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PQs Straight from the Lens

We had the opportunity to interview Model Gabriella Elyse Monaco (G.E.M). She is a multimedia artist and student at New York University. Gabriella studies at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, with a concentration that integrates marketing, creative writing, journalism, and performance. She is a professional model with experience in film, print, and runway events, and a classically-trained vocalist and actor (trained in the Meisner method at The William Esper Studio). She has been in off Broadway shows, short films, classical and jazz ensembles, and award-winning acappella groups. Additionally, and most passionately, Gabriella is an aspiring recording artist with jazz, pop, electronic & soul influences.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in New York, and I’m proud of it! I currently live in White Plains, NY, and commute to the city for work and school.

How old are you?

I am 21 years old.

How many siblings are in your family?

I am one of three girls. My two sisters (younger and older) are incredible in their own fields.

What’s your background in modeling?

As a kid, I played dress up with my grandmother after school almost every day, and I grew an immense love for costumes and transforming into other people or characters, and I think modeling now has really taken a part of this. I began modeling a little over a year ago, and it has certainly picked up a great deal of traction since then at an. My younger sister, Julia, is also a working photographer now and I owe so much of my earliest portfolio to her! (She was just published at age 17!). She was also just starting out at the time, and we’d take pictures around the house with my Aunt’s camera. A lot of whyI started modeling had to do with my own insecurities. I had constantly seen my body as “incomplete” and part of a process, never “good enough” to pursue a more external career. Forcing myself into the lens of the camera was truly difficult at first, but it’s something I’ve come to enjoy, as the minute I did I was constantly aware of my own skin, and more able to grasp that my body and my person, as is, was more than enough for me and for anyone else for that matter. Modeling became a way for me to channel my insecurities into confidence and poise, which was something completely unexpected, but rewarding nonetheless.

Who are some of your favorite models and designers, and why?

The Savage x Fenty collection comes to mind almost immediately. I haven’t made any purchases yet, as I’m a broke college student, but I think that the message Rihanna, already a fashion icon, sends is clear and close to perfection. It’s an eccentric line that emphasizes women in their strengths and allows for expression of individual sexualities in an empowering way! The brand also ensures that every body type and physicality is included. The colors are vibrant, the personality is beyond all else. It’s fashion at its best for those reasons and more. I truly hope other brands will take note and fall in line.

How would you describe your style?

As a student who has ALWAYS been obsessed with historical art movements and art history, I’ve done my best to combine multiple eras and styles within my own personal style and when I’m designing shoot concepts and album concepts. I guess I would describe my own style as both “postmodernist” and “empowered”. I try my best to dress myself depending on what I believe will empower myself and my spirit throughout a day, whether that’s Gothic-looking chandelier earrings, a rural-style sundress, a modern jumpsuit, or just plain jeans and a tee. I dress for comfort, and I dress to feel powerful. I want my body to emulate how I feel, and I want to dress it with care and respect, so my outfit and style always changes. I love versatility!

Where do you generally shop?

A lot of my clothing is handed down from the collective wardrobes of my sisters, my mom, and my grandmother. Wearing older pieces with history has always had more significance to me, which is why I also tend to lean towards worn-in things, and why I thrift a lot (money is also a concern for me too). If I’m not wearing that, I typically go for the low-end and fast fashion sites like SHEIN, Amazon, and Forever 21, who always have interesting pieces to fit any occasion!

What other modeling projects have you done? Could you provide links?

I’ve actually produced a great deal of shoots for publications in the past several months, pulling together designers, models, makeup artists, and stylists alike. We were most recently published in the August 2019 issues Picton Magazine and Féroce Magazine, and the June 2019 issue of SHUBA Magazine. It was an immense pleasure designing these sets and concepts with some fantastic creatives.

Additionally, I also just shot video and ad campaigns for designer couture brand Janique Fashions and internationally-published designer Selly Djap. In terms of runway, I have most recently walked the runway for sustainable fashion designer Rose Orelup! All Amazing experiences that I was so lucky to be a part of!

What is fun and rewarding about modeling?

I think that part of the reward is the actual experience. Being in front of a camera is exciting and amplifying, and creating art is something that I’ve always been passionate about. Seeing my face as part of that brings a whole other element to it. I also like the fact that things are so instantaneous. In a world that has now been built around instant gratification, it’s nice to see an instantaneous result in photo form. This doesn’t account for my other favorite part of the job: the long term process of working on myself, in both physical and mental means. It’s something that you can clearly note progress on as time goes by, and something I believe I excel at.

