I remember the day of my relocation from France to Hungary as if it was yesterday. Leaving behind everything I loved, I had to put down my roots in a completely new environment. Starting everything from scratch once again in the country where I could not understand any single word and where I did not know any single person, made it much more difficult to embrace the change. I wish I had a chance at that moment to talk to a “future me” and to learn that I was meant to live an exceptional chapter of my life.
Looking back, I can say that no matter how difficult it is to relocate, this is certainly rewarding. And one of the most precious rewards is new friendships. I cannot imagine my life today without people who I met during my eight-year long immigration journey!
The hero of my today article is Gigi. We met in Budapest due to a sequence of coincidences,
and after a few seconds of conversation it felt like we’ve been friends forever. Apart from being a genuine friend this lady has an exceptional life story and a strong personality with solid life values.
- what it is like to work in fashion,
- what kind of character and values can help young models to make a wise use of the opportunities that open up,
- what happens when model’s career comes to an end,
- what drives entrepreneurship,
- modeling business in Japan, and many other read below in a summary of my conversation with Gigi.
Gigi Sztrányay became an international model at the age of 16. She walked for such big brands as Chanel, Gucci, Leonard, Guy Laroche and worked alongside with top models like Naomi Campbell, Carmen Kass, or Heidi Klum. She wisely used her early success, recognition and money to explore life and build up a basis for constant self-improvement and professional development.
Fluent in Hungarian, Japanese, English and German, Gigi started her own model scout business at the age of 24 and gained independence and a new level of success.
“One glance at a modeling contest ad in a teen magazine changed my whole life”
I wouldn’t say that becoming a model was my dream. I never felt particularly beautiful. But at the same time I had a strong feeling that it was my path.
I was 16 when it all started. In a teen magazine I saw the ad of “Elite Model Look”, a contest run by one of the biggest international model agency networks, Elite Model Management. Without telling my parents I secretly sent some pictures and was invited for a regional casting.
When I arrived to the audition I thought “Oh my God… these girls are much more beautiful than me, I have no chance at all! Why did I get myself into this?!” But in the end they chose three girls out of hundreds, and one of them was me. Later I ended up winning the Hungarian competition and everything started happening very fast: magazines, campaigns, fashion weeks in Milan, Paris, New York, – my first booking on my first ever modeling trip to Milan was a show for Giorgio Armani. I walked for Chanel, Gucci Leonard, Guy Laroche and worked alongside with top models like Naomi Campbell, Carmen Kass, or Heidi Klum. I featured several international editions of Vogue, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire.
At 16 the whole world opened up to me. I got to meet and work with people I only saw on TV before…. Got to learn foreign languages and traveled the world extensively, I did not even know in which country I would find myself the next day.
“Modeling was a fast school of life. At the age of 20 I was very independent and a lot more mature than my peers”
At a very early age I started travelling completely alone. This put me into many difficult situations where I needed to handle everyday problems in foreign countries on my own whether about apartment, upset neighbors, or trying to get on a plane with a completely misspelled name on my air ticket. Also back then there were no smartphones like now to message your family or contact your agent anytime for advice. There was no skype, and internet in general was not as widely accessible as today.
This made me a lot stronger and more capable of solving problems. Working in fashion taught me hard work, patience and a lot self-control – there were times when I would work long hours for 10-14 days in a row without weekends.
“Fashion promotes a more natural image and accepts beauty extremities that society doesn’t”
I gained a lot of self-confidence from modeling. In school I was the tallest girl in the class and as thin as a broomstick, so people would make fun of me. Modeling helped me realize, that what I thought was my disadvantage was actually my strength. It MADE ME COMFORTABLE WITH WHO I WAS.
People often say that by placing skinny models in the magazines, the fashion industry promotes an unhealthy body image. I get the point, but I don’t fully agree with these preconceptions. During my 15 years in fashion I met thousands of models but only a very few with eating disorders. Most models are genetically tall and skinny – my whole family is tall and skinny and they are not models.
Also I really think fashion promotes a more natural image, and accepts beauty extremities that society doesn’t. For example, a lot of top models have bigger noses, bigger ears, strange features or smaller chest than what society finds “normal”. 99% of the fashion magazines/brands do not work with models, who had plastic surgery done. Fake lips, colored eyebrows and breast implants are considered unsophisticated and primitive by the fashion industry, which I think is a positive thing.
