Articles

Life’s a Pose To Sonia

A gangling beanpole at 16, glamourous Sonia Such is now Canada’s model queen. There’s no wolf at her door, or in her parlor

MCKENZIE PORTER April 15 1949
Articles

Life’s a Pose To Sonia

A gangling beanpole at 16, glamourous Sonia Such is now Canada’s model queen. There’s no wolf at her door, or in her parlor

MCKENZIE PORTER April 15 1949

Life’s a Pose To Sonia

Articles

A gangling beanpole at 16, glamourous Sonia Such is now Canada’s model queen. There’s no wolf at her door, or in her parlor

MCKENZIE PORTER

FOUR years ago when she was 16 Sonia Such got sick of other kids grinning at her and asking "Is it cold up there?" Boys wouldn't

dance with her because she made them look like midgets. Standing five feet nine in socks, she soared to six feet in spike heels. At the same time she was so slim she had trouble telling whether she had a backache or stomach ache. She thought seriously of entering a nunnery.

Then, at a dance in Toronto, a woman fashion writer said to her: “Ever thought of modeling?”

“Who, me!” cried the unhappy Sonia.

“Yes,” said the writer, “you ought to.”

A year later Canadian advertising men commended a full-page glossy picture in Mayfair of Sonia wearing an ethereal bridal gown.

Today, at 20, the girl who once thought of herself asa human Hagpole has the poise of an acknowledged beauty, wears more creations of Christian Dior, Norman Hartnell and Hattie Carnegie than the Duchess of Windsor, and can earn $300 a week during the busiest seasons.

In four years Sonia Such has been transformed from a gawky, awkward, Ontario country girl into Canada’s top-ranking model.

By posing for advertisements before commercial photographers, walking the runway at fashion shows, and singing with a band she earned more than $8,000 last year and expects to make $10,000 this year. Taxis, hairdressers, masseurs, manicurists, cosmetics and an extensive, ever-changing wardrobe will soak up about 25% of her income.

Sonia is paid $7.50 an hour against the usual model’s $5 for photographic work. The engagements are sporadic. During the busy spring and fall

she gets in an average of four hours a day. In the slack months of January and February, July and August, she averages about four hours a week. Over-all she makes about $100 a week out of photography.

She is paid between $15 and $25 for a small fashion parade before an audience. The busy seasons are again spring and fall when she is engaged almost every day. For each of the six big shows a year she receives $100. During the two coldest winter months and two hottest summer months shows are reduced to one or twTo a week. It works out at about $50 a week all the year round.

For singing with a dance band her fee is between $10 and $20 an evening, according to the importance of the occasion. Here again January and February are the thinnest months. Summer remains pretty fat because she goes out to the Ontario resorts. Sonia reckons a yearly average of $35 a week out of singing.

This gives her a total income of about $185 a week less expenses.

Last year she had only five “nil days”—working days when she did not have a single engagement.

“Haven’t We Met Before?’’

THERE are about 80 full-time models in Canada, the majority being concentrated in Montreal and Toronto. There are also sizeable groups in Winnipeg and Vancouver. The average full-time model earns around $100 a week. There are, of course, many part-time models—men, children and matrons—whose work is irregular, but occasionally well-paid.

Suitable girls are hard to find. “We could do with at least a dozen more in Toronto,” says Ken Bell, of Rice and Bell, commercial photographers, for whom Sonia Such works.

Aware of this, two new model schools opened in Toronto last year. It is not always the schools, however, which provide the best models. “A model has to have something inside her that a school cannot give,” says Bell. “Schooling can improve her talent. But if she’s not a natural model it is no good a girl bothering to pay school fees.”

A natural model is hard to define. She’s not necessarily beautiful, though she must have a slender figure. With this she’s got to have what is generally called “class.” Above all, she needs a bright imagination and some of the qualities of an actress.

Sonia’s face is so familiar to magazine readers that strangers are always asking her “Haven’t we met somewhere before?” Window shopping along the elegant stretch of Toronto’s Bloor Street Sonia resembles some young sophisticate straight from Knightsbridge, Fifth Avenue or the Rue de la Paix.

Many people take her for an actress or the spoiled daughter of a tycoon. But people in “the rag trade”—as the dress business is known—spot

her for a model at once. Sonia’s giveaway is a crocodile-skin hat box which she carries everywhere.

The big hat box is the hallmark of all models. In this Sonia keeps an assortment of shoes, stockings and handbags to go with the dozen different coats, suits and gowns she is called upon to wear every working day.

