How ‘Gucci Girl’ Georgina Grenville Went From Farm Life To The Fab Life

From a small town in South Africa to the pages of Vogue, Georgina Grenville was the archetypal blonde bombshell during Tom Ford’s tenure at Gucci. During the period in fashion where quirky, off-kilter looks dominated runways and magazines, Georgina’s classic beauty offered a refreshing respite. Although she has scaled back on modeling to focus on family life, Georgina is still very much in demand. I spoke with her via email at her home in Paris.

Tell us about your childhood growing up in South Africa.

I had a very simple, “normal” upbringing in South Africa. I was born on a farm in the Eastern Cape that is close to a town called Kokstad, which at the time was a small farming community. I was born before the end of apartheid to liberal British parents who decided to farm in South Africa instead of staying in Kenya, where boarding schools would have been a must. I have two brothers, and I was the piggy-in-the-middle but have none of the middle child complex. Being the only girl, I was in a pretty privileged position. My brothers and I were, and still are, very close. When I was about 5 years old, we moved from the farm to the city.

Durban was a great city to grow up in. It’s on the Indian Ocean, and I spent most of my childhood on the beach. It’s a small city, and as youngsters we all had a lot of freedom. Being a model was never really an ambition of mine. As a child, I wanted to be a nurse, then a teacher, and then a race car driver. I never felt pretty, and I don’t think anyone put money on me growing up and becoming a model. I was awkward and quite shy.

When I was about 13, my mum decided to enroll me in a modeling school. It probably took some nagging on my part. She did it mainly as a way for me to have some fun, but also to help me feel more comfortable in my skin. At the school they taught us how to apply makeup and walk on a runway. The course culminated in a competition that I won, and that was the beginning of a long career in modeling for me.

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You won the South African round of Elite Model Look. How did your career take shape after that?

The big competition I won in South Africa was called Rooi Rose Supermodel of the Year. It was actually the idea of the owner of the modeling school, Leigh Downing, that I enter. When I entered, I never in a million years thought that I could win it. At just 14 years old, I was the youngest competitor, and then I went on to be the youngest winner of that competition, which was televised live. I won that competition in 1990, and in 1991 I flew home to crown Charlize Theron.

I remember crying my eyes out the night before the finals because I was still battling how to walk in high heels. I spent hours walking up and down the hotel corridors trying to master a walk. I was crowned Supermodel of the Year the next evening.

It was all pretty amazing stuff for a little girl from Kokstad. To be honest, I still pinch myself from time to time to make sure I am not dreaming. Part of the prize was to go on to the international part of the competition and compete with girls from all around the world. This part of the competition was in Ravello, Italy on the Amalfi Coast. On the way there I did my first real photo shoot in Rome for Rooi Rose magazine, the sponsor of the competition.

All in all, it was an incredible experience, and I ended up being a runner-up in the international competition. By the way, it wasn’t the Elite Competition but one organized by Why Not Model Management, Milan. The next stop after that was Milan, where I was expecting to be signed by Why Not Model Management. I was still 14, and although my parents did not come with me, I had support in the form of five other South African girls and our managers/chaperones, Gianfranco and Roberto. They had an apartment set up for us and were in charge of making sure we got signed to an agency.

Why Not Model Management never signed me, which was my first experience with rejection in the fashion world and was pretty hardcore for baby me, but it also led me to some good luck. The good luck came in the form of an older Italian lady named Marcella who had a small modeling agency called Marcellas’ Studio. She was wonderful, supportive, and protective. She took me on the very same day I was rejected by Why Not Model Management.

My modeling career began with me traipsing around Milan doing go-sees and castings. You have to remember that back then we had no cell phones, so I spent a lot of time staring at maps and trying to get from point A to B on various forms of public transport. I remember plucking up the courage to call my booker for the first time. I had no previous experience with adults apart from friends’ parents and teachers, so when I called I was very formal and asked to speak to Ms. Whatever-Her-Last-Name-Was and made the whole booking table laugh. I was mortified. I was very formal as I had never called an adult by their first name before.

It was an amazing and fun time in my life. It was the end of 1990 and I was 15 and living it up in Milan. I went out too much, and Hollywood and Lizard—the trendy clubs at the time—were second homes to me. Having fun was a huge priority for me back then. I obviously had to do some pretty quick growing up, but overall I was lucky and things went well for me. I wasn’t doing anything incredible workwise, but I was making enough money to support myself. Mainly, I shot catalogs and quite a lot of bridal wear, which is crazy considering my age at the time.

