I grew up in 70’s and 80’s West London amidst white, black, ‘other’, posh, middle, everyone else people in the final, blasting swansong of true British bohemia and heyday of gloriously unexploited sub-culture.
You could say it was a mix.
I received this era’s cultural dose of artsy, politically conscious TV, where investigative documentaries and maverick film ‘auteur’ film seasons along with un-p.c. comedy shows were commonplace. Yes there was a golden age of T.V, but perhaps now it would be dubbed as ‘elitist’.
Also, there was simply nothing else to watch so maybe you got cultured (or more perverse re the comedy) whether you wanted to or not.
The thing that unites most fashion people (I include myself here) is that we are all what could be called ‘odd-bods.’ We are people that didn’t quite fit in at school because we either weren’t interested in doing so or because we felt that no one (including ourselves) quite understood us. The future perks of non-conformity were yet unknown from the grim walls of our Victorian playgrounds.
I could blame my mum for the resistance I had to my teacher’s enthusiasm in promoting a potentially academic nature (she did give me the bumper September collections issue of Vogue when I was fourteen after all) but it was too late- the beauty nerd within was calling and I veered ‘off piste’ at sixteen, choosing mid-eighties London club-land as a vehicle for further education.
I would later find the same applied to pretty much all of my contemporaries. Is going to a club where most people looked like their own personal art installation (Leigh Bowery, Phillip Sallon, Princess Julia etc) amidst music that scratched and mixed the Jackson Five with the sound of the Burundi tribe more interesting than what I was learning at school? Kind of..
This decadent oasis was full of what my mother would call ‘colourful’ types, not a place where students who should have been revising (me) hung out.
It was through this tribe that I met the wonderfully indefinable Kate Garner from the band Haysi Fantayzee.
I’d never met a woman so original, stylish, free, beautiful and kind, all at the same time.
Soon after meeting me, she simply asked what I’d like to do.
At sixteen I’d only just gotten over not being Anabella Lewin from Bow-wow-wow or Debbie Harry. That week I happened to settle on ‘make-up artist’.
She then said “go and see my friend Jamie Morgan, his studio’s around the corner” so I did. He fancied my friend Susan (now Mitzi Lorenz) and gave me my first job, the cover of The Face magazine with Nick Kamen, styled by the forever-influential men’s stylist- Ray Petri.
After my training ground with ‘Buffalo’ (Ray, Jamie Morgan, Nick Kamen, Mitzi Lorenz and more) I got my first agent-in Paris.
There I worked for the Iconic, yet underground Parisian 80’s style bible ‘Jill Magazine’ which was edited by Babette Dijan.
Peter Lindbergh, Jean Francis Lepage, Paolo Roversi, plus many more innovative fashion photographers, had total creative freedom within these pages and like most things that are truly free, it was short-lived.
Coming back to London, I decided I’d go with a very ‘straight’ agent, to balance out my bleached blonde club-kid thing as in those days; Conde Nast and clubland were not the symbiotic clique they are today, they knew nothing of each other.
Soon I was working for Harpers & Queen with Hamish Bowles, Amanda Grieves (now Harlech) with her pal John Galliano (who’d bring along some things he made) and Tatler when Michael Roberts (now fashion/style director of Vanity Fair) was fashion editor and it’s prominent photographer. I also worked a lot with an up and coming Peruvian photographer called Mario Testino for ‘Girl About Town’ and Over 21 magazine.
Lorraine Ashton (foremost a model agent) took me on and Sarah Doukas (now Ms Moss’s booker at Storm) was my booker and I worked (whilst boogying the nights away) non-stop throughout my late teens until I got my record deal with my friend Michele (Misty) Oldland and spent three years singing in our band Oldland Montano.
It was a beautiful, challenging experience to be able make records, be in the studio and perform.
It’s hard to find words to describe this time succinctly and I still process it to this day.
