Posts in Clipping
Becoming a Supermodel with the Help of a Supermodel

Yearly thousands of young kids reach out to modeling agencies in the hopes of becoming a model. They call, send pictures and letters in the mail, show up unannounced at the agency’s doorsteps, and call relentlessly to follow up, hoping to find a place in the spotlight. These girls and boys have no guidance or frame of reference. With that in mind, supermodel Claudia Mason, one of the members of that elite group of girls who made a name for themselves in the 90’s (alongside Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington); decided to lend a hand. With the new book “Finding the Supermodel in You - An Insider’s Guide to Teen Modeling”, Mason draws from her experiences as a model, breaking down the entire profession bit by bit.

Other than articles found online briefly describing the inner works of an agency, a model’s career, or modeling schools, there’s very little objective and helpful information that can be obtained to help in a model’s pursuit. Not only that, but modeling schools who are supposed to guide and manage aspiring models, many times are no more than a very expensive source of useless advice. These companies seem to be more concerned with padding their bank accounts rather than honestly selecting talent that has potential for a career in a very selective industry.

Claudia speaks from experience, from many years of trial and errors in which she navigated pretty much every scenario a model wannabe can dream of. Mason’s tips range from what type of clothing to wear when meeting agents and clients, to what foods to eat and which beauty products to pick at the drugstore.

Claudia’s career started when she was only fifteen years old. This native New Yorker was a dance student and professionally trained by some of the best the Big Apple had to offer. After her health prevented her from moving forward with her dream of being a professional dancer, fate took her for a spin. One afternoon after school, Claudia was approached by a model agent who saw potential in the young girl. Claudia’s first modeling job was with the legendary photographer Richard Avedon, who repeatedly brought her back for other shoots throughout the years. Mr. Avedon shot Claudia for multiple Vogue covers and editorials, various campaigns for Versace, among others. Claudia was “One of the Most Beautiful Women in the World“ according to her Revlon ad. This was the late eighties. Concerned with her studies, Claudia’s parents put a break on her career until she finished school.

By the time she returned to the scene at age 18, the nineties were in full swing and Claudia fit right in the middle of that famous supermodel group. The credits attached to her name speak for themselves: campaigns for brands like Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Christian Lacroix, Gianfranco Ferre, Gianni Versace and Versace Jeans; magazine covers for titles such as Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Elle and Mademoiselle and an enviable list of photographers which includes Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Helmuth Newton, Irving Penn, Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier and Mario Testino to name a few. Her list of runway shows would be far too extensive to mention, but it’s no less iconic. Claudia Mason had arrived!

As this girl’s career progressed from model to supermodel, Claudia started integrating some of her other passions into her bookings. Mason dove into acting as well as TV hosting, which landed her the top position on Mtv’s “Fashionably Loud“, a cross between fashion and music in one TV show. Her acting brought her awards in theater and many positive reviews by top critics. Upon her return to New York in 2010, amidst bookings with Katie Grand for Love Magazine and Vogue Russia, Claudia began to refocus her energy and work on a plan for her next career phase.

The tireless supermodel decided this was the time to give back to the world some of the good things she earned. She turned a negative health scare into a positive action and joined the American Stroke Association as a spokesperson, bringing awareness to an issue that affects men and women of all ages around the globe. On that same year she also began developing a TV show, which is currently in pre-production. Somehow, in the middle of all this, she still found time to work in movies and write a book - this, her biggest passion project.

In her guide to teen modeling, Claudia hopes to shed some light on matters that have been obscure to most people. She has no problems speaking out about health issues and drugs, topics that have always surrounded the modeling profession in the eye of the media. The model considers herself lucky for being able to work and still be close to home and her family, a luxury that most girls can’t afford. She also found a team that supported and protected her every step of the way.

With this book, Claudia is a part of her reader’s team. The author keeps things simple, the goal is not to pontificate, but to maintain an open dialog. Mason created check lists for the young girls and approached the industry’s top professionals to make sure that her reader would receive the best information available from every area of the business.

Claudia’s career is a brilliant example of fortitude and creativity. Here is a woman who was never afraid to brake boundaries and try new approaches. Because of that Claudia was able to live out all her dreams. Now Claudia enters a new phase, one that is more mature but not less exciting, one that aims to bring the dreams of many aspiring models to reality too.

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Article originally published in The Huffington Post Books, April 2016

The Hopeless State of Brazil

During a recent visit to Porto Alegre, my hometown in Brazil, I went to the supermarket for groceries. As my turn at the checkout approached my phone rang and I launched into an animated conversation, in English, with my American boyfriend. Suddenly I felt a presence around me. As I looked up from the groceries I was placing on the belt I saw eyes peering at me. The bagging boy whispered something inaudible to the neighboring check out girl and I decided it would be best to end the call. I said hello, in Portuguese, to the cashier who had her eyes wide staring at me. She answered with a murmur. After she finished checking my items she did not give me the final amount aloud, as they usually do, but pointed to the screen while staring back at me, as if her life was in danger. I gave her exact change and all of a sudden the woman behind me in line tapped my shoulder.

"I'm sorry to bother, but why are there so many Americans in town?" She asked in good english, as I anticipated.

The three surrounding registers and the bagging boys all stared at us, anxiously waiting for an answer. I told her I am in fact a local who lives abroad, visiting my family. That did not suffice.

"Why on earth would you come here?" Asked the checkout girl.

"Where do you live?" Inquired the next one.

"Are you really spending the holidays HERE!?" questioned the boy.

The general consensus was that I had lost my mind.

"Why would you come back here?" The question lingered with me several days after that.

I had not been to Brazil in several years. The recent developments of my country's political and economic state frightened me, not to mention a spike in violence that has not been witnessed in nearly twenty years. The type of violence that affects all layers of the population from housekeepers, taxi drivers and waiters to CEO's, TV personalities and everyone in between is a petty violence. They steal because they want your Tupperware with food, to feed their hunger; or your cellphone to trade for crack. Sometimes, more regularly than not, they'll kill for a chunk of change, they don't know any other way. It's a lawless state.

National magazines print stories covering a mass exodus of Brazil nationals attempting to build their lives on solid ground in North America or Australia. Hell, anywhere but there. It's a hopeless state.

The population revolts and takes to the streets. The government, corrupt all the way to the top, buys votes, steals money and rips to shreds an economy built strong over the course of two decades. There is no education, no healthcare and no public safety to speak of. Brazil is today a country with no infrastructure, but it's still a beautiful country. Brazil has insurmountable beauty, incredible fun and joy to offer. Tourism may very well be it's last threshold and hope.

I left Brazil in the pursuit of a dream, several years ago at the height of its economic boom. Americans would look at me in shock wondering why would I ever want to abandon such a paradise especially when the country was performing so well. Truth be told, I had serious doubts that the mentality of the population and its politicians had changed so rapidly. Unfortunately, I was right.

Today from where I stand, I see several people I know plotting an escape plan. I see several people I don't know having to sell homes they never actually moved into because they aren't able to keep up with inflation and interest rates. Brazil has in less than a decade created a real estate bubble of gargantuan proportions, similar to the one that took the United States half a century to build up. Brazil's bubble is bursting, what's worse, the little hope Brazilian citizens had in the future of its country is gone. The population stopped believing in the system, more than that, the population stopped believing in the population. The citizens of Brazil stopped believing they are in fact the decision makers, they stopped believing that they are in fact capable of affecting change.

The people of Brazil are so afraid of losing the bread crumbs the government throws at them, that they keep quiet. No one sues the government because they already know the judiciary will not push their suit forward. One alone, may be weak, but what about the hundreds of thousands of people who suffered together at the hand of President Collor and still have not received a penny back since 1992? Why aren't all these people banding together to fight the country for the money that is rightfully theirs? Because the people lost faith in the people. The people are afraid of the people. It's a snowball effect that allows for the Brazilian government to stay its course of thievery and impunity.

The impoverished population who had no access to decent homes, or any credit for that matter, all of a sudden saw the hands of bankers and lenders opening up. Suddenly families of six who shared a one-room home had flat-screens, laptops and nicer clothes. These families were immediately elevated to the status of middle class. But elevated by whom? The government, who saw fit to show the world how rapid change was possible in Brazil. It was all an illusion.

When the government believes it's more important for the people to have material possessions (and debt) instead of education and access to healthcare, there is definitely a strong misconception. When the population becomes so desperate that they have to steal food from their fellows standing at bus stops in order to feed themselves, the country enters a dark age. My feeling upon returning to Brazil was of anguish, and this feeling was shared with every person I came in contact with during my trip. The disappointment of seeing firsthand what it's like for people to turn against each other because their government is busy spending the people's money on better homes and vacations for themselves is painful, it's revolting.

I wish I could pose a solution to these issues, but I can hardly wrap my head around the problems of Brazil. For the moment I offer my thoughts and hope for better days. This country has stood in the dark for much longer than it's seen the light. It's time to change.

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Originally published in The Huffington Post / WorldPost, Feb 2016

How Models Taught Me it is OK to Miss Home
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One of my assignments on fourth grade was to read a book about a girl who traveled abroad on an exchange student program. This was a thoroughly engaging tale of chasing independence, dealing with language barrier, new cultures and experiencing feeling homesick for the first time. After the class had read the book and turned in the essays, the school arranged for the author to come in to give a lecture. The girl was probably no more than ten years our senior and had attended our school. I had a transcendental experience, it was the first time I had met someone who had actually left home and gone some place else. Everything started to make sense to me. Everything, but the idea of feeling homesick.

"Why would she be crying just because she wasn't home?" I didn't get it. To me, getting out should feel more like a blessing than a curse. There was nothing wrong with my family or my upbringing, but I felt a longing for life abroad ever since I can remember. It made no sense and I could not explain it, I only knew how I felt.

A few years later, when I was eighteen, I finally got my first opportunity to go somewhere. I didn't exactly make it out of Brazil but I was moving from Porto Alegre to São Paulo, which was significant. I was the first in my family to take such a big step and one of my first friends to go anywhere, for good. Think of it as moving from Charleston to New York. It was huge!

I remember dealing with models who were very young (but not much younger than I was), most of them between 14 and 16 years old. Many girls adjusted well to the life in the biggest metropolis of Brazil, pounding the pavement trying to make it in the world of modeling. A few others however, had terrible bouts of depression and loneliness and broke down quickly. Every now and then a girl would come into the office crying and desperate to get on the phone with her mother, just because she missed her parents or felt overwhelmed by the size of the city. I couldn't relate with that feeling. I never cried, I never felt separated, I never felt distant. I was happy. What could be better than pursuing a career in one of the best modeling agencies in the world?

The first few months in my new city went by smoothly. I had to travel down south a couple of times to gather more of my belongings, so I still maintained a fairly close connection with my family. I didn't have a place of my own, I was couch surfing with a friend of a friend until I figured things out. The distance from where I was staying to work was enormous. I had to take two buses and the journey could last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and that's not counting the late nights. The neighborhood was not only dangerous but the buses took longer than usual, as they ran more infrequently. As the challenges grew I began to understand, to a small degree, what some of those girls might have felt too.

Many years have passed since those first months in Sao Paulo. I now live in New York and find myself experiencing unique layers of emotional pain. It's been three years since the last time I've been home. A series of events kept me from making the trip back from New York, including a break up, a green card and a new apartment. Life happened and before I knew it I found myself feeling anxious and irritable. I became an emotional wreck. I watch cartoons and I cry, the Lipitor commercials come on TV and I cry, I listen to music and I cry, heck, even Homeland has been making me cry. I have become a running joke among the people who know me.

