Omahyra Mota (April, 2001)
Voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful People by Paper Magazine in 2001, sixteen year-old modeling sensation Omahyra Mota has already graced the pages of Italian, German and Nippon Vogue. She has also appeared in The Face, ID and Numero magazines and been photographed by Ellen Von Unwerth, Helmut Newton, Richard Burbridge, Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber, Liz Collins and Thomas Schenk among others.
Taking the fashion world by storm, Omahyra (prounounced oh-MY-rah) has also walked the walk for an impressive list of designers including Gucci, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, Roberto Cavalli and Moschino (Milan), Alexander McQueen, Julian McDonald and Boyd (London), and Lucca Lucca, Daryl K and Miguel Adrover in New York.
So when David Bosman, President of Boss Models, took the time to introduce us to Omahyra and told us about the amazing splash she's making at the age of sixteen, we immediately wanted to introduce this extraordinary girl to our readers in this special exclusive interview.
Born in Santo Domingo, capital city of the Dominican Republic, Omahyra came to America when she was ten years old with literally nothing but the clothes on her back. Thanks to the extraordinary courage of her mother and her own strength of character, six years later Omahyra is poised to break out from the pack in an extraordinary flash of personality, humor, beauty, strength, grace and fire.
What was life like growing up in the Dominican Republic?
I cannot tell you about what it's like to work there and other things, because I was very young. But I can tell you it was so innocent. It's such a personal feeling. I wish I could go back so bad, it was so much fun. The people around you, the culture, how everyone lives. The way we used to play, the places we used to go, how much excitement there was just to be alive in those times, we had no cares, no responsibilities. The only thing we had to do was go to school and be good girls, which was a piece of cake. We didn't need expensive toys, we had fun with small things. I will never forget what we did together, how much fun we had together, the places we went, going to the park just to play in the grass, to have picnics. I will never forget.
Do you still have relatives there?
Yes, my father lives there, all the relatives on my father's side, all the family from my mother's side, I have cousins, aunts and uncles. I have family everywhere, in the countryside, in the north, the west, the east, in the center.
Have you been back?
I went back recently and it felt so good. It all comes back to you as soon as you come out of the airport, driving to your old neighborhood, you smell the smell of happiness. It was so powerful for me, and it was so good to go back and realize how important my early life there still is for me. There were so many people I hadn't seen in four or five years. I really felt like I was going home, that warm place you used to live, where everything was so easy and you didn't have to worry about anything, you had no responsibility, you could just be there to have fun. There was nothing bad going through your mind, there was nothing bad around you, everything was so innocent and so nice and pretty. That's how it felt.
Yet here you are modeling in New York at the age of sixteen. You have a lot of responsibility, you have to be a lot more disciplined than most kids, and you're growing up so fast.
It's true. When I was younger my mom always took care of everything. We didn't have to worry about getting visas, we didn't have to worry about bills, we didn't have to worry about being at work on time. Everything was so nice. But now I've moved into an apartment by myself and I have all these bills coming to me for the first time. And with this job you have to be so responsible for yourself, take good care of yourself, you have to know a lot, you have to think so much. I never had all of these responsibilities before. It's too new for me, I haven't even had a chance to live as a teenager, and already I have many adult responsibilities. I can handle them, but there's no chance to gradually get used to it, it's all at once.
How do you balance time with friends, family and for yourself?
I have to dedicate time to my house, my mom and my friends, but I don't have time anymore just to hang out, I never have time to go back home, so I'm calling my mom and my friends all the time just to stay in touch. My friends don't even bother dropping by my house anymore because I'm always working.
I try to give 50% of myself to my family, because I need them to be with me always, and I don't want them to think I've changed, that I don't need them or that I don't care. And I have to dedicate the other half of myself to my job, because it's very important. I have to have every single thing in mind. And I'm constantly checking in with my agent so he can let me know what's going on, what photographers I have to see, appointments, castings, every single thing comes down to me. It's a little bit crazy.
You have to grow up overnight.
Yes, I consider myself an adult. I'm not 21 yet, but I'm working with just as many responsibilities as an adult. There are even some adults who don't have as much responsibility as I do at sixteen. I know it because I've met them. Every model can tell you how crazy this job is, constantly going back and forth, you always have to be thinking.
