And last, but certainly not least, my chat with Joan Smalls. This Puerto Rico beauty is one of my new faces in fashion, and not just because one of her first gigs was appearing in a Ricky Martin music video. (Oh yes, I ask her about that in our chat too.) The first woman of color to be shot in a Chanel campaign, Joan is what everyone is looking for in a model: looks, brains, fun, fabulous and a damn good dancer too. In our conversation for her cover of the winter issue of V magazine, which was shot by Terry Richardson and styled by Carine Roitfeld, we broach all sorts of topics, from growing up amongst ducks and goats, to being shoved into the top tiers of fashion by her friend Riccardo Tisci. Read our entire chat below and, as always, check out Vmagazine.com for more on our fashion extravaganza issue and more.
DB: Let’s start at the very beginning, girl. I know you grew up in Puerto Rico, but what part?
JS: I grew up in Hatillo. It’s located on the northwest of the island. Growing up on a fruit farm, I had lots of pets, like a baby goat, a duck, a chicken, a cow and two dogs. I was a tomboy who enjoyed the outdoors and getting dirty!
DB: Did you have hobbies, or did you play sports?
JS: I had both. Drawing was one of my hobbies, and I played volleyball and ran track. I also played a little bit of basketball, but I was never that good at it.
DB: What were you like as a young girl?
JS: I was outgoing and always making jokes. However when it came to schoolwork, I was really serious. I had a 4.0 GPA! I knew how to balance fun and school.
DB: How were you discovered? And what were some of your early jobs?
JS: After leaving college I came to New York with the help of my family. I searched for the top agencies and went to open calls. One of the agents remembered me from a previous competition I did in Puerto Rico, which I had lost. But the true discovery that started my career was when Riccardo Tisci put my on exclusive for one of his Givenchy couture shows.
DB: Don’t try and keep that Ricky Martin trivia from me: I know you did a music video with him!
JS: My first music video was very exciting, but I didn’t realize how much time it takes to make one! Long hours! I recall memorizing the lyrics of the song, which I had never heard, before for the shoot. Ricky Martin is just as good looking in person, and he’s sweet and professional!
DB: Riccardo told me he went with you to a Ricky concert in PR. What was that like?
JS: It was an amazing experience! We all had so much fun! Riccardo Tisci, Bruno Mars, Maria Carla and Edward Enninful. We all danced so much and I showed them how we dance Puerto Rican style. I try to go home at least three times a year.
DB: Apart from Ricky, have you had any surreal fashion moments? Like, have there been times when you’ve had to pinch yourself because you can’t believe something is happening?
JS: A surreal moment was going to the Met Ball for the first time, and seeing so many photographers at the steps of the Museum. Another moment was when I came back into New York from London and seeing my face in an Estee Lauder ad above the security check point. It was a quite memorable moment.
DB: I can remember you in that Givenchy exclusive show. What was that like? And what did you do when they told you that you got that show?
JS: As I was leaving the offices of Givenchy in Paris I got the phone call from my agency saying not to go anywhere else because I had the exclusive. I tried keeping my composure but I was bursting with excitement; I was smiling so hard that people looked at me weird. I remember saying to myself, ‘Finally, my time has arrived’. Then learning about the brand and about the designer made me the biggest advocate and so grateful for Riccardo. He changed my life.
DB: When did you first come to New York, and what were your first impressions
JS: I first came to NY in 2007. My first impression: this city moves so fast and you have to keep up with that pace! Now I love uptown.
DB: All of the girls on the shoot were from all over the place: Tunisia, the Netherlands, South Africa. Do you like to travel?
JS: “Like” would be an understatement, I love to travel. But sometimes it’s a tease because I get to travel to all these wonderful and interesting locations and don’t get to fully explore them. Sometimes, right after a job is done, I have to immediately hop on a plane to the next destination.
DB: Fashion is such an international industry now: Do you feel that with your work?
JS: Fashion reaches people from different cultural backgrounds and can inspire many. Being a model allows me to be part of that inspiration and be a channel for that creativity.