I send Christmas cards with corny pictures of me and my cat, I write letters, I FaceTime. I used to denounce the holidays; now I love them. These days I celebrate tradition, and all I long for is a home of my own. For this person, who always believed in being independent and in belonging to the world, it's quite a change. Could I be homesick?

Through a very painful process of shedding layers of pride and old resentments I believe I finally got to a point where I am able to accept my roots for what they are. I can finally admit that indeed I do miss home and all the drama that can be attached to it. My life may not be in the south of Brazil, but that doesn't mean I have to abandon it all behind.

I've grown to admire and enjoy some of the traditions from my home country and state. I am proud of our beautiful sunsets, the tree-lined streets, the quality of life, the cultural vain that beats stronger than in most parts of that country. I celebrate the gaucho culture, our funny musical accent and even our orange (or is it red?) taxi cabs.

Being home is an opportunity to remember, recharge and reconnect. Going back gives me the chance to look at how far I've come and how capable I am of chasing dreams and goals that sometimes feel unsurmountable. When I'm homesick I realize that all those things were possible because of where I came from. The fact that I came from a reality so distant from the goals I was looking to achieve made me even more resilient. Home may be difficult, but it's unlike any other place I've been to. Home is provincial, but it's where some of my most special memories and connections are. As I age and experience life on life's terms, I also realize that home is always going to be the place I turn to for reference and support, no matter where I end up.

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Originally published in THE HUFFINGTON POST on Novemeber, 2015

The Fashion Photographer Who Became Prince Charming

This is one of those cases of which came first - the chicken or the egg? For Alexi Lubomirski the answer will be different to that of most people. You may have been acquainted with his charming persona for the last decade, as the photographer who shoots celebrities and top models for publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, GQ and Allure. But the famed photographer with good looks of a male model, or even perhaps Prince Charming, is in fact a real prince. More specifically, His Serene Highness Prince Alexi Lubomirski of Poland. So which came first, the photographer or the Prince?

As hard to picture as it is, His Serene Highness’ current address is not a castle, but a New York city apartment and his story is nothing close to a fairy tale. Lubomirski has been familiar with his title since the tender age of 11, but only recently made it public. The revelation of his heritage came to him as a surprise and a shock, as the young child was coming to terms with his nobility, his mother was also responsible for explaining that other than the title, there was not much left to show for a royal life. No castles, no crown and no pomp, but in fact, there was a lesson to be learned. “If you are to be a prince in today’s world, you have to be a prince in your heart and in your actions.” That was the advice his mother passed on to him, when the family lived in Africa.

Alexi was born in London to his Peruvian mother and Polish father. At the age of seven, he moved to Botswana with his birth mother and English stepfather. Perhaps it was this eclectic mix that transformed Lubomirski into the creative force that he is today. His mother wanted him to become an international lawyer, but she never stopped him from pursuing his artistic endeavors, which earlier in his life included painting.

It was his stepfather who gave him his first camera at the age of 11. During his teenage years at school in Oxford, Lubomirski spent his free weekends doing odd jobs waiting tables, gardening and bartending in order to save up money to travel. His serious interest in photography developed whilst traveling in Peru during a gap year at college.

His interest later shifted from social commentary to narrative based photography during his studies at University of Brighton in the UK. It was shortly after finishing his studies that he was introduced to Mario Testino, whom he assisted for the next four years whilst living between Paris and London. Towards the end of his time with Testing, Katie Grand, a British fashion journalist and stylist, approached Lubomirski to shoot for The Face, and later for Harper's Bazaar US.

Since then Lubomirski has become an established name within the fashion industry with an impressive client list, shooting for such publications as Harper's Bazaar UK, Vogue Germany, Vogue Russia, Vogue Spain, Vogue China, Vogue Nippon and Wonderland.

He has also become a firm favorite with celebrities and has shot cover stars such as Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Scarlett Johansson to name but a few. In 2008, Lubomirski had his first exhibition, 'Transit', a mixed media commentary on television culture, comprised of pre-conceived film stills, at Milk Gallery in New York.

For his recent book 'Princely Advice for a Happy Life', Alexi's goal was to put down in paper concepts that are passed on from generation to generation, encompassing anything from good manners and chivalry to courage, honor and romance. The book was a personal project which would serve as a gift to his firstborn son. It was an illustrator friend of the photographer who encouraged Lubomirski to get it published. The illustrator was charmed by the advice contained in the pages and saw necessity for the youth of today to have a tool to learn from. After two years of insistence on the part of his friend, Alexi finally agreed and thus was published a very princely (and personal) book of etiquette. The book itself is evidence of Alexi’s own advice; all proceeds from the sales are donated to the charity Concern Worldwide, proving that the line “show appreciation for your blessings in life, by blessing others with gifts of kindness” is not just something to fill a page in a book, but something to be lived by.

The Prince was well taught and by living the principles passed on to him as a young man, he was able to become this larger-than-life photographer, whose career seems much greater than the ten years documented in his other book “Decade”. This, a collection of highlights of the photographer’s work, goes far beyond the 250 images contained in the tome. The photography book was conceived during hurricane Sandy, while Lubomirski was stranded at home without much else to do, and later on with the help of Alex Gonzalez, who fine tuned a theme which focused on the elegance of women, showing them in the way this photographer knows best - classic, happy and confident.

The images range from actresses like Lupita Nyongo, Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett to supermodels including Karolina Kurkova. When asked about the difference between shooting actresses and models, the photographer states that “a model will shoot in whatever direction you want, while celebrities impose more boundaries as they are not hiding behind a character.”

So one could assume that shooting celebrities would be a challenge, but not for Lubomirski. “I learned to give actresses a story line and let them act it out. Kate Winslet for instance, uses her body as a tool and has such a mastery of it, it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The way she moves her ankle and her shoulder and the entire body conveys an emotion, it’s remarkable. Models and actresses are both special in their own way.”

Having had such a wide range and so many experiences it’s difficult not to ask the obvious question of who has been his favorite subject to shoot? The answer is the most charming and unexpected: “My wife, for sure, when I take pictures of her I feel like I’m writing poetry. Perhaps this will be an entirely different book in the future.”

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Article originally published in The Peninsula Magazine, Fall 2015

On Beating the Taboo of Spirituality and Creating a Better Life

Spirituality is taboo. No matter how open minded we are, there's a glimpse of a thought that prevents us from launching into the topic as we would about a TV show or a play. Whether we hold back to assess the situation and those around us, there is always that voice that whispers "proceed with caution" in the back of our heads.

Over the years I've seen spirituality expressed around me in many different ways. It was this flora of beliefs and practices that helped me find my own expression. I've found that people make their connection through religion, meditation, music, dance, support groups and study, to name a few. All of the aforementioned fascinate me for the way that each person builds their own individual relationship with something that is greater and more powerful than themselves. The sum of these examples have touched me in different ways.

I have never considered myself a religious person. I grew up in the south of Brazil, an area predominantly Catholic. My grandmother enrolled me in Sunday school, I was confirmed, joined the Boy Scouts and all that stuff that most kids don't like to be associated with. I didn't love those obligations, but I didn't hate them either. The stories from the bible fascinated me. It was such a different world from the one I lived in. The 10 commandments baffled me. Not stealing? I get it, but some of that stuff just didn't seem realistic to the 10-year-old version of myself.

Around that same time I met Berenice, my first English teacher. Berenice was Jewish, something completely new to me. I asked her questions, poked around and soon discovered that many of my classmates (in the Catholic school I attended) were Jewish too. I grew fascinated by their rituals and culture; moreover, I was fascinated by the sense of community they possessed. I immediately wanted to be one of them.

One of our religion class teachers, Pedro, was the epitome of cool, and the precise opposite of all other religion teachers, who were middle-aged nuns. Pedro brought his guitar to class, sang songs and created a stimulating environment in which we were invited to ask questions. In his classes we learned more not only about Catholicism, but all religions: Buddhism, Judaism, Islamism, the Amish and everything in between. Suddenly, all of us were engaged

Some 20 years later I ran into Pedro at my younger brother's school, during soccer practice. My former teacher was still the same, dreadlocks and guitar included. I was surprised, he recognized me immediately. We caught up briefly and he told me he was let go from that job not long after I left that school. Polite, funny and sensitive as always, he didn't go into details but I can speculate that perhaps his open minded beliefs and creative methods were a bit much for a traditional institution.

From those classes I remember becoming very aware about a sense of "destiny" and how life is full of coincidences. I also recollect not exactly understanding those feelings. I didn't understand the purpose of prayer either. I didn't get what sacrifice of one's will for that of others meant. All I know is I always believed there was a force in charge of everything, making sure things happened according to a master plan. The problem was I never felt at ease. At one point I felt as if my life was spinning so fast that I was going to fall.

Around 2010, when I was in fact very close to falling, something clicked. My health had deteriorated and my career was collapsing. I had an immense sense of loneliness in New York and was completely afraid. I was then introduced to meditation. My friend told me about his spiritual practice and we launched into discussions about religion. To my surprise he had none, he was agnostic. My friend however, believed that he was in a spiritual path, and that all humans had a connection of the soul. Although agnostic he got on his knees to pray, daily. He did not pray to God, his prayers consisted of words of gratitude for his blessings, but also for all the negative experiences in his life. Those experiences taught him to push through, be stronger, and learn from mistakes.

It was from a simple conversation that the spark lit up a flame and I found myself no longer in the dark. There was hope. I started reading about different spiritual practices and learned to say more yes than no. Begrudgingly I started praying (not knowing what to, but I did it anyway), on my knees, as taught by my grandmother. I would then sit in silence and meditate; or at least I tried to. First for two minutes, than for five, and now sometimes I go for twenty.

Everything has changed and my practice has not remained linear. I've said prayers that belong to different religions, merely because I admired the meaning behind the words. I've studied different spiritual beliefs, like the Kabbalah, and I found a way back to myself through yoga, which if you had asked me before, I would have told you it was but a fashion trend.

I found that in the stillness of when I am alone I'm granted the answers I didn't even know I was looking for. I discovered that there can be many different paths that lead to the same destiny, and I can get there a lot more peacefully if I have a spiritual connection. Whether my pursuit is in religion, meditation, or yoga, that's all irrelevant. We all can connect within when we need answers or even if we simply want to feel re-energized. Millions of people on this planet can't be wrong, if they have a spiritual practice that works for them then who am I to argue? Exploring different spiritual paths doesn't take much time, it shouldn't really cost any money and no one's ever died from having too much spirituality and serenity in their lives.

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Originally published in The Huffington Post - GPS for the Soul, October, 2015

Meet the Man who Changed the Face of Advertising in America

When you hear the name William Helburn, it will probably not mean anything to you. Unless you were part of the advertising industry in the Mad Men era, or a fashion insider, Bill (as he's called by friends and colleagues) would have flown under your radar. Contemporary to other greats like Richard Avedon, Lilian Bassman and Irving Penn, Mr. Helburn's career started right after the war. Mr. Helburn shot faces like Dovima, Dorian Leigh and Jean Patchett for various publications including Harper's Bazaar and Time Magazine. In the book Seventh and Madison (Thames & Hudson) the reader is introduced to this key character of a long gone era, in which the United States lived what was probably the most exciting and innovative time in advertising.

