With a partially shaved do and assorted facial piercings, Dorith Mous, the 27-year-old Muse-repped model, was the personification of androgyny when she stopped by WWD’s offices on a cold March afternoon. She had a laid-back attitude, to boot. Of her septum piercing, from which a silver hoop dangled above her mouth, she shrugged: “It didn’t hurt. It’s just skin.”
The Amsterdam native is also quite the “millipede,” as she put it, dipping her hands in many pots. Before nabbing an apartment in New York last year, she was pursuing a musical career in Los Angeles, where she lived for three years. Now, modeling is her main focus. She walked the fall runways for DKNY and Betsey Johnson, and her face may be recognizable from Diesel’s recent Reboot Campaign (past editorials include Harper’s Bazaar Japan, Glamour and L’Officiel; a Details cover shoot with Robert Pattinson in 2010, and a BCBG Max Azria campaign). She is also a photographer — she had an exhibition in Brooklyn last fall — and a prolific Instagrammer.
Here, the model talks chopping off her long locks, shooting with Terry Richardson and Jeff Goldblum and finding balance on both sides of the camera.
WWD: How did you start modeling?
Dorith Mous: I was 13 or 14 years old. I was shopping with my best friend and I got scouted by a British agency in Amsterdam. I didn’t believe it — I thought it was a scam. The scouts were these two girls, so it’s not like it was some [creepy guy] but I thought I was being pranked or something. I gave the business card to my parents and they checked it out and it was legit. A week later, I was on a flight to London.
WWD: What does your family think about your career?
D.M.: I think in the beginning my parents were a little bit skeptical. Because it’s fashion, and they’re not into that. They have no idea about it. My mom is a writer; my dad is a Dutch professor now, but he used to be an actor. But my parents and I have a really good bond. I think they had the trust in me to grow from this career, instead of decay from it. They saw the opportunity for me to find all these things that I wouldn’t be able to find in Amsterdam.
WWD: You recently shaved your head. What’s the response been like?
D.M.: With my long hair, I was already this person, but it was hidden by this girliness. But that edge was always in my personality, just not in my look. But I guess now, people straight off the bat see who I am, so it’s really nice for me. Because I don’t have to like, unmask, you know? This is it — what you see is what you get. But still, you can flip my short hair to the side and I can still look very [soft and feminine].
WWD: At 27, you’re older than some girls who are just starting out in the industry. Do you find that to be an asset or a hindrance?
D.M.: I think my age is an asset for now. I think a lot of people like [grown] women now. I hear a lot of photographers say it, too. As a photographer myself, I don’t shoot girls who are 15. But I think that it really depends on the look you’re going for as well. Back [when I started], when 15-year-old girls were a hype, everything [in fashion] was very doll-like, and now it’s going back to that sexy, mature woman, Cindy Crawford-type of thing.
WWD: How did you get into photography?
D.M.: It has been something that has always been in my life. My dad had this camera, this Olympus OM-1, and I was always so jealous. I was like, ‘When I’m a grown up, I can have that too.’ Little did I know, that camera is nothing special, it’s like a $100 camera. But I was like, ‘Well, if my dad has it, it must be cool.’ And then at a certain age I asked if I could use it. I still have it with me every day. I just started to document what I was doing when traveling as a model. You get to places that are so amazing and novel. I started to shoot that, and then I got a little more serious with it, and then it snowballed.
WWD: How do you balance modeling with your other projects? What’s a normal day like?
D.M.: At some point, I was really living two lives… I was doing my castings and fittings for my jobs and then I’d come home and scan my images and stay up till like, 4 in the morning being a photographer. But modeling has been the main thing for me the past year. Before, I always believed in being a millipede, in doing all these things at once. Jack of all trades is great, but then you never become a master of one, you know?
WWD: You have portraits of the actor Jeff Goldblum on your Web site. How did that come about?
D.M.: He’s a very good friend of mine. I met him like, four years ago. I didn’t want it to be this thing like where it was like, ‘You’re my friend, and you’re famous, can I shoot you?’ So I actually waited and waited until he saw my Web site on his own. He complimented my work and he was like, ‘You are awesome. Can you shoot me?’ It’s like, OK, this is better. Now I’m asked to shoot you.
WWD: Who would be your dream subject?
D.M.: Meryl Streep. I met her a couple times. She’s incredible. She can portray anything. I have a lot of respect for people who can play big and play small, and she can do both. You could tell her to play a phone and she could play a phone.
WWD: As a model, you must have a unique perspective as a photographer. Any tricks for getting people to relax for a portrait?
D.M.: I totally have a routine. I don’t shoot models or obviously pretty people; I like character. I make sure that I calculate an hour or half an hour of time so I can get to know the person first. And something that cannot be missed on a set for me is music. I always wanna roll with who they are. I don’t try to put a stage on for them and make them something I want them to be — I want to get their truth and silence.
WWD: I saw that you’ve been shot by Terry Richardson. What was that like?
D.M.: I like him a lot. I knew him a little before we shot; I think that changes things. We actually met at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. where I was shooting a video, and then we became acquaintances. I went to his studio just to say hi once, and then we shot a couple times after. And it became one of those things where it’s like, ‘Oh, hey, look who stopped by the studio today.’ It really goes like that. I’d be there and it’s like, ding-dong, and it’s Sky Ferreira at the door. That’s really how it works with him.
WWD: And now for some Proust-inspired questions. What is your idea of misery?
D.M.: Actually, you know what, I’m gonna be really philosophical right now. I believe in this triangle: You have your base, which is your home; then you have love; whether it’s a relationship or family or friends; and then your career. I don’t think if you have all three it’s a guarantee for happiness. I think that striving for one always keeps the motivation and excitement going. I think being happy is having two of those solidly, and having one kind of always changing or evolving. I think misery, and I’ve been there, is when all three of those are not solid and you feel like a ping-pong ball and your feet are not on the ground. This is totally misery for me.
WWD: What is your idea of happiness?
D.M.: Finding balance. Especially in New York. It took me a while to be happy in New York. New York is so crazy that once you feel on top of it, it’s amazing, and you get all this energy from everybody. But once you feel a little down, the energy of everybody else can be way too much. It took me a while to be able to find a balance and to find that peace and quiet within the density of this city. So I think my idea of happiness is finding whatever emotion you need for that moment.