I also met some amazing people. The first stylist to really take me under her wing was a woman named Lucia Rafaelli. At the time she was working for Lei magazine, but before that she was at Vogue Italia. She was an incredible stylist and a great teacher, and I’ll always be grateful to her because she was one of the first to believe in me. Through her, I met Barry Lategan and Alex Chatelaine, both wonderful photographers and interesting people.

I also met and became friends with photographer Aldo Fallai and had the luck and pleasure to shoot a lot with him. These people were my teachers and friends, and I believe I was lucky to have met them as they all played a hand in creating this amazing career for me.

How did you deal with the isolation of being in New York so far away from family and home?

I spent about 3 years building my portfolio between Milan and Paris. There were times that were difficult, but I think that because of my age I was resilient and never took anything too hard. Milan was my happy place and Paris was more difficult, which is funny now, considering Paris is where I settled.

After those 2 years I began to set my sights on New York City and got there via Tokyo. Tokyo at the time was a great place to go and work. I managed to make enough money in 3 months to get me to New York. At this point, I had also changed agencies in Milan and was now represented by Fashion Model Management, who set me up with Faith Kates at Next Models. There I was at the end of 1994, the little girl from Durban, SA, feeling all grown up and on top of the world in New York City.

From then on, things happened pretty fast. A chance encounter with Tom Pecheux in a NY restaurant led to a meeting with Mario Testino and shooting an early BCBG campaign. Another chance meeting with Enrique Badulescu led to a shoot for French Vogue, still a favorite of mine. I had already shot a story with Steven Meisel and Joe McKenna for Italian Vogue around the same time. All these little things added up to the beginning of a really amazing part of my life. Meeting these three photographers was one of the most important events of my professional life.

Then there was also meeting Tom Ford, which was the thing that really turned my career into something extraordinary. Being the Gucci Girl was what brought me the most opportunities. I also was lucky to enjoy the support of both Liz Tilbiris and Anna Wintour. I regret that, because of my youth, I never fully appreciated the opportunities while I had them. I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, I just regret not taking more advantage of the position I was in.

I battled with loneliness throughout that time. It was a lonely life, mainly because of the travel and hours. Even though I was surrounded by people most of the time, I didn’t always deal well with things and at a certain point I ran away from everything. I needed to.

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Who were the greatest influences on your career in the beginning?

The greatest influences on my early career were all the people I mentioned above. I also had a great friend and wonderful agent named David Milosovich, and we worked together throughout my career. He put up with a lot but always remained true and real, as well as loyal.

When did you realize that you had made it?

Sadly, I only realized I had made it after the fact. No, I’m kidding. I had different experiences over the years that made me realize I had made it. One was my first American Vogue cover, in which by the way, we flew down to shoot in the Florida Keys. We flew on a private plane and were back in NYC in time to watch Dawson’s Creek, a guilty pleasure of someone on the crew, and the agency threw a surprise party for me that included a cake with the Vogue cover made out of icing!

Another was a limo ride I shared with Jack Nicholson and the guy I was seeing at the time, an amazing guy by the way. What about it made me realize I had made it? Come on! I was in a limo with Jack Nicholson! Other experiences that made me realize I had made it included being asked to appear on Absolutely Fabulous as the “Gucci Girl,” hanging out with John Galliano and Naomi in Madrid, and taking the Concorde frequently between NYC and Paris. Those memories are all very special.

In spite of all the buzz generated around Instagirls, models such as yourself are still very much in demand. What do you attribute this to?

An Instagirl isn’t really the same as a model is she? That is my explanation for models still being in demand. Models of my age still being in demand I think shows a very positive evolution of our society. It also makes complete sense as most advertisers and designers sell their products to a huge range of women, so personally I think all the different ages should be represented as there is certainly room on the market. I also imagine that it’s women in their 40s who have the most buying power, so I am super happy to be in a position where I can represent them.

We were also all pretty fabulous. In the 90s, models had strong personalities and lots of character. Those attributes were part of what you needed to make it. I hope that people enjoy working with me now, and that’s why I continue to work. I am much more comfortable in my skin, and at the risk of sounding Zoolanderish, I’m a better model because of that.

I haven’t met too many Instagirls, but in general, the younger models I’ve met seem really cool and together. I’ve worked with a doctor and an architect recently. Fashion seems to be getting its fun back.

