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With her tough chick, androgynous allure, Sojourner Morell looks part Samantha Ronson, part Agyness Deyn, with a hint of Vanessa Traina. Just don’t tell that to the 20-year-old newcomer. “I don’t register it because I don’t follow celebrities or even models so I wouldn’t know,” says Morell, a New Jersey native. “I’ve never read gossip magazines and I’m not really been big on watching TV so I’m just like, ‘OK, thanks, I guess!’” While she just started modeling in June, Morell has already landed a British Vogue editorial and a Prada Resort campaign. Next stop: New York Fashion Week. We caught up with her between castings.
Is Sojourner a family name?
Well, you know Sojourner Truth? She did a lot for women’s rights and civil rights during the 1800s. So I’m named after her. And it comes from the French word sojourn, which is like a small stay or trip. So I’m someone who makes small trips, I guess.
How did you start modeling?
I was here to study at NYU and I thought, I’m in New York and I’ve always wanted to see if I could so why not? So I sent pictures to a bunch of agencies and that’s how I got in touch with Wilhelmina.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Princeton, New Jersey. Then we moved upstate to Saratoga, and then I moved overseas by myself.
When was that, and why?
I was 16. It was for horse riding. I first spent half a year in Germany with a school and then I left early. I dropped out between my junior and senior year but it didn’t matter in the end. I guess you can be a high school dropout and still go to NYU. So then I moved to Austria because I joined another riding school there. I did that for a year but it was too much.
It was a riding school academy, and it was like all old men. There were only 16 riders. Me and this other girl were the first girls to ever enroll. And I was the only foreigner. They were all from Vienna. And it wasn’t like they helped me acclimate or find an apartment or anything so I was sort of on my own.
Why did you want to go in the first place?
It’s the best. It’s like the epitome of riding, the highest level so how can I not try it? I never expected them to accept me.
How did it happen then?
I just wrote a letter to them and said, I know you don’t take women, but maybe I could come and ride for you? And then they wrote back to me and said, ‘Please come for an interview.’ So I went over, rode for them in this palace, and they were like, ‘We like you. Can you start tomorrow?’
And then after a year you applied to NYU?
Yes, I’m still enrolled there, but am taking a year’s leave of absence to pursue this and see how it goes.
This is your first fashion week. How are you feeling?
I’m a bit nervous. Yesterday was my first day of castings and that was intense, a really full day. But in comparison to the other girls, I got off easy; I only had six casting gigs. But it’s just very physically trying. You’re running everywhere, rushing to get your shoes on and chucking your shoes off. You get there all gross and sweaty and you’re like, ‘I don’t look so good right now.’
Did your agency give you any tips on your walk?
Shoulders back, chin up that kind of thing. They said walking on your toes more so that your heels is important so you’re not clunking down. Apparently, some of the runway heels aren’t so stable so you can’t really put a lot of weight on them or they’ll snap. So you have to sort of tiptoe. We practiced a lot because I don’t normally wear heels. I have big feet, size 10, so I hope they have shoes that fit at the shows. I did this shoot a couple of days ago and all of the shoes were a size too small. After standing there for 20 minutes, my feet were purple and throbbing.
How many castings do you have today?
Um, a lot, eight or nine. It’s good when you have a lot. It doesn’t feel like as much pressure. If one doesn’t go well you have others to look forward to.
Are any of them biggies?
I went to Alexander Wang yesterday, which was huge. The space is beautiful space. I was like, “Oh, I like this. I want to stay here. I got a little nervous when I saw him, even though he was only there for a second. He has a remarkable face. I’d love to formally meet him.