Interview with stunning model, artist & actress Simone Aptekman who is also the co-founder of the Model’s Bill of Rights Movement.
In 2016, Simone was the youngest female to attain her master’s degree from The F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business and was Valedictorian of her graduating class. Shortly thereafter, Simone relocated to New York where she was scouted for a month-long fashion editorial in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, and Laos by Raphael Mazzucco. Simone traveled with her typewriter, and while in Vietnam, was simultaneously working on her first manuscript “daytime fantasies with night vision;” writing on a vintage 1954 Royal Quiet Deluxe Typewriter, which was Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter of choice.
Hi Simone, please tell us a little about you?
Hey Naluda Mag! I am a model, typewriting poet, and co-founder of the Model’s Bill of Rights Movement. Growing up in Boston, MA I was balancing academics and modeling. I always had my head buried in a textbook; I loved my college library, and whenever I had an essay due I treated the writing as art. My passion and involvement with my family’s business, an automotive aftermarket chemical manufacturing company called Hi-Gear Products, inc., gave rise to my entrepreneurial spirit and eventually I became the youngest woman with an MBA from the F.W. Olin Graduate School at Babson College. After graduate school, I decided to move to New York and pursue modeling in arguably the biggest market. My journey to get to where I am today was very compelling and I will share it with you throughout this interview!
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Quirky, Passionate, Academic, Empathetic. (Sorry that was 4!)
Who was your role model as a child?
My parents! Such risk takers. They both came to the US in the early 90s; leaving the Soviet Union behind right as the Iron Curtain was coming down. They met at a mixer of Russian immigrants and it was love at first sight. They were engaged almost instantly and began to build their American Dream. As a family unit, we all worked together to learn English, assimilate to the culture, and support my father’s vision for his business. While my parents had little, they put everything they had into my brother’s and my education. My parents were innovators and dreamers. My father was an extremely charismatic and magnetic person and it was earth shattering for us when he passed. My steadfast and incredibly resilient mother began to run the business. I swear she is Superwoman and hangs up her cape every night.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?
First thing I do in the morning is usually say something like “RISE AND SHINE” to my fiancé and then bolt for the coffee machine. The last thing I do before bed is my skincare routine.
How did you get started in modeling?
Initially I was modeling in Boston while going to school. I was working a lot and running between class and shows for Saks Fifth Avenue and sometimes even back to class! I would get very frustrated when I would have to miss opportunities because of academic conflicts; but I always put academics first. So I decided that when I finished grad school, I would free myself up to try modeling full time. And that’s when I moved to New York and started meeting with agencies. It was a stressful process to say the least. There was one time where I was offered a contract but then was told one out of the ten agents changed her mind. I already had a copy of the contract. I share this with you to show that it’s not always so straightforward; it can be very nuanced and can take time. But then suddenly, something very interesting happened…
I went to an art opening in Manhattan and was scouted for a month long editorial in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Laos. I decided to go (although I was obviously a bit nervous…) I am the kind of person that chooses the path less taken. As a writer, I obviously like unique stories. This was mine and I knew that when I came back to NYC I would have a beautiful portfolio. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I would also have a beautiful artistic awakening for my writing and nourishment for my soul.
As you can imagine, the set everyday was totally unpredictable and not your typical “studio test.” I was challenging myself to get the best shots. I climbed waterfalls and trudged through rice fields. After having a significantly long writers block, I also began to write again. And it was beautiful poetry. I also met a Vietnamese girl roughly my age who had never left 1 mile beyond her home since birth. We shared a lot of stories with each other and I showed her all the contents in my suitcase. I ended up leaving most of those items with her before we set out to drive the next 3,000 kilometers the next morning. In that moment I realized that all that is hoarded is lost and all that I gave is mine.
When I returned to New York, I struggled to assimilate back to the pace and the ruthlessness of the city. I was mentally still in that euphoria that I had discovered in Vietnam. I went to Gramercy Typewriter, a sort of speakeasy typewriter repair shop that selectively sells typewriters, and I purchased my first Royal Quiet Deluxe from 1954. I rode the train back to Columbus Circle with the case wedged between my legs. I got home and wrote all night. I typed over photographs and postcards, maps from Vietnam, anything I could feed through my typewriter. This was the start to my mixed media poetry. Slowly but surely, I got back to my regular programming and finally signed with my first agency.
