Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Exclusive Interview - Ava Smith

During the Spring/Summer 2013 season, I intercepted American beauty Ava Smith as she exited Milk Studios following the Peter Som presentation. Twenty-four year old Smith is considered a veteran by industry standards having initially entered modelling's fray at the sprightly age of 15. Early editorial bookings for British Vogue, Wonderland, American Marie Claire, and Russian Vogue, and a United Colours of Benetton campaign lensed by David Sims, pointed towards Smith quickly ascending modelling's ranks. As is often the case though in the fickle world of fashion, the industry buzz surrounding Smith dissipated with the promising newcomer relegated to less prestigious commercial modelling gigs. Fast-forward to the Spring/Summer 2012 season and Smith reappeared like a bolt out of the blue in a smattering of shows including for DKNY, Helmut Lang, Thierry Mugler, and Peter Pilotto. This time Smith kept the momentum going, nabbing 64 and 40 show bookings respectively during the Spring/Summer 2013 and Fall/Winter 2013 collections.

Smith's radiates a confidence and an aspirational type of beauty that is perceptible from the moment you meet her. Blessed with a diminutive yet powerful 177 cm frame, piercing cobalt blue eyes, and a striking jawline, there is no doubt that Smith has struck the genetic lottery. What sets Smith apart though from some of her runway contemporaries is her authentic nature, self-effacing humour, and a complete absence of ego that is often a glaring character trait amongst the bratty and the beautiful. Despite being caught up in the mad rush that is part and parcel of Fashion Week, Smith took the time to stop to pose for me outside Milk Studios and exuded a genuine warmth and interest in IMA. Smith's success is a testament to the power of perseverance,  impeccable timing, and the resolute support of her management team at Wilhelmina Models, and above all else her strength of character. IMA caught up exclusively with the engaging and charismatic Smith to discuss the virtues of age and experience, staying true to yourself, and the secret to longevity.

Ava Smith
Photographer - Uncredited
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Inoubliable Model Army (IMA): Hi Ava, it's been almost a year since we met outside Milk Studios! Thank you for taking the time to chat with IMA and congrats on being the second top catwalker of the Spring/Summer 2013 season with 64 show bookings! You must have slept for a week when Fashion Week finally wrapped. Are you looking forward to the upcoming Spring/Summer 2014 shows and what do you hope to achieve this season?
AS: I usually take things as they come, I'm happy if I do one show or a hundred - I'd be lying if I said I look forward to fashion week though... it's exhausting!

IMA: Your backstory is quite fascinating given that you have been modelling since 2005. Can you fill us in on some of the gaps?
AS: I'm from the south side of Chicago, and I have been living/working in New York since I started at age 15. My mom is Lithuanian and my dad is French, English, German, Irish, and Native American. I was scouted during a summer job on a beach near Chicago and signed with Factor Models (at the time it was still Elite) that Fall. That was 9 years ago... going on 10 because I'll be 25 this Fall!

IMA: Fashion is an incredibly fickle industry. You initially burst onto the modelling scene in 2006 appearing in editorials for British Vogue shot by Paolo Roversi, Wonderland and Russian Vogue shot by Lee Bromfield, and in a Benetton campaign lensed by David Sims, before the interest gradually dissipated. Then bang, you remerge a few years later at the Spring/Summer 2012 collections with a renewed vigour. What do you feel have been the major contributing factors to the shift in your modelling trajectory?
AS: I don't think there is an obvious answer for that. A lot of factors have to come together for your career to make a leap onto another level. I'm sure timing plays a big role, and a good, smart management team who believes in you.

Prabal Gurung - F/W 2013
Photographer - Marcus Tondo
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Blumarine - F/W 2013
Photographer - Marcus Tondo
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Hervé Léger by Max Azria - F/W 2013
Photographer - Yannis Vlamos
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IMA: Given your early start in modelling, do you feel better equipped to deal now with the pressures of modelling and your current success, and what are your personal views on the CFDA's ban on the use of models under the age of 16 on fashion's runways?
AS: It's hard to say if I feel better equipped now because I am actually older or it's just that I'm more experienced. I think it's probably both. I'm more appreciative of the opportunities presented to me and able to recognise the amount of work it takes from multiple persons in order to maintain the high calibre of work we do. As a teenager who does relatively well right away, you don't know what it's like to be at the bottom and it's easy to develop an ego. You have a very limited perspective. I think I was mature enough to handle it then, but much more so now that I'm older. I agree with the CFDA's ban on underage girls because ultimately every girl is different and without some restrictions we could be putting our young girls in compromising positions they are not yet able to cope with.

IMA: Modelling is an industry where so many factors which affect your career are beyond your control and every season brings on a new set of challenges. How do you steel yourself against constant physical scrutiny and the possible rejection that comes with the territory?
AS: It's the same as in normal life, not everyone is going to love you - or even like you, so rejection is just a part you have to accept. The sooner you realise it the easier it will be for you. I keep an open mind and try to do the things that I know I will respect and be proud of. The moment you compromise what you believe is right whether it's your actions or your words, you lose your self-respect and that's when it becomes hard. As long as You like yourself, it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks. As for the physical part, I keep myself in excellent shape so I'd challenge anyone to try and test that.

IMA: American girls appear to be making a major comeback in modelling, with yourself, Madison Headrick, Juliana Schurig, Mackenzie Drazan, Athena Wilson, Ondria Hardin, and Louise Parker helping to redefine concepts of American beauty. How does it feel to be part of this motley crew of amazing beauties and what is your personal definition of modern day American beauty?
AS: It's great, I'm flattered to be included in such a lovely bunch of girls. We're all different in looks, personality, age, goals, and achievements but none of that matters... that's an American beauty to me. Natural, confident, and genuine, from the inside out.

Exit Magazine - F/W 2012
Photographer - Benny Horne
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Ava Smith, Rodrigo Braga & Cara Delevingne
CR Fashion Book - F/W 2012
Photographer - Jean Baptiste Mondino
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Ava Smith & Bette Franke
W Magazine - January 2013
Photographer - Roe Etheridge
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IMA: The casting process can be incredibly daunting with so many incredible girls striving to make their mark each season. What is your secret to making a favourable and lasting impression on casting directors and designers during the casting process?
AS: Be yourself. It's so cliché but true. When you try to present something that isn't you it comes off as fake, which is never a favourable quality. And be professional, that presents you in a way where people want to work with you over and over again.

IMA: On the runway, you exude a womanly confidence that is completely natural, unforced, and believable. Models including yourself, Drake Burnette, Julia Frauche, Saskia de Brauw, and Aymeline Valade are spearheading a trend amongst models hitting their stride professionally well into their 20s. What factors do you feel are contributing to this shift in the modelling paradigm?
AS: I think you've just described it. A natural, unforced, believable confidence that only comes with getting a little older. I think people want that attitude associated with their clothing. Women want to look like that woman and be that woman. The modern woman has become such a force to be reckoned with in the world today. Now more than ever, we're holding positions in the family and workplace that once were designated only for men. Women are earning more money, attaining higher positions in major companies, and have a growing presence in our governing bodies. How could they relate to teenagers dressed up in expensive clothes?

IMA: One of the most enjoyable aspects of show season is the backstage camaraderie between models. Who are your closest model buddies and did you take any newcomers under your wing this past season?
AS: I like everyone, but I've also been around for quite some time so most of my "model" friends have moved onto other things. With such a short shelf life, it's hard to have lasting relationships within the modelling community because we all have different careers and bounce around a lot. I'm more than happy to offer the youngsters advice but as far as taking to one particular newcomer, I haven't.

Flaunt - June 2013
Photographer - Alexander Neumann
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Dazed & Confused - June 2012
Photographer - Daniel Jackson
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Spanish Vogue - May 2013
Photographer - Hasse Nielsen
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IMA: You've recently appeared in a smattering of editorials for Russh, CR Fashion Book, Dazed & Confused, Ponystep, French Numéro, and the Spanish, Japanese and Italian editions of Vogue. What do you most enjoy about the editorial component of modelling and are there any photographers whose aesthetic and way of interaction with his/her subjects you particularly admire?
AS: I enjoy the freedom that the editorial aspect of modelling allows. There are still lines you have to stay within, especially in this day and age when there is so much advertising and branding going on, but you can still bring a diverse group of ideas together and compose a totally unique image. As a model there is more opportunity to bring something to the photo and collaborate with the team. I admire the photographers who still have their passion. It's so easy to become jaded and ambivalent towards your work because in a way you end up being subservient to a client, to magazine or an agency, and you lose most of the control of the image. I'm sure it can be very stifling. If they care too much they'll go crazy; but if they can find the happy balance between too much and too little, it makes for a wonderful environment for everyone involved.

IMA: What do you love most about modelling and if there was one aspect of the industry you could change, what would that be?
AS: I love that it is indefinable. Fashion and modelling are forever tied to the fact they are the product of people changing over time. Fashion is the change. The models and trends that were popular 20 years ago aren't as what is popular now. To me it's how the business has prevailed throughout depressions and recessions and economic booms and falls.

IMA: What makes you "Inoubliable" (Unforgettable)?
AS: That, in my opinion, is in the eye of the beholder. People choose for themselves why a person is memorable for them. True longevity to me can't be forced.

French Revue de Modes - F/W 2013
Photographer - Thierry Le Goues
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Tush - May 2013
Photographer - Markus Jans
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Ava Smith, Kati Nescher & Thairine Garcia
V Magazine - Issue 78
Photographer - Sebastian Faena
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Ponystep - S/S 2013
Photographer - Sebastian Mader
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Special thanks to Roman Young at Wilhelmina Models. For more information on Wilhelmina Model Management, please log onto

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