Michele Hicks Reflects On Modeling And Talks Public Morals

As one of my favorite models, Michele Hicks was a fixture on runways and magazines in the nineties before transitioning into acting. I recently caught up with her by phone to discuss modeling, roles for women in TV and her advocacy work.

Let’s start with you living in New York and getting into fashion.

I was in New York working in the night club business before I got into the fashion business.  I worked the door, was a bar tender and then a manager. It was all timing you know. A lot of people in the fashion industry visited the club. People kept telling me I should try modeling. It was the early nineties and the look had changed. My look was more what was happening at that time so I took some pictures and I met with a couple of people and things happened quickly.  At that point I left the night club business.  

Was that when you were introduced to Steven Meisel and the point that your career took off?

Yeah. I went to an agency and there was an agent who took pictures of me and sent them to Steven. They asked me to come in and meet them and once that happened the agency was interested in signing me. My first two shoots were the safe sex campaign with Steven Klein and an Italian Glamour shoot with Steven Meisel.

That seems to be a theme among models I speak to. Once Steven gets into the mix that catapults them into the stratosphere.

I’m not sure how it is right now but definitely during that time.  You know, if he is interested in you and shooting you then everybody else wants to shoot you too. I think it was a catalyst for a lot of people’s careers or at least in taking them to the next level.

Was modeling an aspiration of yours?

I tried to model earlier but my look just wasn’t in fashion at the time. I had to support myself so I didn’t have the option to keep pursuing something that wasn’t fruitful. I wouldn’t say it was a childhood dream, but it was definitely something I was interested in. I was always very interested in fashion, photography and clothes so it was a little aspirational but it didn’t seem realistic because I wasn’t getting any response. I put it on the back burner until people started telling me that I should really do it again.  

At what point did you decide to transition into acting?

That was in the late nineties. I took a bunch of acting courses and intensive workshops to feel it out and see if it was something I was interested in. I  knew I wanted to do something else. I knew I couldn’t model full-time forever. I also felt like I wanted to do something that creatively expressed myself better. L’Wren Scott told me about a script that her friends were trying to produce and said I’d be perfect for it. She told them about me and then I read the script and I was just obsessed with the part. That ended up being my first role. I remember calling my agent in Paris and saying this is what I’m doing next, this is my next career.

Did you have any reservations or concerns about the model-cum-actor label?

I did at first. It’s so different now, I wouldn’t care one bit today because everything is so mixed together. At the time models weren’t doing what actors were as much.  I remember when I first started I stopped modeling because I thought I had to so I could be taken seriously.  It probably wouldn’t have mattered.

What were some of the challenges with your transition into acting?

I didn’t really have too many. I was well known in the fashion business but people outside of the business didn’t know me as a model.  I knew that my career as a model was going to end at some point so I had to make a transition. I have been lucky I have been able to model up until now and I’m forty.  I also think doing other things keeps you interesting.  

It certainly shows you to be a more dynamic individual.  You have taken a lot of calculated risks in your life, one of them being opening a Pilates studio in the late nineties. How does risk factor into your decision-making?

You have to listen to your gut. With Pilates, I felt like it was an opportunity.  There were no Pilates studios downtown and it hadn’t really hit in the media. The timing felt right.  If you believe in something it doesn’t feel as much of a risk. It felt that it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t do it.

Is it a fair assessment to say that you are somebody that trusts their instincts?

Yeah, whenever I don’t trust them it’s always bad. I’m not all calm and zen about it. I trust my instincts but I have the same anxieties that everybody else has. When you put things on the line you don’t know if it’s going to work out.

Let’s go back to acting. You have Public Morals on TNT coming out soon.

Yes, I do. I went to the premiere two days ago. It’s a huge cast of amazing actors. It’s a great part to play too. It’s set in 1960’s New York and there is a division called Public Morals in the police department that deals with vice crimes like gambling, prostitution and all of that.

Tell me about  your character.

I play the wife of a mobster and her son is a cop.

Do you have a preference in terms of working in TV or movies?

Not anymore. Television is just offering so many opportunities, especially for women. A lot of time the characters are more interesting.

