If you tolerate me enough to read everything I write everywhere it is posted, you would know that in September I talked with burgeoning model Annika Backes and therefore have already read this interview. (You, loyal readers, are my absolute favorite type of readers.) Working with TidBitts and publishing original content on my Stream was an incredible learning experience; unfortunately, like many startups, TidBitts was unable to continue operating and officially shut down in late March. While one chapter of my "career" has ended, different ones are now flourishing - I have attained a fantastic fashion internship and have been focused on developing a plethora of phenomenal projects, both of I hope to write about in the coming future. I am extremely excited to see what the future holds, not only for me but for the subject of this very article.
Fashion models are the backbone of the fashion industry; without them, designers would simply have gorgeous ensembles lying limp on skeletal hangers. Annika Backes, the natural beauty rumored to be dating the Dutch DJ Tiesto, describes what life is like as a model in the Big Apple. And as a girl who recognizes that "most women are not a size 00 so a representative for women shouldn't be either", Annika may just be the next Big Thing.
MOLLY MINTZ: Let’s start off with the basics. Tell me about yourself: What do you like to do for fun when you're not working? What is your favorite song? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
ANNIKA BACKES: For fun, when I'm not working, I guess my favorite thing to do is pretty simple - just hanging out with friends and meeting new people. I recently moved to New York City, so there are a lot of new adventures and new people to meet. My favorite song at the moment is "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran, or "Lazaretto" by Jack White. In ten years I hope I'm still discovering new things and having fun wherever life brings me, but I don't exactly have a game plan.
MM: Talk me through your usual day.
AB: My usual day depends [on whatever is going on], but a usual day of Fashion Week could be something like ten castings throughout the day, meaning my agent will send me my meetings for the day and I figure out the locations and times I need to be at each place. I'll run around the city all day trying to be on time. A normal Fashion Week casting takes only a few minutes; you go up to the casting director and hand him or her your portfolio and a comp card. If they want, they will ask you to [runway] walk for them and then they might take your measurements and a picture, and if they really like you, you might try on an outfit. But then you're on your way running to the next casting. The thing about modeling is you hardly ever have a usual day, so that is just one example.
MM: You’ve graced the pages of renowned magazines and walked in amazing fashion shows. How did you get into modeling?
AB: Originally I was scouted to be a model. I was in the mall and a scout came up to me and wanted to sign me to their agency. I met with managers at the agency and decided to sign, and just a few months later I went to work with Elite Model Management in Miami. I spent the next summer in Seoul, South Korea, and since then I've been working mostly out of Paris and New York City.
MM: Why do you love working as a model? Are there any downsides?
AB: I love working as a model because it has introduced me to things I would have never experienced otherwise, and it's taught me things I might not have known. It has allowed me to travel and meet people that have really influenced me. Modeling has a lot of downsides as well, though. One of the biggest [downsides] for me is the way people and the industry treat models. On many occasions I've felt like I was being treated less than human - clients look at you and talk about you like you aren't in the room. Granted, they did hire you to be a human clothes hanger, but I don't exactly think that's an excuse. Another big issue is the ideal weight and measurements of a model. Being in the industry can really drive you crazy because models can never be skinny enough; luckily I love food a little too much for it to really affect me, but eating disorders are definitely a huge issue because of the way clients treat models.
MM: What has been your most memorable modeling experience thus far in your career?
AB: I have had a lot of amazing experiences throughout my career, but I might say doing the haute couture shows in Paris was one of my favorites because the couture shows are not as crazy hectic as the ready-to-wear shows, and Paris in the summer is just incomparable.
MM: What are your goals as a model? How do you see yourself progressing?
AB: My goals as a model are just to be as successful as I can be and to ride it out as long as it will take me; you are presented with a lot of great opportunities being in this industry that could take you a lot of different places, so I'll just have to wait and see for now. I've got some time.
MM: What do you know about the advertisement industry, advertising psychology and photography?
AB: As far as photography goes, I know that there is a lot more to it than people may think - before I got into modeling, I ignorantly thought that being a photographer would be so easy, you just point and shoot. But now I know much better. There is a lot of technical stuff that goes into it and beyond that, it is most definitely an art. For the advertising world, I know that they are always just going to try give the people what they want to see. But honestly I don't know too much about it.
MM: As a model, you are under severe scrutiny when you step in front of a camera. In your opinion, what is wrong with the way women are portrayed in the media?
AB: As I talked a bit about before, models are given so much criticism about their appearance that I think most models - some of the most beautiful women in the world - are more insecure that other women because of all this constant criticism. I think some of the biggest issues with the way women are portrayed in the media are the weight of the models representing an ideal woman and the lack of diversity. Most woman are not a size 00 so a representative for women shouldn't be either, but that model is only a 00 because she can't get work without being that size, because that's what clients demand because that's what they think the people want to see. It's a viscous cycle.
MM: Fashion, beauty, and fitness play a huge role in your job; you are expected to look perfect all the time. What’s your secret? Do you eat nutritiously? How often do you exercise or go to the gym?
AB: I try to eat as healthy as I can but honestly I fail at that a lot. [Laughs] I'm obsessed with dark chocolate and I have a bar of chocolate in my freezer at all times. Also, there is a Shake Shack right on my corner, so that doesn't help things. But I just try to do things like that in moderation. I hardly ever go to the gym - in fact, I think it's been months since I've last been, but that's where living in NYC and having to run around to castings all day comes in handy. Sometimes I am literally running, so I'll just count that as a visit to the gym. I do try take a yoga class as much as I can, though, but I find that that is more for my sanity rather than exercise... Wow, I think I need to get a gym membership. I'm a bad model!
MM: How do you take care of your skin?
AB: I take care of my skin by avoiding putting anything on it if I don't have to, A.K.A. makeup. Having so much makeup and everything put on and off and on and off of my skin all day when doing a shoot or a day of runway, I find that my skin just desperately needs to breathe. Other than that, I wash my face with simple, natural products and try do a face mask or get a facial every once in a while to really keep things clean and healthy. And I keep everything moisturized. Zoolander is right, "Moisture is the essence of wetness and wetness is the essence of beauty."
MM: You get to wear some of the most luxurious and beautiful clothes for work, but how would you describe your personal sense of style?
AB: My personal sense of style is hard for me to describe. I wear a lot of leather, maybe too much, a lot of black, maybe too much. But I also like to wear some funky little pieces if I can, because that's another nice thing about being a model - you have access to the coolest clothes out there. One thing that people that know me might say about my style is I'm always dressed up; I would much rather be overdressed than underdressed.
MM: You mentioned how you recently moved to New York to model full time. Who is your favorite New York-based designer?
AB: My favorite New York based designer is without a doubt Alexander Wang. Obsessed. Plus, he throws some crazy parties.
MM: Wang is my favorite designer, too; he is definitely very New York. But since you must travel tons for work, what has been your favorite destination and experience? Where do you want to travel?
AB: For work trips I've been to Miami, Korea, Japan, Chicago, New Orleans, Paris, the south of France, and of course NYC. One of my favorite trips was to the south of France because I got to stay in the most amazing mansion and everything was just like a dream. As far as where I would like to go in the future, I'm really interested in spending some time in London.
MM: To conclude, do you have any advice for aspiring models?
AB: My advice for aspiring models is to go for it and put yourself out there. There is are so many opportunities out there if you are willing to work for them. But also, be very careful of who you trust because in this industry, people might mislead you or use you or even take advantage of you. You just have to stay smart!
Annika Backes, interviewed by Molly Mintz in September 2014. All images via Red NYC Models.