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Learning the Power Walk--Hollywood Style

TIMES FASHION WRITER

The lessons were all about power, charisma and seduction. Bubba would have loved it. Dubya could have learned something.

But neither the outgoing nor incoming prez was present at a most unusual Beltway gathering: a model casting call. Dozens of models showed up early Saturday morning in hopes of being one of the 24 on the runway at a luncheon sponsored this week by the California State Society. The social group, composed of Californians living here, traditionally celebrates inaugurations with a luncheon, and this year it will add a Hollywood-style fashion show.

Modeling gigs in the nation’s capital are about as scarce as Bill Clinton will become this weekend after George W. Bush is sworn in.

“This is the power city, and high fashion is not big here,” said Tricia Erickson, owner of the Erickson Agency, who held the model search at her McLean, Va., office. “People, especially in the government, dress very boring here.”

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But fashion is passion for Michael Petock, a high school teacher when he lived in Redondo Beach 10 years ago and who now models when he’s not working at his high-tech job with the military. Modeling comes second for basketball ace Julie Mongerson, who plays forward for the Cougars at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va. The statuesque 6-foot 17-year-old is Erickson’s top model.

Russian exchange student Nadya Shvets-Popova, 20, fell into modeling while studying psychology at George Mason University.

“I was walking on a street in D.C., and someone stopped me and said I should be a model. ‘OK, what should I do?’ ” she recalled asking. She signed up with an agency, even though she has since learned that “this is not a very good market for modeling.”

Amy Wescott, 25, agreed. The mother of 1-year-old Caleb, Wescott is a former contract specialist for the Navy and worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for 18 months before becoming a full-time mom and part-time model. “The jobs are pretty scarce out here, especially for runway,” she said. “But I get enough work to keep it fun.”

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A Modeling Boot Camp

For almost four hours, the models had fun as they schmoozed and watched each other vie for a coveted spot on Thursday’s runway. The men and women also picked up some savvy advice. A conference room at Erickson was turned into a modeling boot camp as three catwalk gurus from L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising auditioned the models.

“We are looking for some real power walks today, so really give it to us,” said fashion consultant and trend analyst Terry Miller Katana, a fast-walking, fast-talking, former model who lives in Burbank. The models here were conservative and uptight like the city--lacking the attitude and polish of the pros in New York and L.A.

“Flash that ‘Take a fast look at me look because, honey, I’m not here very long,’ ” Katana said, directing the models as each took a runway spin. “Flirt with us. This is all about sex appeal. We want catwalk charisma.’ ”

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Anita Rajagopal, 21, with dark brown hair and green eyes, gave it her all, repeatedly walking for the trio, kicking it up a notch each time down the runway, trying to make her arms--not her hips--follow her body, a tip from Katana. “Straighten your shoulders,” advised Mary Stephens, head of FIDM’s fashion design department. Show producer Jim Watterson borrowed advice from the fictionalized Maria Callas in the 1995 Broadway play “Master Class”: “Get a look.”

Rajagopal, a senior studying business at the University of Maryland, appreciated the brief mentoring and support (“There you go, girlfriend!” Katana exclaimed when the wannabe model hit her stride). The advice also was appreciated by Carmen Jones, 29, who works as a graduate programs financial aid advisor at the same university and has modeled twice in Paris.

High school student Mongerson loves modeling, but not more than basketball. She confessed to passing up a modeling job recently in favor of a game. “This is a big deal, to be in this show. It’s historic,” she said after her tryout, wondering when the show would take place. “Thursday,” she was told. “Oh good, I’ve only got a game on Tuesday this week.”

Shaun Pittman, 28, who was born in D.C. and started modeling at age 8, said runway shows are rare in D.C. because “fashion here is so conservative and not as trendy.” Still, that didn’t stop Pittman, who recently modeled in one of the city’s rare big fashion shows--Korean designer Andre Kim’s--from giving Saturday’s casting call a good old college try.

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Paring the List

After the tryouts, at least nine models are high on everyone’s list--and a few more are placed on a backup sheet. Casting appointments continue through today.

But there is one shoo-in: 38-year-old Petock, who modeled a bright purple suit and overcoat created by FIDM’s advanced fashion design graduate, Valentino Mitsui. Mitsui is one of seven student designers whose work will be featured in the show, which is sold out. More than 600 guests, including ambassadors, politicos and local fashionistas, are expected at the Mayflower Hotel.

Petock, who moved to Virginia in 1994 to be near his family after almost 10 years in Southern California, modeled in L.A. fashion shows for Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. He also was the on-air hunk who handed out Emmy trophies for winners Holly Hunter, Candice Bergen and other actresses--at the 1988 telecast.

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“We’re just human coat hangers,” Petock said as he flashed a movie-star grin. “It’s not about the models. It’s about the clothes.”

Talk like that pleases the L.A. squad. As Watterson said, “Make your presence felt. It’s all about making an entrance.”

When Dubya makes his presidential appearance on the inaugural catwalk Saturday, he’d be the wiser to follow that advice.


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