Learn To Catwalk With Erika Oliveira
How does a model learn to walk on a catwalk? Brazilian-born Erika Oliveira was signed to Elite at the age of 16 in Lisbon and worked as a model for 15 years. After a short stint in advertising, she started the international division at Elite in Lisbon, and now works as an agent and catwalk coach, based in New York. At the EML World Final 2015, Erika is coaching the girls alongside top Portuguese model Ruben Rua for the boys, turning the finalists into polished catwalk performers in just a few short days. We sat down with Erika to learn how they do it.
Tell us about catwalk coaching
Everyone assumes that walking is easy, because they do it every day. It’s much harder than it looks, but once the Finalists start to think about everything, it can become very difficult. At Elite Model Look, the catwalk style is neutral, so that no one stands out for the wrong reasons. At the same time, I try not to erase their personality.
What do you most enjoy in your role as coach at the EML World Final?
Catwalk training is the part I love the most. You are getting to know the models when they have fresh minds and they are full of possibility. They are eager to learn and be the best. You can teach them a lot, how to be professional and to respect other people. Coaching models is what I love the most about my job as an agent.
How do you teach them?
We start with the head. You need to keep looking straight ahead. If your eyes move too much, it shows you aren’t confident. Then we move to the shoulders; lots of the girls slouch because they are taller than their friends, so we need to teach them how to stand up straight. The back should be upright, but not stiff. Arms are the hardest part, because people never think about them, and once they start, it can become mechanical. You need to be natural, that’s the most important. Your hips shouldn’t move too much, which is hard in high heels, because it is easier to sway your hips for balance.
What is the hardest part?
The last thing we teach them is about the rhythm, because they need to be perfectly in sync. It’s like a dance, they must move as one. In shows, there is an element of choreography, even if it is simple. You might need to wait for the fifth girl, and then you leave, and if you don’t, you will upset the order. Today, we aren’t thinking too much about the final choreography, because we are just thinking about one thing at a time, one step in front of the other! [laughs]
So they are learning a certain walk here, but they will be able to adapt it?
Exactly. Every show is different. So Victoria’s Secret, they walk in a really bouncy way, they are blowing kisses, they smile. That’s a different mood from Elite Model Look. Every show, the stylists will brief them on how they should walk for that show, but they have to know the basics first. The way we are teaching them is good technique, it’s a place to start. I was always very smiley for a model, and I was booked for certain shows for my energy. These models will work out their style, but you need to be able to interpret and adapt. Models are also actors.
Has modelling changed in the time you have been working?
There are trends in modelling, it’s not just trends in clothes. One season, you’ll open a magazine and everyone is jumping around, the next they will be lying on the floor. Right now, the trend is for very natural poses but with a little bit of personality. Catwalk trends are much slower, it has developed through the decades. In the 1980s, models walked in a very stylised way. Then Gisele came in in the 1990s, and she launched a trend. It was all about looking healthy, walking with high steps. These days, it is about walking in a very neutral style, and showing the clothes.
What’s good about learning at the 2015 World Final boot camp?
When you get the models together in the room, they can learn from each other. They can compare, they can see what the others are doing wrong. I want them to watch, and to see what is wrong in others. Normally, I work with mirrors, and we don’t have those here, but they have each other. When it comes to their turn, they don’t want to make the same mistakes. After learning the theory, it’s just about practising as much as possible.
What is different this year?
The structure this year is emotionally much easier [because there is a party at the end instead of a televised catwalk show]. But you never know what’s going to happen, even if you don’t win the competition, it’s possible to still have a great career. It’s about the learning experience. This year we have a good class! The Elite team have done a really good job. I’m confident it’s going to be a great show and that they are going to get work.
How does it feel to see models you have trained on the catwalk?
It makes me so happy! I have been here for three years, and to see the girls who are now doing really well, it makes me so happy, like Manuela [Frey, EML 2011]. It’s like, that’s my girl! I feel like their mother, knowing I taught them! [laughs] Of course they have their own style, but I feel very proud!