In the post supermodel era, Danielle Zinaich rode the crest of new models whose look would come to define the nineties. Born in West Virginia, Danielle arrived in Paris and soon found herself at the center of a coveted group of models that would dominate the runways and magazines of the time. With campaigns for AKRIS, Versus, Chloe and Istante under her belt, Danielle has managed to stay grounded and is one of the most unassuming people you could meet. I caught up with Danielle as she spoke from her home in New York about modeling, motherhood and how she embarked on a career in homeopathy.
Tell us about your start in modeling.
I grew up in Weirton, West Virginia. It’s a small steel town about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh. A man stopped me in the mall and handed me his business card and said I should model. I was 17. I had headshots done in Pittsburgh and a local photographer thought I had potential. He helped me book jobs for Kauffman’s.
You were in high school at the time. How did you juggle class and modeling?
I spent my senior year doing half days at school and half days working. I had the grades and the credits to graduate so my principal allowed me.
Did you move to New York?
Paul Rowland, the founder of Women Management, came to Pittsburgh to bring me to New York. He held my hand in a lot of ways. I was given the option of moving to New York or moving to Paris. My parents felt it would be safer for me in Paris.
Why is that?
When I started it was the early nineties. In New York it felt like there was a lot more crime and drugs. I think also my parents thought that moving me to Paris would give me a cultural experience and it did.
I looked at it as an adventure. I wanted bigger and better things than a small town could offer me. I wanted to explore the world and meet people and discover things. I didn’t want to feel isolated so I stepped out of my comfort zone.
That’s a really mature approach for someone so young.
My father was a State Farm sales agent. He won trips to other countries when I was growing up so I was comfortable in new places.
Did you travel alone?
Oh no. My parents went with me to make sure I knew how to get around the city, ride public transportation, and get settled into an apartment and with my agents.
Did you speak French?
I spoke French fairly well. My accent wasn’t the best and they didn’t know what the hell I was saying at first, but I adjusted.
Who were your early supporters?
Definitely my family. They would visit me in Paris. Also, my mother agency in Pittsburgh kept in contact.
What about friends?
I had a lot of model girlfriends. When I came back to New York, Carolyn Murphy and I lived next door to each other and we became close. Eventually we got a loft in Tribeca and we looked out for each other. We made sure we were safe and not partying too much.
It’s so refreshing to hear that you were looked after so well.
I was fortunate and had a good group of editors and photographers who followed me and kept rebooking me. The consistency kept me grounded. Harper’s Bazaar for instance. I worked a lot with Tonne Goodman. When you keep working with the same people over and over, they get to know you. They can see if you’re off your game. Models now travel more from team to team. It was a luxury for me to be able to get to know the people I worked with. You don’t find that happening as much now. The turnover rate is much higher with models than it used to be.
How else has the industry changed?
The shoots are much more business-like. Back in the day it was a party atmosphere. The creative ideas would flow and at the end of the day your hair, your makeup, the insane outfit, everything would be larger than life. It was a real riot. Now the budgets have changed. Clients try not to shoot overtime. There’s less travel to exotic places. I think both moments in fashion are exactly what they need to be.
Was there a point where you realized you made it?
Absolutely. Peter Lindbergh had shot me for an Armani campaign. I was in Milan and saw a huge billboard with my face on it. My driver stopped and took my picture in front of it. Everyone around the billboard was taking my photo and asking my name. It was very flattering and gratifying. That season I was doing about 15 shows in each country. After that I began shooting with Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue and then moving on to covers and more campaigns.
You were already a successful model but did you find that after shooting with Steven Meisel that your career skyrocketed?
Absolutely. He’s highly respected in the industry. He’s incredibly creative and can envision the shot before he takes it.
What’s it like shooting with him?
As with all top photographers, he makes the girls feel really important. It built my confidence. I learned so much from him. He helped me find my best angles and expressions. He would put a mirror behind him so that I could see what I was doing. The experiences working with him shaped me into a better model. Both he and Peter Lindbergh were gateways. Working with them opened a lot of doors for me.
Most models don’t know what they’re doing when they step on a set the first time. Did you feel encouraged or empowered to participate in the creative process?
It’s difficult to speak up without knowing how to contribute in a way that affects your career positively. It’s really like learning a new language. It takes maturity to speak up and say this doesn’t feel right or this does. Over time as I gained confidence I took more risks on set and started testing my voice. It changes the energy on the set. It helps the creative process for everyone involved. I would encourage any young model to push boundaries and comfort zones from the very beginning. Careers are so short now it’s practically imperative.
Modeling careers are so short now. What was so great about the supers like you was you could see a career evolve and get involved with it. Now a girl has a moment and she’s gone.
The supers were unique and have certainly stood the test of time. The beautiful girls today rarely have the chance given to them to grow and develop. I definitely feel more inspired when I look at ads and see women such as Christy Turlington doing Prada.
I’m excited to see all the girls coming back. There’s a new energy. I’d love to see it inform the new models coming up.
I’m excited to see models doing ads again too. It’s been actors for so long; I’m so over that.
I think the industry agrees with you.
I detest seeing celebs on the cover. It’s become a promotion machine more than art. It’s very commercial and revenue driven. When magazines started using actors the perception became that they did a better job selling an image or turning a profit. I’m not so sure that’s true. At the very least it seems financially driven and that to me is very boring.
What do you think about the lack of indie girls?
Marc Jacobs has always used interesting faces and personalities in his ads. There are a lot of designers that will take a risk for a strong face. You definitely still see them on the cover of Italian Vogue. That look will eventually come back full force. Everything in fashion is cyclical.
How would you feel if one of your children got into modeling?
They’ve modeled with me quite a bit before. They did an H&M campaign with me and a commercial. My little guy was such a ham. I had to keep taking him aside and saying, “Nico, you’re working we have to do as they say.” His energy ended up being perfect for the shoot. They worked for Lord & Taylor, Target and Cookie magazine. It’s a fun way to express yourself. I get to spend a day with them and have fun. They are also paid and have savings accounts for college.
Now that you’re a mom and run a café I imagine it’s difficult to find balance in your life.
I’m a Libra so balance is really important to me. I make lists and do things when the kids are sleeping. My husband and I own a cafe in Chappaqua called Local so with modeling it takes extra team work with scheduling. It’s a juggle for sure.
You’re also interested in Homeopathy.
Yes! I love it. I’m in my fourth year of school at The Center for Homeopathic Education. It’s affiliated with Middlesex University in London. I’ve been practicing under supervision of a naturopath and I’ve begun seeing clients under supervision. I’m looking forward to having my own practice.
How did that path start for you?
I started by eating organic and then I took all preservatives and food dyes out of my diet. We started using homeopathic medicine instead of conventional medicine. I’m a huge believer in the body knowing how to take care of itself. It’s inspired me so much and affected my life in such a positive way I had to move forward with it.
Tell us more about Local.
It was a lot of hard work but totally worth it. Local food and cultivating a community around it was important to my husband and me. It has been another way we connect with our community in Chappaqua. We chose the name Local because the food is supplied from local farms. We use only seasonal fruits and vegetables. Ice cream comes from cows with names. My husband runs the menu while I decorate. We love doing it together.
What advice you would give your younger self?
Wisdom and confidence come with age and experience. I would say don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy being young. On a practical note, since models don’t have the longevity that we had, if you make money it is great to invest when you have it.
Danielle is represented by IMG