This photographer never spent much time building an editorial brand. "I never made a point to put my name under my pictures; I was working mainly in advertising and unlike magazine editorials, you never get credit for that work," Bill explains with no regrets. "I worked a lot, I was successful, people liked me and I made a lot of money."

Mr. Helburn didn't really care about branding himself, so why suddenly have a retrospective of his work at the peak of his 90 years of age? "I have no idea, this is such a nuisance!" he laughs, "these people who followed my work, approached me and said they were interested in what I created and said they felt the world should know who I am." Bill agreed with the proposition but was skeptical they would be able to put a book together with the little material he had saved over the years. "I threw away three quarters of the work I did, anything that wasn't approved [to run] went to the trash, I didn't know people were gonna come back and make a book about me."


What Robert and Lois Lilly (authors of the tome) saw, was the indelible mark this photographer had left in the advertising industry. Helburn was making images that were outside the box and popped from the pages of the magazines and billboards, bringing new excitement to the ads he was hired to shoot. He was the only advertising photographer who was as trendy as the fashion photographers, roaming the world with top models and celebrities and putting them in new and unexpected situations for the sake of selling a product in a different way.

Never before would a fashion photographer shoot a car advertisement, and that's exactly what Bill did. "I made it more interesting. I wasn't showing the engine like most ads were. I had a model in the picture and I made that car sexy." And Bill gets excited every time he is invited to talk about his work. "I made advertising a little more fashionable. They would give me layouts and I'd shoot that, but then I'd also do what I wanted to do and more often than not they'd pick my idea over the layout." That was how models ended up with cruise ships in their hair, standing atop street signs or naked in the middle of a snow storm. Shock value was something this artist knew all about.


In times when the world talks endlessly about new medias and the end of the printed matter, it's valid to wonder what made such a successful photographer change from shooting stills to moving image. Eventually Mr. Helburn saw the expansion of the television as a new media and moved on to shoot commercials. "That was the way the world was going, advertising was spending more money on TV, so I started doing that," explains Bill. And he did that from the 80s up until the early 90s when he finally retired to enjoy his success and spend time with the family.

For someone who seemed so passionate about his work, one is left wondering if he keeps up with new advertising campaigns and magazines. The answer comes as quickly as the click of a shutter. "I couldn't care less, I don't keep track of it at all, I just want to enjoy life!". And that he does, with no regrets, only happy memories. "Doing this book... it's rewarding, they rediscovered me," concludes the master.

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Article originally appeared in The Huffington Post and VVV Magazine.

The Legends Interview

legend |ˈlejənd| noun

an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.


Picture this: between Pat Cleveland (who’s career started in the 1970’s) and Hannah Ferguson (who started in 2012), there are five decades of legendary careers in the modeling industry. One would think that for some of these women, things would have slowed down, but they don’t ever stop working. Frederique Van der Wal runs the most successful floral business in the world, Carol Alt hosts a daily show on Fox News, Claudia Mason is about to embark on a book tour and Pat Cleveland is also writing a book of her own in between photoshoots and runway shows. Hannah Ferguson, while young in the business, had hardly any days off since she broke the internet in the infamous Carl’s Jr. commercial, alongside Paris Hilton.


The irony is that neither of these women seem to see themselves as legends. “I don’t know what a legend is” says Carol Alt while the makeup artist works on final touches before the shoot. Strangely, Ms. Alt is one of the models for which the term “supermodel” was created to describe. “To me, if the image stays long after the person is gone, that is legendary” she completes.


The aforementioned women may not be “gone”, but their images will forever linger. These careers surpassed the runways and magazine covers, occupying the movie screens, televisions and even theater stages around the world. Additionally, each of them has a hand in some sort of humanitarian work, paying all the good they received forward. Whether they care to admit it or not, they have all created a legacy of their own.

Coffee Shop Ghosts

Who are these lonely crusaders of the keyboard? Who are these people who venture out into the unknown epicenter of words and numbers, in the middle of the afternoon, at quirky cafes or massive chains? Where did these beings come from and where do they belong? Do they not feel perturbed by the clinks and clanks of espresso machines and registers? Are they not phased by the screech of the milk frothers and the baby sitters shoving their strollers in whatever way they please?

Perhaps Benjamin woke up angry at his wife. He decided he needed to go write a letter to his high school sweetheart, the only person who ever really understood him, even in the silence. Gloria’s internet connection, on the other hand, was disrupted by the latest UFO to fly into town for the alien convention and she really could not wait another minute to wrap up her thesis on cloud anomalies. Actual clouds, not digital clouds. Could it be that Daniel has no place to call an office now that he is unemployed (staying at home creates an aura of depression and purposelessness)?

These people are magical beings, they populate areas which would likely go unused. These are creatures resented by some of the coffee enthusiasts, who would like to think they would go coffee tasting, if they had the space and the peace of mind to do so. What about the lovers who would like to sit at a table for a date and cannot, because there are ten computer rats crowding the environment? More intriguing are those who sit at the coffee shops and restaurants to watch movies or play video games. Is there really no better place to do it at than a crowded coffee shop? What is it about a busy restaurant that inspires someone to tune out the world and jump into the universe of Zelda?

I remember when I waited tables at a little cafe in Soho, a few moons ago, there was a girl who would always come in, order a regular coffee (which cost no more than two dollars) and sit there, on her laptop, working for hours. At the time I depended on tips and she never left any. She also took the space away from the good tippers, I thought. I couldn’t stand her, but at the same time I envied her. That woman had a purpose, she had things she needed done. For whatever reason, the non-tipper felt that our little cafe was welcoming enough that she could sit there for hours, entire afternoons! The owners of the cafe didn’t seem to mind, they probably felt she was good advertising, making the place look busy. The entire time I worked there I never saw her order anything other than her regular coffee. Not even a cookie! I bet that if I were to ask her, she would probably say she didn’t even like our coffee. I also bet she has a big career in astrophysics today, or something important like that. That girl had places to get to in life, she was tireless.

Cafes provide, perhaps, a sheltering environment away from loneliness but protected from interruptions. People most likely feel less inclined to talking to someone who’s on their computer, working. Nothing upsets me more than the person who feels comfortable enough to chit-chat with a perfect stranger. Call it social awkwardness but it’s at that moment when I really wish I’d have a computer to protect me.

A conclusion to this matter is still miles away but the endless amount of possibilities hidden behind each and everyone of these people is a thrill. The stories that run through my head during each trip to the local cafe are fabulous. The simple fact that they’re there, focused, makes me feel like they’re ten steps ahead of me. They’re the brave ones, facing the crowds, unafraid to explore their creative and professional needs, from full caf to decaf.

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Originally published on MEDIUM.

Bright Lights, Big City

The city of lights, romance and pastry, Paris is one of the world’s most effervescent cultural centers. The French capital sizzles and yet remains gentle in a beautiful paradox that allows you to live fast and party hard, while simultaneously inviting you to sit at one of its many immaculate parks to listen to music or read your afternoon away. The beauty of Paris is not in the bustling tourist attractions, but in the hidden corners and intimate settings. True, some of the most notable spots, such as the Louvre or the Trocadero still remain breathtaking, although somewhat impersonal. It was in the peaceful gardens of the Jardin des Plantes that I found my footing. After I realized that privacy was possible, even in the most public of places, I decided I'd take my time, soaking it all in.


No city in Europe makes me feel more comfortable and at home than I do in Paris. I understand this may seem odd, given the unfortunate fame the French have for their unpleasantness. I don’t find that to be true. Yes, they are ‘to the point’ and, yes, they can sometimes be honest to a fault, but I’ve learned over the years that part of what makes them so wonderful, are those exact things. They know everything; they are the best at everything; they have the best taste in everything. So what? No wonder they have some of the best food and wine in the world, not to mention art, literature, film and music. The French really got it all right – if it wasn’t for all the dog poo splattered around the city sidewalks and the occasional strikes, it would be the perfect place.
Whether in the seediness fun of the Pigalle or at the top of the hill at the Sacre Coeur - my favorite church in the world, which says a lot for someone who’s not religiously inclined - there was always an opportunity to stop at a hidden store, buy inconspicuous art and chat with the locals about what could be a great spot for dinner in the area, away from the extreme prices of the known locales.


L'Entrecote remains one of my favorite restaurants within Paris. Introduced to me during my first trip, it’s a French gem and normally my first stop whenever I’m in town. After standing in a long line out in the street (yes, it's that popular), you’re invited to sit down in a busy room, filled with vibrant chatter and delicious smells. However, no menu is ever presented; for a flat rate, you’re served L'Entrecote’s famous cut of meat with the secret mouth watering sauce, accompanied by fries and a salad. At the end of your meal, you’re given the choice of a dessert and the check. Just like that, in and out, no time is wasted, and it’s a fascinating thing to watch. This restaurant is such a big hit that it currently has three locations in Paris and even one in New York.


If my mood for dinner, however, is for a scene, I will most likely be seen at Cafe Ruc or Ginger. These two restaurants attract the core of the fashion industry. During Fashion Week, it’s an invitation to encounter some of the biggest top models dining alongside their agents and fashion editors from magazines from all around the world. For lunch, another restaurant favorite of mine that never disappoints is L’Avenue. Steps away from the Hotel Plaza Athene and smacked in between stores like Dior, Chanel, Ferragamo, Celine and the headquarters of Givenchy, this is the spot to have lunch in between fashion shows. The tables on the sidewalk are the most sought after and certain ‘fashionistas’ have been known to spend north of four hours there sipping champagne and nibbling on strawberries. For a quick and very traditional French lunch, I adore Le Castiglione, also one of Grace Coddington’s favorites. The overall environment of Le Castiglione is lovely and the food cooked to perfection. Only a few steps away from Place Vendome, the jewelry central of Europe, where one of the most infamous jewelry heists took place a few years ago, thus turning this location into one of the most well guarded on the planet. Also located at this square is the famed Hotel Ritz -- where the gliteratti gather and serves as temporary home to everyone from Anna Wintour to Beyonce.


Not all, however, needs to shine to be incredible. The fabulous burger joint, Ferdi, prepares what to me is one of the best burgers in the world. This cozy restaurant is a locally, well-known institution where patrons are hosted (or turned away) by the colorfully temperamental owner, which to me is the entire charm of the place. The Olsen twins, as well as the Delevigne sisters, have been spotted at Ferdi on several occasions and given their stamp of approval. After finishing the burger, it’s always a good idea to make a quick stop at Colette to pick up some of their exciting limited edition items. The store is design-heaven; just the right size and packed with all that matters in the fashion world - here, you can't go wrong. If your appetite in turn, is for something a little more mainstream do not skip the classic Printemps, Le Bon Marche or Galleries Lafayette, which are the most famous and large scale French department stores. In the afternoon, a visit to the Hotel de Crillon for coffee proves to be a wise and regal choice. If that’s not appealing, head to the Madeleine square and pick up some delicious tea at the iconic teahouse, Mariage Freres - my personal favorite is the Marco Polo blend.