Despite the self-knowledge gleaned from opening myself up to the mic (and the audience) and overcoming stage fright, I felt too raw using my un-figured-out self as the vessel so I returned to my old job at twenty-three. I didn’t think I wanted to go back to make-up but I needed to earn a living and this, plus singing was the only way I knew.
I joined agent Kim Sion at her London agency Smile in the midst of the last recession and didn’t start back at the top as I’d naively imagined. After about a year of pretty humbling drudgery, Kim introduced me to her new protégé, a New Yorker named Mario Sorrenti, an ex-model who was dating a young model called Kate Moss.
Mario Sorrenti taught me so much about light. In those days (he was 21, I was 25) he had a non-corporate, art project approach, as well as choices of reference from all sides of life, rather than from the rarefied bubble of the fashion cognoscenti at that time, a world I did not wish to go back to frankly.
I worked consistently with Mario for some time, following him to N.Y. (where all the best work took us) and I ended up having an apartment in NY for 8 years.Aside from working on 90’s US Bazaar and Carine Roitfeld –era French Glamour, we shot numerous iconic ad campaigns together such as Obsession (that one with Kate), Escape (Amber Valetta), Lancome (Juliette Binoche), a GRUNGE Dolce & Gabbana campaign (oh how they freaked out!) but most of all, we had a blast.
I then began working with Mario Testino again, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Steven Klein, Glen Luchford, Craig Mc Dean, alas, never Avedon.
Due to this cycle of success, fashion became my entire life for years, I wasn’t happy and I felt guilty for not enjoying it. Although I had extraordinary experiences I’ll always treasure, once I figured out how it rolled, the industry was a bit like seeing behind the curtain in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’.
‘I’m not in Kansas anymore’ epiphanies aside, I’ve had the great fortune to have worked a few times with (had lunch in Monte Carlo with) true greats like Helmut Newton as well as many truly magical times spent working with Bruce Weber who never ceases to amaze and inspire. He makes all those who are invited into his fold feel an integral part of his wonderful world.
However, in the back down to earth world, to remain at this level you have to be content with flying from Tim-Buk-Tu and back weekly and remain kind, calm, generous and fabulous whilst never seeing your real friends, missing all their birthdays, break-ups and births and-as a woman, spending most of your time with women and gay men.
Not a life I wanted to live forever and after much soul-searching, and a lot of tearful turn-down-ing to manipulative agents, I managed to tweak the design of my career by doing more red carpet work which meant I could finally move back to London AND keep my career at the same level by exchanging the currency of high fashion with the currency of Hollywood.
Meanwhile I’ve always loved writing…
Apart from the long hours, flying and general assault on your immune system that the lifestyle of a jobbing MUA creates, one of the hardest aspects for me to cope with in fashion has been the lack of stimulating conversation.
I like fashion but…
It is not what I discuss with my friends and I don’t ‘read’ fashion magazines though I do enjoy wearing it.
By chance I got a gig via a friend to write a weekly beauty column for Britain’s The Daily Mail (Trojan horse-style, to my non-Brit readers, let’s just say said ‘news’paper is not known for it’s liberal, intelligent-mindedness).
I did this for nearly three years on top of my m-up work. A friend once said I should have the tagline: ‘Kay Montano, bringing the soul back to middle-England’.
Whilst searching for avenues to write more creatively and honestly, I realised that during my whole life and various careers, I was always trying to fit into someone else’s idea of myself. I was successful but only on the basis of living a life I didn’t want to, creative, but via someone else’s thought processes.
Every working day brings more experience, if your job does not reflect this, the untapped ‘growth’ just becomes a very heavy weight to carry around. My job was limiting me and I realised it had for many years.
So hello world wide web.
What I love about you www is that I now have my very own portal of unaffiliated freedom to attempt to deconstruct the multiple myths regarding beauty, fashion, fame and ‘celebrity’.
I can talk about make-up and style and my working world as a vehicle to revel in being a proud member of team anti-crass-media-culture.
Let’s explore that contradiction.
Featured Post Photo of Kate Moss by Mario Testino. Make-Up by KM