Miss Fame Knows What She Wants And Isn’t Afraid To Reach For It

Entrepreneur, model, makeup artist, drag queen, and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Miss Fame shows no signs of slowing down. She was a spokesmodel for L’Oréal Paris, the first drag artist to walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, and has appeared in the pages of German Vogue, V, Love, and Elle magazine. With the launch of her beauty line Miss Fame Beauty, I spoke with her about her humble upbringing and the value of self-belief.

You grew up in California, right?

Yes, Central California, San Luis Obispo County.

Growing up did you have a clear idea what you wanted to do with your life? Was becoming a makeup artist something you always wanted to do and were you even aware that that was a career path?

No, because I grew up in such a contained environment. I mean, it’s a farming community, and the electives you take in school are welding, wood shop, and beef production management. I grew up close to the ocean—it was just 20 minutes away— but we were a bit inland, where work is very agriculturally driven and everybody was running wineries. It’s beautiful and very much has a country town vibe and a small town mentality where everybody knows everybody. I went to school with the same people, and everybody knows what they are going to do living there. I had to evolve and discover myself.

After graduating from high school, how did you end up discovering your path?

I knew at around 12 that I was gay—although I didn’t act upon it—and I had a realization that I wasn’t going to be able to live a life like everybody else in my family. Growing up in a small town, the people who usually stay learn a lot of the same traditions and have the same value system as everybody else. The gay community within my school was so tiny. There was a lesbian, my gay friend Jose, and another guy who was effeminate and ended up committing suicide. I remember thinking that we didn’t have a lot of resources and I didn’t feel safe. I was an artist who found my expression through my life circumstances, such as the trauma I experienced from the death of my dad and the death of my grandfather who raised me, as well as having a mother who struggled with addiction. I found an escape through art and beauty, and I always loved creating beautiful things. I had a natural talent and found my voice through my art.

How did you channel that expression initially? Was it through painting, music, makeup, or is that something that evolved later?

I grew up with a lot of uncles and aunts in the same household because my grandparents were mixed families. There was a large group of adults living in the house, and I was in kindergarten, so there was a giant age gap. Watching these adults, I had a lot of respect for them, and the women were so dynamic. They would get ready and put on makeup to go out for the weekend or to go to the football game, and I would watch them thinking it was so alluring.  I really loved listening to them gossip in the bathroom, doing their hair, and putting on their eyeshadow,  When I was home alone,  I definitely tried on some of the makeup that was in the pullout drawer in the bathroom. It was a drawer that had a bunch of hodge-podge; everyone’s stuff was in there. I would put on eyeliner or try on my grandmother’s high heels.  When you are little and you put on makeup, you don’t realize it takes a lot of work to remove it. I would have a raccoon eye and be like, holy shit I am going to get into so much trouble. There was an allure to beauty.

How did you discover drag?

It was evolutionary. Once I turned 18 (I am 33 now), I started partying and exploring the gay community that was in my county. I would go up north to a very small gay bar that opened twice a week. We would get in, and although you are not legally allowed to drink until you are 21, I would always get drunk. I was discovering myself, and in the midst of discovering my own sexuality, I also discovered my expression. I have always felt makeup was a form of protection because I didn’t have perfect skin and so I used some makeup to make me look better. My youngest aunt picked up my first CoverGirl foundation. I was so afraid to shop for makeup, because I felt like somebody was going to catch me. In the midst of all this, I found a community that was open and embraced me, and I felt like I had found my place. That’s when I started performing drag. I first performed when I was 19 and I did really well—I actually won a competition.

How many years later did you apply for RuPaul’s Drag Race?

Oh, many years later. I had moved to Northern California and enrolled in beauty college and discovered I could make people feel good about themselves by making them feel beautiful. I got my license, started working, traveled, and pursued modeling. At that time I had been in front of a camera for a number of years and had always worn makeup. I had a photographer tell me he didn’t suggest that I pursue this further, and I remember feeling that I hated people telling me what to do. I’m not willing to let that guide me. I then moved to New York and fell in love with New York. I was in a relationship and we slept on couches, toughing it out. I got a job at MAC and stopped doing hair as soon as I got to New York. I then got fired from that job but started working with celebrities. I was asked to audition for season six, so I was 29 when I made it on the show. I had been in New York for 3 years before I got on the show.

What was that experience like?

