Last week, Daria Strokous, top model, FU artistic director-at-large, and self-proclaimed "cinema dork" jetted to the French Riviera where she dove into the whirlwind glamour of the Cannes International Film Festival. After walking the red carpet and starring in the amfAR gala’s annual fashion show, Strokous penned an immersive account of her star-studded, diamond-drenched trip to the French Riviera. Experience Cannes through her eyes below, exclusively on Fashion Unfiltered.
The past 12 days were all about the Cannes film festival. The city filled up with black cars, the streets were flooded with paparazzi, and everywhere you looked, there were wandering tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of a celebrity. The famous Hôtel Martinez looked like a beehive—there were people swirling around with packages, garment bags, and suitcases, photographers camped outside, actors rushing out the door, security watching their every move, and agents circling on the restaurant patio, looking for opportunities and fresh gossip.
I’m a sucker for the glam of the good old days, so when I go to Cannes, I always have the most naive hopes. I think I will walk down Le Croisette, have a glass of rosé at the beach, and in the evening, I will casually join the glamorous crowd in my beautiful gown, mingle, meet movie stars and screenwriters, and dance ’till dawn. And to some extent, that is the case. Except, in reality, I arrive from the airport to the Martinez at almost 4 PM, and have to be on the red carpet for the premiere of Jeff Nichols’ Loving by 6 PM. So I run upstairs to my room, where my team is already on standby with a selection of dresses. I pick the dress, but it needs alterations, so while my makeup artist and hair stylist prep me, two seamstresses are sitting on my bed, rushing to finish it in 30 minutes. Meanwhile, my two agents are standing in the corner, typing miles of emails on their phones, and my stylist is running in and out of the room with new shoe and clutch options. When I’m ready, we head to the lobby. Finishing touches of makeup are done in the elevator, and my agents have to run down the stairs because the elevator is too tight and my dress is too big for anyone else to get in. Next, I get in the car and what would normally be a ten-minute walk becomes 45 minutes of traffic. So as my agent tries not to have a heart attack next to me, I am trying not to sweat off my makeup, and not to breathe in my beautiful and properly tight Zuhair Murad gown, which is embroidered with stars and constellations. Truly a Cinderella moment—next time, I think I’ll use a pumpkin instead of a Mercedes.
The car stops and the door opens to the red carpet. I am instantly submerged in an ocean of music, screaming photographers, cheering fans, and camera flashes. Time stops. The feeling of being on the Cannes red carpet is truly remarkable. It is at once the most exciting and most frightening experience. You walk between two giant walls of photographers and there is nowhere to hide. They catch your every move and they all demand attention by yelling your name so loud that your heart stops. I give every star big credit for walking the carpet so often—you all have nerves of steel!
After the premiere, I return to the Martinez. But the night has only just begun. When I get to my room, my team is there, ready for the next event. I scan the room service menu while my makeup and hair is being changed, my stylist is steaming the next dress in the bathroom, and my agents are in the corner on their phones, dealing with fashion drama. It goes on like that for three days—fittings, makeup, hair, meetings, lunch, dinner, white dress, blue dress (Prada! I don’t want to take it off! I need more time in it, please.), elevator, car, photo call, Diana Ross, dancing, sleeping, and again…
By Tuesday, the models start arriving. Every year, the most beautiful women come to Cannes for the amfAR gala, where they help auction off a collection of clothes during a fashion show that’s curated by Carine Roitfeld. Suddenly, I feel the lobby of the Martinez has become more familiar—tall nymphs float all around.
At noon on the day of the amfAR gala, I feel like I am at a high school reunion. Dozens of cars bring the girls to the show space for rehearsal. Some of us haven’t seen each other for over a year, so we do sound exactly like a class of 32 schoolgirls on the day of a field trip. Alexander Werz [of Karla Otto] is trying to calm us down and explain what we have to do in the show. Good luck to him or anyone else who tries to quiet us now.
Next is the rehearsal. I get a spot right in the middle, all the way up on the top platform. I am flattered, of course, but also feeling a bit nauseous from the sudden responsibility of being the central act. On a level below me, right in the middle of the stage, is Natasha Poly. She, of course, smiles at me with the lightness and grace of a queen—she shows no signs of being shaken. She has those nerves of steel.
A few hours after the rehearsal, we all pile into a room at the Eden-Roc restaurant. Everyone flocks to the makeup and hair tables, the production team is getting sweaty and pale, staring at the clock while the girls are taking their time changing lipstick colors and asking each other which earrings go better with their dresses. There are vans waiting outside to take the models to the main event, and every five minutes, a new group of drop dead gorgeous ladies is delivered right to the red carpet. (They skip the line of other cars, of course.) Finally, it’s time to relax. Enjoying the most magnificent view and some much-needed cocktails, the girls are floating among the other guests, but when everyone begins to take their seats for dinner, we are called backstage.
And so it begins.
As we all get dressed and touch up our makeup, some of us go to the Harry Winston tent to receive our jewelry for the show. I am wearing a ring worth almost 3 million dollars, as well as earrings and a bracelet, both of which are a mere half-a-million-and-change. While the guests of the gala enjoy their appetizers and a live auction inside the tent, 32 diamond-covered nymphs in beautiful silver outfits have their own party in a cloud of smoke and champagne under the strict watch of bodyguards (for the jewelry, not the girls).
When it’s time for the show, we are more than ready. Unlike the jaded fashion week audience, this crowd is truly ecstatic. The guys are lined up right in front of the stage, clapping, and everyone else is standing around their tables cheering as the girls dance up and down the runway. We did a pretty great job selling the collection, if I do say so myself, and the night felt like a bit of a flashback to simpler times, when fashion shows were fun; when we were beautiful girls with no agenda, drinking champagne backstage and rocking the runway; when we didn’t have an army of agents and stylists around us at all times; and when we were there because we are beautiful and fun, too, not just because we have followers on social media, or are great marketing machines that fashion brands can use to sell clothes.
After the amfAR gala, there is peace. Some girls leave early in the morning, some go on to enjoy the beautiful weather on the beach. I return all the borrowed dresses and jewelry, see my agents off to Paris, and sit in the cafe of the Martinez, quietly watching as the beehive dissolves. At last, I feel the glamour of the old days around me. I think about how Tippi Hedren might have sat right here, at this very table, the morning after the premiere of The Birds, having her coffee and replaying the events of previous evening, thinking of that lipstick she lost at a party, or how her head hurt after all that champagne. And the cinema dork in me rejoices.