DB: Do you have a favorite place?
JS: Yeah, going home to Puerto Rico!
DB: My favorite thing about the fashion industry is that we get to travel so much. Do you still like it, or would you prefer to spend some more time outside of an airport?
JS: I still enjoy it and I never imagined I would see these parts of the world. However, I wish I could teleport myself and not have to deal with the process at the airport!
DB: You were in the Italian Vogue story on black girls. Is it important to you to represent a different look or ethnicity in fashion?
JS: It’s extremely important to represent a different look in fashion. Women who turn to fashion for inspiration should be represented and have familiarity with the faces in magazines, ads and fashion shows. It denotes that we are all beautiful regardless of where we come from. Beauty is diverse, and fashion should be reflective of that. I think fashion is getting there, and you now see brands embracing diversity more often, which gives hope. When questions like these cease to exist, hopefully that will be an indicator that equality has been given to all ethnicity’s in fashion!
DB: Did you have any role models in fashion?
JS: Not specifically. I admire models whose careers possess longevity and who became entrepreneurs.
DB: Has any designer or model given you a good piece of advice? And if so, what was it?
JS: Many have given me insightful advices. Two that I recall are: “Do not say yes to everything,” and, “Know when to take time for yourself.”
DB: Did you have fun working on our cover shoot?
JS: Of course, you were there and I was getting a cover! I worked with an amazing group of talented individuals that make fashion fun, uplifting and a joy to be around.
DB: You and Candice were teasing about having the best dance moves, and I saw those moves, and they were very impressive. Do you go out and dance in the city?
JS: I love to dance because it relaxes me. Also, I can goof off and make people laugh by doing funny moves. As far as going out, I hardly do but I get to dance at fashion events.
DB: Apart from this shoot, of course, have you had any photo shoots or jobs that you really loved? Any good stories? Any people that you loved working with?
JS: There have been many photo shoots and jobs that I adore. Specifically, I love working with Mert & Marcus because they are amusing and extremely creative. The Roberto Cavalli campaign shoot was memorable because we enjoyed ourselves so much.
DB: Do you like doing catwalk shows?
JS: The adrenaline rush right before I walk on the runway is exhilarating. Also, seeing the collection before everyone else is a privilege.
DB: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever thought about on the catwalk, or when you were having your picture taken?
JS: Well, I tried starting a game with Jacquelyn Jablonski where we think of random things when we walked down the runway and then the next day, when we see the images, we check if our facial expressions had changed. One time we decided on “hot dogs,” but by the time I started walking I forgot, and she did too.
DB: What’s been your favorite discovery?
JS: I discovered Speculoos spread from Waffle and Dinges. It’s quite addictive!
DB: Let’s talk about your beauty routine: What kind of makeup do you use?
JS: Everyday I wear Estee Lauder DayWear Plus face moisturizer, which contains SPF 15. I wash my face with a wash that has salicylic acid. It preps my skin for the day or any make-up. I always wear mascara for a daytime look, specially Sumptuous Mascara by Estee Lauder.
DB: Any exercise or diet tips?
JS: As for my exercise routine I go twice a week to see my personal trainer and the other days I do cardio for an hour and make sure I burn 500 calories.
DB: Favorite designers?
JS: My favorite designers are those I’ve had the privilege of working with. Their creations have encouraged me to respect and admire their individuality, and praise their craft. I consider myself fortunate to be in the presence of Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, Frida Giannini and Tom Ford. And as for Riccardo Tisci, he has simply been a blessing in my life.
DB: If you had to define your personal style, how would you call it?
JS: Multifaceted. It all depends on my mood. It can be classic and chic to funky and boyish.
DB: If you weren’t modeling, what do you think you would be doing?
JS: Probably pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology
DB: And finally, a really tough one: Where do you want to be in 10 years? And then in 20 years?
JS: In 10 years I want to be established in fashion and having a successful career. Within 20 years, I want to be enjoying life with my wonderful family and future children.