Janine Tondu for Project Runway
For years, we have commended fashion designers and models who have pulled off amazing runways, photo shoots and campaigns. At Luxy Haus, we wanted to take a deeper look into the world from a model’s perspective. Fortunately for us, we had the chance to chat with New York native and model, Janine Tondu, from Project Runway’s Season 16. Catch up on how she broke into her career, her day-to-day, the Season 16 cast and way more!
Brea Finney, Luxy Haus: We’re huge fans of you, and especially love seeing you on Project Runway every week. Can you share with our readers your journey into modeling?
Janine Tondu: Modeling has definitely been quite the journey [and it] began when I was first approached by a scout in a Starbucks. Now mind you – I was always stopped and notified I should be a model, but during those times I felt incredibly awkward and was very focused on school that I never really gave it much thought. Yet, this scout made me feel like I definitely could reach that potential and that I already had it – whatever it was. He asked that I stop by the office to meet with the head of the agency [and] I ended up just going for it. I have to say meeting her was the most nerve wracking experience!
She loved my look, wanted to sign me on the spot, which was incredible! Even with my limited knowledge [of the modeling industry] at the time I knew that was quite an opportunity. After signing she mentioned a few concerns: one, being my weight and two, the slight bit of acne showing on my face. My weight I didn’t get considering I was a size one at the time, but I still went along with losing weight plus trying to clear my acne and both backfired. My acne got incredibly worse instead of better and I lost the weight, but it did nothing for me.
They released me in a simple email that only said: ‘We are no longer interested in representing you. Thanks.’
Being a person that goes for things 100%, this really hurt me. I signed and had absolutely nothing to show for it, but an email and a large life lesson learned. At that point, my interest was peaked. Now I wanted in and had no idea how to do that. I volunteered with Council of Fashion Designers of America and basically surrounded myself in fashion to the point where I became a bit brand obsessive. Late on, I had the opportunity to volunteer and watch Anna Sui’s Fall 2013 show. There was this little dance right at the start then Karlie Kloss walks out. My world literally stopped a second and I realized “This is it! This is what I want.” [I wanted] that moment surrounded by all that talent, creativity and awe.
Not much later I was approached by Barbizon Modeling and Acting School, and that gave me the focus I needed. They not only gave me the base for modeling, but acting as well. From there I had a major run with photographers and designers reaching out to me. Social media like Facebook and Instagram played major roles in getting me and my work out there. I went on to encounter the most amazing talents and their drive continues to inspire my own journey!
I signed with a couple of other small agencies that also aided me in making connections and learning more about the industry, myself, and my goals. Those amazing souls and connections is what eventually leads me where I am today. One connection led me to the introduction of Project Runway and another led me to my current agency. It’s just one giant chain reaction. I’ve learned a lot but I’ve still see a long road ahead and I’m excited to see where all my hard work will take me next.
BF: That really is quite the journey! Now that you finally broken into the industry, can you share what your day-to-day as a model is like?
JT: I’m sure any model will tell you day-to-day can just be an epic waiting game with no consistency. Every day it’s something different, whether it’s a casting, a booking or a hold you’re waiting to hear back on. A lot of the time castings will come in at spontaneous times, so you always have to be ready.
Lately, I’ve been trying to be mindful of what I’m eating [like incorporating] healthier choices. I tend to make sure I work out at least 5-6 times a week because I look my best when I feel my best. But yes, my day-to-day can be all over the place.
BF: So no day is ever the same! As you dive deeper into your career, who have you found to be your biggest inspiration and why?
JT: I actually have way too many inspirations! If I have to name a couple, then Cher would definitely be one! Her story is so inspiring. Her talent and her struggle have crafted this beautiful person we see today. Second, Karlie Kloss for knocking me off my feet with just her presence. Beyond that, she is humble, incredibly smart, and such an amazing person inside and out. Third, Rihanna inspires me with her amazing talent and vision, both lyrically and in the fashionable sense. Even more, I absolutely love that what you see is what you get as she’s a powerful woman that knows what she wants and takes it. And of course, queen Naomi Campbell she is just everything!
BF: Definitely all worthy women to look up to! So let’s fast forward to working on Project Runway. How did the opportunity of being on Season 16 come about?
