Drum roll, please.... And the winners of BBW's 1999 Model Search are.... Stella Ademiluyi, Barbie Pallo, Monique Porter and Lisa Spera! Spending five days in beautiful San Francisco, BBW's four winners were pampered, entertained and shown the best of what the city had to offer. Join us for an insider's glimpse into BBW's event of the year.
Ever since getting the call from BBW's office telling her she was a 1999 Model Search winner, Barbie Pallo was on Cloud Nine. She even left the message on her answering machine, and would play it from time to time to remind herself that, soon, she would be winging her way to San Francisco.
Likewise, Lisa Spera was excited, but it was her husband who was so thrilled that he called all their friends to exclaim that she'd been named a winner. Lisa's father was a tad bit wary, though, thinking that an all-expenses-paid five-day trip to the West Coast was too good to be true and harboring suspicions that perhaps BBW would kidnap his daughter.
Monique Porter, on the other hand, knew that she was going to win, as she had sought the guidance of a prophetess, who told her - long before she received "The Call" - to go ahead and pack her bags.
For Stella Ademiluyi, the third time was a charm, as she hadn't won the two previous BBW Model Searches she had entered. Her mom was her biggest cheerleader, and knew that she'd have a great time.
While we should thank our lucky stars that winter storms didn't close any airports this January day, there were some delays as Lisa made her way to San Francisco from Baltimore, Monique traveled from Chicago, Barbie cruised in from Columbus and Stella hopped north from L.A. As the minutes ticked by, Malia Irby and her crew of greeters waited anxiously at the airport terminals, checking ever-changing arrival times and juggling the bouquets of flowers that would welcome BBW's Model Search winners to the City by the Bay.
Lisa, the first to arrive, was whisked to the Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf in a white stretch limo, courtesy of Pacific Limousine, where she was met by BBW's publisher, Lisa Krebs, and Editor-in-Chief Sally Smith. Within a few hours, Monique, Stella and Barbie arrived. Although they were tired from their journeys, we were all eager to begin our adventure.
Quick Change Artists
The first stop on our San Francisco journey was Suite 424 at the Hyatt, which would become our home away from home for the next five days. The BBW crew had converted the hotel room into a fitting room, with racks of clothes, mirrors, a steamer and all the accoutrements needed for a fashion photo shoot.
After noshing on wonderful deli sandwiches, coleslaw and potato salad from Max's Opera CafÈ, it was time to go to work. Lisa Krebs and Sally Smith, along with the indispensable Marla Cooper, got the assembly line rolling, and the four winners began trying on outfits being considered for inclusion in Friday's photo shoot. Clothes were flying and laughter filled the room as outfits went on, were given a yea or nay, and taken off again. Sally was frantically tagging the outfits with color-coded tags, so later it could be determined which outfits looked best on whom. Malia and local model Christina Diaz were grabbing the clothes that were thrown at them and re-hanging them, while every now and then there would be heard a cry of "I'm naked again!" meaning one of the winners needed another outfit to try on.
By 10:00 p.m., the fitting room was in a shambles, and we were happily exhausted and ready for bed.
It was time to rise and shine, as the limousine arrived to take us to breakfast at the quaint Sears Fine Foods near Union Square. After a hearty meal, we were whisked off to Mister Lee Spa and Salon, where the four winners experienced what the spa calls "One Perfect Day." And perfect it was, including everything from massage and body scrub to manicure and pedicure, as well as hair and make-up - all in a beautiful Egyptian environment that makes you feel like Cleopatra. Mister Lee's is an experience every visitor to San Francisco should have on her itinerary.
Seven long, luxurious hours later, the four relaxed, radiant models were back in Suite 424, raving about their day. We all laughed hysterically about Stella's experience with the Hydro Tub, when the jet hose flew out of the water and flailed wildly in the air, spraying water everywhere. The mental picture of a buck-naked Stella screaming while the attendant tried to catch the hose had us all doubled over in laughter.
While all agreed that the day was terrific, Lisa Spera called it "the gem of the year," while acknowledging that "it was weird to have a lady that followed me around and rubbed sea salts all over me. I just told myself, 'This is California, people do this everyday. People have sea salt rubs every few hours here. This is perfectly natural.'"
After running back to our rooms for a quick change, we met in the lobby and strolled down to The Cannery at Fisherman's Wharf, where we had dinner at Belle Roux, a Louisiana Kitchen extraordinaire. Between bites of crawfish cakes and other delectables, we entertained ourselves with the jar of crayons on the table and doing silly things with the Mardi Gras masks on the walls and positioning the crawfish that came with one of our appetizers.
The merrymaking was far from over, as we went next door to Cobbs Comedy Club and were entertained by emcee Dan Rothenberg and comedians Wendy Liebman and Scott Silverman. The highlight of our evening was when everyone got on stage with Scott and caused a mini-riot of laughter. Everybody in our party was relaxed, and we were glad to have the chance to learn more about one another.
Upon our return, after making our obligatory stop in Suite 424, we were off to bed for the big day Friday - the fashion photo shoot.
The Big One
Noah's bagels, shmears, fruit and plenty of coffee were waiting for us in Suite 424 at 8:00 a.m. This was our big day, and an air of excitement and nervous anticipation filled the room. While Kamla Greer was doing preliminary make-up on the models, the BBW Team was packing up and moving out to Golden Gate Park, the photo shoot location.
