Coco Rocha has always brought myriad talents to her career as a model. Whether dancing an Irish jig to open Jean Paul Gaultier’s 2007 winter collection or her high speed pose video for Jeremy Kost in 2011, Rocha is a master of her body and its movements. Her recent book photographed by Steven Sebring is aptly titled The Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coca Rocha, and showcases her body as an infinitely reforming sculpture. We caught up with the the mother-to-be to talk about the book, her modeling career, and the experiences that shaped her life.
Can you tell us about the genesis of your book with Steven Sebring?
It started off almost as a joke! You know how everyone has those dream projects in life that they talk about, maybe an app they would love to make, or a TV show idea they had once while driving to work. Steven told me about his dream project of making an encyclopedia of poses. We laughed about it at the time, but I remember going home and discussing it with my husband and being like, “you know what, let’s do this, I love this idea”. So we emailed Steven and let him know we were serious about it. I think we booked out the time to shoot it the very next week. We started out hoping to make some kind of a compendium of poses, but it became something deeper to me – my homage to every painting, movie, still and image that’s influenced me and my work as a model over the 10 years I’ve been modeling. It’s really interesting to look through the book and see poses that take cues from classic art like Michelangelo’s David, and others that are clearly referencing pop culture icons like Grace Jones.
What inspires you to move in front of the camera, what feelings are you evoking from frame to frame?
I’ve been booked for jobs where they want me to play someone completely different than who I am, and I’ve been booked for jobs in which they want me to just play myself. I think the best models are able to do both – and personally, I love to get into a good character. I think models should be like silent actresses, and the only way to really get into another character is to abandon your fear of looking silly. I’ve found that the further you throw yourself into a role for a picture, the more you push it and the less you worry about looking cute, the better the shot. I remember on one shoot I was asked to play Jane Fonda’s character in the 1963 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? The film and the shoot were based around a 1930s dance competition, where couples literally danced for days on end, pushing past pain and exhaustion for prize money. We shot inside a hot warehouse in Brooklyn for three long days and I literally was a hot, sweaty exhausted mess for most of the shoot. It was basically method-modeling! My favorite shoots are always the ones that have a very specific narrative and story behind them, and in my 10 years modeling I’ve been asked to channel everything from a clown to a rich housewife to a crazy old lady. One photographer even asked me to channel a didgeridoo – and to this day I’m not sure what he meant!
Your Irish-jig for the opening of Gaultier’s show in 2007 was lauded by fashion folk worldwide. How has dance subsequently informed your modeling career?
Before I modeled, I danced – and I was actually scouted at an Irish dance competition when I was 14. For me, dance has been hugely helpful. As a young model, my dance background allowed me to feel more comfortable moving my body and being watched “performing” by an audience. I was never shy about moving and trying new things while modeling, or even messing up. With dance you practice and practice until you stop making mistakes, and I treated modeling the same. These days I don’t train for dance anymore, but I’m frequently asked to dance on set, so I still feel like I get to fulfill that passion. Even if I’m not dancing specifically, I still treat each shoot as if it was a performance, so many of the same principles come into play: line, proportion, poetic motion – it’s all important.
How have you evolved as a woman since your early modeling days?
I started at 14 and I’m 26 now, so it’s a world of difference. I have a confidence now that I didn’t have in the beginning. A lot of pressure can be placed on a model to compromise, and many feel like they need to give up their values and beliefs in order to “make it” in this industry. On the contrary, I think I’ve found that integrity is usually rewarded in the long run. It’s a hard career for a teenager to enter, though: you need to have thick skin when hearing “you’re too fat” or “too skinny” at castings and even on social media. Often you’re literally being judged on your looks alone, and it is hard not to take that personally.
What have been your greatest challenges as a woman in the fashion industry?
Models generally start at a very young age – I was 14, as I said. At that age you are so vulnerable and easily influenced. I remember a photographer tried to threaten me into taking a semi-nude photo. It was a horrible experience and one that I know has happened to many young girls. That’s one of the reasons I lobbied very hard in 2012 to have the state change its protection of underage models. They are just children, after all; there was no reason they shouldn’t have protections built into place as young actors, singers and dancers have had for years. Another challenge I’ve faced is criticism. Ours is definitely a culture of criticism and you see it very clearly online. I remember speaking out on issues that were important to me and the response I saw from anonymous commenters was shocking. It was basically “shut up and just be happy that you’re tall and someone the industry considers beautiful.”
If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I’m really content with who I am and where I am in life. If I could change anything I’d probably give myself a great singing voice. That’s one thing I wish I could do, sing beautifully.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself that it was all going to be ok. That even though the road ahead would be difficult, full of obstacles and road-blocks, I would make it through 10 years of modeling without having to change who I was, without having to give up the morals and beliefs I held dear.
The moment/experience that changed your life?
The day I realized I was pregnant was an overwhelmingly huge moment for me. From one instant to the next I became a mother, responsible for a tiny life growing inside of me. It’s an amazing and humbling feeling. In the months that have passed not a moment goes by that I don’t think about this little girl, and I know that’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of my life.
Words to live by?
I was once told “it’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.” Fame and accolades are great, but if you’re not a good human being, and if you’re not kind to others, what can you really feel proud of?