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As the lights came up on the Rodarte runway, out strode Julija Step, her eyelashes, lips and hair gilded with accents of burnished metallic makeup. It’s no wonder one of fashion’s buzziest labels chose Step to open the show. The 17-year-old Lithuanian is one of beauty’s newest golden girls. This season—only her second on the international fashion circuit— Step walked in 42 shows. In addition to Rodarte, her roster included Marc by Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Rag & Bone in New York; Dolce & Gabbana and Missoni in Milan, and Chanel, Lanvin, Rochas and Nina Ricci in Paris. She’s been photographed by Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue, by Craig McDean for W and Interview, by Chad Pittman for Numéro, and already has a Balenciaga campaign under her belt.
Not bad for a full-time student currently in her junior year of high school back home in Vilnius.
Though she has mastered the requisite runway look of betraying absolutely no emotion as she stalks the catwalk, in real life Step is always smiling, a vivacious, cheerful presence backstage who chats merrily with her model friends and the myriad makeup artists, hairstylists and dressers who surround her as they prepare for the show.
“I am always cheerful, 100 percent optimistic,” she says in impeccable English. “I’m also really stubborn. My father says about me that if I want something, I’m going to get it. And I’m always smiling. I love to smile.”
She kept that smile firmly planted on her face during her first runway experience, at a Gucci resort show in Milan. “It was so exciting,” she says. “I was the youngest girl there, with all of the top models. I didn’t realize how big it was. I just smiled and was nice to everyone—I didn’t know exactly what to do.”
Today, there’s no question that Step is a runway whiz, expertly ticking off the differences between the fashion capitals (“New York is a ball of energy,” she says, while the weather in London “doesn’t always bring the best mood in the morning”) and her fail-proof packing strategy for coping with a solid six weeks of traveling without a side trip home. “Light,” she laughs. “I had one big suitcase, and I tried not to take too many clothes, especially because I knew that in New York I would get a lot of clothes from trade. I’m glad I didn’t bring too much. By the end of fashion week, I had to really squeeze my luggage to close it.”
Step describes her personal style as romantic rather than edgy—Dolce & Gabbana, with its gently tousled updo and glowy makeup was her favorite beauty look of the season—and, like most girls her age, confesses to being an accessories freak. In New York, she toted a chic Celine bag that was a gift from last season. Her beauty routine is minimalist in the way that only a teenager’s can be. Asked about her secret for keeping her skin fresh and clear after a month of having her face made up over and over again, she has to think for a moment, before answering makeup remover.
Discovered while buying some candy at her favorite chocolatier during an outing in the city center, Step wants to finish school before pursuing her modeling career full time. Her strongest subjects are English, art and history, less popular are physics, chemistry and math. “This year I don’t have to take them anymore, and I feel so happy about that.”
Refreshingly down-to-earth despite her heady lifestyle, she ticks off “being responsible, being flexible and being communicative” as the three main lessons she’s learned from modeling. And when asked if there’s any certain model who she particularly admires or looks up to, her response is immediate. “Everybody,” she says. “Every single model who is doing well in the fashion business has her own charm, and I admire all of them.” And if her career follows along its current trajectory, chances are she’ll be just the type of model future aspirants look up to.