Many actors are talking about the lack of roles for older women. Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was too old to play the love interest of an actor twenty years her senior.

I remember that.

You don’t hear it happening to men. I think it’s so absurd to say that a woman is not viable once she hits some arbitrary number.

Did you see the Inside Amy Schumer episode “Last Fuckable Day”?

Yes, I love Amy.

That was really funny.  I’m sorry, I love that skit and what they did.  It’s something that’s not talked about. There are women that are given amazing characters. I think, especially as you get older, that there are more interesting characters on TV for women.

I think there are parallels between modeling and acting.  I interviewed Cameron Russell and one of the things that we discussed was her TED Talk. She talked about the power of image. I think as you age you gain experience, but for women in this industry that’s not valued. They want some ingénue portraying somebody with the experience of a forty-year-old which seems ridiculous.

That always looks ridiculous when they do that though. You see it in their face and in their eyes.  You can’t fake that kind of life experience and wisdom, so I think talented directors don’t do that for the most part. I understand what you are saying but I think that’s where TV and especially cable TV has come in and been able to offer more opportunities.  One of the top dramas on TV is the Good Wife. Julianna Margulies is the lead and she’s in her late forties. Maggie Gyllenhaal was amazing in The Honourable Woman. I think TV is giving women more opportunities and more interesting characters but there is a double standard that has been going on like you said.

Yeah. There is one other thing I want to cover.  I know you are heavily involved with the Treatment Advocacy Group. How did you get involved with them?

You know, it’s a very personal story for me. My brother is schizophrenic so I have seen what that does and how families are affected by that and what kind of support families need to help deal with that.  We are in a situation in this country right now where the whole mental health system has basically been dismantled. Most of our seriously mental ill are either homeless, in prison or have families that are so drained trying to deal with it and it’s appalling. For twenty years I’ve advocated for my brother and tried to get him the services that he needed. The Treatment Advocacy Group are affecting policy change. There are two bills in Congress right now, one in the House and one in the Senate. They are trying to implement some kind of change in the system.

Is part of the work also destigmatizing mental illness?

They are doing a lot of work on that front too. Everybody I know knows somebody or has friends who have a family member that’s dealing with it so it’s pretty widespread. It should be an open conversation and it shouldn’t be something that people stigmatize.

Follow her at @Msmichelehicks

David Smith Reflects On Modeling, Acting And The Virtue of Patience

Chicago, Illinois native David Smith began his modeling career working for power-house brands Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Oscar de la Renta and as the face of Gucci Pour Homme before making the transition into acting.

After taking a step back to re-evaluate, David enrolled at Columbia University. I caught up with him as he reflected on what he’s learned about himself and the sage advice that Patti Smith offered that resonated with him.

Tell us about how you were discovered.

I was discovered by a man named Sebastian McWilliams. I was about 15 at the time and I was on the Chicago Blue Line train on my way to school. Like any teen, I was half asleep at 7:15 a.m. when Sebastian approached me on the train. Sebastian and I became good friends and he was, for many years, a pseudo-parental figure in my life. Sadly, Sebastian passed away in 2007 from AIDS. He is dearly missed by those who knew him.

You were an aspiring actor before modeling. What were your thoughts about side tracking into fashion?

I didn’t know that I wanted to be an actor per se. I had a fascination, or maybe terror is a better word, at the thought of being seen or acknowledged by others. I remember a high school English class where the teacher would make us act out scenes from novels we were reading and recite passages directly from the text. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified by these kinds of classes. When fashion came along I experienced the same emotions only it was in a professional setting and I had people around me, like Sebastian, encouraging me.

What did you discover about yourself through modeling?

I really learned about the world through the lens (please excuse the pun) of modeling. I traveled extensively for the first time in my life and I met people who I wanted to emulate, people who made me uncomfortable, and people with whom I would make life long friendships. I also learned things on the job. I think the “job” of modeling unlocked a more subtle side of myself. To be a good model one has to be present for the camera and ideally somewhat vulnerable. Through modeling I found a more sensitive and perceptive side of myself that I hadn’t yet discovered. I was honestly an awful model and spent a few years in New York and London with little success. Then one day it just clicked. I figured out that if I was perceptive of the clothes I was wearing, the music that was played, the space I was in, then I could find these moods, these other realities that would ultimately make for a better picture. Once I became adept at finding those different moods my interests in acting began to surface again.