Castings, shoots, events – I began to build the foundation of my identity as a model. I was however disappointed with the lack of accounting transparency with my agency at the time. Eventually, I was scouted at a restaurant in NY by The Industry Model MGMT and went on to sign with their NY, LA and Miami offices. I am also now represented by MP Management in Atlanta.
How has modeling changed your life?
Prior to modeling, I had my head buried in books! I was very book smart but lacked exposure, awareness – street smarts. Modeling totally changed that. I lived in many different cities alone– La, Milan, and spent time in Vietnam. Modeling also was a beautiful springboard for me into writing and activism as I decided to entwine my business acumen and knowledge into helping other models with the legalese in contracts, knowing their rights, to ensure that everything is bilateral.
What modeling projects you have done and which ones are still on your bucket list?
The month long modeling project in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, and Laos set the bar pretty high. The photographs/artwork are displayed in many galleries all over the world but more importantly it was a very enlightening journey. My ultimate project would be Vogue Armenia (I am Russian/Armenian).
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
It is very spontaneous and I love that energy; I like to plan but I also like to say yes to life as it happens. As a model and artist, you have to be okay with this concept. Recently, ever since I co-founded the Model’s Bill of Rights, I have been able to wed my passion for business and justice with modeling. And now I feel like due to my hard work and effort in building my brand, I have a platform and a voice and can help others in my own unique way.
The most important thing when you are shooting is?
Creative energy with the team. I love when everyone collaborates and the final product (the photos) are amazing—everyone feels grateful and rewarded to be a part of the story and goes home feeling inspired and fulfilled.
What’s your advice for the newer models?
Never sign anything without taking it home and reading it first! Often times when models get their contract, they sign immediately. Specifically, in NYC, it is so competitive and complicated to get started properly. But I urge models to exercise due diligence and READ the boilerplate (sorry this is my Contract Law nerd mode coming out). Watch out for clauses that are financially predatory! If you’re not sure of the fit, ask for 1 year instead of 3. Just realize that they are AS lucky if not MORE to have you on their board. This is sort of an intro to the substance and purpose of The Model’s Bill of Rights which I will talk about it in a moment!
My second bit of advice would be related to nutrition. Agents may ask you to lose weight but I urge you to do this over time rather than suppressing food intake. If you lose quick, you will gain quick. Instead, if you implement a doable diet and exercise plan, this is way more sustainable. Don’t count calories but instead just try to eat less packaged food (farm to table is ideal!) and try to do some form of exercise every day. Drink less alcohol too! Alcohol inflames you. Everything in moderation…
Biggest beauty inspiration? Why?
Natural beauty! Minimal makeup and healthy skin is unparalleled in my opinion!
How would you explain your fashion style and what items in your closet can you not be without.
Okay so there’s such as a thing as Pathetic Fallacy which is when the weather is in unison or somehow indicative of the mood. That is my fashion style – depends on my mood that day. Some days I dress like a tomboy—baggier jeans and a t-shirt with a cool handbag, kicks, and vintage sunglasses. Some days I am rock and roll – leather head to toe, moto boots, and my favorite Dior skater chain. Other days, I am office chic with a button down and pony tail. Sometimes vintage head to toe! I am very quirky in general and I never match but somehow it always makes sense! I love hunting on The Real Real and I love consignment shops in NY. I cannot live without my Gianvito Rossi plexi pointed toe pumps –they are black and nude and go with everything. I also adore my long leather jacket by The Row. Out in NY, you will tend to see me out in different gloves. I joke with people so it’s that I don’t leave my fingerprints anywhere (lol) but it actually always just takes me back in time and is the perfect accessory.
Now tell us about “Model’s Bill of Rights?”
I collaborated with Federico Pignatelli, owner of The Industry Model Management and Pier59 Studios, to create the Model’s Bill of Rights Movement which sets specific standards and guidelines to mitigate financial duress, protect models’ fundamental rights, ensures safe working conditions, and promotes education for models to understand the legalese in contracts. I was the voice for the models, having had documented an entire manuscript of grievances, and Federico had the wheelhouse to expose this reality as he is a major industry leader.
Standardization is crucial. My goal is to have every agency provide a copy of The Model’s Bill of Rights with a copy of the contract to the model, so she can be informed and in a position of strength upon signing her contract. I recently went live on a podcast for iHeart Radio where I discussed the purpose and goals of The Model’s Bill of Rights Movement.
My hope is to see heightened transparency regarding contracts, working visas, payment, and taxes so that models have more control over their career in order to protect their present and future.
Why did you decide to create this?
