Breakfast with Joan Smalls. Photo: Jessica Hromas.
Joan Smalls was the first Latina model to represent Estee Lauder cosmetics and was ranked number 8 on Forbes magazine’s 2013 list of the world’s highest-paid models. The Puerto Rican supermodel is the face of fashion brand Studio.W and was in Australia this week to launch it exclusively into David Jones. I caught up with the 27-year-old to chat about being an adrenaline junkie, the one thing she would change about herself, and working alongside Beyonce.
How did you get your big break into modelling?
I had an exclusive for Givenchy Couture, and people in the industry started seeing me differently. From there, I shot with Steven Meisel, Mert and Marcus, Patrick Demarchelier, Mario Testino etc, appearing in Vogue and getting one of my ultimate dreams come true: to be the first Latina ambassador for Estee Lauder.
Did you always want to be a model?
No. I love animals – I wanted to be a veterinarian and I grew up on six acres [2.4 hectares], so we had every animal you can think of, and I loved taking care of animals. Also, my mother is a social worker and she always puts herself second, and that is something I’ve always admired so [it inspired me] to study psychology.
What have you done during your visit to Sydney?
I have been to Bondi, and then I went to the zoo, as I wanted to see a kangaroo, a Tasmanian devil and a koala. But I have just walked around [the city], when I am in a new environment. I love being with the locals and seeing how they live.
Tell me about the Studio.W collection.
They make lovely pieces that are great for mixing. I have been working with them for a while in South Africa, so it has been a wonderful relationship to build with a brand that makes so many options for everyday wear.
How would you describe your style?
Eclectic. I go from tomboy sexy to classic and edgy, depending on my mood. I love feeling comfortable and making sure it complement my body at all times. Form-fitting dresses are my favourite – that have a unique detail or asymmetry to it.
What is one fashion item you couldn’t live without?
My cuff earrings.
What has been your biggest pinch-me moment?
Being in Beyonce’s video for Yonce and licking her. It was an epic moment. My girl crush came out immediately.
What was it like to work alongside Beyonce?
It was dream come true. I remember all her music videos as a girl, growing up and learning the dance moves and I’ve just always admired her for being such a powerful woman and being so creative. She is just a positive role model, so to be apart of that was awesome.
Who do you look up to and admire?
My parents, because you don’t know celebrities or public figures. Now, being in the same arena, you know that you only put out what you want people to see, so it’s hard to judge a person’s character. I always say my parents are my idols because they installed really good values [in me].
What was it like to become the first Latina model to represent Estee Lauder?
An honour. I feel so proud of my heritage and showcasing to the world that Latin and black women are beautiful and diverse; that you don’t have to be only one thing. You can be a mixture of cultures like myself and that is a true representation of the world we live in, and it’s beautiful.
What is your top beauty secret you’ve learnt while modelling?
Highlighting the skin. Particularly the cheekbones and the upper brow – I always add a little highlighter in these areas when I go out.
What is still on your bucket list?
I would love to get a fragrance and hair contract, amongst other things. I like keeping things I want to accomplish close to my heart and not share with everyone because I want people to see the results and be surprised.
You have over a million followers on Instagram. Is it hard to find the balance on what to put out there and what to keep personal?
Not at all, I have a good sense of privacy and respecting other people’s privacy as well. I try not to give away too much on the jobs I’m doing so that it’s a surprise and something to look forward to.
What is off-limits when it comes to social media?
My home, my precise location. I try to stay away from political views as well, staying neutral when it comes to religious and political matters.
What would be your advice to someone starting out in modelling?
Follow your instinct. And always ask questions. People can always give you advice but you should always remember why you started and to stay focused.
How do you stay in shape?
I work out every other day. I like the idea of a woman feeling empowered and pulling her own weight. I go to the gym on my own and have two excellent trainers – one for full body and another for Muay Thai kickboxing and ju-jitsu.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you and would be surprised to find out?
I don’t feel comfortable in extremely crowded places. I’m an occasional adrenaline junkie. Whenever I have the chance to do something crazy, I’ll do it, but I will always be cautious while doing it.
You say you are an adrenaline junkie. What is the craziest thing you have done?
Probably going cage-diving with sharks in Hawaii. It was quite peaceful and magical. They are so majestic that you forget your own fear … Next, I want to do skydiving!
Do you ever get nervous on the catwalk any more?
Not at this point! I get excited and have an adrenaline rush from all the energy backstage.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My left foot is slightly bigger than my right. So shoes always hurt on my left foot … or the toes hang out when I wear sexy open-toe heels.
What is next in the pipeline?
My second collection with True Religion, which I’m super-excited about.
WE WENT TO MCA café, The Rocks
WE ATE Brushcetta with avocado, cherry tomatoes, Rocket and Binnorie Feta.
WE DRANK orange juice.
JOAN WORE Dion Lee top and a Studio.W skirt.
I WORE a TY-LR skirt and top.