Muse Model Tess McMillan’s Ascent To The Top Has Only Just Begun

Texas native Tess McMillan is a testament to the power of social media. After reaching out to photographers that she admired on Instagram, she began test shoots before signing with Muse Models in New York City. Fresh off her shoot for British Vogue and a Marc Jacobs beauty campaign, the statuesque porcelain-skinned beauty—who wouldn’t look out of place in a Botticelli painting—sat down to talk about forging a path on her own terms.

Tell us about your childhood.

I was born in Beaumont, a small town in east Texas and I moved to Austin when I was 8. I had such an amazing childhood. My mom’s circle of friends was always full of musicians and artists—I absolutely loved that because it opened me up to so much.

How did you leverage social media to break into the industry?

I feel like leverage might not be the right word, because I had absolutely no clue what I was doing at the time, but social media played a huge part in how I got started. I think for the most part, I just followed a bunch of photographers whose work I was really impressed with, and tried to start up lines of communication with them to see if they wanted to shoot. It really was a good way to build my portfolio.

Tell us about adjusting to life in New York.

It’s been crazy, but amazing! Moving from Texas to New York City has been a wild ride, but now I don’t think I could live anywhere else. I love the culture, the people, and how anything you could possibly want to do is just a subway ride away.

How do you think the industry is changing to accommodate more diverse representations of beauty?

I think it’s changing in so many ways. I think the industry is starting to recognize that beauty can encompass so many different definitions, and I’m so glad to see limitations being stripped away.

Modeling icons such as Sophie Dahl and Crystal Renn started their careers as plus size, but their size diminished as their fame increased. Do you feel pressure to conform to a straight size, and how do you navigate that?

I think this is a really complicated question, but the short answer is that I pretty much do what I want and do what feels good to me. Self-image and self-confidence are complicated things, but I will always do things because I want to, not because other people tell me I should—whatever that may be.

You recently shot for British Vogue. Tell us about that experience.

It was such an amazing and beautiful thing to be surrounded by people with such a unique artistic vision. I’m pretty sure Poppy Kain could take a trash bag and make it look exquisite. Charlotte Wales is so beyond talented; it was so incredible to be shot by her. The whole thing was so much fun.

What do you hope to get out of your career?

I hope I get to consistently work on projects that creatively fulfill me for a very long time.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Even though I’m a huge extrovert and love being around people, I can be shy.

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Reid Rohling On Fashion’s Time’s Up Movement And Being A Gay Propagandist

Minnesotan Reid Rohling is part of a new breed of models bubbling under in the fashion industry, unapologetically outspoken, confident, and redefining things on their terms. With a campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans under his belt and a slew of designer shows to boot, Reid’s look is reminiscent of a 1950s pin-up with bowed lips, porcelain skin, and an unwavering gaze.

Tell us about your childhood.

I grew up in the suburbs just outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota. My parents, a clinical psychologist and a pastor of a mega-church, raised me very well—even though people seem to think that having parents with those professions would screw you up. I really should thank them more for providing me with what I think was a very normal childhood with minimal trauma. I also have a twin sister, who is not a model—everyone always asks me this for some reason when they find out. I was pretty shy as a kid, but she wasn’t, and I’d always latch onto the friends she made. When I reflect on my childhood, I think of her most. I miss not being able to see her everyday.

How were you discovered?

I moved to New York when I graduated from high school, along with my friend who was attending school here. I didn’t really have a plan, and I met my now current boyfriend within the first few weeks of moving here. He was a former model and a photographer, and he suggested I try modeling because I didn’t come to New York with a plan. He set up a couple of meetings for me, and I ended up signing with Fusion.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Most people would think the highlight was being a part of the first gay couple featured in a Calvin Klein campaign on the East Houston billboard, but honestly that just felt like a normal job to me. I go back and forth on whether or not that’s the kind of portrayal I want gay men to be associated with. Although CK always sell sex, I don’t think featuring a Grindr hookup in your first campaign with a gay couple is necessarily the best representation. I think it was banned in Russia for being “homosexual propaganda,” and at the end of the day I’m okay with being a gay propagandist. I think a nice modeling memory was doing my first show for Gucci in Milan. This was Alessandro Michele’s first show, and the team had worked 24/7 for weeks to pull off the show in such a short amount of time. People were crying after it was over, which I still have never seen before, and it was nice to work with them for 2 more years and see how Alessandro’s vision for the brand evolved.

How important do you feel social media is to a model’s career today?

I think it’s too important now. I get into trouble for not posting enough or for not posting selfies—it’s a little ridiculous. Most models I know buy their followers because some clients only care how much of a presence you have online. I use social media a lot, but I think it’s dumb.

