Interview with Model & Designer Victoria Henley

“My pieces are designed to make people feel like the best possible versions of themselves. “­­ – Victoria Henley

model and designer Victoria HenleyVictoria, how would you introduce yourself to our readers? When and how did you start modeling? Most people know me as the “quirky girl” from Cycle 19 of America’s Next Top Model, but since the show, I have modeled for Nicole Miller, Mara Hoffman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Seventeen Magazine, Raine Magazine and so many other design labels and magazines I’ve admired since I was a small child. I have also found myself in a position as a host (for several recurring CW Network affiliated broadcasts), and I am also an entertainment and media correspondent for Runway TV (Owned by Runway Magazine in Los Angeles), which gives me the opportunity to meet and interview various actors, artists and celebrities (my favorite was probably MTV’s Chanel West Coast, who was so sweet and personable.) My first professional job came about when I was just 6 months old, and I was scouted to appear in ads and on billboards by an agent while out at lunch with my mom. I actually got booked as a recurring baby model for their brand until one day when I refused to smile and just stared blankly at the camera for hours until they finally just dismissed me. (Needless to say, my baby modeling career took a bit of a hiatus after that booking). I regained an interest in modeling when I was about 8 years old, I studied Vogue Magazine like the Bible, and I had my mom drive me back and forth to twice a week model lessons with my cousin, who was a Ford model. One thing led to another, and I eventually began work as a child model for department stores like Dillards, JC Penny’s etc., and at 14 years old, I became the youngest model to be hired by the LA Based gown company, Claire’s collection, which led to about 6 years of recurring bookings with the company.

What do you believe is the key to success for a model? What qualities does one need to succeed? What traits helped you make it to where you are now? Is it purely based on looks, or has your intelligence played a large part? I believe the number one key to success for a model is (as Eleanor Roosevelt put it) “to have skin as thick as a rhinoceros.” I believe many models do not experience success in the industry simply because they are afraid of failing or they let a couple of rejections squelch their passion. Modeling may seem glamorous, but the truth is: it is extremely competitive and rejection is an inevitable part of the industry. However, if a model is truly passionate about his/her craft and has the tenacity to move forward (even after hearing that dreaded word, “no”), the right doors will open. Even though I am tall and relatively thin, I feel like the majority of my bookings (not to mention getting cast on ANTM) have come from my persistence and my work ethic. If I had just relied on my looks to take me places, I would have gotten nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, I have confidence in my outward appearance, but I have never attempted to just play the “pretty girl” card and I never wanted just to be a model who got her photo made. In between breaks on Top Model, I would be busy writing up my business plans, and in the past few years, I have built up a roster of over 1,500 models and designers whom I have worked with, booked for various projects, mentored etc., so getting to exercise that entrepreneurial side of myself has been extremely rewarding.

In your own eyes, what was the moment that your career took off? When did you realize that you had gotten to that next level? Many people assume that the contestants on ANTM have been plucked out of obscurity and thrust into the spotlight with no prior experience, and while this is true in some cases, I had been working in various parts of the industry (modeling, producing, writing, etc.) since I was a young child, so I feel like the experience I had gave me a nice boost coming into the daunting ANTM casting process. While filming the show, I was totally naive to it’s massive fan base/ viewership, but when I returned home, I found that dozens of fan pages had been made in my honor by total strangers, and I had over 2,000 friend requests from people across the globe (a far cry from the 150 facebook friends I had when I left to film the show!) I think the number one moment I realized that modeling would become my full time career is when I called an agent I had previously worked with and told her to submit my brand new portfolio to Neiman Marcus (a company I had been submitted for an wanted to work with for some time). Within 24 hours, Neimans had booked me for a catalog shoot and a series of live shows.

Has your increased fame changed the way you think about how society treats models/celebrities? My increased fame has most definitely altered the way that I perceive celebrities as well as my viewpoint of how celebrities are treated by society. I think everyone at some point in their lives has been guilty of “Celeb- Shaming”, but unless you have met the individual in real life, it’s not fair to make total judgments. After my appearance on ANTM, I got the opportunity to host and model in shows which involved the Real Housewives as well as the Bad Girls Club casts. I was amazed by how well they all got along with one another and how pleasant they were; however, when the cameras started rolling, they immediately began fighting. Many of the personas that celebrities (particularly reality stars) give off are honestly just ways to generate ratings. I have read many comments online (note to self: don’t Google your own name!) from people calling me arrogant or ego maniacal, and that is not me at all, so it’s really intriguing to see how people’s perceptions can be so off base.