I didn’t know what to expect. Reality television is beyond your control. You have to be so strong in every arena, you have to be quick, you have to be talented, and you have to be able to handle anything that’s thrown at you. I realized that I am a sensitive person who doesn’t do well in competitions. In life I fight for what I want and that’s why I have a career, but on television I didn’t understand how to work it. I had never been on a show where I had to be in a room with people that were just dying to succeed. The exposure is great and you get a kick of momentum, but you are 100% responsible for the maintenance of your career. It’s crazy, but what I did get was a lot of experience. I learned how to become a better artist and performer. I also mentioned on the show that I wanted to work on a book, so I took my time to do that right.

There seems to be parallels between your story and Kevin Aucoin. Do you identify with his story and who has inspired you?

You nailed it. That is a great comparison, and I totally appreciate that. I have a few of his books, and I look at the way he structured faces and try to recreate those. I know a few people in New York that worked with Kevin, and I’ve tried to find out any tidbit of information I could from the icons of the 90s. The supermodels were a huge part of that for me because they were beautiful, untouchable, and luxurious. Even though I grew up very humble and broken, my expression was always to make something that felt strong, safe, alluring, and perfect. I really am a perfectionist. I am never happy until it’s really what I want it to be. Kevin is somebody who created an emotional connection with the people he worked with and he could back it up with his talent.

Tell us about how your beauty brand evolved.

I have always been able to get what I want when it comes to what is within my wheelhouse. I know what I want and I reach for it and get it. I believe that everything I had ever aspired to I could manifest. It’s like anything in life: if you want a better body, go to the gym and you are going to get a better body. I had conversations and did some research right off the bat, but it came down to finances. I developed something that’s my own and that I get to stand by. I had access to a really great team, and we get to tell a story. I turned my lipstick shades into five different provocative women and that’s exactly how I wanted it to be perceived. We didn’t have major budgets to do this. We made something out of passion with a team of people that wanted to be a success. That to me shows that your dedication for your craft will attract talented people so that you can achieve your goal. And it goes without saying, it takes a lot of hard work.

Follow her on Instagram

Advertisements

Muse Model Tess McMillan’s Ascent To The Top Has Only Just Begun

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.

Follow her on Instagram

Reid Rohling On Fashion’s Time’s Up Movement And Being A Gay Propagandist

Minnesotan Reid Rohling is part of a new breed of models bubbling under in the fashion industry, unapologetically outspoken, confident, and redefining things on their terms. With a campaign for Calvin Klein Jeans under his belt and a slew of designer shows to boot, Reid’s look is reminiscent of a 1950s pin-up with bowed lips, porcelain skin, and an unwavering gaze.

Tell us about your childhood.

I grew up in the suburbs just outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota. My parents, a clinical psychologist and a pastor of a mega-church, raised me very well—even though people seem to think that having parents with those professions would screw you up. I really should thank them more for providing me with what I think was a very normal childhood with minimal trauma. I also have a twin sister, who is not a model—everyone always asks me this for some reason when they find out. I was pretty shy as a kid, but she wasn’t, and I’d always latch onto the friends she made. When I reflect on my childhood, I think of her most. I miss not being able to see her everyday.

How were you discovered?

I moved to New York when I graduated from high school, along with my friend who was attending school here. I didn’t really have a plan, and I met my now current boyfriend within the first few weeks of moving here. He was a former model and a photographer, and he suggested I try modeling because I didn’t come to New York with a plan. He set up a couple of meetings for me, and I ended up signing with Fusion.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Most people would think the highlight was being a part of the first gay couple featured in a Calvin Klein campaign on the East Houston billboard, but honestly that just felt like a normal job to me. I go back and forth on whether or not that’s the kind of portrayal I want gay men to be associated with. Although CK always sell sex, I don’t think featuring a Grindr hookup in your first campaign with a gay couple is necessarily the best representation. I think it was banned in Russia for being “homosexual propaganda,” and at the end of the day I’m okay with being a gay propagandist. I think a nice modeling memory was doing my first show for Gucci in Milan. This was Alessandro Michele’s first show, and the team had worked 24/7 for weeks to pull off the show in such a short amount of time. People were crying after it was over, which I still have never seen before, and it was nice to work with them for 2 more years and see how Alessandro’s vision for the brand evolved.

How important do you feel social media is to a model’s career today?

I think it’s too important now. I get into trouble for not posting enough or for not posting selfies—it’s a little ridiculous. Most models I know buy their followers because some clients only care how much of a presence you have online. I use social media a lot, but I think it’s dumb.

What are your aspirations and goals for the future?

Good question. You know, I moved to New York with no plan, and I still have no plan. I just let things happen.

What do you hope to get out of your modeling career?

I think I’ve gotten what I want out of my career thus far. For instance, I’ve traveled all over the world at a very young age. Some people never get the privilege to do that, and I’m pretty grateful for it.

