Introducing Hannah Matheny

North Carolina native Hannah Matheny may be a newbie on the block, but her dedication and discipline—rooted in her love of dance—will stand her in good stead. After laying the foundation with The Model Coaches, Hannah signed with Muse’s Curve division—home to activist and body positivity champion Charli Howard.

Tell us about what your childhood was like.

I grew up in North Carolina and spent most of my time in school and the dance studio. I was very busy throughout my adolescence, as I was also involved in various clubs, volunteer experiences, weekend dance competitions, and I worked as a cashier in a grocery store. I started dancing when I was four and it helped me develop discipline, an appreciation for the arts, and a foundation for my future modeling career. At the same time, dance also initiated habits of disordered eating, and body image issues that I continue to work on to this day—especially remaining in an industry plagued with similar ideas. I left the South when I was 17 to attend college, and I found independence and opportunity in New York City.

Talk to us about how you were discovered.

The moment I reached 5’10”, classmates, friends, and even strangers on the street began to comment on how my height could easily lead me into modeling. I did not give their suggestions a second thought until I moved to Manhattan to attend college. After hearing further comments from my new friends—and living in a prime location—I finally looked into it. That’s when I found Trudi Tapscott. After attending a live coaching event held by The Model Coaches I signed on, making them my mother agency, and my journey began.

You worked with The Model Coaches before being signed to an agency. Talk to us about how that prepared you for modeling.

Anyone who shows curiosity about my modeling journey in the hope of beginning their own career knows that the first thing I will recommend is a mother agency. The Model Coaches specifically prepared me with resources that I would never have considered on my own. I had very little experience before I signed on with Trudi and The Model Coaches; however—within a few months—I learned the basics of shooting with a photographer, preparing digitals and a portfolio, interviewing with agencies, rehearsing a runway walk, and finding authenticity in everything that I present. After just those few months with The Model Coaches, I was fully prepared to sign with Muse Curve in New York City.

Before signing with Muse’s Curve division did you feel pressure to conform to a “straight” size?

I knew it was going to be a challenge being an “in-between” or midsize model from the get-go. I questioned where I fit into the modeling world. In the past, because of pressure I felt from society and myself, I had tried to work toward that smaller size, but I found that it was essentially impossible. I am not built to be a “straight” size model. After finding an agency who never expects me to change my body, and continuously provides me with equally welcoming clients and jobs, it was much easier to accept that myself. All that said, the modeling industry does still have some growing to do.

What misconceptions did you have about modeling when you started this journey?

The biggest misconception I had before entering the industry was that modeling was easy. I find a lot of people—even those who speak to me about it now—believe that. Just standing in front of a camera and smiling, right? In reality it’s much more difficult than it looks. Practicing poses, speaking to the camera, training for the runway, spending entire days on set beginning at the crack of dawn, going to castings daily just to face rejection, and waking up sore from a photoshoot were all things I had not previously thought about. After my first few shoots, interviews, and castings, my respect for people in this industry grew so much.

Who are your role models and what about them has inspired you?

I was lucky enough to grow up with a family that encouraged me to discover my passions and run with them no matter how risky or non-traditional they were. My entire family is inspiring to me, always demonstrating that you can do anything and everything that you want. I was fortunate enough to enter the modeling industry after necessary changes to diversify began. Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), and plus-sized models have paved the way for people of all races, sizes, and abilities to gain visibility on social media and in fashion. Seeing people that look like you and who are proud of their bodies—as well as their character—is so important. Charli Howard, an English curve model, is one of those people for me.

What do you hope to get out of your career? 

I have so many dream modeling jobs that include walking for various designers, shooting covers for magazines, and appearing on billboards. It is a dream being able to continue to create art with my body, like I once did with dance. I never want to leave the world of creatives. Models, photographers, agents, and casting directors are some of the most innovative, artistic, kind, and compassionate people I have ever met. I am already beginning to feel the impact of my modeling career, despite the fact that I am still beginning my journey.

What are your goals for the future?

As a person with far too many interests to choose, I can only hope to do a bit of everything that I love during my lifetime. Modeling is the main priority at the moment; however, as I work full-time, I also attend an online university part-time studying Psychology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, as well as intern for a relationship, sex, and mental health therapist. A dream would be to incorporate my interests, potentially gaining a platform where I can speak on my mental health, queerness, and body acceptance journey, and be a role model to anyone who may relate to my experiences.

What would people be surprised to discover about you?

I am vegan and I have been for a little over four years, and I care a lot about sustainability. I typically thrift my clothes and shop from sustainable small businesses when it’s possible. As for my groceries, I try to buy in bulk when I can and carry all my reusable jars and bags to a food co-op store in Union Square to fill them up. I also love to cook. Right now I am obsessed with making vegan penne alla vodka, various curries, and a chili my dad curated a recipe for.

