i wanna be a supermodel

Fourteen Famous Models on Their Breakout Gigs

Imagine you’re Helena Christensen, Karen Elson, or Coco Rocha. You’ve been on countless shoots for Vogue and posed for the best Parisian couture houses. What do you make of all those photo sessions with Steven Meisel and Karl Lagerfeld? We asked a handful of our favorite faces about some of the most memorable shoots of their careers, including the first time they stepped in front of the camera.

Supermodel Christensen recalls her shoot at the wee age of 9 months for diapers (in pigtails, no less!); Elson fondly remembers shooting her first (of now many) Vogue Italia cover stories with Meisel. Read on to see what these women had to say, including Petra Nemcova, Hilary Rhoda, and Constance Jablonski’s confessions and embarrassing memories, ahead. 

1. Anne Vyalitsyna (Women)
“My first real photo shoot was a campaign. I remember the hairdresser cutting my bangs, while I was hysterically crying. It was all so new and different. I was 15 years old, spoke no English, and I couldn’t figure out why I was wearing such weird clothes or what I was supposed to do with them. In no time, the photographer made me feel comfortable, confident, and beautiful. I realized why I wanted to be a model.”

2. Coco Rocha (Wilhelmina)
“My first modeling gig in New York was at this old industrial building in what to me was a very scary part of Brooklyn. I took my Mom and she sat patiently in the hallway the whole time. I met the photographer who showed me photos of a model he wanted to be my inspiration for the day saying, ‘You’ll probably never be at this girl’s level but I want you to look like this,’ sort of a crushing thing to say to a 15-year-old, but I did my best. I later found out the name of that doll-faced girl was Lily Cole and I never worked with that photographer again.”

3. Petra Nemcova (One Management)
“I had my first castings in Paris, and I got two jobs out of [the three]; a campaign for a [cosmetics brand] and an editorial in Mallorca, Spain. I felt very lucky. That was the start of a very successful time in Paris.”

4. Hilary Rhoda (Elite)
“My first job was with Bruce Weber for Hollister. We shot it down in Florida when I was a sophomore in high school, and my mom accompanied me. I am so lucky to have had my first job with Bruce because he was so patient with me and really made me feel at ease. A few weeks later, I shot a Ralph Lauren campaign with him. Those two companies were definitely the coolest ones to be shooting for in high school because that’s where everyone shopped!”

5. Ana Beatriz Barros (Next)
“My first job was a cover for a teenage magazine in Brazil. I was nervous, scared, and inexperienced. In fact, I had no idea how to pose or move, but I was still excited because I wanted to show my friends at school.”

6. Karen Elson (Elite)
“My first big shoot defined my career. It was with [Steven] Meisel for the Italian Vogue cover and twenty pages inside. It was my 18th birthday, and I had less than $20 to my name and I was considering giving up modeling. For two years, I’d traveled all over the world and no one seemed to like me. It was an incredible shoot. I felt that Steven understood my ‘quirky’ personality and he made me feel fearless in front of the camera. Pat McGrath and the hairdresser, Ward, transformed my look, from mousy English girl in a tattered vintage dress to a spirited flame-haired, eyebrowless teenager. I finally felt like I was around people who could see something in me other than being an oddball.”

7. Constance Jablonski (DNA)
“I remember my first photo shoot in October 2008, right after my first Fashion Week. I did the D&G campaign, and it was both stressful and amazing at the same time. Mario Testino was the photographer and obviously I didn’t have much experience at that time, so I was so worried to work with a huge talent like him. We shot the images in the port of Monaco in the south of France, and I was so happy to be back in my country, hearing French all over the place, as I had just moved to New York a month before. Mario was amazing and made me feel really comfortable. We had a great day with the other girls and the picture ended up looking gorgeous. “

8. Sara Ziff (Marilyn)
“I was 14 years old when I did my first test shoot after school at a photographer’s apartment in the East Village. He told me not to smile, so I was trying to look really serious. I remember the lights were so bright I couldn’t keep my eyes open. But, at 18, I did my first ‘big’ job, a Gap campaign. I arrived at Pier 59 Studios with my hair in a messy ponytail wearing a black leather cap that I’d bought on Bleecker Street, near where I grew up. They just dressed me in a jean jacket, added some lip gloss, and shot me as I was wearing my own cap.”

9. Caroline Trentini (Elite)
“My first big job was the Marc Jacobs campaign with Juergen Teller. When my agency called to tell me I was confirmed for the campaign, I remember being very emotional about it because even though [I was] too young, I knew how important this was for my career. Juergen was really nice to me, very attentive and patient.”

10. Alessandra Ambrosio (DNA)
“My first modeling job was working for a teen magazine in Brazil. I drove three hours to get to the job and back, as I lived in a small town.”

11. Robyn Lawley (Wilhemina)
“My first ever gig was for a photography college. I was so nervous, mainly about fitting the clothes. I was 16 years old, and I thought I just wasn’t good enough. I remember my hair and makeup; it was so extreme. I looked like one of those blow-up dolls — big red lips, huge fake lashes, and wild hair. I was wearing a tight red dress with a massive slit up the side. The look was overtly sexy and overkill in every way. I lied to them when they asked how many shoots I had done, petrified they might find out this was my first time. When I came out to be shot, I had to pose around a motorbike and for some reason my nerves stopped, and everything just clicked. I was shot by twelve different photographers that day. It was hilarious. The worst part was the end of the day when my dad walked in to take me home. It was humiliating because I was no longer this vixen on a bike. I was his teenage daughter looking like a hooker. “

12. Helena Christensen (One Management)
“My first modeling gig was for baby diapers. My mom’s friend was [the] photographer. I was about 9 months old and had so much hair; it was in pig tails. I think I did a great job in displaying those diapers in the best way possible, making them look comfortable and chic. Since that diaper ad, there was no looking back.”

13. Christina Kruse (Elite)
“When I was barely 16 years old, I moved to Arizona on my own [for high] school.The malls down there seem to be filled with scouts, and eventually I was given a card from one [who] strongly encouraged me to visit their office. One weekend, I was flown up to New York for a go-see with a big hair company. I shook my head around [at the go-see], as I was told to make my hair move. Shortly after, I received a phone call from the agency and was asked if I had a nose job done. I was asked what exactly they meant — a nose job? I [had] just got to America and my English was still very much in need of improvement. Once I understood, I said, ‘I did not have a nose job.’ Strange, I thought, and walked into my hotel bathroom looking for something that would give anybody the impression my nose was not in its original state.”

14. Bar Refaeli (One Management)
“Ten years ago, I had a modeling job for a swimwear line on the beach somewhere in Spain. It was a small job, but they made me work like crazy! I [was] shot with around 90 different swimsuits, which [meant that] every five clicks, I went to change on the beach behind a sheet. It was horrible. Since then, I learned to ask how many shots a company is planning in a day before agreeing to a job.”

Fourteen Famous Models on Their Breakout Gigs