What do you think is the hardest thing(s) to deal with in modeling industry? What do people not know about model life? Most people believe that once you have built a name for yourself, bookings come pouring in effortlessly, but the truth is: you always have to keep marketing and promoting yourself. Since I work in several different aspects of the industry, I have a lot of things to keep track of (my own bookings/ shoots, overseeing editorials, orchestrating interviews with celebrities- not to mention making sure my editors do their jobs and get the footage edited on time, securing bands/ djs, booking tickets for shows…you call tell I am horrible at delegating tasks.), and I do actually have about 12 different agents, but my mom always said “no one will promote you the way that you will”. She was absolutely right, and to me, the toughest part about modeling is trying to find a balance among all my different responsibilities.

In you opinion, do people treat you any differently because of what you do? Do they act different around you since you have become a model? People treat me quite differently now that I am a professional model. Agents and editors who previously rejected me from jobs were all of the sudden calling and asking to work with me after the show, and people who weren’t nice to me in grade school started acting like we were lifelong friends. Sadly, even some relatives who used to all but ignore me at family events started paying attention and hanging on every word I said. Everyone loves getting attention, but at the end of the day, it’s important to know who is interested in you only for superficial reasons and who cares about you for the right reasons.

Do you feel social media has helped your career? Actually, (looking back) my lack of knowledge in the social media realm upon my return from ANTM is a huge regret for me, and I wish I had taken more time to study which forms of social media would be most beneficial to me career. I started booking jobs immediately upon my return from the show, so I was so caught up in working, and funny enough, I didn’t even know what Instagram was! A photographer I was working with congratulated me a few years back on making it to 10,000 followers, and I told him I did not know what on earth he was talking about. I looked into it, and I later found out that a young Filipino girl had created an account posing as me, then when I finally got around to creating my own page, no one believed it was actually me. Between the fake Instagram and about 10 additional fake facebook and Twitter accounts, establishing my own social media presence was extremely frustrating for me, but now that I have finally gotten more control of my name online, social media has proved to be both rewarding an lucrative for business. Sheeba magazine readers can connect with my (real) account on Instagram @victoriahenley and on Facebook.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a young model working toward building their portfolio and social media profile? I have assisted hundreds of models in building their portfolios, and I always tell them how vital it is to have a variety of photos in their books (for example, varieties of colors/ dressy/ casual looks etc.). While some people spend thousands of dollars to build their portfolio book in a day, a better approach is to build one’s portfolio gradually by including ad campaigns, magazine tearsheets (and of course some shots from professional shoots you book) in your portfolio. Booking catalogs and ad campaigns for clothing companies (especially popular ones with large social media followings) is a great way for models to expand their followings as well.

model and designer Victoria Henley

Victoria, what is going through your mind when you are modeling in front of the camera? I always consider the designer or label for whom I am modeling as well as what vibe the creative director wants to convey for the shoot. If I am wearing a bright, colorful piece, I will think about a day at the beach or memory that makes me feel happy. If the vibe is edgier I’ll picture my favorite movie villain and try to channel that character and energy into my movements and facial expressions.

Do you feel Photoshop has created a skewed perception of the ideal body image? It’s unfortunate that so many photos of models are extremely photoshopped, which often encourages and perpetuates eating disorders among young girls (who may not be aware of the fact that all models do not look like the “blemish- free perfection ” in real life as they are presented in ad campaigns.) I enjoy working with designers who make clothes to compliment real women with real curves, and I try to keep some control over how my images are presented online and in print because being a body positive role model is very important to me.

Your interest in fashion goes beyond just being a model – tell us about Victoria Henley fashion design. What led you to the fashion design? As a child, I used to make sketches of various outfits I would dream up on napkins at restaurants and I was also obsessed with making paper dolls and “producing” fashion shows for my Barbies as I would put together various fashion styles for them to model on the “runway” (a.k.a: my hallway) as my Siamese cat ran past). I actually wanted to be a designer before I really became passionate about modeling, but my modeling experience has given me a keen sense of how to design for a woman’s body. I am now partnering with over 10 designers and a manufacturer overseas to launch “The Victoria Henley Collection”, which is a compilation of elegant, sophisticated, ad tailored pieces for women, men and children.

