A Conversation with COCO ROCHA
By Leandro Justen
Top model, blogger, jewelry designer, TV correspondent, twitter super star–it seems that Coco Rocha can do it all. At 23, Coco has the resume of a veteran: the Vogue covers, the exclusive contracts, the worldwide recognition. But it’s what she does outside the runways and photo studios that separates this Canadian model from packs of long-legged beauties in the industry.
Coco is ubiquitous in the social media world. A tweet from @cocorocha generates a flood of retweets, her pics of fashion parties and her sleepovers with model friends like Karlie Kloss are heavily “liked” on instagram and facebook. Her twitter account has over 200K followers, and not even China can ban Coco Rocha’s web presence; she has now over half-a-million Chinese followers on social networking sites Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo. Then there’s her fan page on google +, Facebook, the list goes on…
Coco’s celebrity status and social media stardom has also enabled her to bring attention to issues like human trafficking and the rebuilding of Haiti. Last year, Coco joined forces with Senhoa Foundation to design a collection of jewelry encrusted with Swarovski crystals. Her line, designed by Coco herself, is handcrafted by Cambodian women victims of exploitation and 100% of sales proceeds go to projects that empower women and fight human trafficking in Cambodia. She also visits Haiti and organizes events that make people aware of the country’s delicate situation.
From runways to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, from designing necklaces to Chinese social networking sites, Coco Rocha has redefined the role of a model. In our PMc Mag interview, she talks about social media, her “modeling boot-camp” days in Asia, shooting with Steven Meisel, her views on the fashion industry’s fickle beauty standards, and much more.
Whether Coco is following in the footsteps of model-moguls like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum is yet to be known, but it’s undeniable that the “Coco” brand continues to expand and take different shapes and we’re excited to see it all unfold in the form of twitter updates.
Leandro Justen: It’s hard to believe you are only 23 years old. You are married, have traveled the world, starred in campaigns, walked the hottest shows in Paris, Milan, and NY, and are involved in charity endeavors. Do you feel you have it all?
Coco Rocha: I’ve had some great experiences in fashion and some not so great. I’m so thankful for all the people I’ve gotten to meet and places I’ve seen, but I honestly believe without family and those you love it’s completely pointless. My biggest blessing in life is being loved and having someone to love.
LJ: Tell me about your first year as a model. What were the most exciting moments and not so exciting ones in the beginning?
CR: The first year was a lot of hard work. I went to Asia for a few months and I like to call that my modeling boot-camp. I was doing catalog work 7 days a week, sometimes 80 pictures a day. It was like being on a conveyor belt, but also amazing training. I learned so much about movement, poses and stamina from that experience. A little later I got the call that Steven Meisel was interested in meeting me and that lead to my first cover of Italian Vogue which was a dream come true.
LJ: How was your life in Canada before modeling?
CR: Before modeling I was going to school in Vancouver and Irish dancing in my free time. I was actually discovered at an Irish Dance competition.
LJ: You have been labeled “too heavy” and more recently “too skinny,” after unflattering photos of you were posted online. How do you deal with the modeling/fashion industry’s fickle beauty standards?
CR: You have to learn to switch off. You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself. It used to bother me, but the older I get, the more easily it rolls off my back. I feel for the younger models though, it’s a hard position to be in, judged only for your body. At the end of the day, fashion’s standards will rise and fall, but I hope mine will always stay the same. I’ve always said I want to leave this industry as the same girl that entered into it.
LJ: Do you feel that being outspoken about the fashion industry can hurt a model’s career?
CR: I think the problem has been that many models choose to “speak-out” only when they are at the end of their career. Then people question their motives, and assume they are just looking for publicity. That really affects how the message is received. When I first spoke out about eating disorders and body image I was at the height of my career which turned out to be the perfect time. No one could accuse me of speaking for any other reason than that I cared and I wanted to see change.
LJ: Did you ever struggle with your body image?
CR: I’m a woman, we all struggle. But age and experience makes it easier, as does surrounding yourself with well-balanced people.
