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Looking at Sara Sampaio, you’d think she was the most confident girl in the world. With her olive complexion punctuated by a prominent pout and framed by a mass of thick brown hair, she’s like a 20-year-old version of Adriana Lima. “Of course I get insecure. People are so critical, especially on the blogs,” Sampaio says. When she’s not Googling herself, the Portuguese model has been booking big jobs left and right. Since signing with Women Direct in March, she has landed a French Marie Claire cover and campaigns for Armani Exchange and Blumarine, the latter of which she actually shot with Lima. “I was such a dork,” says Sampaio, who’s currently based in Paris. “I was like, ‘Um, Adriana? Can I, um, please have a picture with you?’ I couldn’t help it! I’m such a fan!” Sampaio has something else in common with the Brazilian supermodel: She’ll be in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue in May. After scoring a good amount of commercial work, she has set her sights on the high-fashion market. “I’m so geared up,” she says of starting her first show season next week. “I really can’t wait.”
You just got to town last week. Were you nervous about the hurricane?
I wasn’t until I started hearing the word “evacuate.” That sounds serious. My friend was like, “Come to my house in Rhode Island.” I was like, “Is it really going to be that bad?” My agency sent me an e-mail with this pamphlet on how to prepare, so that didn’t make me feel better. I’m staying in a hotel, and we’re on the eleventh floor, so I was worried, because they were saying your windows might break if you’re floor 10 or higher, but I was fine. People went crazy. It’s like the same thing that happened with the earthquake. I didn’t even feel it and all these people were freaking out. I think people in San Francisco would make fun of us. Like, “That’s no earthquake, guys.”
Is your hometown in Portugal natural-disaster-prone?
Not at all. I grew up in Porto, which is the second largest city, but we lived in the outskirts, like in the suburbs, if you can call it that. It was on the beach. It’s really nice and quiet, the weather’s always warm. That’s why I died when I came to New York. I don’t like the cold weather.
When were you here last?
My first time in New York was in March, and I never felt cold like that in my life. Even when I was living in Paris — it gets cold but not like that. New York cold gets into your bones, and you can’t move. I remember I couldn’t feel my nose or ears.
Besides the cold, what were your other first impressions about New York?
I was a little bit disappointed because I was used to seeing it through movies and TV shows and I got here and it was raining — it didn’t look that good. But then I came back in summer and I love it.
You speak English very well. How did you learn?
I think it’s because I’ve been obsessed with American TV shows. I love all the teenager stuff like “Glee,” “90210,” “Vampire Diaries,” “Gossip Girl.”
You’re about to embark on your first runway season. Have you gotten any advice?
Well, my agency told me how to do my castings. They were like, “Don’t wear any makeup, dress this way, show your personality.” They corrected my walk.
How did they tell you to dress for the castings?
They want me to wear black skinny jeans, which in this weather is not very fun. I was like, “Please let me wear shorts!” But they said no. I’m 5 foot 9, so they want me to look tall, and skinny jeans help elongate. In this weather, I know I’m going to be sweating so much. But I really want to do the good shows, so it’s worth it. I’ll even wear a scarf and hat if I have to!
How did you get into modeling?
I won a contest in Portugal when I was 16. But I was in high school and my parents are strict and said I have to finish school. So I was only modeling part time and doing really small things in Portugal here and there. In America you can do homeschooling, but there you can’t. You have to go to school, you cannot miss any of it, not even a few days. So I finished and went to university in Lisbon. And while I was in Lisbon, I was doing more editorials, then came the opportunity to go international.
What was the contest?
It was for hair, and the prize was to be in a commercial for the brand. It just played in Portugal, but I was like, “Wow! I’m going to be on TV!”
When did you sign with Women Direct?
It was in March. I was in New York to see my boyfriend — he goes to school at Fordham — and I just decided to go to the agencies while I was here. Women’s Direct got me Victoria’s Secret that day. As soon as I walked in, we sat down and they were like, “So tell us the things you’d like to do,” and I was like, “My dream would be Vogue, Chanel. Oh, and I’d really love to do Victoria’s Secret.” And so while I was still at their office, they sent my pictures to Victoria’s Secret, and they wanted to see me right away, so I went for a casting and they booked me. We shot a month later. I’ve shot with them twice since.
Maybe you’ll be an Angel one day.
Fingers crossed. They pay so, so well. That’s a money job you want. Those girls don’t need to do any other jobs. They’re set. But I also want to do high fashion. I want to have a balance.
Everyone says it’s hard to not be put in one category: commercial or high fashion.
Yeah, very few models get both kinds of jobs, because when you’re first starting out, people put you in one or the other. That’s what’s hard sometimes. People sometimes forget we’re human beings.
It’s a critical industry, huh?
The worst is when you read things on the Internet blogs, because people don’t hold back. Sometimes you read wonderful things, but sometimes it’s really awful stuff. Like on the Fashion Spot, for example, people always comment on you. They forget that we might read that stuff.
Do you Google yourself?
Yeah. I need to stop it, though! Sometimes it’s good to find new pictures that are already out that you haven’t seen yet. I find most of the things I’ve done through the Internet. I’m like, “Oh, that’s how that turned out! I look good!”