With the first installation of The Model Diversity Project complete, Liris refuses to take a break when it comes to industry diversity, inclusivity and speaking up. Proving that now more than ever is the time to take charge, be poised and instill lasting change.
Majour: How did you get your start in Modeling?
Liris: “My start in modeling began when I attended a model convention by Model Search America. This is where they have all the top agencies in the world, some magazines and other companies and casting directors. I walked at the convention and showed my pictures getting callbacks from Elite, Zollie, Michelle Palmier and Seventeen Magazine. The all loved me, but they all wanted me to lose weight. I was so confused like, lose weight where? What are you talking about? I was in high school and I played sports all year round, so it really baffled me. But I really wanted to model so I said, let me see what I can do. I tried to lose weight and went back and did a second convention in my senior year of high school, and only got one callback, from the agency that was already in my area.
After I graduated, I said Oh I’m just going to go to college, but something kept saying no you should move to New York and model. I come from West Indian parents so they’re off course said no and that I needed my education to be a Professor, Doctor or Lawyer, but something just kept telling me to go for it! Thankfully however, I have a very supportive dad that although had a government job, had an entrepreneurial spirit, and let me go for a year and I moved on Christmas day. I went back to Model Search America and they directed me to an agency that had models that they said, “looked more like me”. Sending me to the plus model board. I had no idea plus modeling existed. So, I went met with them and they offered me a contract that same day! So, I signed and did a lot with them!”
Majour: I’ve seen recently that you collaborated to start a project focused on model diversity. Can you tell us more about that, how it got started and who you partnered with?
Liris: “The Model Diversity Project came up from a conversation that me and celebrity makeup artist Christopher Michaels had. We were talking about the lack of diversity in front of the camera with only maybe one black girl on the job or one type of black girl and she was either very dark skinned or racially ambiguous and light skinned. So, he was saying that it is often the same thing with the hair stylists and makeup artists, not being given the same opportunities to branch out and do other campaigns, black makeup artists shouldn’t only be needed for Essence Magazine but other big fashion campaigns as well. So that’s why we created this project, to bring awareness to this and there will be more installations of the project to come. But we definitely wanted to start it off with race. We need diversity within race and the different looks within that race as well. We want to show height diversity, body shape, age, and many skin tones. We want to show that it can be done! So, what are we waiting for?”
Majour: Pertaining to the runway, why do you think we have a model diversity problem in the first place? We see that it is received well when diversity is applied, so why are more brands not taking the diversity route?
Liris: “Old habits die hard! I think we are still dealing with the old regime, and that dies hard too. They feel like it works, so many refuse to do it another way. I think many times the brands are scared, and the designers are scared. Also, I think they are caught up in an old mindset of what is beautiful. They have been taught from the beginning that plus size women are not beautiful, or that seeing a bigger body is gross, then they are not going to change. Brands need to change! We are living in a new time and new world where the possibilities are endless. We need to show them reasons why they need to book somebody different, which is why the Model Diversity Project exists.”
Majour: So how do you think more models could come together to bring more awareness to the issue?
Liris: “First of all, I think we need a model union to protect us financially, physically, and emotionally and to regulate things so that there are more opportunities and things are more open and fair. This has been done for TV and Film so it should definitely be done for models as well. I don’t think it should fall on the model alone, it also falls on the customers. The customer is the one that can demand who and what they want to see, so they need to direct this to the brands, TV shows, the casting directors, and designers. It’s supply and demand. Whatever they have to do to get their voices heard. I think the customer needs to realize that they have so much power to influence change and how they use their voice.”
Majour: You were the first plus size model to walk in Barcelona Bridal Week, Congratulations! This is an amazing milestone, could you reflect on what got you there and how that felt for you?
Liris: “Thank you! Well what got me to that point was my new partnership with Maggie Cetaro. I modeled for them in Barcelona and they reached out to me saying, “we’re doing bridal market in Barcelona, do you think you want to go?” And I said hell yes! And they wanted to use me for small market days and the runway show. It was amazing and also an amazing experience going to Barcelona for the first time and have three looks in a runway show because I was the only plus model in the line-up. And to be a black woman, in Barcelona and in the bridal market, you don’t really see any black plus size models getting these opportunities. The brand services over 60 countries so to be the face of their brand right now and create an opportunity for me to be on the runway like that, its mind-blowing! They didn’t have to do that, but they did, and they didn’t label me, showing that a bride is a bride, no matter what size she is.”
Majour: Do you think the plus-size consumer actually wants to be labeled, or do they just want to be included?
Liris: “I think they want to be included, but I don’t mind the plus-size label at all, because for me it’s just a description. It actually helps me to decide which brands are actually catering to plus size, instead of wasting time looking for my size somewhere else. But as plus size models we definitely want to be respected and be able to go for the same type of campaigns as the other models. Just a few years ago you would never see a plus model in a beauty campaign. I remember being one of the first plus models at New York Fashion Week. We just weren’t given the opportunity. But now I go to a casting and I see a variety of body types going for the same opportunity and that’s great to see! And feels great when there is more than one plus model in the show too. We just want the same fighting chance.”
M: What is one thing that you consistently have done to be different and stand out as a plus model that has worked for you overtime?
Liris: “I test. Many models don’t test, and then they’re unsure about why the client isn’t biting. You need to constantly be saying, ok you didn’t like me this way, here’s another way, how about this? I always change up my look, many years ago I did afro weave ringlets, then I did a pixie cut and now I’ve cut my hair short. You have to constantly reinvent and keep them on their toes, see what the trend is and what the client is starting to open up to. You don’t want to stay stuck always looking the same. Reinvention always test and keeping them on their toes is what has always worked for me. Also, networking, going to events and embracing the culture, meeting people like the producers and casting directors, because yes, they can look online and see your picture, but it doesn’t compare to meeting in person and actually seeing the person’s energy.”
Majour: What do you think could be added to this project in order to bring more awareness to the overall issue?
Liris: “Definitely sponsors and support in order to get the project out to more people and really spread the message. Sometimes you have to run ads and do events there is so much that could be done. We used money from our own pockets to start this initiative so I would love to partner and be sponsored by L’Oréal, Revlon, Covergirl or Dove. We retouched over 30 pictures and created the videos and content which isn’t cheap, so we definitely need to keep the momentum going.”
Majour: What is the next goal for the Project? And is there anything else you would like the readers to know?
Liris: “I would love to make it a whole documentary one day. Or a TV docu-series. But the next goal is to tackle another challenge that we see in the modeling industry. I think age should be next and is so important! Because that’s even the reason I told my parents I needed to move to New York before 21, because I didn’t want them to say I was too old. So that’s the next thing we want to attack and if we can turn that into a bigger conversation, then that, would be awesome! But I would like the readers to know that, my hair and makeup team, including my co-creator Christopher Michael and Nancy, did all the hair and makeup with no assistance, and I really wanted to commit to using signed models first especially for the first installation, because there are so many black models sitting signed and not receiving these opportunities. Also, there is power in a repost, and an add to your story and a tweet, because spreading the word, will spread the message and we’re thankful for that. It’s a labor of love, inspired to create change, and a way to start a conversation.”
Majour: Thank you so much Liris for taking the time out to speak with us! Everyone please be sure to check out Liris website www.lirisc.com for everything Liris Crosse.
Interview By: Laura Longmore