LJ: You have many model friends like Behati Prinsloo, Karlie Kloss, Carol Trentini, the list goes on. How’s your relationship with them when competing for the same gig? Is there jealousy?
CR: I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you, not at all. I love those girls and I’m always happy to see good girls finishing first. There is plenty of work in this industry for everyone and personally I already feel a little overworked so why would I want to put more on myself!? I’m sure the other girls feel the same. When we get together we rarely, if ever, talk about work or money.
LJ: Tell us about your experience designing jewelry for Senhoa.
CR: I’d never really thought about creating a jewelry line before. In the past my creative sketches were always of jackets, gowns and tailored pieces. I found out about Senhoa at my wedding in France and I kept in touch with Lisa (one of the founders of Senhoa) over the course of the next year. I would wear Senhoa jewelry pieces at various red carpet events, but as I learned more about the issue of human trafficking and heard the stories of these girls that Senhoa assists I knew I wanted to do something more to help. We decided that a jewelry collaboration was probably the best way I could lend my voice to the cause and so I really poured myself into the process of designing the jewelry. After sending a lot of sketches back and forth over email I flew out to LA to actually put the jewelry pieces together myself. It was a lot of work! I spent a whole day beading just one piece! Next the pieces were sent to Cambodia where the girls learned from Senhoa’s creative director Jenny how to construct the pieces I’d designed. I think one of the great things about this jewelry line is that every hand that worked on it, from design to production is deeply invested in its success. Hopefully you’ll feel the love when you wear the pieces.
LJ: How does it feel to enter the designing arena coming from modeling. Do you worry about criticism?
CR: I’ve found that many of the amazing designers I’ve worked with over the years have no time to worry about criticism–in general, it’s just counter-productive. If you do something you feel strongly about there is always going to be a portion of the population that loves it, some who hate it and some who are indifferent to it.
CR: James my husband helps a lot, we keep it all in the family. We had an extremely busy year in 2011, so we are trying to pace ourselves a little more in 2012
LJ: What did the experience of visiting Haiti and working with orphanages teach you?
CR: I saw and experienced so much in the week we were down there. I was moved by how appreciative the children were for any sort of love or attention you could give them. Even though they have lost so much, everything in fact, they still smile and take care of one another. It was heartwarming to see that. I was also struck by what I did not see. Other than a few old women trying to sweep piles of rubble and dust, I didn’t see any significant clean-up efforts. I can remember just two occasions where I witnessed construction and rebuilding despite the fact the entire country lies in rubble. If you asked the average person, I suspect they would think that the worst of Haiti’s troubles are over–but they have only just begun.
LJ: Let’s talk social media, you have a huge following on Twitter and have recently joined the Chinese social network site Tencent Weibo, where you have over 250K followers. What made you join? How or do you think migrating into the Chinese social network can benefit your career?
CR: You know what? I’m not sure how Chinese social media will affect my career, it’s more of an experiment than anything. I now have almost 300K followers on Tencent Weibo and I just started working with their rival social media company called Sina Weibo where I have another 200K. What will half a million Chinese followers mean for me? I’m not sure, but I’m going to find out!
I’m also working with Google+ a lot now as well and really enjoying that platform. Models are basically in advertising so to me it makes sense that we have as large an audience as possible.
LJ: What is next for you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
CR: Hopefully still working on fun and creative projects and raising some children with my husband.
LJ: What is the most important piece of advice would you give to a teenage model starting a career?
CR: Stay true to yourself, to your values. You don’t have to do everything to make it as a model, there are many paths to success. Oh, and get a twitter account.
LJ: February is PMc Magazine’s Creative Issue, how has creativity impacted your life?
CR: Working with some of the world’s most creative people has defined the last 8 years of my life. I’m inspired to do more and to do better when I’m around people like Steven Meisel and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Coco Rocha is a top model, blogger, jewelry designer, TV correspondent, and twitter super star.
Coco Rocha interviewed by Leandro Justen
Written by Leandro Justen
Photography by Nigel Barker / Courtesy of Senhoa Foundation
Design by Marie Havens
Coco Rocha, Photography by Nigel Barker / Courtesy of Senhoa Foundation