How Joan Smalls and Other Latinx Models Are Changing the Game

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One of the most dazzling women in the world graciously agreed to beam her radiant, sunny Monaco white-clad self into a Zoom Room With Me, a dimly lit writer swaying helplessly against a starry stock background destined to get closer to the size of a lunar eclipse. “I love your astral projection,” she said warmly. But we are not here to discuss the cosmos. You see, the Woman in White is Joan Smalls, who embarked on a decidedly stellar trajectory just over a decade ago, when Riccardo Tisci chose her to take part in the Givenchy couture show at the Paris Fashion Week.

joan smalls burberry men's clothing spring 2022

Joan Smalls, walking for the Burberry Spring 2022 men’s show.

Courtesy of Burberry

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Much like other successful models, she has since walked the runway for luxury houses from Fendi to Chanel. Unlike other hugely successful models, Smalls was one of the first Afro-Latinas to parade for the aforementioned brands. She was also the first Latina model to be named the face of Estée Lauder. As a fellow Puerto Rican (Smalls ‘family is from the northern coastal town of Hatillo; mine is from Barranquitas, a central mountainside hamlet), I find Smalls’ landmarks both impressive and far too recent. . The first New York Fashion Week was held in 1943, and Smalls’ emergence as one of the few Afro-Latina models only a decade ago underscores the glaring gaps in representation, particularly in the upper echelons of the fashion.

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Lineisy Montero, model for Proenza Schouler fall 2021.

DANIEL SHEA / COURTESY OF PROENZA SCHOULER

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Of course, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been a visible Latinx presence in modeling before. You probably wouldn’t know … unless you knew. Top model Christy Turlington Burns is part Salvadoran, Helena Christensen is part Peruvian, and a large number of successful blonde and redhead models (Caroline Trentini, Cintia Dicker, Raquel Zimmermann) are from Brazil. While Latinx beauty encompasses an array of shades, shapes, and hair types, the Latinx models who rose to fame in the ’80s,’ 90s, and aughts could almost all be described as fair-skinned and naturally boasted of hair. steep or wavy. . “There was a time when some hairstylists didn’t even know how to work with curly or textured hair,” says Ro Penuliar, co-founder and casting director of Noir Casting and a longtime former agent at Elite Models. “Fashion is more open to it now. “

“I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THE ONLY ONE [AFRO-LATINA] GIRL. I DON’T WANT TO BE THE ONLY ONE IN THE BEDROOM. – Joan Smalls

Fortunately, we have come a long way in the past decade. Today’s reigning models with Latinx heritage are almost too numerous to list. Some of those who reflect the growing diversity in the broader industry include Dilone, Lineisy Montero, Manuela Sanchez, Brandi Quinones, Mica Argañaraz, Devyn Garcia, Paloma Elsesser and Denise Bidot, who collectively represent an array of sizes, hairstyles!) , and skin tones. But there’s a difference between a more diverse cast and real progress, warns Bidot, who remembers being on sets even in the past few years where she felt stereotypical by the clothes she was asked to model. “There was a client who always found a way to put me in a red dress or animal print,” Bidot says. “I had to be like, ‘You know, there’s a fundamental problem with why you think out of the four girls here I’m the one who always looks the best in [these outfits]. It’s pre-programming [stemming] of your misconception of what the Latin woman wants to wear. “

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Denise Bidot

Gonzalo MarroquinGetty Images

While individual advocacy, like Bidot’s, is crucial in propelling Latinx modeling towards a more equitable future, so are sweeping changes, like rethinking the screening process itself. “As soon as a successful model comes from a certain country, others will follow. If you don’t have anyone to use as a benchmark, it’s really hard to develop, ”says Luis Domingo, associate director of screening at the London office of IMG Models, which recruits both in Latin American countries and in the United States. Spanish speaking countries. To this end, IMG relies heavily on We Love Your Genes, an online screening tool that aims to remove barriers to entry by allowing potential models to market themselves to the elite agency through the social media. “With the platform, we can make sure we have models from all over the world,” Domingo said. “It really helped our Scouting in Latin America.

mica argañaraz

Mica argañaraz

SEBASTIEN KIM

The final frontier in the Latinx modeling world, however, is less talked about than skin color, body type, hair type, or geography. It is the openness and enhancement of indigenous characteristics that characterize much of Latin America. At the moment, Roma star Yalitza Aparicio is a rare example of fashion and media embracing the beauty of this heritage. (Venezuelan model Patricia Velásquez, who lit the catwalks in the ’90s, is another.) There is hope in the burgeoning success of Mexico City-based model and casting agency Guerxs, whose the founder, Maria Osado, favors diversity in the signature of models. . Guerxs models have worked with brands like Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga. “It’s always very difficult for me to book certain models – people can be open to someone with [indigenous] features, but they still want [‘classic’] body type, ”Osado says. But what is the norm?

manuela sanchez model

Manuela Sanchez

EMMANUEL MONSALVE

Back on my Zoom call with Smalls, she echoes Osado’s candid outlook, with hopeful determination. “I have always been the only one [Afro-Latina] girl, ”she said. “I don’t want to be the only one in the room.”

This article appeared in the September 2021 issue of ELLE.

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