What are some of your memorable moments from the height of your career?

My life is made up of memorable moments, some of which I’ve already mentioned. Shooting the Versace campaign with Steven Meisel in 2000 was another experience that I will never forget. Other memorable moments include so many amazing people I was fortunate to meet, but I would be writing forever if I tried to tell you all of them.

I did work hard, but I also feel that I was super lucky time. Again, to be in the right place at the right time is invaluable in the fashion industry. Then it takes stamina and strength to stay on the top.

In retrospect, what did you discover about yourself through modeling?

I discovered that I’m super resilient. I also discovered that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts but what’s on the inside, even in the modeling industry.

What are you up to these days?

These days I’m a mum and part-time model. Three kids have kept me pretty busy up ‘til now. They are 12, 11, and 6 now, so I’m finding myself with free time once again. I hope to one day finish one of the books I’ve started to write, that is, if I can ever get up the courage to put myself on the line and let someone else read them.

I have really been enjoying working again as a model, so at the moment that’s what I’m up to, and it’s keeping me busy. Weirdly, I enjoy my job now more than ever before, maybe because of my age and the fact that it’s taken me until now to like the way I look. I feel like I’m getting the chance at a do-over, so I’m just going with the flow and enjoying life as it is.

My heart remains in Africa, so I also spend as much time as possible there with my kids, and travel remains an important part of my life and something I enjoy sharing with my kids and my husband. I figure I’ll decide what I’m going to be when I grow up.

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Christina Kruse on Suprematism, Structure, And The Inspiration Behind Her Latest Exhibit

As one of the preeminent models of the nineties, Christina Kruse’s visage could be seen in every major fashion magazine, advertising campaign and on the international runway scene. The Teutonic blonde’s effortless cool garnered legions of fans in the fashion industry leading to a demand from photographers and designers that has endured two decades. I caught up with the model-cum-artist as she prepared to showcase her latest work in New York.

Tell us about your childhood.

I grew up in a protected nature area just outside of Hamburg, an idyllic place that is completely surrounded by forests and fields, which was great for my 3 younger brothers and I. We spent a lot of time playing in forests and fields…hundreds of tree houses later…

You seemed to take a pragmatic approach to modeling, understanding that it wouldn’t sustain forever. How does that pragmatism translate to your creative life?   

Modeling is clearly a time-sensitive job. I myself have thought of it as a summer job that has lasted 23 years. I am not sure if it was because of pragmatism or just a healthy dose of realism, but I was fairly prepared for each of the 23 summers to be the last one.

By nature, in my everyday life I tend to want to keeps things as practical as possible. I have found freelancers in general to be very pragmatic as work life is already unpredictable and at times challenging, so I think it helps to try to keep that at a minimum in one’s home life.

As a model you’re the object of someone else’s vision. Do you feel more or less vulnerable and exposed in front of or behind the lens?  

I don’t feel vulnerable or exposed by all means. If anything I think it is great fun being someone’s canvas for their vision.

What makes this job so great is that it is never the same. Mind you I also had the great luck of working with people that did a lot of high-end editorial work and not German mainstream catalog work, which I remember was a little less exciting with the exception of the salary. So either way I was eternally thankful for having been able to do both at times, and always with wonderful people.

Do you have a formal art education? 

I left school when I was 16 for modeling and tried to do my baccalaureate via post correspondence while living in Milan (there was no email at that time). That failed after only a few weeks, as I was constantly traveling. When I moved to New York, I took a good amount of SVA sculpture classes either in the evenings or in the summers as that was the only time I could be guaranteed to commit, since I was again traveling so much. I think I probably had an unusual education, but to me it was a pretty profound one because I worked with the best of the best in the photography and fashion worlds, and so what better education is there than being on set with Steven Meisel—the master of both worlds. Makeup begins on a blank canvas, hair becomes a sculpture, the set becomes a different world, the lights, the camera position…to combine all of that to create iconic imagery is pretty incredible.

What artists and artistic movements have had the biggest influence on you?   

Someone who always has and continues to move me greatly is Kazemir Malevich, who said sometime around 1915:

Under Suprematism I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.

That about sums it up for me, and I relate to the minimalistic visual language.

Tell us about the process by which you work. 

Whenever I set out on something new, my initial question is what am I dealing with, what is it I want to see happening, and most importantly why.

Once the why is answered, all of it somewhat falls into place, and I will create the drawing, then choose a model and the materials, shapes, forms, and colors (if any).