What are your aspirations and goals for the future?

Good question. You know, I moved to New York with no plan, and I still have no plan. I just let things happen.

What do you hope to get out of your modeling career?

I think I’ve gotten what I want out of my career thus far. For instance, I’ve traveled all over the world at a very young age. Some people never get the privilege to do that, and I’m pretty grateful for it.

How do you handle the pressure and rejection that comes with modeling?

It used to bug me a lot when I first started modeling 4 years ago, but now I’ve just become so used to it. It’s really a part of the job, and if I got hung up on every rejection I’ve had, I’d honestly be dead.

You recently added your name to the growing number of models who support the Respect Program. What has your experience been in terms of mentorship and having a support system in the industry?

I think I really lucked out with the people I was surrounded with in the industry. My agents have always had my back on any sort of incident or complaint I’ve had, no matter how trivial. I know that’s not always the case with models starting out in their career. I think being the outspoken person that I am has been an asset to others. If I notice another model is uncomfortable on set, I will always say something. Some people in the industry don’t understand boundaries, especially when they’re working with models who are practically children. I also think new models should be aware that there are a lot of people who do not have your best interests in mind and to always make it known when you think someone is crossing a line.

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m actually really nice no matter how bitchy I can sound over text.

What do you like to do in your spare time to decompress?

If I’m not working, you can usually find me at the movies. And I frequent all the art house theaters in the city. It’s really why I could never leave New York; you can see almost anything here on the big screen.

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Brandi Quinones On Donatella, Diversity, And Fashion’s Obsession With Nostalgia

 

Model Brandi Quinones, known for her killer walk on the runway and a favorite of Donatella Versace, has stayed the course for over two decades in an industry known for its fickleness. From advertising campaigns for Chanel and Versace to the cover of Vogue, Brandi is a part of a coterie of models whose appeal still whips fashionistas into a frenzy. I caught up with her by phone to chat about her remarkable career.

You were born and raised in New York, correct?

I was born in New York but I didn’t grow up here. I moved when I was young and was raised in Florida and Oklahoma. My mom was a hair and makeup artist, and a model, so I lived in a lot of different places. I moved back to New York when I was 14 years old.

You were discovered when you were in New York at the age of 14, right?

I started modeling around the age of 2. I was literally learning how to do makeup, hair, and clothes at that age because I grew up in the 80s with a really cool mom. I wasn’t discovered until I was 14. When I was discovered, I said the only way I would model was if I had an apartment in New York—the next day I moved to New York and in June of 1992 started working as a professional model. I went back and forth between New York and Italy. When I started my career as a professional model, I wasn’t working very much in New York. I would always have to deal with editors that weren’t used to seeing a girl like me. There weren’t many Latina or black girls that were getting covers or becoming superstar models.

So you were groundbreaking for the time.

I tried to be and I am still trying to be

Your big break came via Donatella Versace. Tell me about that.

Oh yes, I was found by Donatella. I ended up doing the Versace campaign when I was 14. I had already done a really beautiful editorial for Spanish Elle in 1992 in all Versace clothes with tweezed eyebrows and floral bell-bottoms. I wish I could find the story because it was so good. We had the demo of RuPaul’s Supermodel playing on set over and over—it wasn’t even out yet.  That was  before I met with Donatella and booked the ad campaign.

That was the point where it took off for you?

It did start to take off for me. Shortly after shooting that campaign in Miami with Doug Ordway, I moved to Italy and I stayed there for a little while before making my way to Paris in January 1993. I remember leaving right after New Years to meet with my agency, and from there it took off. I did my first couture show for Chanel,  which was  horrible—I didn’t know how to walk on a runway. I didn’t learn how to walk until much later. All that sass was cute because it was attitude, but I did not know how to walk.

I think one of the great things about that is that it really showcased your personality. Now it’s so homogenized and there is no personality.

Yeah, it’s become a production line. As long as you make that designer’s creation look beautiful you have done your job. I am there to sell clothes and that’s all I want to do.

Diversity is very much a part of today’s zeitgeist, but a lot of that conversation smacks of tokenism to me. Do you think the fashion industry has made any progress?

I actually think that we are making very good strides. I think that fashion goes with trends, but I feel there’s way more diversity now than when I started. I would have to go and see the same managing editors two, three, or four times and they still didn’t get my look. I would go see them with my hair straight, then I had to go with my hair curly—they just didn’t understand. Was I Latina? Was I black? I didn’t mind, but understand that I am not your typical classic beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes. I am a very unusual looking person, but I feel that I want to open doors. I feel at this moment we are making strides we have not made in a good while. I feel like there is a lot more diversity, and there are a lot more young kids that I would like to see model. I feel there are more mixed girls than ever before booking big jobs like the Céline campaign and things like that. That would never have been very easy for us in the past.