What challenges did you face as you transitioned into acting?

My challenges in acting stemmed mostly from my expectations. I had very lofty goals as a beginner and I was quickly brought back down to earth. As a model entering the world of professional acting I found that there was a very specific role, a very specific kind of character that casting directors wanted me to play. Once I understood what they wanted from me I became less and less interested in the process. This is a problem that a lot of actors face, regardless of physical type, but in my case the roles I was consistently asked to audition for didn’t align with my own artistic goals.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

That I’ve been arrested three times, but never did any time!

What are you most passionate about and what motivates you?

I’m going into my senior year at Columbia University so I’m very passionate about the culmination of that experience. After spending close to a decade as a model and an actor I had thought that my chance to go to college had passed. It was something that I really wanted to do, it was important to me and I put the time into making it happen. School has been a huge part of my life the last few years and it’s been a great detour into academia and something that I will never regret. I’m motivated to make the most of the time I have left at Columbia. It’s a rare place where big ideas are always on the table and the students believe they can change the world. That energy is infectious and I’m grateful that I got to experience it.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Just to be patient. When I was in my early twenties I always felt like I had to have the pedal all the way down, that if I wasn’t charging toward something I would never get it. I read a quote by Patti Smith recently that I liked too. She said that you should always protect your name and not worry about money or any of the other stuff, but that if you just protected your name and did good work, everything else would fall into place. I like that.

What are your plans for the future?

School of course, but I’m also putting more energy into modeling again. I’ve been reunited with my old agent at IMG and I’m excited to see what happens. Although I stopped auditioning for acting roles when I started at Columbia, I still hold the belief that the years I spent auditioning and working as an actor were not for naught and that something will emerge to put those skills to use. That being said I’m still trying to live by the advice I would give my younger self: Be patient and protect your name.


Roman Larichev Talks Scouting on Social Media, Advice & Irina Liss

At 20 Roman Larichev started as a freelance photographer. At 22 he became a junior agent at Noah Models in Saint Petersburg, Russia. By the time he was 24, Roman was an agent at Andy Fiord Models working with all the top agencies in Europe and Asia and top Russian clients including Vogue, Interview and Glamour. When he turned 26 Roman became an international male model with a Valentino exclusive and featured in editorials for magazines including Interview.

How did you start in the fashion business?

I started in Russia as a freelance photographer back in 2008. I was always into visual arts and at some point that interest transformed into fashion photography and fashion in general. I was also working as a model internationally.

What made you shift your career from modeling to scouting?

It happened naturally. Shortly after working as an agent, I realized scouting suited me better as it was more creative for me – I loved traveling and meeting different people.

How has being a working model contributed to your work in scouting?

I’m glad I’ve had experiences on both sides.  With that knowledge, I’m more confident and have an understanding of the creative process and what it takes to accomplish. The most important part is the relationships I’ve made and continue to develop in fashion – from magazines, photographers, stylists, creative directors, etc.  Having these relationships with key people in the fashion industry, certainly helps when scouting as there is a lot of credibility and connections for future opportunities.

Russia has produced some of the most beautiful models in the world. How is scouting in Russia different to other markets?

In Russia, usually young girls have no idea how the modeling industry works – a lot of the potential models I met haven’t been exposed to the international fashion market.  It is important to be a good teacher and communicator to help prepare them for top markets like New York, Paris, London and Milan.  Being transparent and honest with the models and their parents about the opportunities and obstacles they may face is key.

What challenges do eastern European models face in foreign markets?

Some of the biggest challenges are language and culture. It really depends on the individual model. Those willing and open to learn, develop and adapt quickly do very well.  For others, it will take longer.

What is the most important thing that you look for in a model?

Nowadays, a good personality is a must.  With a good personality, I find there is passion and an openness to try new things.  The ability to collaborate, communicate and inspire others on a project is an important aspect of being a model.