What do you dislike about modeling?

Once you actually get a job, the work becomes easy. What I find most stressful is the actual standards and judgements that this industry entails, in terms of height and size. I come from a performance background, and have always excelled at live events and performances. When I have had the opportunity to walk a runway or work in high fashion, I have never received a negative review, and always leave my audience filled with joy and purpose. However, at most of these castings, or even just to be ​considered as a high fashion model for agencies, one look at my height and body type (despite being smaller and taller than the average woman) and the answer is “no”. I’m 5’7”, just a few inches off an industry-standard model, and a few pounds off too. Despite all the work I have put into my body, it just doesn’t meet some predetermined genetic standard set for models in the industry. While the industry has professed progress by giving more time to “plus-size” models, I don’t believe that the body positivity movement has truly seated itself within this industry. Such a campaign needs to be inclusive of all genders, shapes, sizes and races. Plus size models shouldn’t be held out as anomalies of women, and women who are in between these measurements shouldn’t be so easily brushed aside. I’m fine with agencies and brands encouraging models to take care of themselves and eat right, but I want industries to acknowledge all the work that some models have already put in regardless of their size, and cast other body types. Even as a skinny white girl myself, my height and love of pasta usually loses me many opportunities in the high fashion world, and I know it’s even worse for other models.

What advice do you have for other aspiring models?

If I had to advise any aspiring models, I would tell them to respect themselves and what they bring to the table. This is an industry surrounded by conceptions of beauty but to me one thing seems clear: YOU, at your most unfiltered, unaugmented, and authentic self are the most valuable being, the most marketable asset, and the best thing for the future of this industry. Take care of that vision of yourself you have and nurture yourself, and work damn hard on that and that alone. When I first started modeling, I would take 3-4 jobs a week for several months, in addition to working 2 day jobs. Hard work got me far as well, but the art I created was more worthwhile when I was proud of myself, how I looked, and the investments I had made into my being and my career.

Also, be careful of creeps. You do not need to strip down if you are not comfortable, and your concerns on a shoot ALWAYS deserve to be heard. Take jobs that will benefit you and your portfolio, don’t just hit “yes to all”. Less can sometimes be more. :)

How do you prepare for a modeling shoot?

I usually prep any outfits or looks the night before so there isn’t any hassle the day of. You want to dedicate your own time the day of to being relaxed, stress shows in the camera and in your interactions with the crew on set. I also tend to make sure I get to bed early, and I try not to drink alcohol the day before, because those things tend to make my skin look much redder the following morning.

What comments do you have about frugal fashion–smart or petty?

SMART! My grandma and I literally have competitions on who can get the better bargain! Fashion should be about being inventive, original, or expressive no matter the price tag!

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion has so many facets, and it seems to keep expanding beyond the horizons. I think individuality, expression, confidence and diversity of thought are what have always defined fashion at both personal and commercial levels.

What makes New York a good shopping city?

Apart from being the best city on Earth (Obviously I’m biased), I believe that New York embraces the unnatural, the obscene, and the culturally different in a way that no other city does. No one’s gonna judge you for wearing a wedding dress on a subway or walking around Washington Square with a watermelon on your head (I speak from personal experience here). Just the sheer amount of different cultural groups from one doorstep to another is inspiring, and makes for the best shops (Pro Tip: Try the Union Square Goodwill for both the classic suits and dresses AND the expired Halloween Costume jewelry).

How could New York’s shopping be improved?

The New York City sales tax rate is 4.5%, the state sales tax is 4%, and​ the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District Surcharge is .375%​. ​In total you pay 8.875% for qualified purchase in NYC, and the Transportation tax has STILL not fixed the MTA. Either fix the MTA, with its delayed subway rides everywhere and broken down trains, or stop taxing me. :)

What are some other cities you think provide good/great shopping experiences?

If I had the money, I’d spend it all in London or Paris or Milan, one of the big ones. Also my life goal is to eat a muffin purchased from the Muffin Man who lives on Drury Lane in London. It exists, we were not lied to as children, and if that’s not a perfect shopping experience I don’t know what is.

How has modeling changed other aspects of your life?

Modeling has definitely made me more aware of the details, in photos, school papers, press releases for work, and beyond. A hair tie in a photo is my greatest enemy, and a spelling error in a client’s profile raises my hair on end! It’s definitely made me more of a perfectionist when it comes to presentation.

