Multihypenate Sibyl Buck has had many incarnations throughout her life and career; model, musician, MTV host, actor, yogi and now mother. Growing up in the nineties in England I watched Sibyl host MTV’s Stylissimo and her foray into acting in The Fifth Element. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sibyl about her life and career in this inspiring and revealing interview.
In an industry built on conformity you broke boundaries and defied convention. What do boundaries mean to you?
Oh, cool; it’s awesome to be remembered that way! Originally, I had red hair in high school because I loved Phoenix, from the X-men. When I started modeling, I didn’t think I could have a career with red hair, so I dyed it back to brown. When I first got to Paris things were going well, but all of a sudden I was having an awful time and couldn’t remember what I was doing it for. Money seemed like a bad reason to be doing something I hated so I decided to dye my hair back to red, how I liked it, and figured it would derail my modeling career and I’d be free of it. But, to my surprise, my career really took off. I didn’t have the easy out I thought I had so if I was going to keep modeling, I decided I would do it with a mission. My decision to go red had come from a rebelliousness that was natural to who I was and my age, but I turned it into an ethos. My intention got very specific and when people were taking my picture I was trying to say, ” There are fewer rules than you think.” I wanted to express that things which you think are not possible can become possible if you just do them. I’m older now and I value and depend on boundaries often in my own life, but I still don’t respect arbitrary ones that are only there because nobody has bothered to ask why.
At the height of your career in the nineties, models such as yourself, Stella Tennant, Eve Salvail and Kristen McMenamy built successful careers on having an unconventional image. How do you feel about fashion’s wholly homogenized look today?
I have to say that I don’t see much of a difference in print. Stella is still at the top of her game, Kirsten Owen has never stopped working, Kristen McMenamy brought waist-length grey hair to high fashion (what a badass) and her daughter, Lily, whose looks are quite unconventional, is rocking the scene. There are still great publications popping up to tow the avant-garde line (think LOVE and PURPLE, et al) and if my recent shoot for LOVE with the stylist Panos Yiapanis is any indication, the stylists of today are every bit as artful and envelope-pushing as those greats of the past.
What IS different is that the design houses are all but a few owned by major corporations and don’t have their namesakes as the figure-head. I noticed right away, when I was still working, that when YSL sold to a corporation the very next shoot I did for them had a far lower standard of creative vision. I see this corporate standard of homogeny manifesting largely in the runway scene, where runway shows used to be kind of like rock shows, with the clothing and the models’ personality sharing the stage and in my opinion, it was more exciting, more of an event. I think there are probably some people out there who really care about the clothes above all, who enjoy the way fashion shows are now, because they can really see every detail and aren’t distracted by human flesh, much less personality. But to me, it seems only one step away from those things at the dry cleaner that rotate the clothes
How do you feel the industry has changed from the nineties?
I have had the pleasure of being on set a few times in the past year and am grateful to have been flown across the globe to participate in some exciting shoots. Mostly, I would say it seems very similar in terms of the on-set experience, with the one MAJOR change being the introduction of the internet and hand-held devices, as well as the digital camera being the mainstay of the photo shoot. This means that instead of everyone on set interacting with each other (which wasn’t always fun, there was a lot of hating that went on), once folks are done with their work for the moment, everyone pulls out a device and basically leaves the room. Similarly, instead of the whole team gathering around the model looking at what she’s doing and being part of a live show, everyone is looking at the monitor and speaking amongst themselves. The feeling is very similar to how playing rock music has changed over the same period of time, where now I play to a crowd of people holding up their phones and gazing into the image on their screen instead of actually being there for the show. The upside of it on a photo set is that it actually affords a very pleasant intimacy with the photographer, and the rest of the team is one level removed so that the chemistry between the model and photographer can unfold.
You have built an impressive and varied career from being a model to hosting MTV’s Stylissimo, to playing bass for Bush, to becoming a yoga instructor. Which of these, if any, has been the most fulfilling for you and why?
Thank you for saying so! I’m a Gemini, so I need variety to be fulfilled. I had a lot of dreams and I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to see them come to life, whether it was being on magazine covers, or playing to a stadium full of people, or acting in a major motion picture. Each of those experiences has sated a craving I had. Now that I’ve done those more public things (though they do still seem to be cropping up here and there), I’m directing more of my energy toward helping bring fulfillment to other people’s lives. A huge part of my energy and attention goes to my daughter, who is an amazing human being, I’m in love with her and so grateful to be her mom. And then I spend a part of my day five days a week teaching my students. I have very few public classes, but I love my students, and I really consider how to help them discover what’s within them that can help them live the life they crave. I think my own experience with bringing my dreams to fruition gives me a unique perspective as a yoga teacher. There’s one chapter of my life that’s one of my favorites, and is less known. During my downtime between tours with the money I made while modeling, I built a 5,000 square foot loft community in Brooklyn, where my daughter and her dad and I lived for 10 years with a small community of adults. The creative and inspiring men and women who lived there with us helped us raise her, and were our daughter’s extended family. We managed to do cool stuff like have an indoor vermicomposting farm, build a huge sound proof recording studio, have a skateboarding area, have a communal wood workshop, a sewing room with industrial sewing machines (out of which my best friend Lindsay Jones and I created a little startup clothing company called Urban Mary) and we had a huge trampoline indoors, as well as a rope swing hanging from the 20 foot ceilings! We had some epic parties there, with bands and contortionists and trapeze artists and amazing DJs and a star-studded guest list. I actually think Owen Wilson’s loft in Zoolander was modeled after it. Check out the band Rival Schools’ new release on Some records, Found, which was recorded there and the cover of it is a picture of me in the loft. That loft is called The Doghouse and exists still. That’s where we stay when we are in Brooklyn.