Shopping may not be your focus (if you're anything like me), and, in that case, my top suggestion is the museum of the Orangeries at the edge of the Tuilleries Garden. More intimate than some of its counterparts, this museum holds masterpieces like Monet’s Waterlilies among many other impressionists and post-impressionists masters like Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Sisley and Renoir. In case there's time (and patience) for the mainstream, do not skip the Dorsay and the Pompidou. A very important addition to Paris' cultural portfolio is the incredible Louis Vuitton Foundation. Designed by Frank Gehry, this new icon of modern architecture and the arts sits in the Bois de Boulogne, known for its mansions and leafy streets. It’s in this very neighborhood that the musician Lenny Kravitz lives and is known to host the occasional intimate party in which the pantheon of the fashion, music and film industry gather.


While in the subject of parties, the Paris nightlife is not to be missed, some of the most exciting times I’ve had at night were there. It was at the club L’Arc that for several years the designer Riccardo Tisci hosted names like Liv Tyler, Gisele Bundchen and Mariacarla Boscono at parties for Givenchy. The most recent and exciting club to open its doors was David Lynch’s Club Silencio. Hidden deep underground, Club Silencio has a variety of rooms and hallways, while also playing host to the an exciting group of characters in the most extreme outfits seen anywhere.


While in Paris, a wild night is not always a requirement for a good time, as can be experienced at the ever-classic Hotel Costes, where a toast to a glass of champagne is mandatory. For a cooler, and more relaxed environment, my all time favorite evening appointment is at the restaurant Derriere, which is fashioned as a house. You may sit for dinner at a bedroom or in a living room, you may even end up in the dining room! If all else fails, you can hang out at the bar or in the patio and play some ping-pong with the iconic and irreverent fashion editor Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, a fan of this spot who is always up for a good time and some laughter.


Of the more traditional touristic spots, I try to never skip visits to the Notre Dame cathedral during mass hours; the smell of incense and the echoing of the words in french are ever inspiring. The Luxembourg Garden always takes my breath away and just before I head back to the hotel to change for the evening, a quick drink or a cup of coffee at Cafe de Flore is essential. Before you leave Paris, whether you go to their cafe at Champs Elysees or to a kiosk at the airport, don’t forget to pick up a box of macaroons from Laduree to gift to some of your favorite people back home. These colorful delicacies are a French institution.


Allow yourself to be immersed in the local culture, stroll through the bridges and the streets observing every detail and every sign. Look for the markings on buildings that might show you the former homes of luminaries like Proust, Balzac or Victor Hugo. Take all of its essence and history in and maybe then you will fall in love just as much as I did. In the classic words of Cole Porter; "I love Paris, every moment of the year".

 

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Column featured in ONNE MAGAZINE - May 2015

La La Land

The plane touched down and excitement filled the air. This was my first trip to Los Angeles, a place that existed in my dreams and was about to become a reality. The fast pace of the freeways, the palm trees - everywhere, just like the movies. My first experiences there were fun - but underwhelming. The excessive time in traffic really brought me down. I am the type of person who’s really a sucker for human connection, so to be in a place where people basically don’t utilize sidewalks unless they’re getting to their car or from the car to a building, was really jarring. Not only that, but where were all the celebrities that allegedly lived here? I mean, if people are constantly in their cars, how do you ever see them? 

My friend, who was married to a paparazzo suggested that he’d take me on a tour to show me all the houses, where all the celebs lived. Off we went, and I got to see wall after wall, gate after gate, door after door, and still, no celebrities. And no houses either. It was the most disheartening process. My dreams were being crushed. Even the paparazzi chase after James Marsden I got to witness seemed boring. Where was Julia Roberts when you needed her? 

And then, there was the nightlife, or should I say, there wasn’t. A place where clubs are required by law to close at 2a.m.? Seems excessive, but it’s the truth. I was simply not having any of it. Granted, during the day, the parks, the mountains, the beaches, all wonderful, really - the quality of life, I imagined, top of the line. If you disregard the gray fog of pollution that covers the city, of course. But all good, isn’t there pollution everywhere? Who knows, you tell yourself the fattest lies when you want to believe in certain things.

I had not given up, I was certain that LA had to be that magical place from the movies, with all the cheap glamour and phenomenal black-tie parties, packed with celebrities pretending to have a good time. That’s the place I longed for, a place of make belief.

On the following year, I was invited to attend an Oscar party, perhaps the most sought after invitation of awards season. This was a private affair, at the house of a major pop icon, no press (or cameras and social media) were allowed and the guest list was tight, only 200 of the biggest and hottest talent in the world were invited, along with some key Hollywood players. I could not believe that I was in, this was an honor. I felt as if my opportunity had finally arrived, to truly experience LA at its best, on its most important night of the year, Oscar night.

The city buzzed, all along Sunset Boulevard and wherever else there was a key party taking place, traffic was intense. None of it mattered, because the party I was attending would only really get packed after everyone was done posing for pictures at Elton John’s or Vanity Fair, this was the party where they came to throw their hair back and really have fun.

Fun was had. Oprah Winfrey grabbed me by the arm on a twirl, most likely thinking I was someone else, and very quickly moved on to pay attention to Tom Cruise. Sharon Stone, probably the most magnificent creature I had ever laid eyes on seemed bored at the music, until Puff Daddy took over the pick ups. In an attempt to actually socialize, I bummed a cigarette from Penelope Cruz, who’s dress was all ripped to shreds at this point, from all the dancing that was taking place. More than half of the women were trotting around barefooted, without a care in the world. We were all sweaty and we were all having the time of our lives. A momentary bond was created between me and Renee Zellweger, who kept trying to hit on my friend, but with no luck - he was engaged to be married. That would not be a problem, Renee and I still had the dance floor. The bathroom line was dispersed by a housekeeper who informed us the toilet was clogged. So it was true, celebrities are just like everyone else, they even clog toilets the same way.

The follow up to this brilliant night was a brunch at the iconic Fred Segal, where me and my friends would rehash stories from the night before. Sitting next to me on the curb, waiting for a table just like everybody else, was J.Lo with her BFF Leah Remini. And there it was, the moment I had been waiting for all along, the LA of my dreams had concretized.

I did not stop going back to LA ever since, two or three times every year at the very least, and I just keep on falling in love with it more and more. Over time I learned to love waking up early in the morning for a walk on the hills of Hollywood, by the iconic Hollywood sign, all the way to the stunning Griffith Observatory. Sometimes if I’m feeling adventurous, I will get in my car and go to Runyon Canyon, probably the most popular of the hikes in town. There, the occasional celebrity sighting is inevitable, my favorite being a fresh faced Kathy Griffin walking her dog up and down the rocky pathways.

With time I also learned to get over my traffic resentment. I now zip all around the city in my little rental cars. It was in LA where I had my first car crash, not in New York, the place famously known for its horrid traffic and crazy drivers. As I was parking for brunch at Laurel’s Hardware, one of the hottest brunch spots in town, a bus took half of my car along with it. Of course, this being West Hollywood, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian arrived just as I was giving my statement to the police. A very glitzy car crash indeed!

In the evening, dinner at Soho House among the likes of Al Pacino or Madeleine Stowe seems like a great choice, followed by drinks at the historic Chateau Marmont, location picked for the movie ‘Somewhere’ by Sofia Coppola and of many incredible parties, like the night where many gathered around the pool to celebrate Valentino on his last collection as the designer of his own label. And speaking of parties, it was at LACMA - Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art, where Rodarte threw their pre-Oscar bash a few years back. Now, I am not saying that’s the reason why you should visit, but it is definitely a place to be seen. Their art collection is exquisite and the place itself is definitely not to be missed, much like the Ghery designed Disney Auditorium, with it’s incredible architecture. Speaking of art, a visit to Prism Gallery is also essential. This gallery co-owned by the brothers xxxx is one of the hottest in the country, continually launching new talent into the top echelons of the art world. Next door is the restaurant Eveleigh, one of LA’s trendy spots where top models Carolyn Murphy, Irina Shayk and Gisele Bundchen can be seen dining alongside Mario Testino, Adam Levine or Leonardo DiCaprio.

One of my favorite places for dinner though is Pace, on Laurel Canyon - not only for its delicious menu but for the history that’s present in that area. A few doors down from the restaurant is the house that used to belong to Jim Morrison, and that street was what he used to call “love street” - made famous by the song of same name. From the balcony of his house, Jim used to watch his girlfriend coming home from work every day. The country store next door to the restaurant is where Jim, and many of his rock star friends used to go for their groceries. The basement of this store served as Mama Cass’s first apartment when she arrived, broke, in Los Angeles. What Morrison and Cass didn’t know, is that they had gone to school together, years prior to that and had never met until then. That store is “the place where creatures meet” that Jim mentions in his song because of this accidental high-school reunion. After this walk down memory lane, a trip up to Mulholland Drive is mandatory. Its winding roads took the lives of xxx and were made globally famous by David Lynch’s homonymous film. Make sure to stop at one of the overlooks to take some of the most stunning night shots of the City of Angels.

Rodeo Drive, once made famous by Julia Roberts is just another shopping spot like any other in any large metropolis, and if that’s the focal point of your trip, then you won’t be disappointed as luxury is not spared here. Don’t forget to make a stop for lunch at Ceconi’s to recharge the batteries or later on at the cafe at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, where the pretty woman and Richard Gere were staying in, in that movie. This is a magical city, infinite opportunities for entertainment, from the Walk of Fame to the seedy Venice Beach where Arnold Schwarzenegger was once made Mr. World to the Santa Monica Pier, with its traditional funnel cake and amusement park - days can be spent discovering new things in Los Angeles and the more I discover, the more I want to return. You will too.

Top Agent

The visionary Eileen Ford created in 1947 the concept of the modeling agency as we know it today. Tough and workaholic, the businesswoman, who passed away this past July at the age of 92, had only one regret: not signing Grace Kelly to her agency

By Gabriel Ruas Santos Rocha

The designer Yves Saint Laurent once said that “a good model can advance fashion ten years”, but a good modeling agency and managing skills have proven to advance an entire industry. Eileen Ford, who passed away, last July at the height of well lived 92 years was the sole creator of the modern day modeling agency. Mrs. Ford’s modeling agency went on to become the biggest modeling agency in the world, representing a roster populated by some of the most famous and recognizable women in the world. Cheryl Tiegs, Christy Turlington, Jerry Hall, Verushka, Naomi Campbell, Twiggy and Christie Brinkley were only a few in that lucky list.

It all began when Eileen was Pregnant and unable to find someone who would hire her. Mrs. Ford began assisting some of her friends who were models in the mid-40’s as their secretary. Eileen organized their schedules, negotiated jobs, chased after payments and by word of mouth became an agency, at a time when modeling agencies weren’t really established. Modeling wasn’t viewed as a serious profession and Eileen Ford helped evolve modeling from a mostly part-time, poorly paid hobby into one of the world’s most glamorous occupations, turning girls next door into multimillionaire celebrity supermodels. When Eileen’s husband, Jerry Ford, returned from war and resume his studies for business at Columbia University he found great potential in what his wife was doing. Jerry cemented the business and took care of the business while Eileen managed and scouted the girls. They were a perfect fit and became an instant hit.

In their first year, the Ford’s accumulated over 250 thousand dollars and by 1966 Forbes reported they were making an average of 100 thousand dollars per week, becoming the most successful agency in the business. That did not happen by chance. Ford had introduced the voucher system, which would guarantee models their earnings even if the client hadn’t yet paid the agency. Models at that time were paid by the hour, at very low fees. Eileen argued that models should earn their paychecks per day, type of work and according to the extent their images were exploited by the clients. This new practice was the page turner, influencing the way advertising works and remains today the lifeline of the business.