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Model Tasha Tilberg on Sustainability And The Importance Of Being Connected To Nature

As one of the most prolific models of the nineties, Tasha Tilberg—the classic beauty with street cred—was as easily at home on the international runways of Europe as she was adorning billboards as the face of CoverGirl. With over two decades in the fashion industry under her belt—and no signs of slowing down—the Canadian beauty spoke about sustainability and following in the footsteps of her ancestors as a steward of the land.

The last year has been challenging for people living through a pandemic. How has your perspective changed during these times?

It’s reaffirmed my beliefs that food security, and sustainability are very important—especially in small, remote communities like where I live. It is also proving that people can still be productive while working from home, and that people don’t need to fly around the world constantly for meetings.

Tell us about how you were discovered.

I went to an agency in Toronto when I was 14. My sister took a fashion class in high school and encouraged me to try it.

At the beginning of your career you purchased a farm when you were just 16 years old. Talk to us about that and the importance of being connected to nature for you.

I had traveled to Japan and earned enough for a down payment on my old farm. I had always dreamed of having a farm and working with the land. My parents had a farm, but they sold it before I was born. My paternal grandparents had homesteaded near Thunder Bay, Ontario by a crossroads called Sunshine. I think being a steward of the land is deep in my DNA. Being connected to nature is in all of us, but sometimes—when we urbanize ourselves too much—we forget what the smell of forests and summer meadows are like. I believe all people can feel rejuvenated by being immersed in a natural environment.

The word sustainable gets banned around a lot without specificity. Talk to us about what sustainability means to you.

Sustainable can mean different things on different levels. On a farm—such as mine—economical and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. My goal is to create a closed circuit where we grow nearly all the food we need to sustain ourselves as well as all the food for our livestock. We strive to eat seasonally, preserving our summer gardens by canning and drying foods, and extending our growing seasons by use of greenhouses. Using manure to enrich the soil is as ancient as keeping livestock. We also compost or feed our kitchen waste to our chickens so that really nothing is wasted. This is small scale family farm agriculture. Selling our excess veggies to other families is another way of connecting and sharing, and keeping our communities fed locally, and not by trucking all of our food long distances.

There’s a coterie of models that have attained cult status in the industry. Why do you think you’re considered a cult model?

Am I? That’s cool—I had no idea–this is a hard one to answer. Maybe my winning personality? I think I came up in a time of real change in the industry. People enjoyed working with models with different personalities, but they also wanted you to be a blank slate. I rebelled and wanted to represent an otherness in fashion at that time, or I refused to ignore myself. I was always open about being in the LGBTQIA+ community as well. I started getting visible tattoos when I turned 15, and I loved to cut my own hair—especially undercuts—but it wasn’t always appreciated by clients.

What do you think are the common misconceptions people have about you?

I’ve always tried to be pretty open about who I am, so I’m not sure what kind of misconceptions there would be about me. Possibly they would be misconceptions about models in general. Generally, I know many models who are modest, thoughtful, and are striving to make the world a better place.

You’ve achieved the type of career longevity young models can only dream of. What do you attribute your success to?

I took many breaks for many reasons. I needed to recharge, and possibly it made people miss me. I was never fully immersed in the fashion world. I have spent my time enjoying parties and different aspects of life on the road, but I took time away to replenish my spirit and to build my family and home. I worked hard to acquire skills that gave me different perspectives, and it made me feel connected to nature and the generations before me, like gardening, spinning, and weaving wool.

The industry has changed so much since you began in the 90s. In what ways do you think the industry has made progress and what work still needs to be done?

I think there have been wonderful strides forward for the fashion industry. There has emerged greater visibility and diversity in this industry. It’s always evolving, and there is still a long way to go. Holding brands accountable for how they source materials—and the environmental impact—as well as livable wages, are the next important elements that need to be addressed.

In retrospect, what have you discovered about yourself on this journey?

I have discovered that there are many ways to cultivate happiness. I learned that I am really good at my job—I didn’t always feel worthy or like the job—but I always had a strong work ethic, and now I really enjoy it when I work. I feel I can fully represent myself, and feel respected. I’ve enjoyed growing up, maturing, and learning all the lessons life has thrown at me.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope our world can find some balance. That our future children can have a world that has wonderful natural areas and wilderness untamed by humans.