“One of the best things I got from modelling is that I got to live in Japan. I wonder how on earth did I get to go to Tokyo, since they reject all models that have similar features! I guess it was meant to be. Until today I have strong ties with this country”
I was 19 when a Japanese agency first invited me to Tokyo , which made a huge impression on me. As soon as I landed I immediately felt like I had arrived home. I was fascinated by the people’s kindness, by the rich culture, the food… and how well organized everything was!
To be honest, before my very first trip to Tokyo, I thought the Japanese agency would send me back home after two weeks, since I was much taller than the norm there and very different from the pale doll-like type the Japanese brands usually like. I have met several Tokyo scouts before but none of them showed even a slight interest in bringing me to Japan. Yet this one agency did offer me a contract and to my biggest surprise the first day I arrived in Tokyo I confirmed NINE jobs! It was crazy good for me.
Till this day when I scout for Japanese model agencies I wonder how on earth did I get to go to Tokyo, since they reject all models that have similar features.. They would cancel a model over two small moles on her face, yet I have a two-inch long brown birthmark under my left eye.. I guess it was meant to be.
After that first trip I decided to stop full time modelling and went back to Budapest to pursue a degree in commerce and marketing. At the same time I started learning Japanese, and traveled to Japan a few more times for modeling, and as soon as I finished my studies I decided to move to Tokyo for 2.5 years to learn the language properly.
While in Japan I attended an intensive language course, worked as a model and was preparing for my scouting trips. After one and a half years I have managed to obtain an ADVANCED LEVEL LANGUAGE CERTIFICATE FROM THE JAPANESE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION. Having reached this goal I couldn’t have been happier.
Until today I have strong ties with Japan and co-operate with Japanese agencies mostly. I am amazed by the Japanese people’s kindness and ability to think themselves into their partner’s position when it comes to a conflict of interests, or just a simple discussion. The 2,5 years I have spent there changed me in many ways and I am convinced that the whole experience made me a better person.
“I felt like I was not in control of my own destiny, so I decided to stop modeling and start my own business”
As a model you often have no say in what is happening around/to you. I can give you one good example: before my first ever trip to New York, my agency there decided to change my name without asking me. So I arrived and was shocked to find the name “Gia” on my composite cards instead of my real name Gigi. They thought the new name would suit the American market better. I felt humiliated by this sudden undiscussed change, but what was even worse – I just did not respond when someone called me by the new name. I would be at a busy fashion week backstage, the organizers would shout “Gia please come here!” and I would just keep sitting there without moving a finger. Although I was really grateful for all the opportunities modeling has given me, I really didn’t like situations like this when someone decided about an important matter of my life without consulting with me.
Also the world of fashion is a superficial environment to some extent and being a model there is no real thinking or creativity involved. Of course you can put some creativity into a photo-shoot that is for example about dancing where you can create the right moves and poses, but it is not a profession where you really get to use your brain. It is more like YOU HELP OTHER’S CREATIVE VISIONS to come alive. You don’t really get to make any choices the stylists, designers and casting directors decide if they want to work with you or not.
To sum it up, modeling did not satisfy me anymore. I was grateful for everything it gave me but I wanted to be more in control of my destiny and make decisions for myself.
“The most important thing in life for me is to be independent. I did not want to work for somebody else’s company, fulfill someone else’s goals and didn’t like the idea of having an authority over me telling me what to do”
From childhood I was very frustrated by having to go to school every day and having teachers limit me in what I could and couldn’t do. I have always been more mature than my peers and knew what I wanted ,but I did not know I valued freedom so much until I started my scouting business and realized HOW LIBERATING AND EMPOWERING IT IS TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR YOURSELF.
Of course you attain freedom by earning money and having a financial background so you are not dependent on others. But this is not everything. You are not free if you don’t enjoy the work you do and don’t get to choose the people you surround yourself with.
So for me the other important factor of freedom is choosing the people I wish to work with. Luckily as for scouting there are hundreds of agencies to choose from when it comes to choosing which international agency to scout for and which mother agencies to work with. This helps me keep my energy level high, as on the long run I only INTERACT WITH PEOPLE I ENJOY working with.
Moreover, it is very important for me to do something that SATISFIES MY SOUL and gives me a challenging task that gets me thinking which direction to move forward to.
