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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