Monday, March 26, 2012

Shaik, rattle and roll

next models
In 2008, 17 year-old Shanina Shaik was named the runnerup of Seven Network’s unsurprisingly short-lived reality show, Make Me A Supermodel. By February 2009, she had moved to New York, popped up in a handful of shows at New York Fashion Week and started dating US model and reality tv star Tyson Beckford, the co-host of the American version of Make Me A Supermodel (who is currently shooting Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model with Elle Macpherson). The pair had originally met during the filming of the Australian show, on which Beckford played model mentor. Although a contract with New York Model Management was part of Shaik’s prizes, not much was heard from her until November 9 2011, when she appeared in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in New York, alongside some major modelling names, including compatriot Miranda Kerr. 

Shaik (who boasts exotic Lithuanian, Pakistani and Saudi Arabian ancestry) is certainly 'sexy' and sexy is what attracts the big money in modelling – the Victoria’s Secret Angels, at least the contracted ones, dominate the top earning model lists. But sexy and 'high fashion' don't necessarily always go hand in hand. And yet one month after the VS show, Shaik was cast in Chanel’s Pre Fall 2012 presentation in Paris and followed that up on the Fall 2012 runways, walking for, among others, Tom Ford, Jason Wu and Stella McCartney.

How did this reality show refugee finally get her big fashion break? What role did Beckford play? He claimed in a recent interview, "I created her!".

Frockwriter caught up with Shaik during her recent Sydney shoot for Australian intimate apparel brand Bonds [an interview that was done before Beckford made these claims, just to clarify, but which does nevertheless canvas her opinion on his role in her success]. 

[top to bottom] victoria's secret fashion show 2011; jason wu FW1213; chanel pre-fall 2012; tyson beckford and shanina shaik/getty via daylife

When did you first leave for the US?
I finished the show [Make Me A Supermodel] in November 2008. By January 6 [2009], I was already in New York.

You were on a reality show that only lasted one season and after keeping a relatively low profile for three years, here you are suddenly kicking major modelling goals. What do you put this down to – changing agencies [from New York Model Management to Next in New York; from Chadwick to Chic in Australia]? Being visible in New York?
I think it’s a bit of all of them put together actually. I was with New York Models. It was a great start for me. I was still very young and it was a great introduction into New York and meeting clients. I don’t ever regret being with them, because it helped me a lot as a stepping stone to get into New York. And then I think I grew up and wanted to branch out a bit more. It was just more of a business decision. And I think Next provided that to me. They’re very passionate about me and they have a really great clientele. That’s why I went to them.

When did you move to Next and Chic?
Pretty much the start of this year [2011]. Because of the show I went with Chadwick but at the start of the year I went back to Chic, because Next work well with Chic. I’m from Australia, they have a great relationship. So it kind of goes hand in hand and works well.

Sydney expat Stephen Lee at Next has been instrumental in getting great exposure for Australian models in New York. Another Australian, Doll Wright, has done similar, first with Elite and now with Ford. You moved to Next, next thing you’re doing Victoria’s Secret and Chanel.
Yeah that just came out of nowhere.

I’m not sure it came out of 'nowhere'. Lee has a great track record in marketing Australian models.
Any girls of his, he looks after. He’ll push for his girls. He’s just really great and I love him as an agent. I’m very close with him and that’s the great bond that we have, we can talk to each other. If I don’t like something, he’ll work on it in a different way. He’s a great agent. He really knows the business well.

You started modelling as a child didn’t you?
Yeah that’s correct, I was about eight. I was with Munchkins Management in Melbourne. I was doing Target and Kmart stuff here and there. I stopped when I went to high school. I did the Girlfriend [Model Search] competition and I was actually on an accelerated program in highscool. Then I thought it would be a good idea to do this show [Make Me A Supermodel]. Although I had last minute thoughts about doing it, it opened up a lot of doors. I think it was like a huge casting call. I’m not the usual Australian girl, I look very kind of exotic. It was great to show them I can model and am very passionate about working and going to a higher place.

What are your thoughts on reality shows as a segue into modelling? Australia’s Next Top Model is cranking them out at the moment.

The audience loves it because it’s fun and drama at the same time. But reality [tv] is not real. There are real situations, but it’s not like the camera is always going to be there for them. For models to get attached to reality shows, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing to be honest. You don’t get taken seriously sometimes. My girlfriend Fatima Siad did America’s Next Top Model [placed third in Cycle 10]. She doesn’t talk about coming out of the show. But she’s doing really welll for herself.

