Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 | 2 a.m.
In a crowded suite atop the Palms Place tower, models in various states of undress flit about in a cloud of hairspray and perfume, readying themselves to walk in the evening’s runway show for Las Vegas Fashion Week.
As a male model, 25-year-old Urtreen White has it easier than the women setting their curlers at the table across from him, reclining on a couch in jeans and black tank top pulled over his muscled shoulders.
“Oh, guys get makeup, too! They actually put powder and mascara on me,” he says, laughing and fluttering his eyelashes.
White couldn’t seem more at ease, but he’s got a lot riding on the night and days ahead as he competes in fashion shows with 25 other models for a one-year contract with Las Vegas-based Envy Model Management, an important career step that would provide the self-managed model and fashion photographer with professional resources and exposure — not to mention steady pay — that can’t be obtained on his own.
More than an opportunity for industry bigwigs to mingle and pore over the latest trends, Fashion Week and MAGIC Market Week represent the chance for aspiring local models, photographers and designers to network, showcase their work and pursue important opportunities to advance their careers, including social media campaigns and competitions that offer opportunities for photo shoots and magazine spreads.
Despite all that’s riding on the days ahead, White maintains that he isn’t nervous.
“I’m just happy I’m here,” he said. “I got this.”
It’s a place White would have been hard-pressed to imagine while growing up. Shy and lanky with a thick Louisiana accent, White was teased and bullied by his peers as he hopped from school to school, moving with parents and two brothers more than 40 times because of financial hardships and, as White puts it, “a string of bad luck” that included flooded apartments and zoning changes.
The instability landed White in special ed classes as he struggled with reading, spelling and math. Seeds of insecurity planted in the schoolyard grew to consume him, whether he was reading out loud in the classroom or simply taking his shirt off at a pool party on the weekend.
“I became closed off. I didn’t want to go outside and see people because I was afraid I was going to get made fun of,” White says.
“I think about all those times and I want to prove to myself and others that I’m actually doing something with my life. I want to give back in that way. That’s my goal.”
That drive, fostered by the support of his parents and tutor, eventually led to him reversing his circumstances. White went on to excel in the classroom, even skipping eighth grade. In high school in San Diego, White excelled in both track and football while pursuing his love for theater.
But his family’s continuing financial struggles forced them to relocate to Arizona, and White had to turn down a full scholarship to college in San Diego so he could stay close to his family and help them financially. As White worked two jobs in a fast-food restaurant and a factory, he also began using his camera — a gift from his brother — to help pay the bills with photography gigs, and quickly developed a passion for fashion photography. Combined with his interest in theater and acting, modeling became a natural fit.
As the family’s financial situation stabilized, White began to pursue both fields full time, landing enough shows and shoots to prompt his parents and brother to move to move to Las Vegas in February to support his ambitions.
“Their support has been everything. They go to every show, they help manage my schedule,” White says. “It’s like having another me times three.”
White says Las Vegas is the perfect stepping stone from small-scale fashion world options to the big-city opportunities he’s hungry to take on. Las Vegas’ fashion scene may not have the big names and cutthroat pace of cities like New York and L.A., but the city’s unique culture of nightlife and conventions presents aspiring models and others in the fashion industry lots of opportunities for exposure and ways to pay rent — whether it’s one-off gigs modeling for vendors at a conference or shooting one of the numerous MMA bouts in town.
“You should see my whiteboard at home,” White says of his constantly evolving calendar and schedule. “It’s crazy. I think I have ... seven different jobs in the next week. But that’s how I like it.”
Backstage at the runway in the Palms’ ballroom, the show is running late. A female model teeters by in a bikini and stilettos. Though he’s been awake since 6:45 that morning and anticipates that the evening’s events will keep him up past 2 a.m., White shows no signs of flagging as he leans on a clothing rack, laughing with his peers as they practice their looks and turns for the runway.
Asked if he has a signature walk or move, White doesn’t overthink it: “It’s all about confidence. Personality. I’m just gonna be me.”
After his long road to Las Vegas, that’s one thing he finally has no trouble with.