What are the challenges of scouting in Russia and other Eastern European counties

I don’t view it as a challenge, as I speak fluent Russian and was born into the culture.  For an American or a European who doesn’t speak the language or does not have an understanding of the cultural norms, I imagine it would be more difficult to connect with the clientele.

What are the new trends in scouting?

The biggest trend in scouting is social networking.  You can find undiscovered talent, see their interests and get an authentic sense of their personality.  It is a great tool for scouting.

How do you define beauty?

For me, beauty originates in health and wellness. A person who takes care of themselves physically, mentally and spiritually, radiates from within.

What advice would you give to a model just starting out?

There is a lot of competition in the modeling industry. To be successful these days, it is important be more than just a pretty face.

Who are your fashion icons?

Karen Elson and Agyness Deyn.

What inspires you?

People, modern art and music.

Which new faces do you think we should be looking out for?

Irina Liss had back to back phenomenal show seasons. She is definitely a face to watch and she is Russian!

Introducing Xu Liu

Model Xu Liu had a fascination with the fashion industry but it wasn’t until her mother suggested she enroll in a local modeling school that things took off. With a slew of editorials under her belt and a campaign for Philipp Plein, Xu’s ascent has only just begun.

Tell us how you were discovered.

I have to thank my mum. She believed I would make a great model. When I was 15, she asked me if I would be interested in modeling and learning more about it. I told her yes. I saw models wearing beautiful clothes on television and I wanted to wear beautiful clothes as well even though I didn’t know anything else about the industry at that time.

She sent me to a model school on the weekends. During that time, my modeling teacher encouraged me to attend different contests where I learned a lot by competing. About six months later I won the Elite Model Look in China.

What were the biggest adjustments you made when moving to NY?

Everything has changed! I mean everything. I traveled a lot during the last four years. My life at university was all about packing and unpacking until I graduated last year. It’s my first time moving to a new city and starting a full-time career. Everything is new and unknown to me but I’m excited to see it.

What challenges have you faced thus far in your modeling career?

Balancing modeling and university while learning how to be a great model. Modeling is a job that requires lots of traveling. You never stay in one place. Anyway, I finally did it and I can focus on modeling now.

If you weren’t modeling what would you be doing?

I’d probably go back to university to study another major. Something related to art or fashion.

What are your goals for the future?

I have many goals for different periods of my life. My current goal is to live in New York and model full-time. I am enjoying it and striving to reach my goal.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I am not sure; it could be anything. I’m still learning. Life changes a lot but I would like to be myself. Hopefully, one day, I’ll do something great that makes people surprised and impressed.

Follow her on Instagram

Introducing Nadja Giramata

Rwandan-born model Nadja Giramata fled to France with her family at age five. She later moved to Manchester, England to study English Literature where she was scouted in a local park. This statuesque beauty has starred in campaigns for Topshop and Philipp Plein and graced the cover of ELLE.

You’ve had an interesting life. Tell us about your path into modeling.

I started modelling pretty late compared to others girls. I was already at university and had just moved to Manchester for my language studies and to live with my sister. One day on my way home from university a lady stopped me in Piccadilly Gardens and told me that I should join her agency. By that stage I had dropped the idea of being a model from my mind as I thought it was too late.

Do you think being a model of color has hindered you in any way?

I hope not! In my head when I go to a casting I see myself as a model, not as a model of color. I feel that I have the same chances as the other girls. Even if a client is searching for a brunette or a blonde girl, I can still make him change his mind. I feel like it’s up to me. Of course there are still some diversity issues. The only way to change that, in my humble opinion, is to show them that I am more than capable of doing the work.

If you weren’t modeling what would you be doing?

I would still be studying, as I had already started my language studies and English Literature when I was discovered. I’d also have a part-time job on the side.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given while modeling?

Don’t worry, it will happen at the right time for you. Most of the time I want everything straight away, but everything happens on its own timing. Worrying won’t add any more days to my life.

What are your goals for the future?

I’d like to use my languages for international business.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I am crazy about classical music. I am a big fan of Vivaldi and Chopin. As worldly as I am, I am unable to eat with chopsticks.

Follow her at @GiramataNadja