crowd of excited models who can’t stop cat walking, even after the show.
-“How important is fashion to you, Getrude?” A stranger asks, clearly mesmerized not only by the show, but also by her personal sense of style.
Every time she got up on that stage to introduce a segment or performance, she was unconsciously modeling because these things came easily to her.
Exhausted but satisfied she replied simply:
“Not at all, I do it because I love BACaSO.”