Canadian stunner Liisa Winkler was the star of three consecutive Gucci campaigns during fashion’s love affair with Brazilian models. In addition to starting in campaigns for Balenciaga, Calvin Klein, Valentino and Longchamp, Liisa has graced the cover of Vogue, Numero, Elle and countless others. Dividing her time between modeling and motherhood, I caught up with Liisa to talk about the heady days of her career and to find out what she’s doing now.
Tell us about how you got started in the industry.
I was scouted at a local mall and my best friend convinced me to do some pictures with her. I started in Australia, which was a beautiful place to start, then tried Paris where I lived in a youth hostel and ate macaroni every night with four-dollar wine from a plastic bottle. New York didn’t work all that well either but just as I was contemplating a career switch, I was booked by Tom Ford for an exclusive Gucci campaign. I owe him my career. All the doors that were previously shut began to open.
You studied ballet before entering modeling. What parallels can you draw between the two and how did your background inform the way you modeled?
The two careers are very different. With ballet you can improve with hard work and dedication, but modelling is mostly about physical appearance and not something you can get better at. My ballet training was a real asset at the beginning of my career. I was often referred to as “the ballerina” and mostly ended up doing movement jobs. I remember wishing for a simple portrait style shoot for a long time but later realized that it’s much more creative to be moving. I have always found it very rewarding and exciting to be involved in creating something artistic and beautiful both in dance and in fashion.
How did you remain grounded during the height of your career?
My family and friends kept me grounded and being raised in a small town made me value a simpler life . My dance training taught me that in order to succeed at anything you had to work very hard. I guess I felt that being a model was not enough and I was always searching for something else to work hard at. When you are busy trying to work hard at things, you are more likely to keep your feet on the ground.
How has the industry changed over the course of your career?
Social media has really changed things. Nothing can be forgotten or erased from digital memory. I remember jobs that I did near the beginning of my career that I cannot find anywhere. It’s kind of nice because some things are best left in the past. I would hate to see behind the scenes footage of jobs where I felt less than comfortable. Girls now have to live with every bad decision or backstage half-naked photo ever taken of them. We used to shoot Polaroids and film. Digital really makes things faster and more accurate, but you lose some of the flow and spontaneity that came with using film. People are sometimes so obsessed with looking at the screen to see how the shot looks, that they lose the momentum and creativity that comes when the focus is only on set.
During the rise of the Brazilian models, Models.com refered to you as one of the most underrated models in the business. How do you feel about that sentiment?
At that time, being Brazilian almost guaranteed you an “in” with clients. Drinking champagne backstage was crucial to fitting in. My agent was always hounding me to attend fashion parties, that I never went to, and we often joked that I needed to stage a drug overdose in order to create a buzz. Perhaps I was a little too grounded? Anyhow it served me right I guess.
How do you feel about social media and the branding of models?
I think it kind of makes sense. I like that models now have personalities that are more public and they can speak out about causes and things that they feel passionate about. It creates a better role model for young girls and also gives the model more power to manage and direct her career.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have prosopagnosia- an inability to recognize faces. I sometimes don’t recognize people who I know quite well if they have changed their hair or are wearing a hat.
How has motherhood informed the way you approach modeling?
Having children has balanced my life in a really good way. They are my everything and modeling jobs are like the icing on the cake. Having kids has really put things into perspective and allowed me to have fun with modeling in a way that I was not able to before. I don’t take myself so seriously anymore and am not afraid to take risks and ask questions. I love what I do and that allows me to have fun.
What have you learned about yourself through modeling?
That life is more fun when you just go with things and not take yourself too seriously. Taking risks is pretty important and stepping out of your box can be scary but is totally worth it.
What are you doing these days?
I feel incredibly lucky to still be working as a model. I also work as an ambassador with World Animal Protection, with my main focus on farm animals. We live half in the city, half in the country and try to grow all our own vegetables. I am really interested in medicinal herbs and will be working on my diploma in herbalism this year. Mostly I spend time with my five and eight-year olds, cooking them things that are often not so tasty, sometimes really awesome, but always totally healthy.