I myself had been undergoing grievances (mainly in the form of withheld payments) in my previous representation. While in a pilates class, I overhead a few models talking about similar experiences and I became privy to the fact that I wasn’t alone. I decided to host a gathering in my apartment and invited models from different agencies. They shared their stories; I documented them all. A lot of these models were on 01 Visas sponsored by their agencies and therefore were scared to speak up, so I became the voice for them. I went to school for business, concentrated in contract law, and then got my masters degree in business which in turn led me to be able to identify generally insufficient business practices and more specifically fraud and predatory contracts.
What would be a deal breaker on a first date?
A man speaking poorly of his mother!
What is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?
Getting pulled over for going almost double the speed limit! The power went out, phone died, and in turn my alarm didn’t go off… it was the last day of finals in grad school and I was on my way to have a 4.0 GPA. The exam was in 20 minutes. I lived in the city and it was always difficult to get on the highway quickly in the morning. So as soon as I got on my highway (in some strange outfit and a pen) I floored it. Not before long, I saw the blue lights. When the officer approached my window, I explained to him that it was the last exam and I needed to get an A to get a 4.0 for the program. He oddly sympathized, and put his flashing lights on and followed me to campus so that I could take my exam. I handed my driver’s license to him before I ran to the auditorium. In Massachusetts (and I think in every state) going double the speed limit (especially on a highway) results in being arrested. So I thank that man for being overly understanding that day! I ended up getting the 4.0!
How would your best friend describe you?
Very honest, nurturing, and clairvoyant.
What is your own definition of happiness?
Spending time with whoever brings you the most peace. Feeling accomplished and fulfilled. Being deep in love. Feeling inspired. A long car ride with someone you love. Exploring and learning. Chocolate Soufflé.
How is a normal day in your life?
Coffee. Blending a smoothie. Coffee. Modeling job/casting. Projects/Writing/Errands/Interviews/pseudo interior designer. Pilates. Cooking dinner. Movies in bed. (That was my day today)
If I am in NYC then I would do a movie premier or event in the evening, dinner at Lucien, an Espresso Martini.
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Being outside. Sitting at a cute brasserie with my loved one with a yummy coffee, totally chilling. Doing a barbeque at my brother’s house in Massachusetts… all cooking together and relaxing.
What’s next for Simone Aptekman in 2019?
Spontaneous trips, jobs, The Model’s Bill of Rights, good surprises, interviews, writing, and feeling inspired.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Cher! I think she is iconic. She has Armenian roots like me and I have this sort of vision of starring in a film with her about her life and career, acting in the role of young Cher.
What is your favorite healthy food?
I love kale salads with grilled chicken, chopped boiled eggs, and avocados.
And your favorite cheat food?
Any sort of bread (bagels…) or dessert (soufflé…lemon meringue pie…PUMPKIN PIE)!
Best advice ever given?
Don’t sweat the small things (and it’s all small things) 😉
Do you support any charity?
Yes! I have supported HOFF – Humans of Fashion Foundation –ever since it was co-founded by Antoinette Costa and Kristina Romanova. HOFF is a platform to connect members of the fashion community to a pro-bono professional network. They also educate through Hoff Academy which I recently did a segment for. There are a lot of parallels between HOFF and The Model’s Bill of Rights because both are trying to empower and educate individuals in the fashion industry.
Name 3 things you can’t live without?
Love. Inspiration. and Adventure
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
Growing into my potential even more! And enjoying what I do as a model, artist, and activist. I hope to be a role model for girls entering into the fashion industry by remaining honest, sharing my journey, and my advice based on my business background!
Favorite song? Why?
Be My Baby – by The Ronnetts. It’s always my mood!
What music do you like?
Music from all decades. I like to alternate between classics, rock, disco music (Studio 54), good EDM (DJSIMA on Soundcloud lol), and then sometimes I dip into Hip Hop.
What do you think of Social Media?
I go through stages where I am very active and stages where I just go offline for a little while. I think it can be a powerful tool to convey a message and definitely a very relevant way to display your work and identity as a model nowadays; however, I do think social media can be idealistic and harmful. And I fear people become dysmorphic because they compare themselves to something that is not always authentic.
Where we can follow you?
Quote: Grass does not strain itself to grow
Favorite Singer/Artist: Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, Prince, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones
Movie: Dirty Dancing
Travel Destination: St. Petersburg
Drink: Espresso Martini or a Paloma
Sports Team: The Patriots
TV Show: The Americans and true crime docuseries