How do you handle the pressure and rejection that comes with modeling?

It used to bug me a lot when I first started modeling 4 years ago, but now I’ve just become so used to it. It’s really a part of the job, and if I got hung up on every rejection I’ve had, I’d honestly be dead.

You recently added your name to the growing number of models who support the Respect Program. What has your experience been in terms of mentorship and having a support system in the industry?

I think I really lucked out with the people I was surrounded with in the industry. My agents have always had my back on any sort of incident or complaint I’ve had, no matter how trivial. I know that’s not always the case with models starting out in their career. I think being the outspoken person that I am has been an asset to others. If I notice another model is uncomfortable on set, I will always say something. Some people in the industry don’t understand boundaries, especially when they’re working with models who are practically children. I also think new models should be aware that there are a lot of people who do not have your best interests in mind and to always make it known when you think someone is crossing a line.

What do you think people would be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m actually really nice no matter how bitchy I can sound over text.

What do you like to do in your spare time to decompress?

If I’m not working, you can usually find me at the movies. And I frequent all the art house theaters in the city. It’s really why I could never leave New York; you can see almost anything here on the big screen.

Follow him on Instagram

Brandi Quinones On Donatella, Diversity, And Fashion’s Obsession With Nostalgia

 

Model Brandi Quinones, known for her killer walk on the runway and a favorite of Donatella Versace, has stayed the course for over two decades in an industry known for its fickleness. From advertising campaigns for Chanel and Versace to the cover of Vogue, Brandi is a part of a coterie of models whose appeal still whips fashionistas into a frenzy. I caught up with her by phone to chat about her remarkable career.

You were born and raised in New York, correct?

I was born in New York but I didn’t grow up here. I moved when I was young and was raised in Florida and Oklahoma. My mom was a hair and makeup artist, and a model, so I lived in a lot of different places. I moved back to New York when I was 14 years old.

You were discovered when you were in New York at the age of 14, right?

I started modeling around the age of 2. I was literally learning how to do makeup, hair, and clothes at that age because I grew up in the 80s with a really cool mom. I wasn’t discovered until I was 14. When I was discovered, I said the only way I would model was if I had an apartment in New York—the next day I moved to New York and in June of 1992 started working as a professional model. I went back and forth between New York and Italy. When I started my career as a professional model, I wasn’t working very much in New York. I would always have to deal with editors that weren’t used to seeing a girl like me. There weren’t many Latina or black girls that were getting covers or becoming superstar models.

So you were groundbreaking for the time.

I tried to be and I am still trying to be

Your big break came via Donatella Versace. Tell me about that.

Oh yes, I was found by Donatella. I ended up doing the Versace campaign when I was 14. I had already done a really beautiful editorial for Spanish Elle in 1992 in all Versace clothes with tweezed eyebrows and floral bell-bottoms. I wish I could find the story because it was so good. We had the demo of RuPaul’s Supermodel playing on set over and over—it wasn’t even out yet.  That was  before I met with Donatella and booked the ad campaign.

That was the point where it took off for you?

It did start to take off for me. Shortly after shooting that campaign in Miami with Doug Ordway, I moved to Italy and I stayed there for a little while before making my way to Paris in January 1993. I remember leaving right after New Years to meet with my agency, and from there it took off. I did my first couture show for Chanel,  which was  horrible—I didn’t know how to walk on a runway. I didn’t learn how to walk until much later. All that sass was cute because it was attitude, but I did not know how to walk.

I think one of the great things about that is that it really showcased your personality. Now it’s so homogenized and there is no personality.

Yeah, it’s become a production line. As long as you make that designer’s creation look beautiful you have done your job. I am there to sell clothes and that’s all I want to do.

Diversity is very much a part of today’s zeitgeist, but a lot of that conversation smacks of tokenism to me. Do you think the fashion industry has made any progress?

I actually think that we are making very good strides. I think that fashion goes with trends, but I feel there’s way more diversity now than when I started. I would have to go and see the same managing editors two, three, or four times and they still didn’t get my look. I would go see them with my hair straight, then I had to go with my hair curly—they just didn’t understand. Was I Latina? Was I black? I didn’t mind, but understand that I am not your typical classic beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes. I am a very unusual looking person, but I feel that I want to open doors. I feel at this moment we are making strides we have not made in a good while. I feel like there is a lot more diversity, and there are a lot more young kids that I would like to see model. I feel there are more mixed girls than ever before booking big jobs like the Céline campaign and things like that. That would never have been very easy for us in the past.

