For the Senko sisters, it’s all in the genes. Born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Maria Senko, 19, is a middle child; her older sister Ksenia, 23, is already an established model, and the stars are starting to align for her younger sister Polina, who’s shaping up to be a model at just 11 years old. “We all have the same faces. We are all tall and we all look so similar,” said Maria, who is 5-foot, 9-inches tall. “My elder sister and I are almost like twins.”
With four years already under her belt, Senko is looking far ahead. But not only for herself. “I wanna be my little sister’s agent,” Senko said of Polina, who she has endearingly nicknamed “Little Senko.” “I already know how everything works. I already know where to place her and who will love her. When she’s 14, I’m gonna [bring] her to New York City. She is my little baby. I miss her so much.”
The Wilhelmina-repped Senko just finished her first big runway season in New York, walking for The Row, DKNY, Vivienne Tam, Jeremy Scott, Dion Lee, Milly, Tadashi Shoji, Rebecca Minkoff and Nanette Lepore, as well as the Jenny Packham and Reem Acra bridal shows last month. Overseas, she walked Dsquared2, Temperley London, Roksanda Ilincic, Trussardi and more. She’s also racked up editorials in Glamour Italia and Husk magazine.
Currently living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Senko skipped across the river to WWD’s Manhattan office to talk model basketball teams, John Galliano’s personality and even her past life as a fish.
WWD: How did you start modeling?
Maria Senko: I had been playing basketball from seven years old. When I was 13, somebody told me, “Maria, don’t you wanna be a model?” I was like, “But I’m a basketball player!” I didn’t think it would work. All my life, they were telling me, “You have such long legs, you have to be a model.” But I had so many scars from childhood. I was like, “Look at my legs! They’re all scratched and red!”
WWD: But you eventually followed your older sister’s lead?
M.S.: Yeah. My elder sister [Ksenia] suddenly decided to go to the modeling agency. And then after her, I went to a photo studio in Saint Petersburg. I was 14. We took a lot of pictures there and then I took the pictures to a different agency, by myself. I decided to go to a different agency than my sister because we are like twins. They saw the huge potential in me and they said, “Let’s send her to Europe and Asia.” And then I just started to travel.
WWD: Did you finish high school first?
M.S.: I finished high school, I was so happy about that. When my agency told me I could start to travel, I was like, “Yes! I don’t have to think about studying!” It was kind of kid thinking, but still — when you’re 15, you cannot think about what you want to do for the rest of the life. My parents, they weren’t pushing me to the university right away. I would’ve needed to pay for myself to study, and I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I like psychology. I like biology. I want to understand the human brain. I like math and logic, too. I’m still earning some money for studies.
WWD: Do you stay in touch with your family back in Russia?
M.S.: All the time I call them on Skype. After one week in New York, I have so much experience in my life. My parents are really happy that [Ksenia and I] have had the opportunity to travel. They are not really rich parents who can give us lots of money, so they found this job to be a good opportunity for us to see the world. The first time I went to Milan, when I was 15, my mom went with me to check everything out. She wanted to make sure it wasn’t some weird business.
WWD: Where is your older sister now?
M.S.: Ksenia is already almost 24. She lives in Bali now, she has a boyfriend there. She’s gonna open her own art gallery too; she paints. Can you imagine the modeling industry in Bali, though? She doesn’t do any fashion weeks. She just does some shoots for magazines for money.
WWD: Has there ever been any competition between you two?
M.S.: Maybe a little. We used to fight a lot, but not anymore. I think my little sister [Polina] is gonna be the best [model] of all of us, though. I’m gonna work on it. I know how to do it. I know my sister, I know her character, I know who’s gonna love her.
WWD: Where do you live now?
M.S.: Brooklyn. It’s kind of like a models’ apartment but not really. I found the place myself. Some models live in this place too, but I have my own room. I love Williamsburg — it’s my style. That’s where I can express myself, develop myself. I like to walk around there on the riverside and take a lot of pictures. I walk around and meet a lot of weird people.
WWD: Do you constantly get scouted on the street?
M.S.: Not that many people come up to me and say something — I have, like, my private zone [she pantomimed a bubble around her body]. But a lot of people on the streets will say ridiculous things to me, compliments and stuff. I like this feeling, though. It’s good for your self-esteem.
WWD: How did you learn to speak English so well?
M.S.: In Russia, not a lot of people speak it. They started to push English only in special schools, but in a normal school it’s not such a priority. I had a middle school where [they taught us] English. Our teacher, she was a monster, I’m telling you, I hated her. But now I love her so much because I understand how much she did for me. She’d been living in London for three years and when she arrived to our school in Russia, she was like, “You have to say tube! Not metro!” She was screaming at us so hard all the time. That’s how I learned English. But to be honest, when I left the school I wasn’t that good. It just came naturally with traveling.
WWD: Runway modeling seems to be your forte.
M.S.: I started runway from 15 years old. Can you imagine? Four years, so about eight runway seasons. But I had school so I missed some seasons. At 15 years old I did Dior, but then I disappeared because of school for a few months. Dior was my first season in Paris, and one of the first big shows I walked. It was so cool. John Galliano was there. I did not really talk to him but in the end he was so happy. His character — he is a crazy funny guy. He is not a stressed person. I just feel easy with him.
WWD: Any funny stories from the past fashion week season?
M.S.: Oh, I love Vivienne Westwood. The major makeup artist [at the fall show], she did my face and she wanted to check to make sure Vivienne liked the makeup. She took me over and Vivienne had her cappuccino and the makeup artist asked, “Do you like her cheeks?” She put her finger in her coffee, into the foam of her cappuccino, and then sucked her finger [exaggeratedly]. She said, “I like it…but you can do more pink.” I wanted to hug her. It was so cool. I was like, you are so super dope. I had been trying to get her show so many times and this season I had enough strong character for her. She was like, “Yeah, I like the attitude of this girl.”
WWD: What do you like to do in your free time?
M.S.: I like modeling ’cause it doesn’t really destroy my style of life. It suits me and I can do my hobbies at the same time. I do painting sometimes, I do photography a lot. I do some art stuff, music. I’m trying to do some videos — art videos mixed with music. Just experimental stuff. When I came to New York I found so many things inside of myself. Sports are hobbies too, right? I still play basketball. My friend in New York is trying to start a model basketball team and I’m trying to figure out when I can start training with them. When I started to do modeling, I had to choose between basketball or modeling and I chose modeling because it’s more of an opportunity for money and travel and to keep yourself skinny, and not jacked like a hard man.
WWD: Tell me about some of your dreams and goals.
M.S.: My dream? I wish to live on the oceanside somewhere. That is definitely my place, my soul. All the time when I move in the metro, I can feel that my movement is like fish movements. Can you understand? Have you heard about reincarnation? I believe that I was a shark or a dolphin before. I really love water. Once, I went with my boyfriend to the seaside for holidays and he didn’t see me once because I was in the water the whole time. I should visit my sister in Bali — I have never been there. You just need to be careful and get some vaccinations before you go, because she got a mosquito bite and now she has so many problems with her body. It’s really crazy.