You don’t think the industry takes former Top Model contestants seriously?
More so in America, they don’t take you seriously. There’s a lot of models in Australia who have done it and travelled off somewhere ese, but they don’t know about it overseas so it’s kind of a bonus. It kind of hinders girls in America, especially in New York, because that’s where everything is.

In the three years since the show was on, did you worry that modelling might just not happen for you on a bigger level?
Yeah I did. I actually didn’t think I could be working in New York and do lingerie and stuff like that. I was still very young and growing into your body and kind of being young, you’re not sure about what’s happening. I didn’t know if I could even make it to New York at one point. But doing the show, I worked really hard and I modelled really well and I thought, ‘Yeah, I can go to New York and try that’. But yeah, you get like that. Every model has their doubts. Because there are so many beautiful models, of course you’re going to have your doubts.

Enormous competition. So what did you think when Victoria’s Secret told you that you were in last year’s show?
I went for the main casting and was like waiting around... I wanted it so badly and then you get anxious just waiting to hear back. I just wanted to hear a 'Yes' or a 'No'. But I was speechless when my agent told me. I wanted to cry actually. I’d been working on it very hard and I’d seen them over three years [for castings]. And then to finally book it, I was so happy. I was really excited. I didn’t know what to say.

Tell me about the show.
The show was amazing. It’s like a dream, when you’re actually there and it’s all happening around you. It’s like, ‘OK I’m finally here’. The girls are great, very kind, really friendly.  It’s like a family. It’s not like any other fashion show - it’s so much more fun.

Had you ever met Miranda before?
No this was my first time meeting her at the show. We chatted. We’re Aussie girls so we talked about Australia a bit. I was a bit nervous, but she told me not to be nervous.

People love to make comparisons: the next Gemma Ward, the next Miranda Kerr etc... How do you feel about these inevitable comparisons?
I would like to have my own identity really. I just want to be, like, the next me.

To what degree do you think Tyson Beckford may have inadvertently helped your career by virtue of his media profile and the celebrity factor?
I don’t think so. Tyson and I really keep our work separate and every now and then we’ll go to events together. Sometimes we’re just trying to make time together, because I work so much. Sometimes I say ‘You’ve contributed to it’. But everything that I do with my work is separate. And also I never asked him for any help on anything. He just supports me and that’s all I want.

There is no denying that Miranda Kerr’s profile shot into the stratosphere after she started dating Orlando Bloom and particularly, after they married.
A lot of people like him [Orlando]. For the home town to see an Aussie dating a celebrity, I guess it’s more exciting to see that happening.

After Victoria’s Secret, you were then cast in the Chanel show.
Yeah I cast for it before the VS show. It was another ongoing process. It was such an amazing experience. The show was so beautiful, how it was set up. Karl Lagerfeld went ahead and chose such an exotic group of models as well. It’s very rare to see exotic or Indian-looking girls on the catwalk and it did wonders for the clothes. They looked amazing.

What are your thoughts about the Australian model avalanche overseas?
It’s amazing. Aussie girls are great girls. I think why they do so well is because they have a great personality and a lot of people in the modelling industry love to see personality. It’s how we are I guess.

Now the guys are coming through. And here you are as well – another new Australian face who has literally just started popping up at the shows, even though you have been around for several years. The recent agency change must surely have helped things along.
I think it has, but more so I’m changed as a woman. This year [2011], my body changed a bit, as it always does with girls at this certain age.

How do you mean it has changed?
I think I’ve just leaned out a bit more. My body has stretched a bit.

You mean you are leaner now that you are older? Usually it’s the reverse – people start filling out after their teenage years.
Girls hold, kind of, baby fat on them when they’re 17 and 18. Any person, not just models - your face leans out a bit when you lose your baby fat. Little things like that might have changed. But also I think with Stephen, he’s a great agent. They have great girls in the agency, so they know what they’re doing. They have Abbey Lee, for example [who lost a huge amount of 'baby fat' once she moved from Australia to New York], another great Australian model. They have Karlie Kloss, Arizona Muse. They have all those great girls.

When you say you’ve ‘leaned out’, you mean you lost weight?
No I haven’t. I don’t ‘lose weight’. I think I’ve been blessed with DNA  or just you know, how my body is naturally. I like to just keep healthy. You notice when you eat junk food, you kind of feel a bit yuck. You look great when you eat healthy food, your skins looks nice, that’s what you have to aspire to in the modelling world.

What is your dream job?
My dream job was doing the Victoria’s Secret show. I would like to keep shooting with them and have a consistent job with them. Also, I’d like to do a lot of high fashion next year [2012]. Shooting for Vogue would be my dream job.


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