How would you define your design aesthetic? Do you have any fashion rules when putting an outfit together? My design signature is heavily influenced by my personal style, which is sophisticated with a nostalgic vibe. For instance, one of my latest pieces if a skintight pantsuit with a high collar, topped off my a flowing, floor skimming jacket, which could easily transition from the office to a formal dinner function. When I put an outfit together, I dress for comfort, but it is also important for the outfit to reflect my mood that day (and of course, no outfit is complete without the right accessories).

Who is the woman you are generally designing for? The great thing about the Victoria Henley collection (and my collaborations with other designers) is that the pieces are made for women of all heights, shapes, sizes and ethnicities. I believe that beauty is not defined by age, skin color or other factors but strictly by how comfortable one feels in their own skin. My pieces are designed to make people feel like the best possible versions of themselves.

Can you explain a bit about your process of design – where do you get inspiration for your designs and how an idea starts and how it becomes a finished product? Nothing inspires me more than just taking a walk through nature and observing all the beautiful, colorful things around me. Simple things like the colors of a monarch butterfly’s wings or the shape and colors of a mountain fern can do wonders in inspiring the look of a wardrobe piece. One of the dresses I wore in this editorial, for instance, was inspired by the scales of a fish when I made a visit to a nearby Koi pond. After the inspiration is found, you need to capture your idea (s) on a sketchboard, then decide what colors and materials you’d like to use before turning in the  final lists of the aforementioned info (as well as measurements) to your manufacturer.

What have been your biggest challenges as a designer? The biggest challenge to overcome as a designer is monetizing your product by getting picked up by boutiques or retailers who want to sell your brand, but the fan base which I have gained as a model has significantly helped in in the are of marketing and publicity for my designs.

How do you feel fashion has empowered you? What does fashion mean to you? Fashion is my livelihood and such an integral part of my everyday life. While very stressful at times, I am blessed to make a living doing something I am passionate about, and fashion/entertainment has given me a life more eventful than I could have possibly imagined. Fashion also has the power to completely transform the way you view and feel about yourself. For example, I just helped an exceedingly shy young woman build her portfolio, and once she tried on her designer clothes and had her hair/ makeup done, she immediately stood up straighter and carried herself in a more confident way.

Who are some of your personal favorite fashion/model icons? My ultimate icon in style (and in life) is my mom because she is so effortlessly and naturally beautiful and chic in anything she wears. I’ve always admired natural beauty, and I think she completely personifies that ideal. My other style icons include (or course) Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O, and I am also attracted to over the top fashions in Tim Burton’s films as well as the retro classics featured in Woody Allen’s movies.

model and designer Victoria Henley

Do you have any exciting upcoming plans that you would like to share with us? I am currently planning for the launch of my upcoming collections at NY Fashion Week in Sept and am also hosting seminars in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami etc. for a NY Based model boot camp. I also have dozens of upcoming catalog and editorial shoots NS even going into the studio soon to record harmonies ad back up vocals on an indie artist’s album.

Where can readers get connected with you? Getting connected with fans is extremely important to me, so if you are a model, designer, photographer, etc. who would like to work or collaborate with me (or if you are just a fan who wants to say “hi” ), you can email me directly at [email protected] or connect on Instagram @victoriahenley or Facebook.

How has modeling experience changed your personal/professional life? I am still trying to figure out a way to separate my personal from my professional life since my work is so time consuming. Modeling has taught me to have a fierce work ethic and to be extremely self motivated, and I am still trying to find a way to balance it all.

One thing that bugs you about humans is that…? The one thing that bugs me most about humans (especially millennials – young people) is making commitments, then backing out once they realize a project will require them to do some actual work as well as a general lack of camaraderie. Getting a young person (in my experience) to follow through and actually execute something is like pulling teeth, and I think young people have a hard time growing and evolving now because everyone expects a “gold star”, even for a mediocre performance. Accepting constructive criticism is a vital part of becoming a healthy, developed human being, and if our younger generation can’t come to terms with the fact they are not automatically perfect at everything they do, our next generation is in for some trouble.

Tell us one thing about yourself people might find surprising. One thing about me that might surprise most people is that I have made documentaries and have written essays about paranormal activity and have participated in five professional ghost hunts, on which I have experienced some encounters too insane to believe. Another surprising fact about me? I eat dessert…every single day.

Thank you, Victoria.

Published in 2016 June Volume III: BUY NOW

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