Fashion and beauty 101 from Nigel Barker and Miss J
LIVIN' & LOVIN' - Tetta Matera () - October 5, 2011 - 12:00am

I had the pleasure of meeting both Nigel Barker and J Alexander, a.k.a. Miss. J, earlier this year when they were featured guests in “Style Origins,” one of Ayala Malls’ lifestyle events. Where Miss J is bubbly, playful and funny, Nigel Barker is calm, cool and collected; but while their demeanor is miles apart, their passion for fashion is clearly one and the same.

Nigel Barker and Miss J are the mainstay judges of the popular show America’s Next Top Model. Prior to their reality TV careers both had been in the fashion industry for decades, initially as models. Nigel was a successful runway and fashion editorial model in Europe, having at one point been the face of Basilé, a renowned Italian fashion brand, while Miss J came to professional modeling via an open casting for a Jean Paul Gaultier show in New York City.

 Model behavior: J. Alexander shows how he became such a hit in Tokyo and Paris.

Their careers as models are long over but their professions as photographer and runway guru, respectively, are at their peak; capitalizing on all their experiences in the fashion industry, they have each written a book that offers a peek into their world, loaded with how-to’s on fashion, beauty and life.

Follow The Model

By J. Alexander

231 pages, Gallery Books

Available at National Book Store

This book traces Miss J’s life, from his birth in the Bronx to his rise to fame with America’s Next Top Model. The seventh of a brood of 10, Miss J had his fashion awakening around sixth grade when he first laid eyes on his mother’s wedding dress in her closet.

He grew up poor but not deprived; his father was a large, quiet man who provided for the family but left much of the day-to-day business of running the household to his formidable wife, Mary Elizabeth Cohen Jenkins. They were always on a budget, so Miss J took a job as a newspaper delivery boy to earn extra money for his early fashion purchases. What he couldn’t buy, he created or re-purposed with the aid of his grandmother’s sewing machine, a godsend for a creative boy with a penchant for fashion.

 Mentor and muse: Miss J and one of his most successful model protégés, Kimora Lee-Simmons

As a young man he found employment in the stockroom of Bergdorf Goodman until his promotion to salesperson in the women’s fashion section. He continued to live in the Bronx at his grandmother’s house but spent most of his time in New York City, moving on to other jobs in fashion and enjoying the crazy nightlife of the Big Apple until one serendipitous afternoon, when he went to a casting for the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show. He got noticed and in a matter of weeks found himself in Tokyo, working as a professional model signed by Elite-Japan. He made a mark with his impressive runway walk and became notorious for his unique look and outlandish fashion sense. Not long after, he traveled to France, booking runway shows for Paris Fashion Week. He fell in love in Paris and stayed on even after his run as a model ended; he found himself giving girls tips on how to project and walk on the runway for free. Elite Model Management top honcho Gerald Marie advised him to take his talent to a professional level and start charging a fee; from that moment on Miss J, the runway guru, was born and the rest, as they say, is history.

Follow the Model is a worthwhile read; it is funny, full of interesting stories, uplifting but more importantly, honest. Miss J is candid about his family’s poverty, his experience with death among family and friends, the challenges, ridicule and sometimes danger he faced as a man of color modeling women’s clothes and being a model mentor. He details his hard-earned rise to the top while always keeping things in perspective. Today, even if he can clearly afford to buy expensive products, he still uses his sewing machine to turn out fashion pieces with his indelible style, keeping things real.

Miss J’s Top 13 Fashion & Life Lessons

Listen to your mother because her ulterior motive is always to make you a better person.

Stay in school because you never know when the random things you learn within the four walls of a classroom are going to apply to your own situation.

Be frugal without being cheap. “I come from a place where I always had to work for what I wanted, so I had to make every cent count and you should, too.”

Don’t be lazy and sit around, moan and whine. Like the Nike ad, just do it!

If you fall, get back up just like when you trip on stage. It doesn’t really hurt so just laugh it off and keep moving.

Take every opportunity even if you don’t think you will be good at it because someone else might see the potential in you that you haven’t realized yet.