And I always have to look my best everywhere I go. I can't look worried, I don't want to look as if I'm thinking about something else, I always want to look like I'm just there and I'm happy, you know? You have to look your best to get the job, you've got to be pretty and nice, you've got to look very "up." When I first started I didn't get any sleep. No time to hang out, no time to play, no time to do anything, no time to live the life of a normal sixteen year-old girl, so it's very crazy.
Was the move to America difficult for you?
Yes. We all moved to New York — myself, my mother, grandmother, my sister and two brothers — when I was ten. My mother was determined for us to have a better life and to go to better schools. This is such an amazing country, every school has so many activities and they're all free. When you go to school in my country you don't have music and art and sports like kids do here. Even in the private schools there are very few activities and parents have to pay extra for them. And jobs are so plentiful here, even if you don't have any education. And you can work your way up. In my country it's even hard for people with an education to get a job, but for those without education it's impossible, so for all of these reason we had to come here.
Where did you first stay?
When we arrived in New York we had nowhere to go. We came out of the airport, each of the kids with our clothes in little backpacks and my mom and my grandmother found a payphone. They started calling distant relatives and friends and one of those friends agreed to take us in.
Your mother sounds so brave.
When I think about her I admire her so much. My mom has done so much for us. She was so determined. She decided we were going to move here, she arranged green cards, she borrowed money for airline tickets, she got us all packed, and then she just came.
Once we got here she told us "Ok, we're here now, and to get ahead we're going to do whatever it takes, all of us, we have to fight." I love my mom. I often wonder how she had the courage to risk everything, at her age, with three children. But she always says that she'd do the same thing over again if necessary, and if things didn't work out here, we'd have moved on and tried somewhere else, no matter what. With no money and three kids, all by herself, still she came!
What was it like, your first months in this country?
My mom and my grandmother started working immediately. They didn't speak any English, they didn't know where they were, but they went out and got jobs in a factory and started working day and night, day and night. Now the area we lived in was very bad, you couldn't even go down the stairs by yourself because you'd be stopped and attacked by gangs that were always hanging out in the stairwells.
My mom went to work every day and every night afraid of being attacked just for leaving the building, by robbers, rapists, drug dealers — she was attacked and robbed three times, but she just kept on working. They'd jump you just because you had nice hair, or because they knew you're Spanish, or just that you didn't speak English and couldn't do anything about it.
Even us girls, we were so small, but they're just like "Who cares? I'm mad, I'm pissed off at the world, and if that girl passes by me now I'm just going to punch her in the face," that's how everything used to work. My sister and I were always afraid to go to school because it was the same drama every morning and every afternoon in the stairs.
Did things get better?
Yes, after a few months we were able to move into our own apartment, a little studio, but it seemed so luxurious to us after sharing with another family. We were much better there. My mom kept on working, met my step-father, and after a year we all moved into a house in Astoria. We were so happy there, and then my mom and my step-father were able to buy a house in Corona, Queens.
Did anyone ever tell you should be a model when you were younger?
My mother told me every single day of my life that I was going to become a model, that I was going to be a success. I didn't believe her, but she'd tell me over and over "You're going to go to Hollywood, you're going to be a big star, and everyone's going to take photographs of you everywhere you go, you're going to be so big." As a kid I was just like "OK Mom, whatever ..." (laughs). Even after I turned fifteen, she was still telling me and I was still saying "Yeah, mom, whatever," and thinking to myself "stop thinking so big, you're too unrealistic."
But she kept pushing me to mail out pictures to agencies, and finally, just to make her stop I went online last year with my boyfriend and looked up all the agencies in New York. I copied down all the addresses, sent in all these pictures and then I just waited. I had no hope, but I was able to tell my mom I'd sent the pictures in so she'd leave me alone about it. And I told her: "Now I'm going to show you what you've been saying all this time isn't true. It's okay you're so positive, but stop going over the limit."
Then George called me from Boss Models. They were the first agency that called me and the only one. But George was so enthusiastic on the phone, telling me I was so beautiful and that I had to come in right away. I didn't even want to tell my mom and I almost just ignored George's call, because I knew she was going to say "I told you so." But finally I told mom that someone called from an agency and that they wanted to see me. She just said "See, I told you, this is just the beginning."
How did things get started?
