This piece originally appeared in MUSE Issue XVIII. Check out the issue here. 

Fashion Week launches everyone into a fantasy world where it’s acceptable to sport a chiffon gown with a leather harness or thigh high snakeskin boots with a pilled cashmere tunic.

My seven-season runway career was filled with new and exciting experiences. I walked in my first show at 15 years old, for New York-based designer Joseph Altuzarra. It was held in an art gallery, where the van Goghs made a perfect backdrop for his velvet and silk patchwork daywear. When I was 16, I had my strapless bra unhooked by a male show-hand backstage at Mikhael Kale because it could be seen through my dress—it was the first time someone else undressed me. At 17, I was given just a few hours’ notice before my flight to Milan for Fashion Week.

This was my first time in the famous city, and it was nothing less than chic—women floated across the cobblestone streets in leather Aquatalia stilettos, and men gathered around coffee stands in exquisitely tailored navy suits. The southern canals were lined by the great Italian ateliers: Prada, Versace, Armani, Miu Miu, and Fendi.

In the week leading up to the show, I worked 18 to 20-hour days in order to make it to over 20 casting appointments. Some castings took a few minutes, while others involved waiting with a hundred girls in a stairwell for hours as the directors gossiped over cappuccinos with their assistants.

When Fashion Week finally arrived, I had call times as early as 5AM. In the streets, I had to fight my way through crowds of photographers to squeeze backstage, where my attention was pulled in every direction as my nails were painted, hair pulled up, and lipstick applied. Then, we got called to line up and take “candid” shots with other models, hugging them and laughing, even though we were complete strangers.

Throughout my career, I learned that Fashion Week has a darker side. In the lead up to the main event, a new kind of chaos is unleashed upon an already frantic industry. As a runway model, I witnessed desperate design teams treat us like cattle, and desperate models willing to bear the questionable eccentricities just to be a part of the flawless façade.

In my most challenging moments, I think back to these weeks. The hours spent sitting in a socialite’s house as editors circled around, sipping champagne and admiring the pyjamas we modelled; the anxious moments spent watching a designer wear the shirt from my outfit to film a TV segment, and getting it back just seconds before walking onto the runway. It built a confidence that allows me to face any situation, no matter how difficult it may seem. All I have to do is take a deep breath and go back to those few seconds before I’d go on the runway: shoulders back, head up, slight squint, and then, when it’s time, step out from behind the wall and into the light, to momentarily embrace the glamour conjured up by Fashion Week.