Get out of your comfort zone, conquer your fear and make the sacrifice necessary to get where you want to in life.

Don’t resist authority no matter how much you hate your boss; you have to respect him/her because you will need their recommendation for future jobs.

Always be kind to everyone not only because it is basic, but also because you never know whom you will be working for one day; it might be that shop girl you glared at during a day of shopping.

It’s okay to say no, especially when you are tired because you cannot please everybody all the time.

Be aware of your effect on other people and watch what comes out of your mouth, because what you may consider a joke can be offensive or intimidating to others.

Analyze, don’t criticize just because someone seems different; if you come across a person calling someone else names or poking fun at him/her, don’t attack them. Take a step back, educate or guide them towards better understanding.

Set some goals but make sure they don’t become your whole identity or lose yourself in your drive and ambition. Keep things in perspective and aim for balance and harmony in your life.

Beauty Equation

By Nigel Barker

205 pages, Abrams Image, New York

 Pre-photographer days: Nigel Barker shows off his model build.

Available at National Book Store

While Ms. J’s tone is personal and somewhat autobiographical, Nigel Barker’s approach to the topic of beauty in Beauty Equation is formal. In the book, he tackles the elements of beauty by chapter, offering his own personal and professional views, sprinkled with expert advice and personal reflections from the women he has photographed. Each chapter ends with a challenge that encourages the reader to apply the elements discussed, in photographs they are required to take of themselves.

His challenges have quirky, catchy titles like “Casting Call,” “Lights, Camera, Action,” “Oral Assault” and “Skin Deep,” just to name a few, and they are paired with music that helps draw out the elements of beauty in a person in front of the camera. For example, he suggests listening to I’m Every Woman by Chaka Khan, Independent Woman by Destiny’s Child and I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor to build confidence. His book features photographs and anecdotes from beautiful women from different walks of life, including recipients of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a non-profit organization that grants the wishes of sick children.

Making the book interactive is great fun and beneficial if you take the photo-diary challenge to heart.

Essential Elements Of Beauty, According To Nigel Barker

Allure is about that first impression, how a woman walks into a room full of strangers and commands attention by doing little other than smiling.

Confidence is grace under pressure, the transformation of the natural human condition of apprehension about what’s new and different into something positive.

Compassion is that awareness of someone else’s need and instinctively doing anything in one’s power to make that person happier, safer and more secure. Compassion begins with one person and ends with another.

 Making a wish come true: Supermodel Gisele Bündchen strikes a pose with Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Amanda Acala, who wanted to be a model for a day.

Spontaneity is the essence of personal pleasure, the culmination of a development in us that allows us to feel free.

Radiance is the true beauty that comes from within, the outward representation of one’s feelings and attitudes towards issues projected naturally through the face and body language.

Health is the foundation to self-esteem, a positive outlook and body image that all adds up to a feeling of being important or someone who matters, energetic and is loved.

Honesty is the virtue of staying true to oneself, a trait that attracts trustworthiness. According to Barker, “Pretty women may lie but beautiful women always tell the truth.”

Charm is about opening your mouth and using it wisely; it is having a great laugh, learning to engage people with a compelling story, being able to comment in a lively conversation without taking over, knowing about current events, having an opinion but being willing to listen to others and asking questions about things people are introducing you to. In short, it is being interesting and interested at the same time.

 Smile: Fashion designer Betsey Johnson shows off her quirky personality in this photo by Nigel Barker.

Energy is literally what is required of anyone to do something and get anywhere without wasting time. It is a sense of excitement and purpose that allows a person to make their dreams come true and reach the highest peak.

Humor is the ability to laugh but not necessarily be funny, that element that takes the edge off any difficulty. It is a strong medicine to relieve stress, conflict, pain and depression and a natural immune-system booster that releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

While Miss J’s book is an easy, enjoyable read, Nigel Barker’s book is a keeper, one you can browse through time and time again just to make sure you’ve got all your beauty elements up and running. Overall, both books contain practical advice on beauty and life, a healthy dose of reality and tons of fashion magic.

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