This is why I started to study and launched my own business. I did not want to work for somebody else’s company, fulfill someone else’s goals and didn’t like the idea of having an authority over me telling me what to do – I am too dominant for that.
“I believe that in life you should enjoy what you are doing, grow, learn and become a better person from what you are spending your precious time with”
If money was the most important factor in my life I would have continued modeling even today. But I felt like I cannot learn anything new anymore by continuing this profession. The travelling part was awesome, but I had a strong feeling that I WAS NOT GROWING ANYMORE by just being there and doing what others tell me to do. Also I always felt like modeling comes with a lot of undeserved appreciation and that I was not doing anything major to deserve such admiration.
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t judge people who love working as a model, as I myself enjoyed it for many years too. Modeling provides a really exciting and eventful life you get to live in foreign countries for months, learn languages, get to go to the most amazing honeymoon-like locations, meeting interesting people and celebrities while earning money.
But IT ALL HAS TO COME TO AN END at some point. You can continue modeling in your thirties and forties but eventually you will start getting less and less jobs as a female model. Most models have difficulties in moving to a new profession because it feels like a step back: staying in one place, getting a job in an office earning much less than you did before sounds like the interesting part of your life is over. A female model at the end of her twenties is considered old, whereas an average 25-30-year-old young woman feels like her life is just starting.
Having worked eight years in fashion I DECIDED TO START MY OWN MODEL SCOUTING BUSINESS – looking for models all over the world for print jobs (catalogs, campaigns, magazines etc), fashion shows and TV commercials, predominantly for the Japanese market.
“The reason why I started to scout for Japan is that Japanese are very ethical”
Japanese love everything European and when it comes to fashion they often prefer European-looking products to local products, so ads with European faces have a greater effect there. They advertise a lot of things with foreign models, even traditional products like kimonos or green tea.
I knew from the start that I want to cooperate with Japanese companies because of their HONEST AND COMPASSIONATE WAY OF DOING BUSINESS – a virtue I have already experienced while working as a model with them. A model’s career starts at a very young age, most start to work at 15-16, just like I did. So it is very important to choose reliable and caring people to work with. Also Tokyo is quite a safe city and super well organized, the models are taken to their castings by car which makes the life of a young beginner model a lot easier.
After over ten years of cooperation I still really enjoy working with Japan and I hope to give the same good experience I had in Tokyo to the models I work with. It is not easy to find a field where you can make a use of your previous experience as a model, but scouting is one of them.
“My models work for Dior, Louis Vuitton and many other top fashion houses as well as top fashion magazines. I am really proud of them”
To help new models succeed I do coaching. This profession is based on your looks but you also need to be in complete control of your face, know how to move your body in a way that it looks good on camera, how to be confident and how to convince casting directors during a two minute audition that they should choose you instead of the other hundreds of models. It is not as easy as it seems. A lot of young models have a hard time learning how to use their faces, how to show confidence at castings and how to attain the perfect catwalk. I had to go through all this myself so I feel like I can train new faces more successfully than an agent who has never worked as a model before.
I started scouting while still at the university. It was very difficult even just to get agencies to talk to me at first, also there were times when I was doing three things at the same time – studying, managing my scouting business and modeling.
Now I feel like it was all worth it, I get a lot of positive feedback from agencies and models worldwide. And the level of scouting I am doing today is much better than it was a few years ago. One of the models I have recently scouted came to Japan at the age of 15 and a few months later she was picked as a worldwide exclusive by Givenchy. A lot of the new faces I find for Tokyo end up being very successful not only in Japan but also in other main markets like Paris, Milan and New York which is an amazing feedback.
“As for the near future, I would like to grow my business and reach other markets”
When I started out I have only worked for Tokyo. Now it is Tokyo, Osaka, and Taipei. Also I started doing casting direction for international productions shot in Europe (TV commercials, promotional videos etc.) which is a very exciting new path. So I am growing. In a few years I would like to move my focus to the main markets like Paris or New York, and start scouting for agencies there as well.
About the author:
Oxana believes that every person’s life can make an intriguing story for a book which can teach a lot of wisdom. Life in Russia, England, France, Hungary, USA and lots of travelling around the continents introduced her to exceptional personalities. She loves to share stories about people and destinations which bring new ideas and help to find a way to your true self. This is why she started her blog “In search of the genuine”