And then I start building all of it and assemble it—this can be a very lengthy process as it is a construction and not only do all elements need to make sense and fit, and but they also need to be stable, dependent, and connected to one another.

As an artist, you work primarily in mixed media and photography. What medium do you identify with the most?

In recent years, wood. Very recently, metals have replaced my camera to a great degree. When I used to take pictures, I also enjoyed building the sets for it very much—they were part of the whole process, and over time I became much more interested in elaborating on these objects, eventually taking myself out of the entire process and only concentrating on creating that idea or feeling as an object or set alone.

What about structure compels and informs your work?

To me, everything and anything has a structure, whether it be a conversation, a garden, or a piece of art work. I simply see it at such— I don’t know why; it is just the way it is .

Naturally understanding structure is the essence of anything I do…it’s a bit like a house—without some supporting beams, it will fall apart. I like to see these beams and understand what they are about.

How has your current living arrangement in upstate New York influenced your work? 

Upstate has been really good for me on many levels. I have my studio up here, it’s quiet, and I am surrounded by trees—a perfect place to de-connect from a rather stressed city.

The other day I talked to a friend and said, “it’s odd: this whole place here feels like I am back where I used to be when I was a child. I renovated the house mainly myself, built a studio out of the garage, and organized the landscaping, all things I did in the forests when I was little except they were treehouses or apartments on the ground created by branches and tree stomps.

I am finding myself in the same scenario that I loved to be in 40 years ago, which is kind of brilliant, and I suppose my very own structure has remained the same.

Tell us about your latest exhibition at Seaman’s House.

The show was organized by the curator Helen Allen and is really a show between my friends, their friends, and Helen’s artist friends, which has been great fun. It started out to be much about a minimalist and very structured tight works but then evolved into a grander scheme with perspectives coming from an architect, an environmental activist architect, and two artists that are everything but minimal in any of their works. It all worked wonderfully well together, which was really beautiful to see, as it was a great dialog between very different positions and views.

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Introducing Connor Newall

Connor Newall was plucked from obscurity and propelled into the upper echelons of the fashion industry after a serendipitous meeting with casting director Claire Catterson. Connor’s appeal is reminiscent of the wave of male models in the mid nineties when individuality was championed over convention. I spoke with Connor via email to find out how he’s adjusting to his newfound career.

Tell us about your childhood.

I was just a normal kid from Glasgow who loved playing and watching football and hanging out with my mates.

Tell us about how you were discovered.

I was discovered by a casting director who works in film. She recommended me to a modeling agency in Glasgow and they reached out to me and signed me immediately.

Growing up in Glasgow, had modeling ever entered your mind as a possible career?

Modeling never crossed my mind once.

You’ve expressed interest in an acting career. What parallels do you see between modeling and acting?

Modeling and acting are quite similar; both create a form of art and capture interesting images.

What would you be doing if you weren’t modeling?

If I weren’t modeling I’d be in the British Army.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The biggest highlights have been all the amazing jobs I’ve done, the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve been able to travel around the world.

What do you hope to get out of modeling?

I hope to start studying acting and work in films.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’m not fashionable at all.

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Rubina Dyan Is The Artist You Need To Know

Armenian-born Rubina Dyan spent her formative years in Barcelona, Spain where she cultivated her love of the arts. Currently splitting her time between Los Angeles and New York, Rubina balances her modeling career with her passion for art. I spoke with her via email to find out how her unusual childhood influenced her work and how she would describe her style to the uninitiated.

Tell us about your childhood.

My childhood was quite an adventurous one. My parents come from very humble beginnings, and they always strived to give my brother and I better lives. I was born in Armenia and brought up in Spain, and after my little brother was born, we moved to California, which was almost 6 years ago. I recently moved to New York, but I go back to Los Angeles for work and to visit my family quite often. I have been very fortunate throughout my life not only to be able to travel so much but also to be raised by such incredible and exemplary parents that made all those transitions as easy as possible on me and my brother.

How do you think your background influences your art?

I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Barcelona—even before I found painting to be one of my deepest passions—I was constantly surrounded by the incredible art and architecture of the city. From Miró’s and Dalí’s surrealist and modern art to Gaudí’s fascinating gothic architecture, it was impossible for me not to get inspired to create as well. The color palette I am currently most inclined to use and the style I have developed throughout the years are clear examples of the influence my background has in my art, like Picasso’s deep and cold blues or vivid reds or the city’s mosaic-like architecture.

