Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Still reeling from walking the last ever Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show we catch up with Manon Leloup who has walked his shows for every season since 2013. Our cover model reflects on the impact of positive changes she has seen in the modelling world and how she is redefining her own craft by taking up the camera to film and document the diversely fascinating people she gets to work with and meet on her various travels.
Words by Edwin S Freyer. Photography by Diane Betties. Styled by Alton Hetariki.
* This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4 *
Let's go back to the beginning. How did you get into modelling?
A small agency scouted me in my hometown, on the streets of Lille in Northern France when I was about fifteen. I was a typical teenager and insecure about my body and my looks. I also thought that modelling was too ‘girly’ and glamorous for me. Then, about two years later, I changed my mind because I was very interested in theatre, cinema, and photography and so decided to give modelling a try and take it as an acting thing. It was a tough start, it took a while to sign with my mother agency in Brussels, who then got me signed with Marilyn PARIS, a top agency with huge clients. I was so impressed that I wasn’t very confident. I wanted to travel so I went to Milan and then Madrid, but everything was incredibly difficult and frustrating until I asked my agency about going to New York.
You haven't missed a single Jean Paul Gaultier show since your first in 2013. What is your relationship with him like? How special was this last show celebrating Gaultier’s 50th anniversary and final show.
I cannot get over the fact that we just celebrated the last Jean Paul Gaultier show. I still cannot believe that I was chosen every time, I’m so grateful to him. It was such a blessing to be part of the Gaultier family and walk the most enjoyable show in fashion week. Like many people, I feel very closely aligned with JPG’s philosophy that fashion is something that has to be joyful and help you embrace you own personality and body shape. I love his humour and his ability to be provocative while still being elegant. Gaultier’s clothes are so beautifully made that anyone of any age and any size feels amazing in them. I never felt as though I owned my outfit as much as I did on his catwalk.
COVER : Floral printed chiffon dress by Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini.
You filmed a fascinating insider documentary 'Paroles de Poupées' about the models during Fashion Week, portraying yourself, Yumi Lambert, Marine Deleeuw, Kate B and all the colleagues that you had alongside you during that season. What are your best memories of that documentary?
Thank you for mentioning my documentary! I really enjoyed doing the full fashion week with a camera in my hands. I don’t remember if it was my second or third season but it’s funny how I didn’t realise then that everything was still pretty new. I didn’t overthink anything, I was just filming my reality and the girls around me. That’s what made it interesting and fresh. At the time, after it was sold to a French TV channel; I struggled to talk about it because it was almost too personal.
What advice would you give to new faces?
Of course I would advise them to be themselves and not try to change their looks and personality to please agencies and casting directors. It’s always individuality that wins. There is space for every personality and style. Do not forget that the agency is working for you, with you, not the other way around. I would also advise them to keep their original passions alive by studying or reading. It’s easy to become a bit lazy when you start earning money at a young age and have agents telling you when and where to go. It’s great to keep some time saved for family or childhood friends and to be able to take a step back from the fashion snobbery.
How would you describe success?
I think success is to be able to use every ounce of your potential. To be successful is just feeling that you are living the way you decided to and to keep evolving.
You’re also a photographer, how did the behind-the-camera interest start?
I started photography in an analog lab club when I was around fourteen. I always had friends coming over so I could photograph them. I also went to a cinema specialised high school where I learned cinema history, image analysis, scenario writing and basic movie shooting techniques.
What did you learn working in front of the camera with Annie Leibovitz, David Sims or Inez & Vinoodh?
They all have very different ways of working and with every different photographer, you enter into a different world. David Sims is amazing at directing models, he makes them feel like muses. In technical terms, he is a lighting genius and can change the whole atmosphere of a photo in two seconds. Inez & Vinoodh are very easy-going, both of them are behind two cameras and they use a choreographer to help models move in a certain way. I shot a very commercial job with Annie Leibovitz and she was working with a lot of very clear references, most of which featured actresses. The set was very settled and controlled. I’m always excited to work with a new photographer and I feel lucky to be able to see the making of and then see the results, which are usually very surprising compared to how it felt on set. I think one of the beauties of modelling jobs is the trust that you give to a photographer.
Who or what inspires you to take up the camera?
I love very different styles of photography, so I’ve always admired Nan Goldin’s esthico-documental style based on her own life since a very young age. I also love Paolo Roversi for his cinematographic and textured lighting and Viviene Sassen who creates a more graphic and formal modern art. People with their own personalities and style often inspire me so they’re who I naturally want to photograph, rather than models. Cinema makes me want to create atmosphere and have a distinct perspective on the subject.
Makeup & hair by Natalia Vermeer using Milk Makeup and Less Is More products
Retouching by Kushtrim Kunushevci. Set assistant, Nefeli Sachverdyan.
Manon appears courtesy of UNO Models.
'Postcards from Athens' appears in Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4. Get your copy here.