The typical Ford model was tall, thin and predominantly blond, with wide-set eyes, beautiful eyebrows and long neck. Very rarely her girls were shorter than 5’7 a cut-off height which luckily included the gap-toothed Lauren Hutton. Ms. Hutton became the highest paid model in the 70’s and alongside Evelyn Kuhn, one of the first two Revlon contract models. In a recent interview with Eileen, she corrected me: “That was not the first contract”! She was firm, and sharp, referring to Yardley’s of London. That was the first ever exclusive contract, designed by Eileen and Jerry so that a model, in this case the iconic Jean Shrimpton, would exclusively represent and endorse a specific brand, securing higher fees and better exposure.

Beauty however, was not everything. Ford demanded the highest level of professionalism from her models, putting them on strict diets and firing those with a taste for partying. Eileen famously used to say “Models are a business, and they have to treat themselves as a business.” Mrs. Ford took models in to live with her and her family, in her home and was adamant about having all the girls sit with the family at the dining table. Models were required to do chores around the house and go to bed at specific times in order to learn about professionalism and respect. “It was my first experience with a dishwasher” Monique adds, “I had no idea how much soap to use, it ended up in disaster, the foam reached all the way to the dining room” she completes with giggles. Anne Anka, then known Anne de Zogheb, recalls how disapproving Eileen was of her relationship with the singer Paul Anka, who she was married with for 38 years. “She thought, ‘Show business, that’s trouble’, but I think she eventually came around.”

Eileen’s hospitality was the first sign of model housing, now largely established for every agency across the world. At the time however, it was a way for her to keep a closer watch at her girls and make sure they were behaving according to good moral standards and staying away from harms way. Supermodel Renee Simonsen recalls “They took me in and made me a part of their family, and I know that the protection of Eileen saved me a lot of [bad] experiences in the modeling business, she was a tough lady with high moral standards, but she had a big heart”.

Ford reigned the industry alone until the late seventies, when the ‘model wars’ ensued with the insurgence of John Casablanca’s Elite and Wilhelmina Models. These were some of the agencies that came on strong, attacking and luring away some of Ford’s top talents. Eileen would not stand and let her business be taken from her. To her defectors, Mrs. Ford would send copies of the bible with passages about Judas highlighted in red.

It was again, time to innovate. She opened offices across the globe, from Europe to Brazil and soon enough established the first worldwide model search. The ‘Ford Supermodel of the World’, became the largest scouting network and modeling competition, making Ford the biggest agency on the planet.

With that, the supermodel factor was born and many successful models owe their careers to this model search. Victoria’s Secret Angels Adriana Lima and Chanel Iman as well as the actress Malin Ackerman and top models Elsa Benitez and Liliane Ferrarezi are probably the most recognizable names from that group. This vast scouting network helped Ford to branch out and establish a more global look.

Mrs. Ford might have been tough as nails, as some will say, but all who worked for her share their memories with fondness. “They were so nice and decent, like a big family; we shared our good times and also went through difficult times together” explains Patty Sicular, who worked for the Fords as an agent for over three decades and currently runs the Legends board at Trump Models, current agency to most of those iconic Ford models who left with Patty after Eileen departed the business for retirement in 1995. “If you worked with Eileen and Jerry you were on your toes, and as hard as we worked, Eileen and Jerry always worked harder, they were in the office when we arrived and still there when we left.” Concludes Mrs. Sicular. “Eileen wielded her power towards the electrician that came in to repair a light switch to the CEO of General Motors” recalls Ms. Beverly Johnson, “I had never seen a woman with that much power and it was intoxicating to my young mind. Eileen is responsible for shaping me into the celebrated fashion model and savvy business woman I am today.” Concludes Ms. Johnson, the first African American model to appear on the cover of American Vogue, in 1974, and today owner of a hair care line.

Ms. Johnson’s first interview with Eileen did not go well. “’Too fat’, those were the two first words Mrs. Ford said to me.” But Ms. Johnson was determined to join the most powerful modeling agency of the time and came back two weeks later, this time she was in. Eileen however didn’t always made the right choices. Among names that were rejected throughout the years, Marisa Berenson and Grace Kelly stand out – she admitted publicly later that not signing the future Princess of Monaco was her biggest professional failure.

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This article appeared originally in Vogue Brazil, September 2014


Pioneering an Industry

Many things have been said about modeling agencies over the years, but what most people don’t know is that it took one woman to create an entire industry. Eileen Ford, who passed away last July at the height of well lived 92 years, created along with her husband, the late Jerry Ford, the modern day modeling agency. Mrs. Ford’s modeling agency went on to become the biggest modeling agency in the world, representing a roster populated by some of the most famous and recognizable women in the world. Cheryl Tiegs, Christy Turlington, Kristen McMenamy, Jerry Hall, Verushka, Naomi Campbell, Twiggy and Christie Brinkley were only a few in that lucky list. Many of Eileen’s creations, whether they were models, beauty standards or forms of conducting business, remain in practice today. “Eileen Ford always made me think of the Queen of England… The fashion business was her Royal Court.” Shares Veronica Webb, one of Ford’s most successful models; who adds “She was a great businesswoman who created a dynasty.”

 

And the dynasty commenced when Eileen was Pregnant and unable to find employmemt. Mrs. Ford began assisting some of her friends who were models in the mid-40’s as their secretary. Eileen organized their schedules, negotiated jobs, chased after payments and by word of mouth became an agency, at a time when modeling agencies weren’t really established. “There were model agencies, but one of the owners would go to jail, and I thought a different kind of agency was needed – one you could trust” She told an interviewer in 1988. In the 40’s modeling wasn’t viewed as a serious profession and Eileen Ford helped evolve modeling from a mostly part-time, poorly paid hobby into one of the world’s most glamorous occupations, turning girls-next-door into celebrity supermodels. When Eileen’s husband, Jerry Ford, returned from war and resume his studies for business at Columbia University he found great potential in what his wife was doing. Jerry formalized the agency and took care of the business while Eileen managed and scouted the girls.

 

By 1966 Forbes reported they were making an average of 100 thousand dollars per week, becoming the most successful agency in the business. Ford introduced the voucher system, which would guarantee models their earnings even if the client hadn’t yet paid the agency. Girls were getting paid within sixty days after their jobs now, when before, they would not see their money until sometimes a year later, if they were lucky.

 

At that time girls were paid by the hour, at very low fees. Eileen argued that models should earn their paychecks per day, type of work and according to the extent their images were exploited by the clients. This new practice was the page turner, influencing the way advertising works and remains today the lifeline of the business.

 

Eileen Ford had an eye for what the industry clamored for. Ford Model Sheila Finn explains “When I walked in the [Ford] office for the first time, Eileen told me that in six months I would make enough money to pay for a Jaguar in cash”. And Mrs. Ford was right, as Ms. Finn went to become one of the most successful models in the 60’s. Eileen had the uncanny ability to see beyond the pretty girl who stood in front her and envision a star, it was her part to turn the plain girl into that phenomenon she envisioned. And she always did. She defined what the standards of beauty should be like based on what she believed to be the best form for a model. The typical Ford model was tall, thin and predominantly blond, with wide-set eyes, beautiful eyebrows and long neck. Evelyn Kuhn, one of the first two exclusive Revlon contract models, alongside Lauren Hutton is proof of that vision. “This contract changed and educated the whole industry” claims Ms. Kuhn. However, Revlon was not the first contract ever created; that was Yardley’s of London, created so that a model could exclusively represent and endorse a specific brand, securing higher fees and better exposure. Those contracts, created by the Fords, became and remain the most sought after deals in the industry by any model. The Revlon’s of today can be found in established brands such as Estee Lauder, Lancome, L’Oreal and most famously, the lingerie behemoth Victoria’s Secret. If you are a model and have a contract, you know you made it.

 

Eileen Ford demanded the highest level of professionalism from her models, putting them on strict diets and firing those with a taste for partying. Mrs. Ford took models in to live with her and her family at her home and was adamant about having all the girls sit with the family at the dining table. Models were required to do chores around the house and go to bed at specific times in order to learn about professionalism and respect. “It was my first experience with a dishwasher” Monique Chevallier explains, “I had no idea how much soap to use, it ended up in disaster, the foam reached all the way to the dining room” she completes with giggles.

 

Eileen’s hospitality was the first sign of model housing, now largely established for every agency across the world. At the time however, it was a way for her to keep a closer watch at her girls and make sure they were behaving according to good moral standards and staying away from harms way. Supermodel Renee Simonsen recalls “They took me in and made me a part of their family, and I know that the protection of Eileen saved me a lot of [bad] experiences in the modeling business, she was a tough lady with high moral standards, but she had a big heart”.

 

For several decades Eileen Ford represented the world’s most prominent models and raised the profile of the business, which also became a recruiting ground for Hollywood. Since the 50’s with Suzy Parker all the way through the 90’s, Ford launched the careers of some of the most successful actresses of today. Kim Basinger, Rene Russo, Brooke Shields, Sharon Stone and Ali MacGraw are some of the most successful cases, in which high profile modeling careers leveraged an even greater acting career.

 

Ford reigned the industry alone until the late seventies, when the ‘model wars’ ensued with the insurgence of John Casablanca’s Elite and Wilhelmina Models. These were some of the agencies that came on strong, attacking and luring away some of Ford’s top talents. Eileen would not stand and let her business be taken from her. It was again, time to innovate. She opened offices across the globe, from Europe to Brazil and soon enough established the first worldwide model search. The ‘Ford Supermodel of the World’, became the largest scouting network and modeling competition, making Ford the biggest agency on the planet.

 

With that, the supermodel factor was born and many successful models owe their careers to this model search. Victoria’s Secret Angels Adriana Lima and Chanel Iman as well as the actress Malin Ackerman are probably the most recognizable names from that group. This vast scouting network helped Ford to branch out and establish a more global look. Before that time there were only a shy few models that stood out, including Naomi Sims, Dalma Callado and Beverly Johnson, who became the first African American on the cover of Vogue. Ms. Johnson used to spend most of her time in between castings at the Ford office, observing everything. “I had never seen a woman with that much power and it was intoxicating to my young mind. Eileen is responsible for shaping me into the celebrated fashion model and savy business woman I am today” Ms. Johnson explains.

 

All who worked for Eileen share their memories with fondness. “They were so nice and decent, like a big family; we shared our good times and also went through difficult times together” explains Patty Sicular, who worked for the Fords as an agent for over three decades and currently runs the Legends board at Trump Models, current agency to most of those iconic Ford models who left with Patty after Eileen departed the business for retirement in 1995. “If you worked with Eileen and Jerry you were on your toes, and as hard as we worked, Eileen and Jerry always worked harder, they were in the office when we arrived and still there when we left.” Concludes Mrs. Sicular.

“They always say, ‘How did you make it as a woman?’” Eileen shared in an interview to the newspaper Women’s Wear Daily in 2010. “I never had any trouble doing anything as a woman. I did it because I had to, and it worked.”

