Heroine Presents: The Ali Michael Archive Sale
Update: New listings have been added.
Original interview published July 9, 2018.
Model and sometimes-actress Ali Michael is someone you've likely seen roaming the streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side, adorning the homepages of your favorite e-commerce retailers, or, of course, on instagram. She's been a force from a young age, winning Dallas' annual Model Award in grade school and walking runway shows in London and Paris shortly after. Since then, Ali's portfolio has matured into a truly impressive compilation of work with some of the best photographers, stylists, creatives, and brands around the world.
We spoke to Ali about her impressive modeling career, her semi-secret secondary instagram account, and how she navigates her personal sense of style in a rigid industry. Read the full interview and shop a selection of pieces from Ali's personal archive below.
You’ve really blown up in the modeling industry and on instagram over the last few years. How did you first get scouted? Did you have any hesitations about making a career out of modeling?
I was in no way considered attractive by my peers in school so I was shocked, confused, and dismissive when my friend’s mom suggested that I go meet with a local agent she knew in Dallas. She kept insisting so I went in with my mom one day. I had braces but they told me to enter their annual Model Search in a few months when they were off. Despite still having the braces due to me not following my orthodontist’s strict rubber band instructions, I ended up winning the search. I just had to smile with my mouth closed in all of the photos.
Your relationship with your hometown and family is really special and something you share openly on instagram. Have your southern roots played a role in your career?
I think that my southern roots have played a role in who I am as a person and thus have inherently played a role in my career. I’m an only child and my parents are the two most important people in the world to me. My mom actually traveled everywhere with me until I was 18 which is something I’m really grateful for. My mom is a vivacious, fun, charming angel so often times if I’m on set with people who I worked with back when I did shows they’ll ask how she is. I was cripplingly shy back then so I think she made a stronger impression than I did.
Do you ever feel like you missed out on a “normal” teenage-hood? Is there anything you would change?
I do feel that way. I was told when I signed with my agency in Dallas that I probably wouldn’t be able to do runway shows in their local market (which were held at the mall) because of my height, so when my New York agency wanted me to come out for shows I had no expectations. I was planning to be gone for a week and a half in total so I spoke to my school and completed all my assignments ahead of time. I was shocked to end up having a really successful first season and was directly booked for Marc by Marc Jacobs in London as well as some shows in Paris. I ended up being gone for a month and upon my return was told that even though I had straight A’s, I had legally missed too much time and would be kicked out of school if I missed any more. Modeling was taking off and the general consensus was that I had to keep up with the momentum so I ended up unenrolling and finishing school through correspondence. I discredited the “ordinary” nature of staying in my hometown as being less valuable than the extraordinary opportunity I was presented with to leave, travel and start this career.
Looking back, I really realize and appreciate the value of that normalcy. I wasn’t able to partake in a lot of adolescent experiences because of the requirements I had to uphold and my travel schedule. I had to be aware of things kids usually are not aware of and became isolated from everyone I grew up with. I wouldn’t say that I would change anything because that’s pointless and the experience I had brought me to where I am today, but my advice to anyone is to not start modeling until they’re at least eighteen. It’s more important then you may realize to eat pizza and go to parties and attend or crash your prom.
You run a secondary instagram account, @ffrankcadillac, for your “Undesirable Brand Identity.” At what point did you decide to separate your work life and personal life online and do you feel that instagram has helped liberate the industry-wide pressure to maintain a certain brand identity?
I started @ffrankcadillac a few years ago after getting feedback from my agent at the time that my social media was off-putting to clients. Soon after I was watching a horrible Nicholas Cage film called “Next” (also starring Jessica Biel) where Nicholas explains that his alter-ego is named Frank Cadillac because his two favorite things were Frankenstein and Cadillacs. I really liked that so I registered the handle on Instagram and just started posting the less commercially desirable things I wanted to share and that was how it started. It is a good outlet. My normal account sometimes nauseates me because of all the hi-res and flattering work photos so it’s nice to balance it out with the other one. At this point, a lot of people I work with follow both, but as long as they find it funny and don’t stop hiring me then it’s great.
I think that the rise of social media for models is complicated. When I started working twelve years ago you had to wait for a magazine to be at the shop, buy it, and put the tear sheets in your book. Now everything is a pdf and people just look at Instagram to see what you’ve been doing. On one hand, it allows models to establish themselves as actual humans with personalities whereas before they were only seen as the projection of a creative team’s vision. On the other, it makes casting much more political as far as how models’ numbers of followers play into who gets a job. Of course there is also the issue that social media holds for everyone which is that people present a very curated and usually unrealistic view of their lives that makes everyone else compare and feel like shit.
What’s your most memorable career-moment?
I’m lucky to have had so many. All of my most memorable moments have been those when I was completely present. I think the first time that happened was when I opened Lanvin in Paris my first season. It was surreal. I experienced it when I shot the Showstudio film “Girl” with Nick Knight and Rei Nadal. I also have distinct memories of that feeling while shooting with Paolo Roversi, Mario Sorrenti, Sofia and Mauro, and Chadwick Tyler.
Your job has exposed to a wide range of designers from an early age. How has modelling helped you navigate your own sense of style?
I really had no interest in clothes growing up. My general policy was that if it had a picture of a horse on it, it had my stamp of approval. When I first started working in New York I was told by my agency, like all young models, that I needed to buy and wear clothes that were appropriate for castings. The uniform is typically black skinny jeans or leather leggings, black heels, a black shirt, a blazer, and an expensive bag to put your book in. I remember ten years ago someone at my agency disappointedly telling me that they saw me wearing baggy jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt sitting on a bench located on a block known to be heavily trafficked by fashion people and that I looked like a disheveled teenager and I thought, “but I am a disheveled teenager!” Finding the balance between looking presentable for work but not feeling like a human in alien skin was difficult for me. I always felt really uncomfortable and like I didn’t know how to figure out what I really liked. I think that changed just by getting older and more self-assured and exposed to different things. I have been around some of the most creative and highly-regarded minds in the industry and they were always inspiring but I think over time I’ve developed more of an appreciation for that rare insight than I had in the beginning.
You have a pretty impressive collection of clothing from Comme des Garcons to Cav Empt and Sandy Liang. Were you always into clothing in this capacity? When did you start collecting?
I wouldn’t say I ever actively collected- I just started experimenting with different things to see what I’d feel comfortable wearing.
You modeled for Supreme’s FW17 collection in collaboration with Hysteric Glamour. Does the work culture differ between streetwear brands and luxury brands? Is there a type of work you enjoy most?
I am friends with some of the guys at Supreme and they asked if I’d want to be in a photo for the Hysteric Glamour collaboration and who I liked shooting with. They sent over a few pieces and my friend Chadwick Tyler and I shot some photos and they used them. Every job is completely different but that one in particular was very relaxed and unstructured. My favorite work is anything where I can depart from myself and embody a character.
Do you have any weird hobbies?
I’ve seen every episode of Sex and the City like twelve times and I like riding the subway for a long time to watch people even if I don’t have a destination in mind.
What are your favorite hangouts in NYC (shops, restaurants, studios, etc.)?
I live in Chinatown so I hang out around there too much. I like to get something at Dimes Market and sit in Seward Park. Scarr’s Pizza is good when I’m in the mood for that. I am very socially low-key which is maybe my own way of saying antisocial but I do love a night of karaoke every once and a while. I also go to Sky Ting Yoga a lot—Kate is the teacher I go to the most. Sometimes my brain goes so crazy that it makes me feel like I need a lobotomy and yoga helps with that.