Why do you think there is a lot of nostalgia around the time that you modeled?

I mean, come on, we don’t have creators like that anymore. I grew up dreaming of working with creators like that. My mother’s gay best friend used to buy me all the Guess and all the Christian Dior a girl could ever want. I grew up watching designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, and I always knew I wanted to work with them. I feel like that time is super nostalgic because we don’t have many amazing creators like that anymore. We’ll never have a Gianfranco Ferré again, we will never have a Halston again, we will never have a Bill Blass again. So many of these amazing people made fashion special. It was so rare. Not everyone had a Chanel bag, and we didn’t even know how to pronounce Versace.

How do you think social media is changing things? I find now, every young person seems to think they can be a model.

It is crazy, let me tell you; it’s so backward. I come from a time where it is was much more professional. I lived in Europe for most of my career, and I was raised with a very different mentality. In Europe you had to have a release from the your agent to use a picture to post anywhere. These days, you take a picture and it’s right there for the whole world, without going past an agent. I don’t necessarily think it’s good or bad. As much as I love celebrities, this is a model’s game and I’m not really happy with all these celebrities on covers. I want it to go back to what it is supposed to be, and hopefully it will at some point. I am just super old school.

Before there was an element of mystery and anticipation waiting for images to come out. You just don’t have that anymore.  

Absolutely! You hit the nail on the head.

How do you stay interested after all this time?

I really love it. Something in me sparked when I was young and I started to read Vogue and saw Naomi, and Claudia and campaigns for Revlon and L’Oreal. I just happened to be lucky enough that it was just my time.

Where would you like to see the industry progress from where it is today?

I think it has been progressing so much, and it’s really great. I would like to see more models doing advertising and not so many celebrities. You know, it’s really our job to sell the clothes. I was one of the first models to have a brand—now that word is overused.

Follow her on Instagram

In Conversation With Legendary Fashion Model Niki Taylor

A fixture on the modeling scene for nearly three decades, Niki Taylor epitomizes what we think of when we talk about supermodels. She was the youngest person ever to be featured as one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful People as well as the first spokesmodel younger than 18 to sign a major contract with CoverGirl, and she appeared on the cover of six major American magazines in the same month, dubbed the “Niki Six”. But behind the megawatt smile, Niki faced her own challenges due to family tragedy and a near fatal car accident. After taking a hiatus, Niki returned to modeling with much fanfare and has parlayed her brand into charitable work, most notably as a brand ambassador for the Nexcare Give Program, a partnership with Nexcare Bandages and the American Red Cross. I spoke with Niki about her remarkable career.

You began your career during the heyday of the Supermodel era and now there’s something of a renaissance and renewed interest in those models and that time period. What do you attribute that to?

I think a lot of the models have been working steadily all along—maybe now there is a recognition of that fact. To me, the job of a model is to represent and communicate with the intended audience. It must be working for the clients, or they would not be paying us to do so.

You had the opportunity to work with some of the legends in the business. Tell us about some of the most memorable moments of your career.

The obvious milestones are the big contracts, cover shoots, or simply the great chemistry you have on set with people. For the most part, all the models got along really well. I never hung out with a lot of models because I lived in Florida, but we’d meet up on set or around the world during Fashion Week and it was always great to see them again, even if it was just crossing on the runway.

What do you attribute your longevity in this industry to?

I think there are always two parts to having a long career. The first is that you love doing it, and the second is that clients need to want you to work for them and see value in that.

Did you have any reservations about your sons entering the modeling industry and what advice did you give them?

The industry has changed a lot, but as long as they have fun doing it and it provides them with an income and opportunities they want, I am all for it.

You recently had a special Mother’s Day photoshoot with your daughter Ciel. Is she fashion’s next Niki Taylor?

I hope she becomes the next Ciel Taylor Lamar!

You’ve had tremendous highs in your career punctuated by incredibly dark periods. What did you discover about yourself during those times?

That the old Persian saying “This too shall pass” is true.  You get through everything and while it does change you along the way, you can make it through. I’ve always clung to that.

Tell us about how you got involved with the American Red Cross and the Nexcare Give campaign and why it’s important to you.

I hardly consider myself a celebrity, but some people think I am, so if a by-product of that is to be able to focus people’s attention on something that can drive a cause, help people, or awaken interest in something we should all pay attention to, I am all for it.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement and why?

My family. It is an ongoing mindset of caring and coping with life that never ceases to provide joy and meaning.

How would you like to be remembered?

Like a happy sunny day.

Follow Niki on Instagram, FacebookTwitter

Follow NYMM on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter