Friday, November 1, 2013

Exclusive Interview - Kai Newman

Each show season, a select handful of newcomers encapsulate the mood that will shape the modelling landscape across the breadth of the four fashion capitals. Sixteen year old Jamaican newcomer Kai Newman commanded the attention of fashion denizens with her searing runway presence, piercing gaze, and stunning versatility. Newman's appearances at Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rodarte, and Calvin Klein in New York precipitated a landslide of bookings on the European runways that mattered most. Newman's riveting turn on the runway for Versace had show-goers gasping in unison for all the right reasons. Standing at an imposing 178 cm with a luxuriant chocolatey skin tone, and a takes no prisoners runway death stare, Newman had casting directors and designers alike under her magnificent spell. Bearing shades of former top models Oluchi Onweagba, Kinee Diouf, and Sebastian, what Newman  possesses is a regal bearing and modernity that is the very embodiment of high fashion luxe.

Newman's landmark appearances at Jil Sander, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Nina Ricci, Alberta Ferretti, Dries Van Noten, Hermés, and Miu Miu signal a definitive shift in the modelling paradigm towards a standard of beauty which bears no colour lines. Discovered by Deiwght Peters of Saint International in her native Kingston, Newman took out the Fashion Face of the Caribbean title for 2012 before being signed by One Management in New York. Newman's ultra blue chip Spring/Summer 2014 show list is reflective of the runway rookie's chameleon-like quality with a diverse selection of bookings for clients ranging from Acne Studios, to Vanessa Bruno, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein et al. Indeed it is Newman's ability to morph effortlessly between a smouldering sensuality, tomboyish androgyny, and that exuberant megawatt smile which has the fashion industry enamoured. IMA caught up with Newman in between school and modelling assignments, to discuss her thrilling debut season, the formidable team of agents behind her stratospheric rise, and the Miu Miu bag that made her success all the more sweeter.

Kai Newman
Image courtesy of One Management


Inoubliable Model Army (IMA): Hi Kai, congratulations on a spectacular Spring/Summer 2014 show season. What were your expectations going into your debut season and were you surprised by the industry's positive response?
KN: Thank you very much. I was hoping for the best. My mother agent really believed in me and really encouraged me. I am very happy with the outcome and how my New York agency One Management marketed me for the shows. These were some of my dream shows - especially Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs! My Milan agency Why Not was also brilliant in making sure I saw the best people. I was elated to walk for designers such as Gucci and Jil Sander. Paris was also a dream and Elite Paris kept the momentum going. I was also fortunate to have my mother agent travelling with me, who kept me motivated and explained many things to me to help keep me grounded throughout the season in Europe. I am very humbled by my success for the season and thank all the great people who gave me a chance. I enjoyed working with amazing individuals such as Pat McGrath, Guido, Anita Bitton, Maida & Rami, Michelle Lee, John Pfeiffer, and so many others. I send love to all of them.

IMA: As a brand new face, would you mind sharing your backstory with IMA?
KN: I'm 16 years old and come from a small inner city community called Allman Town in the middle of the country's capital Kingston. I live with my mom, stepdad and my younger brother who is 10 years old. I was walking home from the dentist with my mom when a car pulled up from behind and a gentleman (who turned out to be my mother agent Deiwght Peters of Saint International) was driving and he spoke to my mother briefly. He told her I was beautiful and thought that I could be a star. He asked my mom to take me to his production offices. I was signed by Saint International and later I entered the Fashion Face of the Caribbean and got to meet agencies and casting directors from New York who were on the judging panel. Preparing for this contest was very challenging with lots of training for the runway. My mother agent Deiwght Peters is a hard task master ;-). I won the competition and was signed to One Management in New York.

IMA: Your Spring/Summer 2014 show list includes appearances at Marc by Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Rodarte, Alberta Ferretti, Jil Sander, Miu Miu, Nina Ricci, and Hermés! Has the significance of your achievements dawned on you yet and how did you celebrate once Fashion Week came to a close?
KN: I am still pinching myself and thanking God for my good fortunes this season. I had to return to school and start catching up on my school work. My mother agent really celebrated and there was a lot of media coverage on the shows I appeared in. So it was cool when people recognised me at the airport and so forth.

Dries Van Noten - S/S 2014
Photographer - Yannis Vlamos
Source - style.com

Vanessa Bruno - S/S 2014
Photographer - Yannis Vlamos
Source - style.com

Acne Studios - S/S 2014
Photographer - Fablo Iona
Source - style.com


IMA: Where are you currently based and what are your plans post-Fashion Week?
KN: I am back home finishing my last year of school but will be available for major projects.

