THIS 15-YEAR INDUSTRY VETERAN IS ALSO AN ADVOCATE FOR YOUNG MODELS, AND FOR TRANSPARENCY IN THE INDUSTRY

BY JENNIFER VIKSE • PHOTO BY COLEMAN DOWNING

INDUSTRY: How did you get started modeling?
Laila Elise: I would get approached by scouts and photographers while growing up, but my
father prohibited me from getting involved in the industry while I was a minor. We agreed that when I turned 18, I could try it out if I wanted. So, after I started college, I sent out some amateur photos to a few agencies, and the rest is history.

Tell us about some gigs you’ve done.
Each is completely different from the next, which is one of the things that intrigued me about the field, but also one of the things that, unfortunately, enables lack of transparency in the industry. One never really knows what to expect. One of my favorite gigs I did when I was first starting out was an on-location shoot in Jamaica—lifestyle photos for a famous bar in Negril, piña coladas in hand. It was my first traveling job, and, as fun as it was, looking back on it, I really was putting myself at risk and am lucky with how everything turned out. We were completely reliant on the photographers to keep us safe in a place we didn’t know. The trip certainly opened my eyes a bit to see how things can potentially go wrong in these types of situations, especially with young and inexperienced models. It has helped greatly to work with a company called Agent—an app and platform (joinagent.com) with and from which they can book jobs—with a goal of providing transparency, structure, and a safer environment.

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Where’s home now?
Lower East Side, Manhattan. This neighborhood has undergone so many changes in the eight years I’ve been here; there’s more and more gentrification and big business taking over. However, there are still many little streets and dive spots that have that great classic neighborhood vibe. There’s still a melting pot of cultures and experiences here if you know where to look, and that’s what I love most about living in New York.

Tell us about your career generally.
Having degrees in both business and education, my life could have certainly taken a much different turn had I not chosen to become a model, but I am so glad I did. My long career has taught me persistence of vision, given me an imperviously thick skin, enabled me to develop my skills as an entrepreneur, and showed me things about myself I might have never discovered otherwise. It has truly made me a strong woman.

What are some other things that make you happy?
Writing, listening to old music, the feeling you get when helping others, balconies with a view, daydreaming, long exotic vacations (with no cell phone), making people laugh…and champagne.

How would you describe your look in three words?
Bold. Mysterious. Multicultural.

And your personality in three words?
Tenacious. Spirited. Independent.