Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey, Debra Shaw was a designer’s dream manifested. Her lithe figure and angular features were a favorite of couturiers Galliano, Ferre and McQueen. She appeared in Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter and George Michael’s Fast Love in addition to appearing on a commemorative stamp issued in Gibraltar. Now living in Paris, I caught up with Debra to talk about fashion and her new music project.
Tell us about your childhood growing up in New Jersey.
Growing up in New Jersey township, the energy could be slow. My dream was to be in a city where things were happening faster, like Philadelphia or New York City.
You had an interest in fashion growing up. Did you have any idea how that would manifest?
I was inspired by people who had a unique fashion style. I studied design and afterword I decided that my dream was to travel to Europe.
Tell us about how you got into modeling.
Since Paris is where I wanted to live, I entered a modeling competition where I won first prize, which was a trip to Paris.
Which designers and photographers were the first to support and advocate for you?
There are so many supporters from different regions such as New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York City. They were the first to encourage me from an early start.
How has the industry changed since the nineties?
The roles of the models today are very different than the ones in the nineties, where designers encouraged the models to be expressive and creative like actresses.
The Fashion Spot’s biannual diversity report shows incremental improvement in casting for the Fall 17 runway shows. Why do you think the fashion industry has been so slow to diversify?
In the late nineties there was a shift happening in the fashion industry with new positions created in the business. This major change affected also the hiring of the models and the diversity.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I feel blessed to have worked with amazing artists in the fashion industry and that my work became an inspiration for other artists and models. Today I am a singer performing at sold out concerts in Europe. This is such a great emotion!
What advice would you give to your younger self-starting off in the fashion industry?
I would tell my new models, whom I consult with today, that looks are a small portion of the business. It’s also important to think about the bigger picture and your future thereafter.
Tell us about what you’re up to these days.
My new music project is called Debra’s Dream. It’s an exciting storytelling adventure which mixes my singing and spoken words with original jazz and funk compositions. I feel very grateful for this opportunity.
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