Why do you think there is a lot of nostalgia around the time that you modeled?

I mean, come on, we don’t have creators like that anymore. I grew up dreaming of working with creators like that. My mother’s gay best friend used to buy me all the Guess and all the Christian Dior a girl could ever want. I grew up watching designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, and I always knew I wanted to work with them. I feel like that time is super nostalgic because we don’t have many amazing creators like that anymore. We’ll never have a Gianfranco Ferré again, we will never have a Halston again, we will never have a Bill Blass again. So many of these amazing people made fashion special. It was so rare. Not everyone had a Chanel bag, and we didn’t even know how to pronounce Versace.

How do you think social media is changing things? I find now, every young person seems to think they can be a model.

It is crazy, let me tell you; it’s so backward. I come from a time where it is was much more professional. I lived in Europe for most of my career, and I was raised with a very different mentality. In Europe you had to have a release from the your agent to use a picture to post anywhere. These days, you take a picture and it’s right there for the whole world, without going past an agent. I don’t necessarily think it’s good or bad. As much as I love celebrities, this is a model’s game and I’m not really happy with all these celebrities on covers. I want it to go back to what it is supposed to be, and hopefully it will at some point. I am just super old school.

Before there was an element of mystery and anticipation waiting for images to come out. You just don’t have that anymore.  

Absolutely! You hit the nail on the head.

How do you stay interested after all this time?

I really love it. Something in me sparked when I was young and I started to read Vogue and saw Naomi, and Claudia and campaigns for Revlon and L’Oreal. I just happened to be lucky enough that it was just my time.

Where would you like to see the industry progress from where it is today?

I think it has been progressing so much, and it’s really great. I would like to see more models doing advertising and not so many celebrities. You know, it’s really our job to sell the clothes. I was one of the first models to have a brand—now that word is overused.

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In Conversation With Legendary Fashion Model Niki Taylor

A fixture on the modeling scene for nearly three decades, Niki Taylor epitomizes what we think of when we talk about supermodels. She was the youngest person ever to be featured as one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People as well as the first spokesmodel younger than 18 to sign a major contract with CoverGirl, and she appeared on the cover of six major American magazines in the same month, dubbed the “Niki Six”. But behind the megawatt smile, Niki faced her own challenges due to family tragedy and a near fatal car accident. After taking a hiatus, Niki returned to modeling with much fanfare and has parlayed her brand into charitable work, most notably as a brand ambassador for the Nexcare Give Program, a partnership with Nexcare Bandages and the American Red Cross. I spoke with Niki about her remarkable career.

You began your career during the heyday of the Supermodel era and now there’s something of a renaissance and renewed interest in those models and that time period. What do you attribute that to?

I think a lot of the models have been working steadily all along—maybe now there is a recognition of that fact. To me, the job of a model is to represent and communicate with the intended audience. It must be working for the clients, or they would not be paying us to do so.

You had the opportunity to work with some of the legends in the business. Tell us about some of the most memorable moments of your career.

The obvious milestones are the big contracts, cover shoots, or simply the great chemistry you have on set with people. For the most part, all the models got along really well. I never hung out with a lot of models because I lived in Florida, but we’d meet up on set or around the world during Fashion Week and it was always great to see them again, even if it was just crossing on the runway.

What do you attribute your longevity in this industry to?

I think there are always two parts to having a long career. The first is that you love doing it, and the second is that clients need to want you to work for them and see value in that.

Did you have any reservations about your sons entering the modeling industry and what advice did you give them?

The industry has changed a lot, but as long as they have fun doing it and it provides them with an income and opportunities they want, I am all for it.

You recently had a special Mother’s Day photoshoot with your daughter Ciel. Is she fashion’s next Niki Taylor?

I hope she becomes the next Ciel Taylor Lamar!

You’ve had tremendous highs in your career punctuated by incredibly dark periods. What did you discover about yourself during those times?

That the old Persian saying “This too shall pass” is true.  You get through everything and while it does change you along the way, you can make it through. I’ve always clung to that.

Tell us about how you got involved with the American Red Cross and the Nexcare Give campaign and why it’s important to you.

I hardly consider myself a celebrity, but some people think I am, so if a by-product of that is to be able to focus people’s attention on something that can drive a cause, help people, or awaken interest in something we should all pay attention to, I am all for it.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement and why?

My family. It is an ongoing mindset of caring and coping with life that never ceases to provide joy and meaning.

How would you like to be remembered?

