It was three seasons ago, that model Joan Smalls, 22, made her high fashion debut as an exclusive for Givenchy haute couture. She tells me this as she sits in a club chair at Paris’ Hotel Westminster having just shot the Givenchy presentation. “Shot for a presentation?”
Smalls, now one of the faces of Estée Lauder, laughs with charming dismissal, unable to explain just yet. That evening, I see the photo of her with ten other models, handpicked by Riccardo Tisci, wearing looks — photographed from the front and back — as the mainstay to the Givenchy installation at Place Vendôme. The image shows the women in the silver and ivory dresses on display suspended throughout the space. It’s Small’s third appearance for the house. Nearly two years ago, the Puerto Rican beauty went to her first casting with Tisci and received a phone call confirming her moments after walking out the door onto Avenue Georges V. “My whole body got chills with the realization that it was happening,” she says.
Decidedly laid back, Smalls is wearing Givenchy leopard print flats, dark jeans and her father’s black tailored shirt buttoned all the way up (“it’s how we say vin-tawge in America,” she says joking, “hand me downs”) which he wore when he was thirty years old. It fits perfectly. “People always ask me ‘Do you diet?’” says Smalls shaking her head and pulling at the sides of the tiny top. Clearly there are genetics at play considering her father appears to have been just as slight when he was younger. She wants nothing more than a cranberry juice now, though, having just eaten a Twix en route back from a fitting. Her driver keeps a basket of candy in the car. Smalls admits a European Twix tastes a little different than the American version — the same for Coca-Cola. She’s a great storyteller, often launching into scenes of dialogue to recollect moments of her life, like her father meeting Tisci when she shot with Edward Enninful for American Vogue in Puerto Rico.
“My dad told him, ‘You mean so much to my daughter.’
Ricki (Tisci) says, ‘No, no she’s such a beauty.’
‘No, really, thank you.’
Tisci tells me, ‘Your father’s so handsome.’
I respond, ‘Don’t say that to him — it goes straight up (to his head)!’” she dissolves into laughter as she teases her beloved father. “I try to be a positive, hopeful spirit and surround myself with people with the same energy. I have my family back home rooting for me every day.”
Aside from Givenchy, Smalls walked for Dior, Giambattista Valli’s inaugural haute couture show and is to appear for Jean Paul Gaultier today. Outside of work, she’s been enjoying Paris, playing proper tourist (the Eiffel Tower! Sacre Coeur!) with her boyfriend who was in town for just a few nights. All this, and to think it started here such a short time ago.
- Stephanie LaCava