JT: Funny thing with this is my agency reached out to me in regards to going to the casting. I was aware of the time frame needed for this and I had a job that really wouldn’t allow me to just openly say “yes,” so I originally told them “no.” Well, I did the finale for Project Runway Season 15, so the casting director had my email and reached out directly. I took this as a major sign! I doubled back to notify my agency I would be attending the casting and told myself whatever happens, happens. It worked out seeing how I made it onto Season 16!
BF: Love that! What’s meant for you will definitely work itself out. What has the experience of having a more realistic cast of models this season been like for you?
JT: It’s been the most amazing experience! I‘ve gained a family behind it. It’s such an experience seeing all different models and literally being able to see them daily for a long term job. We actually got to know each other, and share our individual struggles and successes. It’s definitely an eye opener and another side to the industry [comes from the stories]. I love all the different personalities and we all mesh together so well!
BF: The family bond being created is everything! Now during some episodes, we’ve seen you working the runway with your curls and your fro beaming! How has embracing your natural hair and inspiring others to do the same shaped your perception of modeling?
JT: I absolutely love when they have my hair natural on the runway! It’s kind of my signature look and I feel so free! I don’t mind the change to straight, but there’s just something wild about my natural hair that gives me that extra force of confidence or self awareness. I especially love it when there are other naturals embracing their hair and I feel at times it’s like all naturals inspire each other. Maybe its because we all know the struggle [laughter]. There’s that feeling when you see another natural walking down the street, seeing that hair coming your way and you kind of want to nod like “yes, rock it!” It’s a pretty uplifting feeling that leaves you walking away with a kind of kinship.
BF: Yes! I think we’re all familiar with the hair eye contact with a stranger! In your perception, what have forward-thinking activations such as Fenty Beauty and problematic runway shows such as Marc Jacobs shed light on in the fashion industry?
JT: Working in the industry, I must say the idea behind Fenty Beauty is definitely a breath of fresh air because the color match struggle is so real! It’s nice to have a beauty line that understands that struggle and is looking to find the solution.
In regard to problematic runway shows, it’s difficult to say. In my opinion, I feel these days it’s really hard for designers to make that call. To me, designers are artists and artists look around for inspiration. We are such a melting pot and with it, so are our cultures. I find that there are a lot of gray areas and people are so quick to judge or make accusations when really they take away from the designer’s actual intent of presenting their work and giving a great show. I highly doubt [the question] of “How can I best appropriate this?” is high on the list of things they think about at the start of their show.
BF: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to your younger self or someone starting in the industry?
JT: The biggest piece of advice would be to be adaptable, set goals and be yourself. In this industry, there is always constant change and you have to be willing to move with it quickly or miss out on great opportunities.
Set goals [because] I find that I work so much better when I make a long term goal rather than set up smaller goals that will lead to my long term. It helps me focus and keep myself on track of where I see my career going. And then again sometimes it allows you to step back and re-evaluate because hey, things change.
You hear [be yourself] so many times but individuality is so important! There is something interesting about you and though you may not see it, someone will.
BF: What has been the biggest lesson you have had to embrace in the modeling industry?
JT: I have learned to not take everything so personally. In the beginning, I’m pretty sure after every casting I didn’t book, I cried. I went through a list of things that could have been wrong with me and the reasons why they didn’t choose me. I realize I’m not for everyone and everyone’s not for me. The right people come along and magic happens. You just have to be patient for those magical moments and [doing so] helps me appreciate each job I get.
BF: We can agree with this lesson so much because it can apply to some many things. What barriers are you looking to break in the fashion industry?
JT: I don’t know if there are any major barriers I’m looking to break in the fashion industry, but I do have personal ones. I would like to be an international model, but even more I would like to be a recognized top model made in New York. I’m a New Yorker born and raised. Do you know how many American models I run into [a week]? I come across native New York models even less.
BF: What are your future hopes for your career?
JT: My hope for my career is always upward growth and hopefully to work with some of my most favorite brands in the industry like Chloè, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang. I want to expand my resume and maybe even work with other aspiring models since I remember all those feelings learning from older generations of models and their grace. I would love to see myself doing it all time and I can’t wait to see that happen!
Be sure to keep up with Janine and her modeling career on Instagram!