Do you think social media has helped showcase your work or made you more self-conscious?

I think social media has had a positive impact on my work because I have never really seen it as a way to get affirmation for the work I’m doing, but rather as a way to reach out to those who see it on a deeper level. I hope my pieces can somehow resonate with them or even bring out the inner artist in them.

What movements in particular do you identify with?

It’s quite hard to pinpoint a specific movement I could identify myself with as an artist. However, I have always been very fond of the following movements throughout the years: the impressionist era, which always stood out to me because of its purity, intensity, and richness; surrealism, which always fascinated me because of its imaginative way of expressing itself by analyzing the psyche; and abstract expressionism, which is mostly about expressing oneself through emotion.

Describe your artistic process.

It is as simple as keeping my eyes open at all times and carrying a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. There is always something that will catch my attention, reminding me that even the littlest things can be inspiring, and that I will hopefully develop into a new piece or style later.

What do you do when you’re in an artistic rut?

I recently got in a major artistic rut where I felt like I had a bunch of ideas I could develop into pieces but could not get myself to transfer them onto paper or canvas. So, after a few weeks of writer’s block or painter’s block, as one would say, I realized the best way to get myself out of that rut was by using all the pent-up inspiration on another artistic outlet, which is film photography. It definitely helped.

How has modeling and fashion influenced your work?

The fashion and modeling industry was always such a distant and unknown area for me. I never knew much about it or paid enough attention until I started drawing portraits or illustrations of the models in magazines I found around the house. When I began modeling myself, I found a lot of inspiring moments when traveling and getting to meet and work with incredibly talented artists and being around large sets, interesting backdrops, unique clothing, and intricate concepts…There is a lot that can be learned and absorbed from the fashion industry and applied and expressed in any other form of art.

How would you describe your work to the uninitiated?

Ah, that’s always a hard one!  My current style of work revolves mostly a blend of abstract expressionism and portrait work.

How does traveling affect the type of art you produce?

It is always easier for me to have all my supplies in hand, enough space, and good natural light…luckily enough, I mostly travel between California and New York, and I have little studios set up in both apartments. When it comes to the style of my work, it naturally tends to vary every time I paint. Traveling doesn’t usually affect it much.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I usually paint while rapping to Nas.

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Top Models Join Forces To Host a Panel On Female Empowerment For Foster Girls

On June 20, 2017, Select World and The Lions Model Management teamed up with Project Glimmer to create a day of empowerment for young women with the nonprofit’s community partner, Ticket to Dream Foundation, which serves foster kids in need.

This marked the first time Project Glimmer and Ticket to Dream partnered to celebrate and honor 2,000 foster girls nationwide who graduated from high school and college. Graduation is an exceptionally big milestone for these young women since statistics show that less than 50 percent of foster children exiting the system will graduate high school, less than 3 percent will earn a college degree, and 1 in 5 will be homeless within one year of aging out.

In New York, this partnership is poised to help foster youth take their first steps toward success after graduation. The day included a panel discussion with a group of successful women and a career development workshop. Project Glimmer, The Lions Model Management, Select World and Ticket to Dream united to give these young women useful tools, actionable advice, and support to help them reach their goals.

To promote Project Glimmer’s mission, Select World donated services to create a PSA campaign with the theme, “Share Your Glimmer,” featuring models from The Lions Model Management and graduating women from Ticket to Dream. GLAMSQUAD, the on-demand professional team for hair, makeup, and nails, was a beauty partner for the event, and donated the services of its beauty professionals who provided work-appropriate beauty tips during the career development workshop, and provided styling for the PSA photo shoot.

“For so long I used to hide and be ashamed of my past. But every mistake you’ve made – use it. Don’t hide it…No one has a perfect life. When we share our stories it creates a space for everyone to exist. I think that when we start sharing our diverse narratives and our stories, there’s going to be a place [for everyone]. Don’t feel ashamed,” model and activist Ebonee Davis stated.

The panel included Sabrina Yu, Managing Director, NY, Select World, Kelli J. Bartlett, Director of Makeup Artistry for GLAMSQUAD and Octavia Yearwood, artist, author, and motivational speaker, and was moderated by Isabel Gonzalez-Whitaker, Deputy Editor at Billboard. They talked about career paths, challenges, and gave advice for the young women of foster care who are embarking on their next step post graduation.