 

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Originally published in Harper's Bazaar Thailand, September 2014

Ladies & Gents: Interview with Leilani Bishop

Leilani Bishop is a household name in the modeling industry. In the nineties she became known as that healthy, smiley, surfer girl that had the all American look which the all American designers had been looking for, for so long. She became a hit in campaigns for brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and graced the pages and covers of magazines such as Vogue and Allure. The model broke boundaries and even graced the cover of the top selling record Live Through This, by the grunge band Hole, fronted by none other than Courtney Love.


After enjoying years in the spotlight, traveling around the world and collecting experiences as a model, Leilani moved back home, to her native Hawaii, where she had the bright and unique idea of starting her own line of fragrances. Unlike most famed models, Leilani took the longer route, built the company from scratch, over much work and investigation.


Leilani Bishop Fragrances is now an established and unique business in a somewhat overcrowded industry. But that doesn’t seem to worry the model turned fragrance “designer”, she’s as calm about her business as she’s always been about her career as a model. Bishop tackles one task at a time, with an ease that can only be credited to a Hawaiian upbringing. Here, the entrepreneur shares a little of her story with us.



What brought you to the idea of creating your own fragrance line, versus putting your name on a mass-produced product, like most top models and celebrities have been doing lately?


I wanted to own and create something, I love to be involved and like being able to have a say in every aspect; control freak or entrepreneur, it is a fine line! I also wanted to capitalize on my own image and persona instead of yet again representing someone else's company, and wanted to do it on my terms so if it worked I could build a company around the line.


How complicated was it to get from the idea to the actual development of a product? 


    It took longer then I thought it would. I also learned a lot about myself and the way I operate. I have streamlined myself quite a lot from the minute I started this project 8 years ago. I am much more efficient, but still was not easy breaking into a world that is very traditional in the way it operates.


I did some research on oil fragrances and it doesn't seem like there are many, if any, of known brand options available, most known brands opt for alcohol based, spray fragrances. The companies that do make oil scents don't have an appealing image and seem to try to mimic other known brand scents. Even though the idea to use oil as a fragrance is not a new concept; your entire concept is certainly innovative. From the bottle, to the roll-on, to the idea of making oil fragrances a more appealing and elegant item. Did you feel that lacking I mentioned and did those factors contribute in your decision making?


     Yes! All of those aspects were a huge part of what motivated me in my decision-making. I am slightly obsessed with the Victorian age, every little thing they used down to toothpicks were elegant and made of beautiful materials. I wanted a woman to have an experience not only with the scent but with the entire image the item represents, from the beauty of the package to the sensation of rolling it on and the clean light scent of the oil.


How extensive was your research when putting together the concepts for your company and about how much time did it take you from the first time you had the idea to your actual first bottle of your own fragrance?


    It was an extensive process that spanned from start to launch seven years. I was living in Hawaii when I conceptualized the idea and so that was probably why it had a slow start. It took a while to break into the trade side of everything as it is a small industry and not many cater to small companies. I did not do much research as to what was wanted or needed though; only research on how things were executed.


In your website you teach the customer how to apply your fragrance. One would think that wearing perfume would not require instructions, but after reading the points you make in the website we wonder how could we have gone all these years without that knowledge. Where did you learn such information and was this an important differential fact you wanted to offer your customers?


    It was a conversation that came about between me and a girl that was working with me, Piper. We were discussing the differences of oil versus spray, pros and cons, and the act of rubbing your wrist together came up. Piper has extensive perfume background and has worked at big perfume houses and she enlightened me on that myth; "rubbing it in" is really destroying the fragrance. It got me interested and so we thought the consumer should be enlightened as well have a sensibility about the elegance of wearing fragrance and how, if applied incorrectly can ruin the experience entirely!  Also if applied correctly can provide fun and intrigue from start to finish!


I know you took inspiration from sensorial memory to create these three scents. Are you interested in releasing more scents in the future and perhaps even expand to men's fragrances too?

        

    Yes, I will be releasing more scents, these too will have sensorial memory but of a different vein, and yes I would love to develop a men’s scent. My husband keeps bugging me so it will happen for sure, I’m just not sure when.


Being a top model I am sure you are always aware of the latest fashion trends and how those ebb and flow over the years. Are there "fragrance trends"? And if so, would you be influenced by them in your business?

     

    Yes, there are definitely fragrance trends and since I am always reading and curious about other businesses and want to know what is working, I am sure I am probably influenced. Yet, I have in my mind several ideas for future products and do not really care if they are "on trend" as I am confident in my Brand.


You are currently working with single note scents; have you given thought to adding elements to those or combining new ingredients for future products? Or is the single note an important part of your company's mission statement?  

        

    Single not scents are not part of my mission statement, yet they are the foundation of the company, I believe. I will definitely be mixing scents though and actually am doing a project that will be out next fall, which will combine a couple of my favorite scents.


Can you give us a hint of what that project entails?

This is a candle/scent project I am doing for a new boutique hotel in South Beach, which will be opening in the Fall of 2014.


What do you feel, differentiates you the most from the other major fragrance lines? What makes you proud about your product?


    It is a niche product that feels more like a high end fragrance brand, I love that it stands on it's own and does not feel mass produced, it has a unique quality that intrigues people before they even get to the scent as well as being Made in America. I could go on...I am so proud of my product.


How did your modeling career influence your business?

    

    Do you mean did the contacts I made help??  For sure, I love being able to work within my industry and be supported by those I admire. [It is] such an amazing feeling. Also being self-employed all my life gave me the hustle I needed to start my own business.


Would you consider "designing" a fragrance for a big name brand in your own standards of making perfume?


    Absolutely...would be great to have those resources to work with!


Where would you like to see your company in ten years from now?


    I would like to have expanded my fragrance line to include more oils and high-end fragrances that include special projects and collaborations with artists as well as adding a line of skin/beauty products including candles and perhaps even a small capsule collection to go with each season. Ten percent of the net will go towards supporting women and special projects.

Illustrated Legacy

Great voyeur of the creative effervescence of fashion in the 20th century, the illustrator Antonio Lopez now has a posthumous book and exhibition which displays his trajectory and puts him back at the top of the fashion pyramid.

Written by Gabriel Ruas Santos Rocha

There is no doubt that there are many important and talented fashion illustrators throughout the history of art. Unfortunately, many of them forgotten with time. The Puerto-Rican Antonio Lopez is one of them. Left in the shadows for years, the time has arrived for his name to be brought back to the limelight. The homage is made by the publisher Rizzoli, which releases this month “Antonio – Fashion, Art, Sex & Disco” and invites us, by way of the book, to embark the world of fantasy and glamour of the greatest voyeur of the creative bacchanal that took place between the 1960’s and 1980’s.

In his drawings and photographs, seductive creatures and brilliant minds which walked the fashion world: from the designer Roy Halston and the pope of Pop Art Andy Warhol, to the top model Pat Cleveland. All of them, at some point hit by the innovative look of the duo of artists. Yes, duo, because behind Antonio’s name, we highlight his partner in crime, Juan Ramos. He was the one who kept the creative forces on track and made sure that their ouvre was seen by the audience and caused the desired impact.

The aforementioned impact is the epicenter of this 304 page tome, edited by the brothers Mauricio and Roger Padilha – the same who created “The Stephen Sprouse Book”, the best-selling art book of 2009. “Us both were very inspired by the work of Antonio and we hope the future generations can witness the magic of his art” says Mauricio.

The illustrations of Antonio, who died in 1987, were made into cover of magazines, fashion editorials, advertising campaigns and even runway shows. His visionary imagination influenced, for instance, designers like Anna Sui, Norma Kamali and his personal friend Karl Lagerfeld. It was in Lopez that the now fashion Kaiser found the necessary strength to step away from under the shadow of the then rival Yves Saint Laurent and shine as a fashion designer in Paris.

 Antonio Lopez, his muses and his illustrations.

Antonio Lopez, his muses and his illustrations.

What the book does now is not only tell the complete story of Antonio, but it also places us in the center of the work of the duo. Lopez and Ramos lived surrounded by their posse, day and night, and the fame of some of these characters, along with these two artists made a cabaret out of life. Among their friends were Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange and Grace Jones.

During three decades the work of the duo transcended all medias and no longer only existed in paper but in the collective consciousness and daily life of fashionistas worldwide. “I don’t believe there will be another person capable of surpassing his talent as an illustrator and use it to translate the social climate of his time” affirms Roger Padilha.

There will also not be another person who will influence the masculine wardrobe like Antonio. The introduction of colors, fur and shine into men’s wardrobes can be credited, in great part, to this genius of fashion. Always dressed like a peacock, he used to catch the attention of the media and made the color fever one of the reasons why men’s magazines were created. After all, it was necessary to supply for the demand from the battalion of men who were being inspired by the singular visual of the illustrator.

“He still influences the fashion industry. In fact, he influences us too. Antonio lived his work, and to him, there was no separation between professional and personal life. We try to behave the same way”, say the authors, who for over 20 years have run the PR agency MAO, in New York.

It’s in this same city that, until October 6th, the greater audience will come to know the legacy of Antonio Lopez. The exhibition “Antonio’s World” will take place at the hyped The Suzanne Geiss Company, in Soho. The exhibition spans three decades of the illustrator’s work, transformed in an installation as impressive as his work.

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Article originally featured in Harper’s Bazaar Brazil, September 2012

In The Raw

When news broke that Supermodel Carol Alt was about to launch another of her raw dieting books, “Easy Sexy Raw” I remember thinking - “oh no,  here we go, yet another diet book from a celebrity!”. I also remember thinking that Carol looked pretty fabulous  in our last encounter a couple of weeks prior to that. I was left curious by the premise of her book and the fact that this was one of many in a line of best selling books about the same subject: living a lifestyle that incorporates raw foods to improve the quality of life.

It’s only natural to pay attention when you hear a certain book is a best-seller, but after three hits in a series, you must look closely. And so I did. Carol Alt’s books are not simply diets, like the Atkins or the South Beach, they truly are a way of living that has worked for hundreds of thousands around the globe and has found in Alt their biggest supporter and spokesperson. Adept of this intriguing principle of only eating raw foods for nearly twenty years, Carol’s excitement when talking about her books and her health is not for nothing. After being sent back home by a director in the midst of shooting her TV special “Carol Alt & Friends” at the age of 34, because her body wasn’t in swimsuit condition, this Sports Illustrated supermodel, known internationally for her beauty and sculptural body was shocked. How could the star of the show have let go of herself like that?

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At that moment Carol realized that there was something horribly wrong. How was it possible that in less than ten years her body and health had deteriorated so dramatically? How was it possible that a 34 year old woman could be constantly catching colds, having headaches, stomachaches and having the most painful sinus infections? This was her opportunity to turn the tables. Carol prayed as hard as she could for enlightenment, and so it came. When talking to a friend about the recent events, Carol was given the suggestion to look for this doctor that had helped one of their other friends to treat cancer. The results came right at the first day of her new lifestyle, and from that moment on, Carol saw the need to be more vocal about it and tell the world the wonders that such a simple change had brought upon her.

The idea for the raw books were picked up by Random House “in a snap of the fingers”, like Carol likes to say, and the rest is best-selling history. The success of the books led Carol to try and brake new boundaries. After extensive research to find beauty products that did not have any chemicals in their composition, wasn’t she surprised to find that such products did not exist? And so years of research and development started with her team, to come up with the first ever beauty line that is also raw and 100% natural: “Raw Essentials by Carol Alt”.