Sonia was born with one face—but she gave herself another. Her true face is a neat oval with fine lips, a puckish nose and shy brown eyes that went well with seersucker frocks when she was teaching country Sunday-school kids in her early teens. Her professional face is that of a high-life siren, with a seductive carmine mouth set in milky cheeks and a hint of mystery in the Mongolian upswing of penciled brows over sleepy, shaded eyelids.

“The fashion houses like me to suggest the Oriental,” she says. “I am at my best when wearing something dramatic.”

It was in clothes that Sonia found assurance. A few years back she was so self-conscious that, while playing the piano on a school stage she stopped halfway through her piece and fled. Yet recently at a fashion show she created such a sensation with her finished demonstration of a ravishing Chinese negligee that she moved an unknown admirer to send her a note misquoting Herrick thus:

“When in silks my Sonia goes,

Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows

The liquefaction of her clothes.”

Sonia was brought up in Brigden, a small community near Sarnia, Western Ontario. Her father worked for a Continued on next page

Continued from preceding page dairy. He emigrated from Lincolnshire, England, before World War I, went back to France with the Canadian infantry, and brought a war bride back from Hull, Yorkshire. During World War 11 he was a flight-lieutenant in the RCAF, stationed throughout in Toronto. He brought his family to the city.

Although the Suchs are Anglicans, the lanky Sonin, youngest of three children, was sent, to I/orelto, a Toronto Roman Catholic school.

Faces in a Mirror

She was still a student at Loretto when she w’us advised to try modeling. Her parents were ready to accede to anything which would got her out of those Tall Girl Blues. They sent her to the .John Burnand model school and agency on Grosvenor Street, Toronto.

At first Sonia was all elbows, kneecaps and shins. But after walking around with books on her head for six months she developed grace.

At 17 she had the proportions she displays today. Height, 5 ft. 9 in.; weight, 120 lb.; bust, 34; waist, 24; hips, 34. Many women dream of measurements like these. Sonia’s unusual height is all in her long, slender legs.

For homework the school gave her an hour of walking up and down stairs and an hour of pulling faces at herself in a mirror. Her mother kept her fingers crossed as Sonia practiced walking downstairs with the best family vast* on her head.

She set herself exercises in facial expressions three registrations of surprise; three of hauteur; three of joy; three of contempt; three of false* charm; three of desire and so on. In her enthusiasm she occasionally frightened herself.

Though it appears easy, modeling calls for a high degree of artistry and imposes severe physical strain. The aura of glamour a model gives to a garment, is often contrived during Wearisome hours of repetitive work.

At 10 o’clock on a typical morning Sonia reports to Rice and Bell’s studio on Toronto’s King Street. 'Phis looks something like a film set. There are huge arc lights standing around and the floor is strewn with thick cables. Props for various pictures an odd tree trunk, a Grecian pedestal, a buggy w'heel lean against the walls. In the centre of the room is a dais against a blue backdrop, and facing this is an enormous camera.

While the photographer arranges his lighting Sonia goes to the dressing room. Here she sees the garment she is to model for an advertisement. Today it is an ermine coat. She walks around it and studies it on the hanger.

Sonia puts the coat on and begins to walk up and down, getting the feel of it. Occasionally she halts in front of a full-length mirror, striking various attitudes, experimenting with different expressions and gradually slipping into the mood of the luxurious fur.

She tries on several different pairs of shoes, rearranges her hair, changes her earrings, and when she feels ready goes out and mounts the dais.

Here she plays a part. She thinks of herself as a beautiful, elegant and proud woman, standing in a .theatre foyer on a first night. She swings and turns on the dais. An assistant brushes the coat smooth and tucks in a wisp of her hair.

The maker’s representative who is there asks her to make sure she shows off the collar. The photographer asks her to keep well to the right so that he can get a striking cast of light on her

face. A threefold conflict of interest has to be settled. The furrier wants the collar emphasized. The photographer wants an artistic picture. And Sonia wants to look her best.

And so Sonia strikes pose after pose,* fluttering her hand toward the collar, now looking up as if she had seen a vision, now casting her eyes down demurely, now flashing a disturbing smile. Suddenly she feels she has got it. She freezes.

“Hold that!” cries the photographer —and he shoots.

If magazine readers knew the truth behind many exotic advertisement photographs they would be amused. Sonia, for example, is so slender she has shown off the front view of an evening gown with a row of clothes pegs nipping in the fullness at the back. She has modeled hats while wearing an old blouse* back to front because she discovered it gave her a cute neckline if the camera did not look too low. Offen she has modeled blouses while wearing the most unsuitable skirts concealed under a table or behind a chair.

When posing with male models she takes off her shoes and stands in stocking feet— if the gown is long enough— to help him look taller.