At the height of your career you took a risk and abandoned modeling for a less secure future. What prompted you to do this?
Foolishness? Well, that’s what most people would say. I didn’t want to get trapped identifying with being a model, which I knew wasn’t going to provide me with the experiences I was craving. I wanted to be a mother, I wanted to bring my creative expression to fruition, I wanted a fulfilling long-term relationship and the way my modeling career was, I didn’t have any time for much else. I basically waited until I had enough money to build The Doghouse and support myself for a while, put some away for retirement and set off to live a real life. I thought of the money from modeling as money that could provide me with a second childhood, one that I could direct for myself. Also, when I started, I told myself I would get out when I was 25 because I met some women who had seemed to lose the sense that they were capable of anything other than being pretty.
Beyond the physicality of yoga, how has your practice informed your life in other ways?
Whoa, that’s a big one. Yoga is really more profound than it looks from the outside. Through the inner work of both yoga and meditation practice, I have learned to connect with something authentic within myself. It’s a distinct feeling that gives me the stability and clarity to walk through all manner of situations with poise and with my values intact. That includes situations like walking onstage in front of 50,000 people to perform with a band I have only played with twice and playing songs I’ve only performed once. Before yoga, I would probably have had a bit of a butterflies-in-the-stomach overload, but with my practice so familiar to me, I can turn inward even with a substantial amount of outside pressure and reconnect with an inner source that feeds me whatever I need. Also, yoga is all about balance, strength, flexibility, and allowing grace to flow through your movements and decisions and those are exactly the qualities needed for mothering. I have had a revolution in anger management from my practice and my peace of mind is my constant companion. I guess it really has improved my quality of life and my ability to perform in all areas.
How has being a mother informed your life and view of the world?
Everyone always says, after they have their first child, that it changes your perspective. I never understood what that meant until I had my daughter. I have deep respect for those who have chosen not to procreate (and deep sympathy for those who cannot), but I think the shift from being the center of your own universe, to having someone else be the center of your universe, that comes from having a child is a deeply nourishing and empowering shift. At least for me, it was exactly what I needed. Coming out of 5 years of being treated like a diva, always the center of attention of the photo shoot, carted around in 5 star luxury, my every need catered to, I was in a bit of a bubble of self-centeredness. Giving birth, the physical experience, was one of the most humbling processes I can think of and from there, the process of letting go of who I thought I was, to become what I needed to be for this tiny, helpless little love bug lead me to a much wiser and broader perspective on everything in my life. I don’t know if I would ever have been able to have had a successful long term relationship without that kind of deep shift. Thankfully, 13 years down the line, Puma’s father and I are still in love, and living harmoniously together. I credit our daughter largely for our success.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m so grateful for so much. I was in yoga class yesterday behind someone with a prosthetic leg, so beginning with having a fully functioning body and mind, I am so grateful to have a life that has allowed me to live my dreams. I’ve been so fortunate to get to do the fantastic things I dreamed of as a kid, but at the end of the day, if I didn’t have my husband, my daughter and my own feeling of contentedness, none of that would matter all that much. I’m most grateful for the fact that the trajectory of my life has lead me to be content and feel fulfilled, including my parents, who, despite their divorce when I was two, continued to guide me and support me in all that I wanted to do.
What are you most passionate about and what motivates you?
That’s a hard question. I’m inspired and motivated by a wide range of things. I’ll start with what I’m motivated to get into on my personal trajectory. I’m very passionate about living environments and community like The Doghouse. My husband and I dream of finding some land in a beautiful location, building our own awesome home (by awesome, I mean artful, more than fancy), with ecofriendly features and with space enough to house a small community. We are also working on a record together right now and that is so inspiring to me; making music together as a couple and weaving our lives into a partnership that includes our professional, personal and spiritual lives is so exciting to me, and what I’ve always hoped for. In an abstract way, I’m passionate about the human drive to evolve toward our dreams, even when going in that direction threatens what makes us feel safe and comfortable. I love it when I hear about people who are making the hard choices to leave what they know, to go toward their heart’s desire. I wrote a song about how hard and disorienting it can be to leave your status within a world you know, to endeavor in a new millieu that goes:
“confusion is a symptom of letting go the turning wheels you can’t control
and though it feels you’re losing hold, nothing ever turns to gold, unless it can unfold”
I’m grateful to other people who make those choices, because they inspire and motivate me, and I hope in any way to be that inspiring, motivating factor for someone else. In a more day-to-day practical sense, I’m passionate about helping my students in yoga to find more health and wellbeing. I have a student who has a severe form of scoliosis, and who credits me with a large part of her healing to the point where now she’s able to walk and breathe at the same time. That kind of thing touches me deeply and motivates me so much to continue learning about how yoga can heal. This fall, I am starting the Loyola Marymount Yoga Therapy degree program, which is the only degree program out there, and I’m so excited to have that depth of knowledge.
What do you think people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I was a high school cheerleader? That I used to skateboard vert ramps? That I have a great social anxiety which still surfaces sometimes? I’m not really sure how most people would think of me (if they think of me at all), so I’m not sure what’s surprising. Maybe it would be surprising for people to know that I can and do build structures and furniture, including much of the second floor of the loft that we built. I love using saws and all manner of power tools and I think building is kind of like making clothes, in that you take things that are flat and make them 3-D shapes that you can get into. I look forward to building my own house.
Sibyl is represented by DNA Models