To prove her point, the model/actress explains that “the company that did before and after tests said it is the best before and after results they have ever seen, natural, organic or otherwise. You see, we do get great results without any chemicals!”. And not only the results are phenomenal, but so is the price. “we wanted to reach out to a lot of people with a product of very high quality and very low cost. Nobody else does that, I could sell these products for 80 bucks each, but I wanted it to be accessible to everyone, not just the elite. I hardly make any profit on this, and part of it also goes into cancer research. I am healthy on my skin and on my body and I really wanted to share that with as many people as possible.”.

Ms. Alt proves being deserving of her supermodel title as she continues to work as hard and as much as she did when she first got it in the early eighties. The creation of this title however is packed with controversy. Eileen Ford, then owner of Ford Models claimed she used to call her models supermodels around the office. Janice Dickinson, a fellow supermodel, claims to have created the title to describe herself. Yet, most of the press claims that Carol Alt was the first supermodel, and she has an idea of why. 

“It was only a working title. The agency (Elite Models) started using it after I had a meeting with John (Casablancas, then owner of Elite) to explain that it was impossible to work when we were getting several calls per day from our bookers in the studio. I was really afraid the clients might get irritated and not book me again. This was a time when I was working up to three jobs a day, seven days a week without ever taking a break, it was intense! Clients had to book us with six months in advance! John then decided to create a Super Elite Division in which each of these super requested girls would have its own booker and would only get calls from that one person, keeping things more organized. This division had much bigger girls than me, like Kim Alexis or Kelly Emberg, but I suppose that since I was the first one in, the press picked up on it.”

Whether she was the first supermodel or not doesn’t seem to bother her at all, Carol is very humble about her career and speaks of her accomplishments with profound passion. Her latest given title is “legend”, bestowed upon her by her current agency, Trump Models, In New York. The newly created Legends Division, represents working models that have become huge and unforgettable, like Carmen Dell’Orefice, with a career that goes way beyond the mark of the sixty years; or Beverly Johnson, a name that will forever be remembered as the first woman of color in the cover of Vogue.

Carol Alt is a legend not only because she allegedly was the first supermodel, but because her career in the film, music, TV and literary industries have all been successful and filled with accolades. Her recognition as an actress in the United States, her home country, may not be as huge as her recognition in Europe, but the pile of awards that fill Carol’s shelves in her New York home will show you just how important she is to that world. Carol’s acting career is just as large as her modeling, her first job was on Broadway in Bob Fosse’s “Sweet Charity”, job that made her realize just how much she needed to learn the craft of acting. This was a time in which models did not become actresses and actresses did not work in TV commercials or advertising jobs, so to make a transition of that sort would require a lot of training and talent. Carol hired a coach and worked hard from the very first day. Her first movie, “Via Montenapoleone” was such a huge hit in Europe that it was later turned into a tv series. Since then Carol has worked in more than 50 films and is ready for the release of her latest project, with none other than Woody Allen. His new feature entitled “To Rome with Love”, due in the spring of 2012 worldwide takes the audience back to the good old Allen style, from films like “Manhattan” or “Everyone Says I Love You”.

Carol had hoped for a bigger and more established acting career in the United States, but by the time she was already a big star in Europe the 90’s had arrived, and with that a whole new team of supermodels, girls that had extensive amount of fame and were being offered parts in movies without even wanting to pursue a career in acting. Needless to say, these models were unprepared to deliver serious performances and by the time Carol returned to her country and hit Hollywood, the film community was fed up with models who wanted to be in movies. Carol’s talent and stardom however wasn’t diminished, she was still a supermodel.

Not one to sit on her hands, she took advantage of her position and went on to do work with several charitable organizations and more recently found the cause that lives in the core of her heart: TAMFI, the Tony Alt Memorial Foundation. “My brother passed away in 2005, and nobody knows why, he just dropped to the floor and died. His workers loved him, and that is such a testament to who my brother was, that they didn’t want his spirit to die. They started this foundation to raise money for children’s charities. Everyone in that foundation works for free, they have day jobs, so they donate their time to make sure the right organizations are getting the funds they need.” - explains the entrepreneur.

And then there is also a jewelry line launched in partnership with Sears. Yes, if this woman doesn’t deserve to be called legendary, than I have no idea who else should. The butterfly designed by Carol, is meant to symbolize transformation, because she claims to have been transformed since she started her raw living. With a green gem in the back, Carol hopes she will be able to bring healing energies to whoever purchases the items, which of course also reverts profits to charity.

And does this supermodel turned legend ever get tired? “Well, you know, sometimes I do. I do, but I try to do things that I am passionate about, I keep going because I enjoy what I am doing and from the moment I stop enjoying it I will stop it all. But you know what? I do my best, I am only trying to do my little bit, and for me it is all about health and I am trying to bring health to people.” Could the message be any clearer? I don’t think so.

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Article originally published in The Peninsula

Legendary Johnson

Beverly Johnson is not a fearful woman, she knows what she wants out of life, and she takes it. From a very young age she decided she needed to help in her family’s income and so she went on to become a model. In her early career, Beverly was given the honor of having her face stamped in the cover of Vogue, the most prestigious magazine in the world. That alone would be an accomplishment for any model, but the year was 1974 and Ms. Johnson was the first woman of color to ever be featured in the cover of Vogue.

From that moment on, Beverly Johnson would never again be just a model, she had become legendary. A part of the newly formed division entitled Legends, at New York’s Trump Models, her placement there could not be more suited. At a time in which everyone is a supermodel, to be recognized as a legend is quite distinguishing, even more so, because Ms. Johnson is from an era in which the term “Supermodel” wasn’t even invented.

Legendary Beverly Johnson remains. In 2012 she has launched a reality TV show in Oprah Winfrey’s network, OWN, and the rise to success of her newborn endeavor in the world of cosmetics in a partnership with Target. The first ever “Modelpreneur” continues to amaze us.

After more than 40 years actively working in the entertainment industry, Beverly’s career has produced more than 500 magazine covers, advertising campaigns, beauty contracts, runway shows, two books, movies, tv shows and an extensive list of charity work. 

Ms. Johnson’s most important accomplishment however was not in front of any sort of cameras, but in the privacy of her home: her daughter Anansa, with whom she now shares a home alongside her granddaughter and son in law. Beverly’s Full House is not just the title of her television series, but a description of what her life has become; a life full of great accomplishments and happiness. Here Beverly tells us a little more about her full life. 

 

What drove you to doing this docu-series on OWN?

It was the perfect opportunity to have my daughter, who I will always love, around me, and my new son in law, who is the son who I always wanted, and also my first grand child. Also, I knew that my daughter would never consent to going into therapy or any of the other things I had been involved with all these years, and she loves reality shows, she got me into reality tv, so she was thrilled with the whole idea, and that’s why I did that pitch to Oprah, it was a great way to get closer to my daughter and work in our relationship.

 

I can’t imagine how it is to have cameras all around your life and your house constantly; are there ever moments when it becomes too much to deal with and too difficult? Is it a big camera crew?

Well, of course it took some adjusting at first because I didn’t really know how intense it was and I didn’t realize it was going to be 20 to 25 people in my home every day. I don’t know what I was thinking. But also because it is a constructive reality tv show, it wasn’t about shooting indiscriminately, and the purpose of the show was to build a stronger bond with my daughter and to document me building my company. After a while, since we had a purpose in mind, it was much easier to manage, because we knew why we were doing it.

 

So there is definitely a way to manage the crew?

No, there is no coordination, they are there, from sun up to sun down, and sometimes even  longer than that, so there is no way to coordinate anything. We are in a reality tv show, so therefore we had life coaches come in so we could carry on all our normal activities because we are taking our cameras with us when we are going to fashion shoots and everything else in our daily lives.

 

So, now you are working on this docu-series and your company, but looking back in your career you have been in film, now you are in tv, you’ve done runway, you’ve done advertising, all sorts of things. What are the mediums that you worked with throughout your career that excite you the most? What makes your heart beat faster?

Today the digital media is something that really excites me, I think it’s a frontier that is very exciting, I love the podcasts, the streaming web, I read several blogs, I tweet via @BeverlyJohnson1, I facebook, it’s really about sharing your feelings with people and there is a connection there, I really believe that the internet has really made us able to connect with each other like we never have before.

 

And because you were the first african american woman in the cover of Vogue, I believe people look up to you, there is this aura around you, you seem to be a huge role model to women of color in particular. Do you think there is a message that  comes throughout your career? Did you ever aim to pass on this message that you can do whatever you want and succeed?

I really believe that I am living my life and living my dreams, and if I can inspire and be a role model to other people it’s great, but I am basically just living my life as an open book. In the 70’s and 80’s I was just telling people what was going on in my life and career, and now I get to share it in television, in reality television. I am just doing what I do.

 

You are of course a fashion and a beauty icon and you have transformed that career into very smart business decisions. When you were at the top of your modeling career years ago, did you already have the idea of working towards these projects or did they come to you little by little more recently?

They were always there, and I got into the business because I wanted to help out my family financially and I was able to do that. I was also able to open up a whole world of fashion and beauty and the arts, which I have grown to love, and also have the pleasure of, in some ways, become an expert just from being in it for so long. I think that it’s something that I wanted to share with other people, my knowledge, my experience and my career, these are things I always wanted to share with everyone.

 

Can you point out a moment in your career in which you look back and you say “this is it, now I have everything I could have asked for and I am happy!”?

Well, I would say, career wise, I knew that being the first woman of color in the cover of Vogue was something that nobody would ever be able to take away from me because I was the first and Vogue was and still is such an important media, not only in fashion but in the culture of America. So I always said that if I never get to do anything else, I have achieved a huge accomplishment! And that was in the beginning of my career, so it was all uphill from there.

 

How did it make you feel; were you blown away? Because when you went to shoot the editorial, did you know it was going to be a cover?

No, I didn’t know it was going to be a cover, in those days you never knew you were shooting a cover, you never knew you would be the cover until you saw yourself in the stand. But I knew it was a big deal, it still is a big deal to be in the cover of Vogue, but I didn’t know what what it meant to be the first woman of color in that cover, and what it meant for people of color around the world. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of responsibility to be thrust upon me at such a young age, but it gave me a purpose and kind of a road map of where I should go and how I should honor that achievement.

 

And lastly, I want to talk about charity, because I know you have done extensive work with Aids organizations and many others, how important is it for you to work with charity?

I did a lot of work with Aids and Amfar in the 80’s, we did that advertising shoot by Annie Leibovitz with Christie Brinkley and all those girls that were coming out and really speaking about Aids when it was still tabu, so I still am affiliated with various Aids organizations and always will be. That’s when you really get to step out of yourself and lend your celebrity to others. I am the spokesperson for global down syndrome, my niece has down syndrome and it is just such a great organization. They do a fashion show every year and if you could just look at their faces when they are walking down the runway and how they perform, there is so much about the condition and knowing that we can help these kids to reach their potential, so that’s something I am very involved with. I am also involved with a center out here in the desert that works with abused children, and we also put a fashion show together for them, and just to see these girls self esteem move up is something that makes it all worth while.

 

So, should we expect a second season for “Beverly’s Full House”?

Oh, I don’t know yet, it’s too early to tell. I do know it is the second biggest hit in the network and we have had a great feedback on it but we are very hopeful and happy about it.