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Modeling Icon Susan Holmes McKagan Talks Fashion And Why She Isn’t One To Kiss And Tell

Throughout the nineties Susan Holmes McKagan was part of an elite group of models that dominated magazine covers, international runways, and whose ubiquitous presence dominated popular culture. She was a perennial favorite of photographers Steven Meisel and Arthur Elgort, the latter of whose book I Love…she appeared on the cover. From her stellar modeling career, to swimsuit designer, to author, and multiple television appearances, Susan has maintained the type of traction few others have been able to emulate. I recently spoke to her by phone from her home on the West Coast. 

I thought that we could start with how you were discovered.

My older sister Cynthia modeled—I always thought she was much prettier and smarter than me, I just idolized her—and I thought it looked so glamorous and fun. I loved fashion, and I wanted to dip my toes into that world so she inspired me to try. I went with my mom on a trip to New York and we did all the things a mother and daughter would do on a trip there.  We went to see a Broadway show, went out for a lovely dinner at the Quilted Giraffe—an iconic restaurant—and it was there I was spotted. The whole restaurant had 10 tables and was very chic and exclusive. While we were dining, I stood up to use the restroom and was stopped and asked if I was a model and represented by anyone. It turned out to be the amazing fashion photographer Marco Glaviano. He happened to be there dining with Jodie Foster, so that was pretty cool. 

He suggested I go and see Eileen Ford the next day and tell her that he sent me. I was only 16 at the time and I lived in San Diego. I come from a family of scholars. My dad is thrice a Fulbright Scholar—he never left school, it’s his whole world—and my mom has a master’s degree. In their world modeling didn’t compute so we settled on a happy medium and I signed to an agency in Los Angeles and modeled locally in San Diego and LA. After high school I went off to Paris and got a modeling contract. I was poached by an agent in San Diego who wanted me to compete in the Elite Look of the Year competition.

When you arrived in Paris how well were you received there? Did things take off for you quickly?

In my mind I was the San Diego beach girl—the big fish in a small pond—on the cover of San Diego magazine, who booked pretty much everything. When I arrived in Paris I thought I’ve got this. I did a job for Elle magazine and a couple of other shoots but it wasn’t an overnight thing at all. I’m grateful because I may not have been the biggest model, but I have longevity.

There is still a real thirst for models from the 90s today.  What do you attribute your longevity to and why do you think people are still so obsessed with that period in fashion? 

That was the era of the supermodels. The models were the ones on all the magazine covers, walking the runways, and were coveted. It was mysterious because you didn’t have cell phones or access like now. It was glamorous, romantic, and hard to get into. It was difficult to get into fashion shows or even meet a model. That increases the desirability and want to get closer to that circle even more, I suppose. I am very blessed that I am still working a lot today. I am doing more covers than I ever have, and I am walking in runway shows. I am very grateful and humbled.  

Outside of modeling, I know that you have your swimsuit line and you wrote a book The Velvet Rose. I wanted to talk a little bit about the book. The premise has parallels between your life and the protagonist. Why did you choose to write a novel as opposed to a memoir?

That’s an interesting question because the obvious direction I could have gone in was to write an autobiography.

Like a tell-all?

Yeah, but that’s not my style at all. I have never been one to kiss and tell.

I respect that.

I think sometimes you can convey more through a fictitious novel than a tell-all. Remember the Jackie Collins novel Rock Star? I wouldn’t typically read that and then everyone I knew was reading it. I wanted to write a novel because I have been working fastidiously at honing my writing craft. I have been writing front page articles for the Huffington Post for years, and with more time during COVID-19 I went back to college and recently completed my first graduate level class at Harvard University in Feature Writing. I am thrilled and proud to say I have a 4.0 GPA. I wanted to not only dispel a lot of fantastic stories I had within me, but to tell them in a way that wasn’t gossipy or throw anyone under the bus; that’s not my style. I am a writer’s writer—or at least I like to think that I am.

Can you talk about how you think the fashion industry has evolved? There have been periods where diversity in size was touted—Sophie Dahl and Crystal Renn being two that come to mind—but both lost weight and became ‘straight’ sized. There have been very few models of color at the top too. Do you think it’s better today?

I think there is some progress—which I love—and I think it has been much overdue. The last cover I shot for Glamour was with a black photographer. I can’t think of a time when a black photographer shot me in the 90s. I could be wrong, but off the top of my head I can’t think of one.

That’s a really interesting point. I think when we talk about diversity we are always framing the conversation in terms of what’s in front of the camera.

Yeah, he is from Haiti.  He is great.  You know, he’s going to put a different paradigm and spin on the fashion and the message in the photographs. Yeah, of course we need more models of ethnicity and size and age. We haven’t talked about ageism, how about that? I think in America they need to get on the horn a little bit faster just as they do in Europe and embrace older women. Maye Musk, Joan Didion, Carmen Dell’Orefice are beautiful women. At the same time, I hate the portrayal of women as either young and vibrant, or older with gray hair. What about all the women in the middle?

