At 28 years old it’s clear that Luma Grothe is just getting started. The bar has been set high by the go-getting model, actress, L’Oréal Paris Ambassador, and co-founder of clean beauty brand, Boie USA. She hails from a small town in Brazil but is now based in New York. Here, Grothe talks to Maggie Jones of 5’ELEVEN” about her unwavering passions; what it means to be an artist and how she’s pioneering change for future generations to come.
Words by Maggie Jones.
It’s a heavy and humid day in New York’s Williamsburg neighbourhood, where we find a bustling team prepping for today’s cover shoot, ready to make fashion come to life. Nestled within the commotion is the production’s focal point, Luma Grothe herself, who arrived on set in an unassuming model-off-duty uniform of a powder-blue midi skirt coupled with a cropped white tank top. Not so long ago, she used to run around the streets of Manhattan clutching her portfolio of images heading into studios much like this one for make-or-break career castings and fittings.
That was then, and now it’s suffice to say that Grothe is in her element and hitting her stride. “I feel really powerful,” she comments on the dark ensemble she’s adorned in, “like a sexy villainess… or I can change the mood to whatever I feel.” In her impressive nine-year career, since her international debut in 2013, Grothe has ascended to the top of the modelling industry. Collecting exclusive runway clients from Burberry and Versace to the now defunct Victoria’s Secret fashion show, Grothe has also appeared in the pages of Numeró and Vogue. She is most widely known for her work as an ambassador for L’Oréal Paris and Paco Rabanne, to which she has also been immortalized as a wax figure in the famed Madame Tussaud’s.
Growing up, none of this success seemed even possible, “I knew nothing about fashion [in the beginning],” recalls Grothe. “It was definitely a 180° switch, I’m a quick learner though… I observed a lot.” Aged 14 she was plucked from her hometown and whisked away to the high-fashion world in Europe. “My best friend forced me into a modelling competition,” remembers Grothe. “I did not want to go because I came from a very small town and I had no idea what modelling really meant, and it just sounded like something so far out of my reality.”
Within a month, armed with her first ever passport, Grothe was on her way across the Atlantic Ocean, “I was in Milan and I was sent on nine or ten castings a day, trying to get work,” Grothe says as she thinks back on time. “I then spent three years in London where I was working every day actually but I was working for free… little magazines or test shoots here and there. I didn’t make any money for the first four years of my career.” The start was anything but glamorous for Grothe. “It’s kind of wild, I was really a baby, I was just beginning to really discover what it was like to be a woman,” Grothe says before pausing to lean in, “it’s just so young, so very young… but it was good, because I really learned how to model. The photographers taught me about light, design and how to move with the speed of different cameras.” Grothe’s early crash course prepared her for “the good jobs, for the important jobs.”
After four years of little exposure or income in the European market, Grothe was just about ready to call it quits when a penny board of all things was her career-making catalyst. Grothe remembers the day fondly, “it was crazy because I was living on pocket money from the agency, so I was really struggling at the time. I didn’t have any money to take the metro, so I had to take my penny board to the casting and then all of a sudden it was the casting director from Burberry who was like ‘Oh! Look at that girl! She’s so boyish, she’s so weird, she’s kind of dirty looking! I don’t know, but I like her!’” says Grothe with an easy smile. She pins her work with Burberry as, “the moment my career took off… Burberry was the first client who really saw me for who I was. I got booked not for an image or a dream of something [I’m not]. It was my first opportunity, and I really took that opportunity.”
"the moment my career took off… Burberry was
the first client who really saw me for who I was."
After that show, a star was born and the phones didn’t stop ringing for Grothe, who went on to a breakout season. On the other end of one of those phone lines was Paco Rabanne. “I found out so much about my womanhood in working with them,” reflects Grothe. “It was a really incredible journey… they saw women as warriors and so I first understood that’s how powerful we can be.”
In an industry built on obsolescence, Grothe has maintained longevity thanks to her authenticity in all environments. What you see is exactly what you get from Grothe, a Sagittarius who thinks, “it’s important to be real and to be a person… but I do struggle with social media very much.” As an early adopter of Instagram, (the star boasts 320k followers), she shares her life with behind-the-scenes snippets from editorial shoots to karaoke nights with her friends and is even at her most vulnerable as she posts excerpts of her journal.
It's clear Grothe is a rare anomaly who is equipped to navigate unstable times with grace and emotional maturity. Speaking of the last two years in particular, “Everything has changed so much… of course a lot of things had to be changed,” muses Grothe. “In the industry we see a lot more diversity now, we see a lot of really important political conversations that matter… with brands now, everything is more of a statement.” One welcomed change is the ability to use her own voice as a call to action, Grothe asserts that, “when I started modelling, I was told that I should not say a thing on set, that I should be a hanger. Now they want to see personality, they want to see what you have to say.”
A champion of promoting inclusion and demoting the stereotypical cattiness of the industry, Grothe was not afraid to speak her mind when she found issues on set in her earliest days. Grothe recalls, “there was a lot of competition between [the models] and it was not okay. I really felt like this is not what this is supposed to be about.” Grothe decided to act and harnessed her newfound potential to be heard and took charge. “It takes a little bit of courage,” she recalls, “sometimes it’s about just being honest and saying, ‘Hey, let’s have this conversation. ‘What do you think about the importance of women supporting women?’ Let’s talk about that.’” The guts and bravery to foster challenging conversations worked as Grothe later recalls that, “Things started to shift, I made friends who are still my best friends today… these girls know the value of sisterhood.” Grothe continues, “women have had to fight for their rights forever and I think that if we don’t have each other then we are really going to be in a pickle here.”
Perpetually in motion, it’s easy to get lost within the constant shape-shifting life of an artist. On set, Grothe moves with almost feline qualities, able to dance the delicate tango between the photographer–muse relationship with uncanny ability. Yet Grothe’s understanding of who she is in the world and how she can affect it has led her down the ancillary career path of acting. “I have always been a storyteller, and a little bit of a performer… I’ve always been super passionate about movies.” For Grothe, who is currently studying the Meisner Technique in New York, “It’s the most vulnerable and emotional experience I’ve ever had in my life. I had to unlearn so much from fashion… in acting the uglier from the inside the better.”
The challenge doesn’t stop there for Grothe, who understands the preconceived notions that are attached to models who fall into acting simply because they can, and because pretty is both a power and a currency in the modern day world. “As a model when we do things like this, we have to work harder than anyone, which I think is great,” affirms Grothe. “A lot of people think that when [models] go into acting we are there because we look a certain way or because it’s the obvious thing to do, but people never consider that we are passionate about it. Constantly I have to prove myself over and over again, but it makes me even more excited.”
Finding mentors in the likes of fellow L’Oréal Paris Ambassador Jane Fonda, and drawing inspiration from artist Frida Kahlo, Grothe is keen on giving back to the arts that have been so kind to her. “I want to invest in more women-owned businesses,” says Grothe. “Wherever women are involved in filmmaking, I want to support them… I wish more women would’ve done that for me when I was really young.”
“I want to invest in more women-owned businesses”
For all of her superhuman vigor, Grothe still proves to be equally as mortal as the rest of us, “I’m trying to keep hydrated also, but like drinking water? When will I have time to do that?” Before she can take a breath to answer her own question, Grothe is called for her next shot, and is whisked away in her stark black ensemble. If her record is any indication of the future, something tells me she’ll find a way to triumph every task on her list – from the lofty to the mundane – all by way of being her signature, authentic self.
You can find this piece in the Fall Winter 2022 Issue 9: Purchase your copy here.