I went in to meet George with my mother, and he was so enthusiastic, telling me I was very beautiful, that he loved my style and I'd have a big career. He told me about how the industry works, how things are done. I've got to say I love my life, because George and Ricky (at Boss Models) have brought me to where I am right now. We have gone through so much together, they were really pushing me because they knew something was going to happen. He kept on, he never wanted to give up.
And now that I've got so many jobs, I'm getting to travel, he's so happy, he gets more excited than I do. He goes to all of my fashion shows, he went to Milan with me, last season he went to every single show, telling me "Myra you're waving your hands too much, you're looking too much to the side, keep focused in front of you," always pushing me so I can do better.
It sounds like you've got a great relationship.
Away from work George and I talk about everything. He knows about my whole life, we have a very strong friendship, and we really can talk about anything together. He's not just my agent he's a real friend, which is very good for me. I know I'm lucky to have him because I've heard from so many girls that their agents aren't like that. The other agencies have so many girls they don't have time to talk, it's just "here's your next job, go." When George calls me, we talk, he wants to know if I've eaten, if I'm feeling ok, he'll tell me if this client calls back we're going to celebrate - he is very special for me.
How did you like working in front of a camera for the first time?
The first time I didn't know what to do, it was impossible. It wasn't like "As soon as the first pictures came out I knew I was going to be a model." No, none of that. I was very scared, I didn't know what to do, what expression to have on my face, how to make the clothes look good. I was very shy to pose. I was very self-conscious around all the other professionals on the shoot, the photographer, makeup, lights, stylist, worried they were looking at me thinking "this girl doesn't know what she's doing."
Later I realized they weren't focused on whether or not I was nervous, they were just doing their jobs. They were making sure the lighting was right, that the clothes looked nice, not about, "Oh my God look at that expression on her face." (laughs). Over time, you get used to it, and you realize the hairdresser is looking at your hair, the assistant is worrying about the lights, the stylist is only looking at the clothes, they're not staring at me. Once I realized this I loved getting my pictures taken, and I couldn't wait for them to come out in the magazines.
What makes a good shoot?
Whenever I'm on a shoot, I try to get everyone working together as a team, to have fun. When everybody's working together well you don't feel the hours. You're really happy, you're really on, because everyone working with you is giving you positive energy. If everyone else is down, tired, it's bad for everybody. Every time is different. Sometimes the atmosphere is bad, too serious, everyone gets divided into groups, no one talks to the models, the photographer is back in the corner and only talks to their assistants, like that.
Is it different working with male models than with girls?
Guys aren't like the girls, they're not always talking about work. They're talking about girls, about surfing, some big wave they caught, the clubs they went to, how they went dancing and everybody was wasted, how much fun they had. They're always talking about something other than modeling. They're very sweet. Guys are just not as competitive.
Speaking about the guys, what do you think of ModelLaunch?
It's very cool. All of the other websites are about girls, you never see anything about the guys in magazines, nobody pays attention to them in the shows, it's just girls, girls, girls. So it's cool you have a men's website, so they can get known and they can have these interviews - they need the attention too.
What was it like going to Milan by yourself for the first time?
I missed my family and my boyfriend so much. And I was thinking 'I'm all by myself in this place, and if I don't think smart, I'm not going to have a success, something bad is going to happen,' because Milan is crazy. Everyone there is totally free, they go crazy, everyone wants to try new things, there are all these teenagers alone in hotels by themselves for the first time, they've got money in their pocket, and if they're looking for trouble all they have to do is get out of bed, get dressed and go out. All the models will tell you about the terrible things that can happen in Milan, terrible things, scandals in the paper. So I knew it wasn't safe and that I had to act like an adult.
You became your own parent?
Yes. Even on the plane over I thought about it and set my own rules about what I would or would not do. And once my mind is made up nothing can bend my rules. It's not like "well, I'm here by myself, no one will know, I want to try something, No! It's once "No!" and that's it, my mind was made up.
Any advice to new models?
Be very, very smart. Think about every single thing you're doing all the time. Think about everything you're going to do before and after. The only thing you need to know is to be smart. If you want this life, you have to go through a lot of shit, but you're getting there and that's what you want. It's not as easy as it seems on MTV and in the movies. People think "it's so easy, I wish I could be that girl, she just poses for pictures and she gets money for nothing." Nobody knows how hard it is until you're in it. So stay smart, and if you get there don't ever forget where you came from, who your family is, and what they've done for you.