Advertising photos have to be taken well ahead of the season for which the garment is designed. Thus Sonia has worn a heavy Persian lamb coat in August among University of Toronto buildings while wisecracking students looked on. She has posed outside for an hour in a thin spring suit in subzero wea ther.

An average fashion show is the type given to some trades club luncheon when members bring wives and guests. The runway is built out from a stage down through the centre of the dining tables. An amplified record player or a small band plays romantic music. The air is heavy with cigar smoke. A woman commentator is on the stage

pointing out the features of the gar menis.

Sonia sways from the wings onto the stage, looking like the heroine in a Noel Coward play. She takes a few turns round the stage, making graceful tracery with a cigarette in a long holder. Then she steps out onto the runway in time to the music.

The commentator intones: “This

hostess gown is one of the most glamourous ensembles of the season. It is in wine silk velvet cut on princess lines. You will observe the paillette trim on the slash hip pockets.”

As the commentator draws attention to the pockets, Sonia swings, momentarily pocketing her hand, and suddenly breaking out of an expression of dreamy abstraction into a dazzling smile. This illustration of a special attraction is known as “a pointer.”

Halfway back up the runway she meets the next model coming down. Each gives a slight nod and a signal with her eyes. At once both turn their backs on each other, deftly, graciously, and move away in opposite directions.

Once behind the scenes there is nothing graceful about Sonia’s movements. She picks up her skirts kneehigh and scampers to the dressing room like a timid housewife who has seen a mouse.

Here is her “bunker”—a large box with many compartments each containing a rig-out she is scheduled to wear. A dresser helps her with the quick change. There is a frantic scrabbling with tiny buttons, domes and zippers. Hooks and eyes almost make* them roar with anxiety. The “doing-up” often continues during a scurry back to the wings and ends at the precise moment Sonia steps into the limelight, cool and calm, while the dresser almost swoons into the arms of the stage electrician.

On the* runway she moves quickly, gaily, in sports clothes and jaunty suits;

languorously in more formal attire. Colors, too, determine her bearing. In general she walks faster, with short steps, in bright colors to make their brilliance scintillate, and dreamily in pastel shades.

There is a bit of jealousy among models, Sonia says, but it is not as severe as might be imagined. Most girls try to type themselves and keep themselves different from their competitors.

It is only during recent weeks that Sonia Such has become the acknowledged star of Canadian models. She was runner-up for two years to Liz Benn, a Toronto model who spent half her time in New York and earned $600 a week. Last December Liz Benn married a wealthy British socialite, settled in Jamaica, and left the ephemeral crown of the Canadian runway to Sonia.

After a fashion show Sonia often has to dash off to sing with Benny Louis’ dance band. Most of the fandangos at which she appears seem to be collegiate, club ar.d firms’ affairs. She appears twice weekly steadily, however, at Toronto’s dry Casa Loma, popular with the younger set. She sang for a season at the streamlined Brant Inn on the lakeshore highway near Hamilton, Ont.

Sonia seems to satisfy her mooning audience with sentimental numbers in a husky, adolescent yearning voice that somehow does not go with her appearance. Of course, when she sits smiling among the band she is a splendid decoration.

Benny Louis will not be drawn into discussion about Sonia’s singing beyond saying: “She is improving all the time.”

Sonia knows a couple of models who have lost their engagements through not being careful about the kind of company they kept. By giving nobody anything to talk about she has fared well up to now. Certainly she has little time for anything but work.

One of Sonia’s complaints: “I hardly ever get a chance to go out and enjoy myself like other girls. I have to stick to making money because I have plans for the future.”

Her Career Is Mapped

Sonia has a regular boy friend, a young man with a good job in a finance company. He often drives her to and from evening engagements, but sees little of her. Sonia is not contemplating marriage “for a long time.” Her boy friend says he is prepared to wait.

On Sundays her boy friend drives her out to Newmarket, 27 miles north of Toronto, where her parents have a pretty five-room cottage. Mr. Such now has a job in the Veterans’ Land Act administration out there.

Mrs. Such, who is as slim and tall as Sonia, and was obviously once equally attractive, is a skilled seamstress who makes most of her daughter’s clothes.

The Suchs have noticed at week ends that Sonia is often tired, sometimes a little petulant, and they worry. They are proud she makes a lot more money than her father, yet would like her to go easy.

Sonia, however, is driven by ambition. She wants an exclusive gown shop of her own before she is 30. Maybe she will try out in New York for a couple of years, where models can earn $25 an hour.

She will probably succeed. Sonia has the outlook of a democrat and the tastes of an aristocrat—the formula for a second Schiaparelli or a Maggie Rouf.

Whatever happens, she will never again try to minimize her height. In fact she falls for hats with flowers on top that add at least six inches. ★