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PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Fashion briefly went democratic Thursday as thousands of amateur models, some wearing their own clothes, stalked catwalks in Paris and Berlin in what organizers said was the world's largest fashion show.
Some 4,000 people of all shapes and sizes signed up for the shows, which took place in 50 French cities over the past week and culminated in Thursday's twin mega-show, launched simultaneously in the French and German capitals.
With Paris fashion week in full swing against a backdrop of economic anxiety, organizers from the department store chain Galeries Lafayette said they wanted to bring haute couture's exclusive and glamorous aura to the high street.
"It's our way of democratizing fashion week, of letting as many people as possible join in," a spokeswoman said.
After a crash course in catwalking, hundreds of young women and some men gathered behind Paris' golden-domed Opera house for last minute adjustments to hair and makeup.
As they waited their turn, girls with hair piled high above their heads sat on trunks of equipment as makeup artists from Yves Saint Laurent, the French fashion house, daubed their eyelids and cheeks.
Few had the ultra-thin body type of their professional counterparts.
"The hardest part is keeping a straight face -- I'm not really a model," said Laura Issan, 19, a Parisian fashion-school student who wore a tailored red jacket, black skirt and paillette hair brooch provided by designer Scarlet Roos.
Many in the backstage area said they were art- or fashion-school students trying out their creations in public for the first time. All were selected from a pool of 13,000 online applicants for which the only criterion was an interest in fashion and the desire to walk.
"The fun thing about this is when people come up to you and ask where you got your clothes," said 16-year-old student Marilyn Hampartzounian.
The tiger-stripe blazer she was wearing?
Her own design.