I had the pleasure of interviewing fellow model Nneka, a successful international fashion model, who is based in New York and one of the first ethnically ambiguous models pioneering a fairly conservative industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your „backstory“?
Thank you, guys. I am from a tiny town in Germany and grew up with dreams way bigger than my surroundings. Did I expect to live one day in New York City, having shoots, commercials and runway shows for the most prestigious brands all over the globe? Probably not. I am very grateful for what I was able to achieve during my career so far and for the opportunity working for great clients such as Chanel, Escada, Tommy Hilfiger, Olay, Elle Magazine to name a few.
However, all this would have been not possible without the great support of my mom, who unfortunately past away just recently. She was always a very hard worker and role model to me, raised 4 kids alone, and helped me incredibly to pursue my dreams, but also to stay grounded and pushed me to finish my post graduate degree in Psychology.
Having had a slightly nerdy reputation growing up by being fascinated by Physics, Math, and Latin, modeling came up somewhat unexpected. On the one hand, I got approached countless times from prominent designers and photographers, who encouraged me to become a model. However, when signing with my first agency, I was advised of the reality of things back then. Being ethnically ambiguous with café au-lait-skin, oversized lips my classmates made fun of and freckles all over my face, I was not quite exactly what the market had ever seen or requested. My agency joked that in Germany blondes with green eyes were considered exotic and that the fashion industry seemed to be too conservative to diversify. My chances were less than slim, but they would give it a shot anyways. Ultimately my quite unique looks, hard work, and my agencies support, made it happen to be featured soon after on billboards, TV commercials, and being booked for the biggest brands and catalogs worldwide – traveling to exotic places from Seychelles, Cape town, Jamaica to Mexico.
How did moving to New York impact your life?
Signing with Ford Models, which is the most iconic model agency I can think of, and who invited me to live and work in the United States, was like a dream came true. I absolutely love living in New York, and it definitely took my career to a whole new level, thanks to my amazing agents. I am also represented in major European cities and enjoy going „home“ for work once in a while, but what I love about New York is that the industry is ahead of the curve and attracts the most diverse and hardworking talent with stories to tell, from all walks of life – industry-wide, not only in fashion. The city has the reputation being the most fascinating and unique place ever for a reason since it indeed is a melting pot of different cultures. At the same time, New York can be a tough nut and rollercoaster for your comfort zone. I really have the highest respect for people who try to make it here, whether it is the single mom cashier at the Deli around the corner, juggling three jobs or an entrepreneur pursuing a dream.
Even though I scored the first casting, I went to, a big catalog shoot in Arizona´s beautiful Sonoran Desert, I wish I could say my whole experience working in New York and Europe was that easy, but it was far from it. They say statistically one-third of all girls around the globe wish to become a model, and New York is the most competitive market in the world. I saw many more talented, way more beautiful models come and go, and only a few managed to last for more than two seasons or even were able to build a sustainable career over many years.
Ultimately, looks just open the door, but you need a very thick skin, an even thicker thick skin, perseverance, discipline and determination, to keep going under no guidance at a young age, and overcome the daily rejection, and uncertainty, which is part of the job till you get the next big booking and finally have established yourself on the market. Having studied, a vast network of friends and a healthy lifestyle definitely helped me to balance out the constant focus on the outward appearance, and negative influences that can easily take its toll.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a model?
Growing up, Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé were one of my favorite celebrities. Fast forward years later, you can imagine my surprise and excitement as a young model when I was walking the runway with Naomi and worked alongside with Beyoncé in an Armani perfume TV commercial in Germany. Especially meeting Beyoncé was quite a fantastic experience, since she was so sweet, professional, incredibly humble and endured as much as everyone with no complaint working on the project for 3 days, almost no sleep while being 18 hours on set each day
And then, besides driving like a crazy person in Madrid with a brand new, top secret, not on the market yet BMW for their latest commercial, another quite fun experience was when I did a runway show for Chanel last week.
I mean, CHANEL…pinch me, please! I have to admit, this was a goosebumps moment when I got the booking confirmation, and I was kind of scared of how working for them would be. The show took place at the legendary Plaza Hotel Ballroom in New York, and the team was amazing, the collection absolutely beautiful – a fusion of the traditional „Chanel“ chic we all know, but flavored with a maritime vibe and an 80´s meets 70´s kind of edge to it. Think of bold striped flared pants, paired with ripped jeans jackets and French Parisian hats. I liked that a lot since it gave the collection an unexpectedly cool and contemporary twist to it while being still sort of classy.
So, what exactly does a model do?
A model wears many hats, no pun intended (they may hire for my looks, but they keep me around for my bad jokes.) In all seriousness, the role of a model I believe is widely misperceived. Many people think modeling is a glamorous life where, thanks to a quote by some 90’s supermodels, we „don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.“ Yes, you can make ridiculous amounts of money. The less glamorous side of things is that it is an extremely rocky journey to get to this stage. You have to be able to continually adjust to unpredictable schedules by jumping on a plane with 2 hours‘ notice, for instance, and call times as early as 4:30 am when on location. It is comparative to having a product, that is basically you, that you want to position and sell worldwide in the most competitive and unpredictable market. Simply put, this product`s role, aka the model`s, is to be a Chameleon and help to make the client’s product look it´s very best to boost sales to the masses and generate more revenues compared to having not booked a (specific) model. A working model will get hired for print/ad work, e-commerce, lookbooks, runway shows, or sometimes features in movies and music videos, just to name a few.
What are your favorite „5 Beauty Secrets”
- Definitely staying hydrated. I’m trying to drink a lot more water and even just fresh juices, I think it makes a big difference. But I think that extra vitamin kick, it really makes you feel good. Water with lemon for clear skin—it helps get the toxins out and prevents breakouts
- The best thing is just to make sure to take off all that makeup at night and cleanse, and in the morning do the exact same thing. I always try to let my face breathe as much as I can. A model friend told me to use coconut oil as a makeup remover because it’s healthy for your skin.
- Eat your fruits and veggies! Avoiding refined products and focusing on real food does wonders for your skin. Eat the rainbow in produce. Less is more, makeup wise.
- Highlighter is definitely the key to brighten your face when you don’t want to lose time doing your makeup — a little on your cheekbones, corner of the yes, nose, and cupid’s bow and you’re good to go. Less is more, make-up wise.
- Smile – having a positive attitude is always key, getting as much rest and sleep as possible & do your favorite work-outs. It’s your body’s way of recharging itself.