The next eight hours passed in a blur as scene after scene was set and roll after roll of film was shot by photographer Chris Conroy and his wonderful team. Thank goodness for Malia's crew, who acted as dressers, caterers, gofers and willing-to-do-anything helpers. After an hour or so, the models were acting like old pros, knowing to stop in front of Marla for accessories, standing at attention in front of Kamla for hair and make-up modifications, and having their shoes dispensed by Malia. Within a couple more hours, the models were forgoing the restroom-cum-change room altogether, deciding that it was just easier to change in front of the clothing racks outdoors. Throughout the day, they were all troupers, and it was one of the smoothest shoots ever.
Since her arrival, Stella had been craving ice cream, so on the way back, Marla had the limo stop at Ben & Jerry's for a scoop or two. The winners had a great time posing for photos while standing up through the sunroof of the limo - or at least they did until Stella got stuck! After getting unstuck amidst gaggles of giggles, it was back to the Hyatt.
Dining in Style
After a long day of work, everyone was bleary-eyed, but we caught our second wind and walked the two blocks to A. Sabella's, one of San Francisco's finest seafood restaurants. Located on the third floor and with glass walls on three sides, A. Sabella's view of Fisherman's Wharf and the San Francisco Bay at night was breathtaking. With impeccable service and exquisite food, the elegant restaurant was just what we needed to unwind.
At the restaurant, we had the opportunity to share our favorite part of our San Francisco adventure thus far (Mister Lee's was a front runner, though some ranked the photo shoot as their favorite). The winners also talked about their families' reactions to their being chosen by BBW and their support in their lives and careers.
After dinner, Malia and her team escorted the models as they tasted San Francisco nightlife. After dancing until 2:00 a.m., everyone headed back to the Hyatt and tumbled into bed.
The Grand Tour
While we didn't have to be up at the crack of dawn, before we knew it, it was 10:00 a.m. and our chartered tour bus was waiting out front. Pat Dohlan, an officer in the San Francisco Tour Guide Guild, did the honors of narrating our four-hour city tour. We all agreed that Pat's incredible breadth of knowledge, and her interesting factoids about the city made this the best tour any of us had ever experienced.
Plus, we got to see all of the sights, from Union Square to City Hall and from Twin Peaks to Pacific Heights. We drove through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean, and to the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw both Chinatowns - the "real" one and the one for tourists, as well as houses that survived the city's 1906 earthquake. We learned about architecture and Alcatraz's prisoners, the flower power of Haight Ashbury, and where to go for the best shopping in the city.
Sea Lions and More
After our tour, we stopped off at Pier 39, the renowned shopping Mecca on Fisherman's Wharf. After grabbing a bite to eat, we went to look at the sea lions that gather at Pier 39 and provide unending entertainment as they argue with each other, dive off piers and vie for the best spot on the planks. Some of us did a bit of shopping - Lisa bought adorable bouclet jackets for her twin four-year-old sons and Monique looked for the perfect souvenir for her dad - and some of us hung out and people-watched. We leisurely made our way back to the hotel and had a bit of time to relax before the evening's entertainment.
An Affair to Remember
Most of us had never been to a tawdry New York Italian wedding, so Tony n' Tina's Wedding at the Cable Car Theatre was quite the experience. Upon setting foot outside the limo, we were harangued by a "caterer" asking us why we were here, when we should be at the church up on the corner. Besides, she shouted, where were the gifts?
For the uninitiated, Tony n' Tina's Wedding is an interactive dinner theater, where the audience members are the wedding guests and the cast members comprise the wedding party, the caterers, and even the priest. Full of high jinks and lowbrow drama, the play is one where you can only expect the unexpected.
Waiting for the church doors to open, we were chatting amiably until a man in a tux strode up the block to us. The groomsman embraced Sally - who had never laid eyes on him - like a long-lost friend.
The scenario only got wackier after the "ceremony." At the "reception," we were having such a great time that we were asked more than once if we were part of the cast, and several other theatergoers said that they wanted to hang out with us.
Throughout the evening, the drama played out. The "priest" got drunk, Tina screamed at her bridesmaid, "You're not maid of honor, you're made of trash!" and Tina's mom and Tony's dad were in the clinch on the sidelines (it turns out they used to date in high school).
In the midst of the shenanigans, Barbie caught the bouquet, and Father Mark anointed himself Lisa's new best friend. Stella was invited to join the groomsmen in the back room, and Monique and the caterer became buddies. Our entire entourage was up there in the conga line and doing the Macarena, with Marla going wild and dancing up a storm.
At the end of the evening, back at the hotel, the day caught up with us and we collapsed on the couches in the lobby before making our way to our rooms.
The Long Goodbye
Waking up on Sunday morning, it was hard to believe that our long-anticipated journey was almost over. Although most of us hadn't known one another before we arrived in San Francisco, the experiences we shared these past four days caused us to form an almost magical bond. When Conrad Blickenstorfer, the president of BBW's parent company, popped in for a surprise visit to meet and congratulate the winners, they joked about entering the Model Search again in 2000, just so we could have a reunion. As groups headed for the airport, there were a few tears, a few laughs and a long, heartfelt goodbye.