I would describe Alexina as 'the red-haired angel of the catwalk'. Not only because she has walked for Victoria's Secret, but also for her sweet but at the same time sensual beauty, for her wonderful way of being and for how she expresses herself on the runway and in front of the cameras. Despite the fact that at the beginning and at such a young age, she did not know what she wanted to pursue professionally. One day she found by chance an opportunity to work as a model and by starting on the modelling path she has been able to attain heights that few models can dream of, all whilst keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground.
Above image credits: Pleated silk crepe dress and monogram silk scarf by Louis Vuitton.
This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Fall Winter 2020 Issue 5.
To start with, tell us about your childhood.
My parents split up when I was three and I lived between two houses. For the first three years of my life, my parents owned a restaurant together and we lived above it. After that, I was at my mum’s Monday-to-Friday in Worksop and then with my Dad Friday-to-Sunday in Wakefield. It was like that right up until I left home at eighteen. I went to a state school in Worksop, starting off at Prospect Hill Infant and Nursery school, then going to Valley comprehensive school before deciding at sixteen to go to Valley post-16 centre in Worksop to do my A-levels. For my A-levels I honestly had no idea what I wanted to be, it’s so hard at a young age to decide what you want to be for the rest of your life. I decided to study A-level subjects that would help me get into midwifery school but then I left halfway through my course to pursue modelling, after which I moved to Paris for six years.
I always say I’m lucky in the sense that I grew up between two families who had totally different incomes. My dad was well-off, he didn’t really need to think about money and could go out to restaurants and have expensive holidays and all the rest. Whereas, when I was living with Mum, we had to watch our money, write down the bills we had to pay and work out how to split her income between bills and groceries. In the eighteen years of living with my mum and step-dad, we went on three holidays, and each one had to be saved up for over the year to afford. As an adult it has shown me that yes, it is nice to have money but it’s not everything. Love, family, friends and a roof over your head means that you’re all good and already so lucky.
How was your first experience as a New Face?
I have amazing memories and bad memories. The first time I travelled my mum had to come with me as I was seventeen, we both went to NYC because I was in the Ford Supermodel of the World competition. I ended up being one of the winners and had to stay in NYC. They sent my mum home and I didn’t get to say goodbye to her and I just sobbed for three days. It was my first time being on my own. This was in 2009 and I didn’t have a phone or a computer – we could never afford one – so I remember my mum always calling the model apartment house phone. The experience made me grow up fast as I had to learn to cook for myself, ask for things myself, get around a city and I became an adult very quickly.
People always say ‘omg did you have to share with like twelve girls in a model apartment’ and yes, I did, but at that moment I needed it. I had just left my family and I had eleven girls around me who were in the same situation, so we all rallied together and supported one another. I also met one of my best friends in that apartment and she’s still my best mate twelve years later.
No one tells you as a new face that it takes a while to get started, you think you are going to earn tons of money straight away. For some girls this happens and they are very lucky to earn money almost immediately but for me it took years. There were a few times where I was going to give up but my mum had a feeling it was going to work out for me in fashion and told me to keep going. I’m really glad I listened to her.
Balmain, Burberry, Jean Paul Gaultier, Brandon Maxwell, those are just some of the names of the many renowned houses that you have been a part of. Which jobs do you think have been the ones that have most contributed to you as a model, and above of all, have helped in your professional and personal growth?
Ellen von Unwerth and Jean Paul Gaultier first put me on the high fashion radar and from there people seemed to follow. I then signed a contract with L'Oréal and through them I worked with Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. We got on really well, bonded and the next season I walked his show. The Balmain show gave me further exposure and I then got started walking for Max Mara and Emporio Armani. I remember thinking when I booked the Max Mara show and saw all the amazing top models that were also in it – Lara stone, Doutzen Kroes etc – ‘wow I have made it into a show with these girls’, it was a dream.
You have been considered by models.com as one of the sexiest models of the industry, do you think that could be seen as a negative when it comes to your work in high fashion?
I was honoured to be classed as one of the sexiest models. I don’t think it can be negative if clients who want to work with you do their research before – then they can see that I can be very versatile and also do high fashion as well. It’s only ever been negative when clients haven’t looked into a girl’s work. I am also very lucky to be in the social-media era. Most clients, before they book, go on a model’s Instagram to see who they are. So I try to keep my Instagram true to me: sexy, high fashion and filled with what I love (family, friends, hobbies etc). I want my Instagram to reflect who I am as a person.
What are the most positive experiences you have had in your career? Has there been anything that has marked or changed you? What would you have changed?
I think, for me, it was more about my own personal growth that’s helped to build positive experiences in my career. I came out of a ten-year relationship three years ago and it had a big, positive impact on me as a person. I learnt how to grow, to love myself, to work out who I, Alexina Graham, am as a person and what I did and didn’t want in my life. I had the freedom to do what I wanted, for me, and I travelled for both work and pleasure and had the time and freedom to put my whole being into my job. I got to really focus on my career and put everything I had into it and pushed myself to figure out what I wanted to do in fashion and what goals I wanted to aim for.
We are currently experiencing one of the worst crises that the world has gone through in many years. How have you been affected? How was it for you to go through these months of quarantine?
I actually had all the symptoms of Covid at the end of March – I had it pretty badly and went into hospital for the day. I was so scared, I remember getting into the ambulance, saying goodbye to my sister at the door and just being petrified. I had a fever of 107 °F, I was weak and could hardly walk, I had vomiting and diarrhoea, hot and cold flashes and my chest was so tight that I found it really hard to breath. I was bedbound for six days. Then on the tenth day I was 90 per cent better.
I have been quarantining with my family since March 20th, so I am now heading into the sixth month of being with them. Honestly, it has been fab, I’ve got to spend an amazing time with my family and I’ve been able to watch my three-year-old niece and nephew grow, develop and learn new things every day, moments that I would never usually get to see in person. Family, love and friendship is so important and it has made me realize how much we need human contact as a species.
Post-lockdown, what have you been doing? And how do you foresee the future of fashion after this pandemic?
I have been working a lot in London but I have just booked my flight to go back to NYC as work is starting back up there again. I am looking forward to going back to my home in the city and seeing my friends again. Two of my friends who live in upstate New York are pregnant, so I can’t wait to catch up with them and see all their adorable baby buys.
I honestly don’t know about how the pandemic will affect the future of fashion, I think a lot of things will change but honestly I think the industry needed a change too – it needed a good shake up.
Finally, from your experience, what message would you share with everyone out there who loves fashion and wants to break into the industry?
Keep the faith, determination and willingness. Never give up on your dreams and work hard for what you want in life.
Read Alexina's interview in the Fall Winter 2020 Issue 5. Get your copy here.