Sunday, March 20, 2011

SPECIAL EDITION: CATWALK DEBUT A CAKEWALK FOR VANDALIA-BUTLER GRAD


BY BELINDA M. PASCHAL

Modeling is a cakewalk for Alex Katz.

One day, the 22-year-old Daytonian was a Columbia University senior working a side gig as a bartender for private parties; the next, he was strutting his stuff – and a dessert designed by the “Cake Boss” – in a world-renown fashion show. Weeks later, he’s still reeling from the whirlwind of events that took him from student to supermodel.

“I graduate from Vandalia-Butler High School in June 2007. With four duffle bags in hand, I move into my dorm on the Upper West Side of New York,” Katz said. “At the beginning of my senior year, I start bartending to supplement my life in my adoptive, ridiculously expensive new city. I’m hired to pour champagne at a baby shower. I’m asked to walk a fashion runway. I must have missed a step somewhere.”

Three months after working the bar at a baby shower hosted by Kristen Naiman, head fashion designer for the Isaac Mizrahi runway collection, Katz answered the phone to find Naiman’s assistant on the other end. “He asked, ‘We have a small runway show coming up. Would you like to take part?’” Katz said. “I thought he was a satisfied customer calling to schedule another bartending gig, so I agreed.”

But when the assistant started throwing out words like “casting staff” and “fitting,” Katz was flummoxed. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, can you back up? Do you want me to serve drinks or be in the fashion show?’”

As it turned out, Katz was being requested for the latter job, and the “small” runway show was the debut of Mizrahi’s Autumn/Winter Collection during Fashion Week, a celebrity-studded extravaganza hosted semiannually in New York, London, Milan and Paris. This year’s New York event took place February 10-17.

Though Katz was puzzled as to why a self-described “tall, awkward kid with a Jew-fro” would be picked for a major fashion show, he thought, “Why not?” and decided to have fun with it. “I figured it would end up being the best experience ever and make a great story,” he said. “It’s not my dream job, but I had one helluva time!”

Because Fashion Week overlapped with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, Mizrahi chose “Poodles and Cake” as the theme for his show, which featured female models wearing his latest designs while carrying small poodles with matching hairstyles and dye jobs. The male models, including Katz, walked the runway in waiter attire with trays of colorful cakes created by Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., and host of TLC’s “Cake Boss.”

Preparation for the event included Katz’s first-ever manicure and an offer to get a “Brazilian blowout,” which he declined on the grounds that it sounded smutty and/or painful. (It’s a hair-straightening treatment, by the way.) After his curly locks were sufficiently straight, a stylist began putting a wax-like product in Katz’s hair. “When I asked him what he was using, he replied in his gruff English accent, ‘It’s magic is what it is,’” Katz recalled.

That brusque Brit was none other than Eugene Soleiman, who has tamed the tresses of such celebs as Julianna Margulies and Lady Gaga, and created hair fashion for designers including Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, and Alexander McQueen.

Katz also met Mizrahi himself for a New York minute and was pulled aside for a fashion network interview. “The reporter asked me what modeling agency I worked for and I had to honestly respond that I wasn’t a model, but if she’s interested in bartending services, I knew a capable server!” he said.

Most first-time models would fret over remembering their cues and not getting stage fright. However, Katz’s background in theater quelled any anxiety about appearing in front of a large audience. “I’ve been onstage in front of a lot of people before, and I’ve also been in embarrassing costumes,” he said, chuckling.

Instead of worrying about how and when to sashay, saunter or pivot, Katz was more focused on walking, period. “The shoes they gave me had no back to them, so I kept thinking, ‘Don’t lose a shoe!’” Impractical footwear aside, Katz said the prevailing thought during his stroll down the runway was, “Don’t drop the cake!”

Fortunately, the show went off without a hitch, making Katz something of a celebrity in his personal circle. “I thought I might have some female friends who might be excited about it, but I was surprised by how many people knew about it,” he said.

After Katz’s girlfriend, Elena, found a video of the Mizrahi show online and a friend saw his photo in The New York Times’ online review, word spread like wildfire. “There was a formal dance at school that evening,” he recalled. “It was the first time I walked into an event feeling like a star.”

Katz’s brush with “the beautiful people” hasn’t transformed him from a T-shirt and jeans kinda guy into a metrosexual fashionista. “My style is very basic. Outside of a dress suit, I don’t own any casual clothing that’s worth more than $20. I don’t lay out my clothes the night before, I just choose something in the morning and hope it matches!” he said.

“However, I do have a new appreciation for the fashion industry and what they have to go through.”

So, to an already-eclectic résumé that includes working in the NBA store, teaching Hebrew School, tutoring secular studies and bartending, Katz can now add “Supermodel.”