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2020: The Year in Review

As I reflect on the events of last year I find myself at a loss to articulate the significance of where things have taken us. This blog has always been an outlet for me, a way to connect and share the stories of people I interview. I started off the year speaking with my friend and industry veteran Trudi Tapscott, and model Kim Peers before being derailed by a pandemic. As the chaos continued to throw things off kilter I spent the next few months in quiet reflection until, in late summer, I started to write again. Interviews with modeling legends Laura Morgan, and Ben Hill provided the type of insight and wisdom that only time and experience can afford us. Models Georgia Moot, and Donna Bahdon are examples of intelligent young women using their platform to further conversations about diversity, and mental health. And Andrew Broz—someone who has supported me from the beginning—shared the important work he’s doing. I don’t know where this year will take us, but my hope is that you are all healthy and safe.


Introducing Donna Bahdon

Scouted on Instagram, the multilingual Somali beauty’s foray into the modeling industry couldn’t come at a more opportune time. As the fashion industry evolves and expands its definition of modern beauty, Donna’s inclusion gives hope and validates the existence of a generation of girls who have felt excluded by the archetype of Western beauty held as the gold standard for decades. I recently caught up with her to talk about modeling and her hopes for the future.

Tell us about how you were discovered.

I wish it was something fancy—like bumping into an agent at a coffee shop—but it was actually through Twitter and Instagram. I posted a few selfies and they went viral. Agents started to reach out to me through Instagram, that’s how I met my managers, Valenté Fanning, and Roderick Hawthorne at V Management.

Talk to us about your relationship with fashion and what it means to you.

I think fashion is one of most beautiful extensions of human expression. It has been since the dawn of time. Fashion speaks for you, and for itself. It tells us a little more about individuals, their stories; it introduces cultures, traditions, and characteristics. Fashion has always had an impact on people and what they choose to represent, and I think that’s what I love most about it. 

What has your family’s response been to you pursuing a modeling career?

My family isn’t any different from other Muslim families. Though they’re very supportive, their main concern was how my modesty and my faith would not be compromised, and how my journey in the industry would fortify these two aspects of my life. I believe that I have built the foundation and boundaries to not weaken my modesty and, as aware as I am of the challenges, I hope that at all times I make the right decisions for my faith and values. I am so fortunate to have my family be a part of this journey, to strengthen me and guide me if I ever need it.

What has the reception been like for you as a Black Muslim woman in the fashion industry?

Black Muslim models are no strangers to the industry, some of the greatest and most memorable models were Somali models. With the rise of the Hijab wearing models, the likes of Halima, Ugbad, Ikram and many others, these women have paved the way for other Black Muslim Hijabis to be received with respect and dignity. There’s still so much work to do when it comes to Black Women, Black Muslim Women, and all other POCs within the industry, but we are definitely headed in the right direction. 

Talk to us about the paradox of modeling and your faith.

I find that question to present a false binary, that is of: faith versus modelling.  Further, all people, regardless of faith or non-faith, consider their values with every job that they do. I am no different. My faith does not disavow all expressions of art, which fashion would fall under. I operate solely within the boundaries of my faith and personal values. There are certain things I do not wear, or certain situations I will not be in. It is not a paradox, just a matter of choice.

I understand you’re a fan of art, and pop culture. What’s currently on your radar?

Well, there’s actually a few things I’ve been keeping up with recently. I love a good mini series, and HBO brought us The Undoing with Nicole Kidman—she’s one of my favorite actresses—so you know, I just had to tune in! There’s also Clubhouse, it’s an interactive app where people are having in real time conversations about a multitude of things from sports, to media, to networking, and real social issues. Literally all of it. I definitely recommend. 

What do you hope to get out of your career? 

I hope to meet the people that have changed and continue to change the industry as we know it and learn from them. I hope to travel the world and experience new cultures and new people. I also hope to branch out and create my own brand and create partnerships with the very brands I grew up admiring and respecting. 

What does success look like to you? 

I want to leave a long lasting legacy and impression in the industry. I am my own brand, and this is ultimately a business that demands creativity and uniqueness to take on the many challenges and roles. I hope to create my brand by spreading my talents across the board. Also, navigating through the industry can be very tricky and I want to make sure that I do my part for Hijab wearing models who want to contribute to the fashion industry in the future. 

What would we be surprised to learn about you?

Hmm, I think you’ll just have to get to know me!

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