Be Nice and Speak English: The Impact of Language in Modeling
By: Maria Montenegro
The world moves in English. With this language, people can defend themselves all over the world. The movies, music, and entertainment we’re exposed to as children are all in English. The two most famous flags of the world are from the U.S and U.K. Even in countries where English is not the mother tongue, it is a requirement for almost every job to know how to speak it. In terms of modeling, it doesn’t matter if you’re fluent in Italian, French, or Japanese—you need to know English.
When Gisele Bündchen moved to New York City to start her career, she didn’t speak English and was once even teased by other models for that. She would go to castings and say, “yes” to everything because she didn’t understand what people were saying to her. It wasn’t until she learned English that she started working with major brands more often.
Although Paris is the fashion capital of the world, most French models will make the move to New York to grow their careers. Why? Why do they need to go to the U.S if Paris is more powerful in terms of fashion? Well, as it is known, the U.S is one of the most powerful nations, if not the most, and the modeling business is heavily controlled there, no matter if Paris is the mother of Haute Couture or if Milan is the birthplace of famous “Made in Italy” labels.
In early 2015, Victoria’s Secret introduced the ten “Newest Angels” to the world, and one of them was Kate Grigorieva. She’s been modeling since 2014 with a successful career in high fashion and commercial work. However, after only one year, she stopped being an angel. Why? Many factors come into play. Maybe her contract lasted only a year, but there was something more obvious in this situation: Grigorieva wasn’t fluent in English. In her casting video for Victoria’s Secret in 2014, John Pfeiffer speaks for her, and explains to others, “Eight months ago, Kate didn’t speak a word of English,” to which she nodded and replied, “I study now.”
It is logical that to become a spokesperson for an American brand like VS, of course, you would need to communicate with an audience in English. Victoria’s Secret might be even stricter with this language requirement as the models they contract must be fun, open, and extraverted. Being this way in another country, with a language they can’t manage very well must be difficult for models, even more so while being exposed to the world by a well-known brand.
Grigoveria’s compatriot, Sasha Luss highlighted the importance of language in the industry as well. “You can have a beautiful body and be the most beautiful girl in the world, but you will not work if you are not kind or if you do not speak English well,” she said in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar Spain.
Of course, not all big models were born in English-speaking nations, but the fact is that all of them are fluent. Alessandra Ambrosio was told that to become an international model and work outside of Brazil, she would have to learn how to speak English fluently. Vittoria Ceretti is another example of this; she’s been modeling since 2013 and can be seen in backstage videos from 2015 speaking in Italian while other models converse in English. Nowadays, Ceretti is fluent in English and was a part of Victoria’s Secret video series released last year. It is clear that language has benefited her career: she was nominated as Model of the Year by models.com in 2016, landed huge campaigns, and has graced 8 Vogue covers, one of which was the March American Vogue issue which normally never features models. It seems that when foreign models become fluent in English, their careers begin to grow rapidly. This language is not magic, and can’t guarantee anything, but it’s a big help!
People who want to be models and grow up speaking English are already one step ahead of those who don’t. There’s a theory that Gisele Bundchen, Adriana Lima, and Alessandra Ambrosio could have been the model “Trinity,” but it didn’t happen because they weren’t able to cross over into Hollywood or interview as easily as the original Trinity (Naomi, Christy, and Linda) due to their accents. With the exception of Gisele, these new Brazilian models were often put in commercial jobs instead of international runway shows, to such an extent that the first time Adriana Lima walked a Louis Vuitton fashion show was for its Fall/Winter collection in 2010, about 14 years after she started modeling.
The Fashion TV “Model Talks” show illustrates how much the industry focuses more on models that speak English fluently. It is hard to find videos of Asian or Latin models being interviewed backstage at shows, even though most of them walk regularly during fashion month. The perfect example of this is Lineisy Montero, a model from the Dominican Republic who hasn’t been as hyped as she deserves. She was the first model to walk with an afro for Prada in over 25 years and leads the models.com Runway list with the most fashion shows walked in the last two years at 300 shows. So where is her recognition and where are her interviews? Montero hasn’t had as much exposure because she doesn’t speak as fluently as the industry prefers. Montero is booked because of her professionalism, modeling skills, and humility.
Models these days must not only speak English regularly but write in English on their social media accounts as well. Writing in English on social media attracts a wider audience to a model and their career, and most models are told to do so, no matter how many followers they have. A clear example of this is Blanca Padilla, a Spanish model who has been posting in English since day one of her career.
Halima Aden, who is making history as the first hijab-wearing model, has used her platform to open doors for other women, and speaking English has been a great tool to do so. Aden has graced the covers of Allure and Vogue Arabia and has spoken about her story very freely, giving interviews to encourage girls who want to model, especially for those that share her beliefs. Sadly, this would probably all be different if she wasn’t fluent in English.
While English is very important, uniqueness and desire come above everything else when it comes to modeling. Anyone can learn a new language, but a good attitude is harder to come by. The thing is combining both fluency and personality for models to pass from unknown to recognized internationally.
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