Coco Rocha has been one of fashion’s defining faces for more than a decade. Now, with a book, a fashion line and a million Instagram followers under her belt, she tells us about fostering confidence, building a career with longevity in mind and how to pose like a power broker.
Every model has a discovery story. What is yours?
I was at a dance competition in Vancouver and a man, whose daughter was also dancing in the competition, came up to me and asked if I had ever thought about modelling. My friends and I all laughed. I thought he was kidding, but then, of course, he wasn’t.
That was more than 10 years ago. More recently, you’ve said you don’t think you would have made it in today’s modelling business. How come?
Now it seems like you have to have the following of somebody who has already made it before you even make it. Certain casting directors will only see girls who have a certain amount of social media followers . I came out of nowhere, and I don’t think that’s as possible anymore.
How has being Canadian affected your personal style?
I had no style when I was younger. In high school I would wear big, baggy sweaters and bell-bottomed jeans. I rebelled against makeup. I wouldn’t say it was a cool look, but I wouldn’t blame Canada for it.
Naomi Campbell is known for her walk, Cindy Crawford for her mole and Kate Moss for her waifishness. What is your modelling-world signature?
I guess I’m known as a great poser . It’s kind of a silly thing, but I’ve been told I model quite differently than most girls. I really feel like it’s my job to give as many options as possible, so I just pose, pose, pose. I don’t mind being quirky or crazy. I don’t necessarily obsess over what looks beautiful, which I think can be a problem with some models.
In the business world, effective body language is so important. Any advice on striking a commanding, confident pose?
A lot of models are very tall, and so they [adopt] this [posture] that is hunched, sort of like they have given up. The reason is that in high school they probably thought of themselves as giant freaks and didn’t feel that comfortable with their bodies. I always advise young models to stand up straight, be proud and push their shoulders back. Even if you’re not feeling confident, you look like you do, and that’s the point.
Designer Zac Posen has called you “not just a hanger but a brand all by [yourself].” Is that something you cultivated consciously?
I started modelling at a time when there was a backlash to the supermodel era of the eighties —models were less famous, and more disposable and interchangeable. Few models really had [a brand] at that time. I thought that carving out some kind of identity would help with achieving a longer career. Today I tell the younger models I work with that they have to figure out what girl they are—are they the “sporty” one, or are they the “funny” one? Cindy Crawford was known as the athletic, sexy workout girl. She knew that if she was going to be doing workout videos and be a spokesperson for health, then she wasn’t going to pose with cigarettes. As far as creating her own brand, she was really a pioneer.
What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever done to stand out in an audition?
I’ve danced right there on the spot; I’ve started talking in French. It’s so quick, a casting: You go in, you give your name, you show your book and you’re gone, so you do whatever you can in that short period [to get noticed]. One time I was in a casting meeting, and my shoe fell off and flew into the casting director’s face. She ducked. I remember her saying, “Well, I won’t forget you.”
So did you get the job?
Not that time, but I ended up working a lot with that designer later on in my career.
You have said no to jobs that require nudity or semi-nudity, based on your Jehovah’s Witness faith. Were you always so resolute?
There were definitely times when I felt uncomfortable and said yes anyway. Now I look back and think, If only I had known that saying no is always an option. Regardless of the kind of work you do, there are situations in which you are asked to do something you’re not comfortable with. Maybe you’re scared of your boss and you think, If I don’t do what they want, someone else will. That might be true, but I think you have to ask yourself if you want to be comfortable with who you are or want to feel like your industry has changed you. It’s very personal. I would never say to anyone that what they’re doing is wrong or that they’ve sold out. It’s up to every person to figure out what they are comfortable with and then to stay true to that.
You recently unveiled your new fashion line, Co+Co. What made you want to get into this part of the business?
No offence to womenswear designers, but they’ve been fabricating the same way for the past 50 to 100 years. I wanted to do something new. We’re calling it athleisure wear, as opposed to athletic wear, which makes people think of gym wear or sweats. The “athletic” part of the collection comes from the materials we use and our fabrication processes. Sports companies have put a lot of time and expense into creating materials that can stretch and are breathable and very comfortable. They’re very forward-thinking in that way. We wanted to [apply that to] a collection that is more fashion focused.
So basically it’s fashion that can withstand a good sweat?
You’re a frequent flyer. Got any good tips for jet lag?
Nap as much as you can on the plane ride, and then once you get to where you’re going, get on the [local] schedule right away. If you arrive somewhere first thing in the morning, don’t sleep until it’s time to go to bed that night. It can be tough, but usually by the next morning, you’re all set. Of course, I’m also one of these people who can pretty much put their heads down and sleep anywhere.
MORE GREAT CB INTERVIEWS:
- Smarter Faster Better author Charles Duhigg on how to build a productive team
- Catherine O’Hara on how to build confidence in your career
- Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider on the secret to branding
- Universal Music Canada CEO Jeff Remedios on taking indie mainstream
- Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on the power of doing one thing well
- Margaret Atwood on how to be a creative risk-taker
- Nightlife mogul Rande Gerber on doing business with celebrities
- Twitter VP Kirstine Stewart on what comes after “leaning in”