Like a happy sunny day.

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Flaviana Matata Rises To The Top Of The Modeling Industry Against All Odds

Tanzanian beauty Flaviana Matata has carved out her niche in an industry still grappling with what diversity looks like in 2018. In spite of set backs and a childhood mired in tragedy, Flaviana has channeled that adversity into empowering other women through her foundation and launched a successful nail polish brand. I spoke with the model, entrepreneur, and activist about her journey from Miss Universe Tanzania to using her platform to influence young girls through education and entrepreneurship.

Tell us about your childhood and how your background influences your approach to modeling.

I was born and raised in Tanzania, and my mom passed away in 1996 in a boating accident. We were very young, and it still bothers me to this day. I miss her dearly and wish she was still here with us, but God knows better. My dad remarried a year later, but I  don’t have any connection with his wife, apart from simply respecting her as my dad’s wife. She was never that woman who even cared that my little sister and I needed guidance as girls. We maneuvered everything by ourselves, but thank God our dad put us in a great school where we were able to learn a lot as young girls. I’m lucky we grew up to be so amazing and performed well in school. I am the oldest, so when I started modeling, I had responsibilities to make sure my siblings continued with school and supported them whenever my dad couldn’t help or just step in as a big sister. Thank God they are all doing great, so I now have less responsibility and I can focus on other things. To be honest, my childhood has nothing to do with modeling at all. I never thought I would one day be doing what I  am doing now. I can say what I have been through has shaped me into the woman I am today. I work hard, am disciplined, and extremely grateful. I can’t imagine doing anything else right now.

Tell us about how you were discovered. What are the biggest challenges you face modeling?

I  was discovered at a charity event in New York City, where we were raising funds to build a hospital in Tanzania. I couldn’t relocate right away for the job, so instead I had to work on my papers first for almost a year. Modeling has so many challenges, just like any other career. I didn’t have a mother agency or anyone to guide me through this journey, especially starting off in a new city abroad where I didn’t have any family. It was tough. I remember my first and only Paris fashion week, where I walked into a casting and was told that they were not seeing black girls. I insisted that because I was there they should at least look at my book, which they did, and they started to give me all of this negative feedback. There are amazing people in this industry but, there are also some that are very mean. I didn’t know any better, so I kept the incident to myself. Another thing I have to deal with, as a woman of color, is lack of diversity in the industry. There’s only one or a very few spots for us, and many times none at all. Fashion is universal and we are in 2018, but this is still happening. There are so many challenges, but I have always tried to stay positive. You have to stay focused, positive, have a thick skin, and concentrate on other positive activities, otherwise you can easily lose yourself and end up being miserable.

Tell us about why you started the Flaviana Matata Foundation.

I have been doing charity work for years. It really feeds my soul to help others whenever I can. Once I started modeling, I thought of young girls back home who really want to be in school and get the education they deserve but whose families can’t afford it. I was lucky to have the option to either continue with school or start modeling, but imagine those girls who want to be in school but they can’t because there are so many barriers, such as poverty. In short, I started the foundation as a way to give back to the community, and I am so proud of the many things that we have done through the foundation. Our girls will graduate from high school this year, and this makes me and the team so happy. Looking at the big picture, we are not only empowering these girls but also their families and communities.

How do you balance your time between modeling, your foundation, and your nail polish brand?

It is really hard, to be honest. I sometimes feel like giving up. Yes, I have those moments. It’s been hard, but no one said it would be easy. I always try to give everything my all, and thankfully I have a great team in Tanzania that helps with Lavy and the foundation, although it’s not easy to work with people in three different time zones. I keep going because they are things that I really love and am passionate about. Also, as a model, it’s sometimes hard to plan things in advance because of my modeling schedule. Thankfully I am now with an agency that really supports everything else I’m doing apart from modeling, so they understand it’s important for me to at least have an idea of my schedule, and it’s okay if I say no to some bookings because I  have something else to do that I can’t reschedule.

What are your long-term career goals?

I plan on going back to school at some point, probably next year. I also want to have a family, but the most important thing is to grow my business across Africa and here in the U.S. and to be able to support more girls through my organization.

How do you use your platform as a successful model and businesswoman to influence others?

I use my platform to empower young girls through education and entrepreneurship, but I’m also a great example that you can achieve anything no matter where you come from. Women can be whatever they want to be as long as they put their mind and focus into it. Having a support system is important, but if you don’t have any it shouldn’t stop you pursuing your dreams and goals. Push through and you will meet amazing people along the way. Another important thing that I would like to emphasize is the importance of supporting one another whenever possible. I am trying to be there for other people as I know how it feels to not have anyone.

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