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Article originally published in The Peninsula - volume 9, Issue 2 / June 2012

They Rocked the Ball

Vogue follows two top models to the Met Ball 2010 and reveals the backstage of the party; the biggest night of the fashion industry. By Gabriel Ruas


In the two weeks before the Costume Institute Gala – also known as Met Ball, for the intimates – New York sizzles. The ball which takes place annually at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is co-produced by American Vogue, and is to the fashion world what the Oscar is for Hollywood – when it comes to red carpet, of course. The difference is that, instead of actors and directors, the target here are models and designers. Before anything, being invited is no easy feat. You’re either very influential and was invited by someone who bought a table, or you have deep pockets. The coveted tickets sell at an average of $7500 for a personal, single invitation or $250k for a table, all in order to preserve the museum’s collection. A bargain if you consider that multi-million dollar deals can be sealed in this party and that the “who is who” of fashion will be there. They all want to walk down the most fashionable red carpet on the planet.

I am an agent in the division of top models at Elite Model Management in New York, and among our clients are Alessandra Ambrosio and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, engaged to the musician Sean Lennon. Therefore, I follow all of this fashion meltdown from very close. The models who are invited by designers to sit with them at their tables are the luckiest: they are dressed by the designers themselves and don’t have to put out a single penny. The phone at the agency won’t stop ringing with calls from couturiers, hair stylists and makeup artists offering their services. Once the partnership between model and designer is defined, the team gets together for briefing. Everything is decided based on the theme of each years event. This year, the theme was “American Woman – Fashioning an Identity”, name of the exhibition that stays open until August 15th. Looks are compiled, shown and analyzed according with the body type of the girl to wear them, with the colors of the season, as well as influences of the current or upcoming season. This is not an evening to exercise creativity, but to exude elegance.

A week prior to the ball, photos of dresses, shoes, jewelry and make up colors are exchanged via hundreds of emails between the team. Many replies later the amount of wardrobe pieces is reduced to about ten dresses and twenty pairs of shoes. The weekend before the party arrives and with it also arrive the models, back from their endless work trips, tired, with only a few ours of sleep and with no time to lose. Saturday morning (the event takes place on Monday evenings), there are three looks left – most likely the guest will pick the one that’s too big or too long, as it happened with Michelle Alves last year (the model was pregnant and we had to make adjustments all over), and it’s an enormous challenge to deal with the issue on a sunday, even in New York! Dramas aside, it’s time to coordinate jewelry and shoes.

 The Best-Dressed List fixture couple Gisele Bundchen & Tom Brady and a very pregnant Michelle Alves with her friend, Jesus Luz.

The Best-Dressed List fixture couple Gisele Bundchen & Tom Brady and a very pregnant Michelle Alves with her friend, Jesus Luz.

On the D day, the pressure is immense, the publicists of the models know it better than anyone: they are the ones who define times for hair and makeup, schedule car pick ups and coordinate the exact arrival time of the models at the red carpet, where they will work their magic to attract the attention of the media to their clients. The amount of flashes however will depend on endless variables. To arrive at the same time as that hot Hollywood couple is not a good choice. However, to pose with other colleagues of the industry is a guarantee of success: those are the pictures that will be bought by newspapers and magazines around the globe. As for the rest, it’s important to stay connected to every smile, every hug, and every glance. Everything there is captured and turns into news. The perfect look with the right attitude automatically elevates the hype of a model. A spot in the best dressed list is incomparable. At the very least it will guarantee an invitation to next year’s party.

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Article originally featured in Vogue Brazil, June 2010

Begin Again

Married to a Haitian and responsible for an orphanage-school for more than 400 children in the island, the model Carolina Bittencourt will never forget January 12: while she was giving birth to her daughter, her husband's homeland crumbled to pieces.

By Gabriel Ruas Santos Rocha

Carolina Bittencourt knew that January 12, 2010 would not be a day like any other, since at 2pm she would enter the delivery room at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York to give birth to little Olivia, fruit of her union of two years with Haitian businessman Cedrick Roche. What Carolina couldn't imagine was that this day would be twice unforgettable. When she was taken back to her room, finally awaken and split between the joy of her newborn daughter and the postpartum pain, she started receiving a series of unexpected text messages. These messages congratulated her on the birth of her child but ended with well wishes to Haiti and often inquired whether Cedrick's family was safe, which at that moment made absolutely no sense. Carolina, who had founded an NGO which maintains an orphanage-school and a dental clinic in the small Caribbean island three years ago, thought this sudden interest was strange. When she turned on the television, it was all made clear. She stared at Cedric perplex, and happiness gave room to despair facing the images of devastation and chaos.

The country was in ruins, thousands of lives were lost, not to mention the anguish of not knowing what was the real situation of their family. Journalists still weren't able to properly report the extent of the damages, Cedrick relentlessly called his parents, with no luck. Until connection was finally established with an uncle. The relief of knowing that at least one of his family members was alive and safe was indescribable, and the news his uncle brought were even better: Cedrick's parents were also alive and well. Cedrick, who comes from a privileged family, owners of a chain of supermarkets and resident of an area with better infra-structure, could breathe only partially relieved, since now the main concern of this couple was to find out the whereabouts of the children of the orphanage and what was the current condition of the NGO Lakay Pam. Cedrick made hundreds of calls, but didn't get anywhere. The brief phone connection he had with his uncle before was lost, and the sun set with no possibility of new communications. Now more than ever, it was necessary to pray and hope for the best.

 Carolina at the orphanage's nursery in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

Carolina at the orphanage's nursery in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

The television in the bedroom remained turned on, non-stop. Olivia, the new member of the family, seemed just as nervous as her parents and didn't sleep for more than an hour. Carolina could not set aside the happiness about her daughter, but the possibility that all those children in Haiti, not just the 400 of her orphanage, could be dead, hurt or without shelter, repeatedly broke her heart. Even today she finds it hard to put into words what was going through her head in those first few hours. The Brazilian model had always been very close with the children of the orphanage, saw the arrival of many of them still very young, at that institution, she saw up close how they grew and developed, and she was also very close with some of the parents of the children who attended school at Lakay Pam.

On the morning following the earthquake, phone connections were reestablished for a few minutes. Cedrick was able to speak to his family, and they still had no news about the orphanage, since all access was blocked by rumble and despair. The supermarkets had been partially destroyed, but luckily his brother in law was spared with only some bruises underneath the building. After a brief bulletin, the connection was once again lost, and for several hours would not be re-established. At this point North American news outlets had already set up camp in order to bring more precise information about the conditions of the country - after all, New York has the largest Haitian community outside of Haiti - and several nations started deploying help. Seeing the global mobilization, Cedrick and Carolina felt a certain relief. Even knowing that the human and material support would have immense difficulty getting to its destination, they had an intuition that it had finally come the time for Haiti to receive the attention it had needed for so long. Three hours away from New York city by plane, that is the poorest country in the Americas, for years with no potable water and four daily hours of electric power. It also holds one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. These are not data to be proud of, and Carolina started her work exactly because of that. The few NGO’s that extensively work daily to bring change faced enormous difficulties – from corruption and government bureaucracy to gang related violence and threats. Haiti has been in a state of civil war and continues to suffer the consequences.

Exhausted for the lack of sleep and long hours of crying, Carolina and Cedrick knew that there was no time to rest. They pondered that the earthquake might have been a way of Mother Nature to show the world that this is the time for action, not in five minutes, not tomorrow. Therefore, still in the hospital, they began to work. Between a nap and some time with their daughter, Carolina sent off emails to her friends in fashion. The answers poured in like a flood. Top models Raquel Zimmerman, Coco Rocha, Natasha Poly and Alessandra Ambrosio were the first ones to offer help, as were the fashion designers Narciso Rodriguez and Richard Chai. This was the beginning of another journey, of reconstruction. For Carolina, it’s an opportunity to help this country grow the right way, of replanting trees and irrigating the land so that it’s fertile. It is necessary to rebuild the headquarters of their NGO, reestablish lost connections with the orphans and families of their students, reassemble the dental clinic, which was put together with the help of the Brazilian NGO Turma do Bem. The efforts were elevated to the highest potency, and actions which were delayed with the birth of Olivia were now back to being a priority. On the 12th of last month, a fund raising event organized by the couple in an art gallery in the Meatpacking District in New York gathered the elite of the fashion industry to benefit Haiti. Olivia was a month old. Carolina hopes that the birth of her daughter is also a sign for Haiti’s rebirth.

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Originally featured as a cover story in Vogue Brazil #379 - March 2010

Wonder Woman

Top model Alessandra Ambrosio splits her time between motherhood and a modeling career. On her time off, she takes care of her body with outdoor workouts. by Gabriel Ruas


Even though she has three homes - in Los Angeles, New York and Florianopolis - Alessandra Ambrosio spends most of her time at location shoots and photography studios. The 5'9 top model has perfect curves and is one of the most important models in the world. Alessandra has been appointed several times by renowned news outlets as the sexiest or more desired woman in the planet. All that fame didn't happen overnight.

When she started modeling, Alessandra heard repeatedly that she wasn't tall enough for the runway but, determined, she worked hard until she stepped on the catwalk of heavy weights like Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Kenzo and Vivienne Westwood. Currently, she is one of the 'Angels' under contract with the brand Victoria's Secret, holding the longest running contract and one of the fattest pay checks of the industry, a fact evidenced by Forbes Magazine.

Known for her great personality, the girl from Erechim, Brazil is not only the face of hyped brands. She is currently developing a bikini line, stars in TV commercials and still finds time to dedicate to philanthropy. Not only that: she completely changed her routine in order to adjust to the biggest and more audacious life project, her daughter Anja. Since the birth of the little girl Ale, as she's known by close friends, prioritizes jobs with her favorite clients in order to make more time for her family.

Victoria's Secret, Next UK and Giorgio Armani are some of the lucky brands for which the top model will always make time for. As she likes to put it, they're friends, almost part of the family. So much so that during those bookings she has freedom to control the music selection - Led Zeppelin, Faith No More, INXS, Pearl Jam and Nirvana are always among her choices - and during the break, between a click and another, she ties in a lively chat with the crew.

This lightness, Alessandra cultivates and cares for with special attention. She knows that the career she chose is tough and it's necessary to believe in herself to accomplish and manage her success. That’s why, whenever she has the chance to chat with new faces, she doesn't hesitate in sharing her recipe: Patience and always remaining professional.

MIRROR

Passionate about sports, Alessandra Ambrosio maintains her curvy body through practicing surfing, windsurf, running and playing volleyball. Last year, three months after giving birth to Anja, she walked down the Victoria's Secret catwalk exhibiting perfect shape, leaving the fashion world in astonishment. What's her secret for getting back in shape so quickly? The new routine with the baby is responsible for a great portion of these results, but the model confesses that combining healthy eating habits and workouts was the main factor that brought her perfect body back.

From here on, Alessandra intends to live every moment to its fullest. The focal point remains her family and work and, with the certainty that only a few successful people have, she is not afraid of what the future holds. Her modeling career is what fascinates her and what she desires to do for many more years to come. Even though she has considered adding acting to her resume, she gave up when she realized that she would be type-cast in that industry. After all, an 'Angel' knows perfectly well the mechanisms which maintain her life in motion and can manage the explosive combination of fame + power + beauty with tranquility. She is not someone who walks within pre-determined standards; she prefers to create her own paths.

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Article originally featured as a cover story on L'Officiel Brazil # 33 July 2009