Being a model has also definitely made me more aware of the effect of my image (and the image of others) on consumers. I have an Instagram account with a slight following that built up largely due to modeling, and was offered many opportunities to become an influencer and slide down the wormhole of influencer marketing. All those protein powders, dietary supplements, hair extensions, and meal plans that I had seen in my feed for so long always seemed to have marketing plans directed at my young female audience, which didn’t feel okay to me. I’ve declined since then, but every time an offer arises I’m reminded of how much an image on a screen can affect our own self perceptions, and I always want to be a positive influence on that.

Do you do your own hair and make-up?

I definitely had to when starting out, and because of this I got quite good at it, but I absolutely love working with makeup and hair artists. Their powers are untold and magical. My most recent beauty shoot with Andrea Santos was something I could have never been able to do on my own.

What are some of the main differences between runway and photographic modeling?

Photographic definitely puts a closer point on everything you do. Little movements of the eyes and face can impact an image entirely. After all has been said and done, you’re truly curating some sort of artistic vision, and making adjustments until you get it right. While runway is similar in theory, I think it’s a lot more difficult to capture specifics, and the experience is definitely is much more fleeting. You’re out there one moment and then you’re gone, and trying to make those precious seconds count presents its own challenges.

What was the premise for the shoot you did with the photographer?

Jeff and I had been trying to set something up for nearly 5 months before we were able to put this shoot together. He is an incredible guy with an impeccable eye for poses and photos, and I wanted to take the opportunity of this shoot to learn from him and cultivate a more casual, yet intense style. It was really just a fun combination of looks I had in my closet that we decided would look awesome in the lights and shadows. Wanted something raw and unretouched, and Jeff is such a talented photographer that we made it happen!

What’s your favorite outfit in this set of photos?

Definitely the leather jacket and jeans look. I wanted the set to be raw, but confident, and I think the look emphasized that.

What’s your favorite outfit from your own closet?

My pajamas :)

Do you have your own personal uniform?

When I’m at work (I work in PR and Marketing by day, as well as studying at NYU to get my Bachelors’) I usually aim for black flats and whatever is most clean and comfortable. When I’m out on the town, I usually like to dress more thoughtfully and expressively :)

Describe the atmosphere when you’re on a shoot.

Serious, investigative, but still fun and easygoing!

Do you play music? Do you talk with the photographer between shots?

If I want to be a FORCE more than a woman at any shoot, I usually play Beyoncé. She is a whole group of moods and looks. I always talk to my photographer between shots! It’s a collaborative process and feedback is so important!

What languages do you speak?

English, some elementary Chinese (Currently teaching myself!), as well as some Italian, a little Arabic, and a little Dothraki (Yes, the language from Game of Thrones).

Why would you think you’re fit for being a model?

I think, more than anything, I have the right mindset, and attitude (I didn’t always have that, but I think that is the most vital thing that might set me apart in my career). With everything I love doing, I work desperately hard for, and I enjoy the process. I like work that pushes me both artistically and physically, and I like pushing myself on all fronts (something I think was truly ingrained in me by my family from a young age). I think that going into this industry takes grit and the ability to understand rejection and make adjustments, without any self-hatred or antagonization accompanying it. I think I also do my best to remain authentic and transparent with people, and I think this is vital in a job that occupies so much of other people’s eyes and self worth.

What are your goals as a model? How do you see yourself progress in this field?

I want to be able to grow creatively and continue to design my own concepts for personal work, but I also really want to do more commercial beauty work and editorial, eventually getting into high fashion (if they’ll have a ‘lil Italian girl like me). I work fast and I have a plan in mind, and I’m going to do everything within my ability to work with more agencies and make this happen!

How do you communicate with people? Are you patient? Are you friendly?

Patience, understanding, and a friendly attitude are the only ways to work with people in my book!

What is your nutrition? How often do you go to the gym? Do you practice constantly?

As an Italian that eats A LOT of my Grandma’s cooking, nutrition usually looks like spaghetti before runs and a LOT of meatballs post runs. I try my best to eat a lot of protein-rich foods, and when preparing for castings I’ll go for a boring salad or two and try to ease up on the other stuff that might throw my body off. I work out roughly 5 times a week, and take really long walks on my days off. I also walk my mom’s dog nightly after dinner to relax and feel a little better before bedtime :)

Where can people follow your modeling career?

Instagram: @gembavaro


Anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity!

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