IMA: Saint International has been doing a stellar job of introducing Jamaican talent to the international modelling stage. Are you considered conventionally beautiful in your homeland, and had you considered modelling prior to being scouted?
KN: Saint International is the best. Deiwght has been with me every step of the way and really encouraged and nurtured me and the other models who are signed internationally. Saint International is recognised as a pioneer in promoting the unconventional look in Jamaica. Before me there were girls like Nakeisha Robinson, Shena Moulton and others. No, I never dreamt of becoming a model because I never knew much about this industry. But when I met Deiwght and he started teaching me about the industry, I was very excited.

IMA: How did you management prepare you for your debut season and what is the most valuable advice that your agents imparted to you?
KN: My mother agent laid the groundwork. In New York, I learnt to be strong and confident, and to move fast (Jamaica is much more laid back). I have also learnt that you have to be professional and polite to everyone you work with. You realise that there is an entire team supporting your career so you must show appreciation.

IMA: Racial diversity was at the forefront of many casting directors minds for the Spring/Summer 2014 season. Did you notice greater diversity at castings and backstage during the shows and what do you hope this shift in the modelling paradigm will hold for the future?
KN: Frankly I am very new to this business so I wouldn't be in a fair position to comment on this at the moment - especially to make comparisons. I have so much more to learn.

Kai Newman
Photographer - DeAndre Dacosta
Source - tumblr/KaiNewman

Kai Newman
Photographer - DeAndre Dacosta
Image courtesy of Why Not Models

Kai Newman
Photographer - Unidentified
Source - tumblr/KaiNewman


IMA: Calvin Klein featured yourself, and four other black models in its show line-up, while Philipp Plein had an all-black cast. How does it feel to be part of this vibrant group of coloured models who are being given the opportunity to shine?
KN: I am always very excited to work with my fellow black models. It was great to get the chance to work alongside Joan Smalls at Gucci and Liya Kebede at Philipp Plein.

IMA: Stakes were high for the Spring/Summer 2014 season with so many promising new faces vying for limited runway slots at castings. What was your approach during the casting process and what factors do you feel are most vital for wowing casting directors?
KN: I think it's important for you to just be yourself and to not try to pretend. Be respectful and humble, and your beauty will shine through.

IMA: You possess an incredibly versatile beauty and range of expression from an intensely hypnotic death stare to the most radiant megawatt smile! Was it difficult to hide that smile while you were walking down the runway and what were your favourite moments of the season both on and off the runway?
KN: Well thank you for that! My mother agent told me that my smile was very beautiful the very first time he met me and my mom. I am a very positive person and I like to smile but I also understand that when I am on the runway I have to convey a certain mood. My favourite moment was when my agents called me with confirmations for the top shows coming in and of course getting a designer's gift like my Miu Miu bag.

Calvin Klein - S/S 2014
Photographer - Fablo Iona
Source - style.com

Gucci - S/S 2014
Photographer - Marcus Tondo
Source - style.com

Jil Sander - S/S 2014
Photographer - Marcus Tondo
Source - style.com


IMA: There are many modelling pioneers including Naomi Sims, Iman, Beverly Johnson, Naomi Campbell, Liya Kebede, and Jourdan Dunn to name but a few who have paved the way for future generations of black models. Who are your role models in life and what lasting contributions do you hope to make to the industry?
KN: I am very new to the business and I am now learning about different models. I know of Naomi Campbell and the great work that she has done. I can't wait to meet her one day. I met Joan Smalls and Liya Kebede. I want to be the best I can be.

IMA: You got to wear some of the dreamiest creations this season. How would you describe your sense of style and if there was one outfit that you wore that you could have sauntered off the runway with, which collection would it have come from?
KN: I am a tomboy at heart. I like a good pair of denim jeans and boots with a T-shirt. I would have loved to walk off the runway with my look from Jil Sander.

IMA: Models are making a major comeback on the covers of magazines. Imagine you are being photographed by Peter Lindbergh for British Vogue in a 2013 version of the original Famous 5 cover. If you could wear a casting hat for a day, which other models would you most like to appear alongside?
KN: Wow... that's a big one. I had my mother agent explain what this meant - lol... I would love Naomi Campbell who was in the original, and Joan Smalls and Carolyn Murphy.

IMA: What makes you "Inoubliable" (Unforgettable)?
KN: My smile... and my runway stare.

Kai Newman
Image courtesy of One Management

Kai Newman
Image courtesy of One Management

Special thanks to Alex Shah at Premier Model Management, Deiwght Peters at Saint International, and Julie Murat at Elite Model Management Paris. For more information on Premier Model Management, Saint International, and Elite Model Management Paris, please log onto www.premiermodelmanagement.com, www.saintmodels.com, and www.elitemodel.fr

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