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After making the rounds for seven years now, one might assume the runway routine is no sweat for Sessilee Lopez. Not quite. “My heart is in my throat before I go out,” says the 22-year-old. “When there’s only one girl in front of me, I’m like, ‘Don’t have a crazy face, Sessilee! No tension in the neck, please!’” She’s apparently worked out those kinks: The Philadelphia native continues to walk in shows season after season, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries van Noten, Hermès, Fendi and Alexander Wang, not to mention Victoria’s Secret in 2008 and 2009. But even after breaking into the uber-elite circle of established girls, Lopez is disarmingly humble. “I still can’t believe I’m in this world,” she says. We chatted with her about being homeschooled, posing on icebergs and close encounters in her apartment building.
You got signed when you were 14. How did it happen?
I went to a convention in Florida. I was so cocky. I was convinced that I was going to get picked up by everyone. But no one showed any interest in me so I was devastated and didn’t want to try again. But my mom was like, ‘No, scratch that. You’re not giving up.’ So we went up to New York and I went to all the open calls and got signed [by IMG. She’s with Supreme now.]
How did you balance school and modeling?
I was homeschooled for all of high school. My mother was a teacher so it wasn’t really that much of a stretch. She was always traveling with me so it was a lot of studying on planes and in hotels after work.
That must have been nice having your mom with you all the time.
Yeah, she kind of adopted everyone in my little model clique. She was the den mother. She has kids all over the world.
You grew up with three sisters. What was that like?
I’m the youngest and the skinniest one so I was like a circus freak. Not to mention how freakishly tall I was; my sisters are all under 5’5’’, and I’ve been 5’10’’ since I was like seven. So they teased me. They still do!
Do you look like your parents?
It’s weird. From like the nose up, I’m my dad and from the nose down, I’m my mom. My personality is split too: I have my mother’s temper, and my father’s logic, which is like a deadly combination.
Is there something you wish you knew when you started modeling that you know now?
The politics. In order to stay sane, I now look at it as a game. If I knew that back then, I probably would have done better. When I first started out, I viewed it as more of a hobby than a job so I was like, ‘Why is this so hard?’ But then I realized that it’s an actual career and you can make a lot of money from it and change your life.
At what point did you realize you had made it?
It took me a long time to realize it. I still hadn’t even after the Vogue Italia cover [in 2008] and working with Steven Meisel all the time. But then one day, I got recognized when I was back home by some, like, thugged-out, gangster dude. And I was like, ‘Wait, how does this guy know about me? He’s not in fashion.’ But he said, ‘You’re the girl from here who made it. You made it! Know that! Own that!’ He took a picture on his phone and said, ‘I’m going to put this on Facebook.’
Who are you favorite designers?
Gaultier is very close to my heart because I’ve been working with him since I was 16. He’s just divine. I mean, his work speaks for itself, but as a person I love him. I’ll do anything for him. I’m like, ‘I just like being around you because you’re such a genius.’ Also, I love Christian Siriano, he’s my little buddy. Marc Jacobs and Joseph Altuzarra are also my favorites.
With the influx of street-style blogs, there’s so much more interest in models’ off-duty style. Do you feel a pressure to dress well all the time since you never know when you’ll be photographed?
Well, for me it’s not so much coming from the blogs but I have three clients that live on my floor in my apartment building. So every time I walk my dog, it’s like a potential casting if I run into them in the hallway. And I run into them all the time. I’m always like, ‘Oh, sorry! I just threw this on!’ and they’re like, ‘No girl, you look fab!’
Who are they?
I’d rather not name them. They’re art directors and stylists.
What was your first major splurge, once you started making your own money?
I bought a phone. It was a long time ago so I had one of those little Nokias, you know the ones with the snake game? So I bought like a $600 PDA, which was like one of the first smartphones. It was like one of those big universal remote control things. It was huge! So that was my first but after that, it was all shoes. I’m addicted to shoes. My mother and I used to just go to Bergdorf’s all the time and go crazy on the shoe floor.
What’s the best trade you’ve gotten?
I don’t know what season it was but I got a trenchcoat after the Marc Jacobs show. There was a closet with things we could take and I just grabbed it and ran before any of the other girls could take it. It’s some kind of animal print in burgundy — it’s absolutely gorgeous.
When you travel for work, what do you make sure to pack?
Definitely an umbrella for London. Neosporin and loads of Band-Aids because we get some fierce blisters. I also take honey with me for when I don’t have time to run out and get it.
Honey? For what?
For a mask. I just slather it on my face. It takes off the dead skin and leftover makeup. I also do an avocado-apricot-honey mask when my skin needs moisture.
Do you have any sort of pre-show season beauty preps?
I more so work on my body, make sure I’m in tip-top shape. August is the time to start working out.
What’s your routine?
I run like crazy on the treadmill. I go literally until I can’t run anymore, and then I work on my stomach. Sometimes I don’t feel like going downstairs to my building’s gym because, again, it’s filled with clients so I’ll do a kickboxing DVD in my apartment.
What’s the most uncomfortable thing you’ve had to wear during a show?
It was a dress for Christian Siriano’s show. It was just very tight so I couldn’t sit down or move. I just had to look straight and take baby steps. And they had dressed everyone at the same time and I was last to walk so it was just a matter of standing for a while. It was this feathery number. I was like, ‘Can I sit?’ and he’s laughing like, ‘Bitch, do you know how many hours I spent plucking those birds?’
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done for a job?
I guess when I posed on icebergs when I shot with Harper’s Bazaar. We shot it in Iceland and I’m a city girl, so I’m like, ‘Wait, we’re going to play on snow?’ I was wearing 8-inch heels and it was slippery so I had to have a safety team there in case anything happened.
What could happen?
In case the iceberg tipped over or to scare away the seals that were popping up on it. I mean, I don’t even like pigeons so I was like, ‘Ahhh!’