Maria Borges, the 22-year-old model from Angola in southern Africa, has only been modeling for about three-and-a-half years. But with two Victoria’s Secret fashion shows; a Givenchy campaign (and multiple Givenchy exclusives); editorials in W, Vanity Fair and Vogue Italia, to name but a few, and most recently, her first cover for L’Officiel Singapore, she’s enjoyed a jam-packed career thus far. (And she’s made her family very proud: “They are going crazy about my pictures,” she said.)
Borges, repped by Supreme, has lived in Manhattan for several years. In heavily-accented English (she’s taking classes to learn the language), she described her mind-set when working the runways: “I’m selling this dress, so it’s the best dress on the runway. If they dress me like a boy, I have to walk like a boy — let’s do it. And if I’m wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie, then I’m a sexy, beautiful woman.”
WWD: How did you start modeling?
Maria Borges: I was in a competition for Elite Model Look. I didn’t win. Sometimes you lose. It happens. So I didn’t win, but it was a good opportunity to travel to Portugal, and I met one of my agents there. I did a fashion show in Portugal for the first time. I started modeling when I was 17, almost 18. Later, I signed with Supreme.
WWD: Did you ever think about becoming a model?
M.B.: People would say, “You’re skinny, you’re tall.” I’m a size zero. People told me, “You should try!”
WWD: How did your family feel about your modeling career in the beginning?
M.B.: I grew up with my sister. My mom died when I was 11. My sister took care of me; she’s 27 now. And she had to decide about my life: does she let me travel when I’m 17 years old? In the end, she trusted me. I said, “Ok, I’m glad you believe in me and that I give you the confidence.”
WWD: What was it like growing up in Angola?
M.B.: I was a quiet schoolgirl. I never lived in the city. I lived in a quiet little town. I went from school to home. I always loved science. I was studying to become a doctor. Now, life took me to a different side. I love fashion.
WWD: What do you like to do for fun in New York?
M.B.: I like to go to the movie theater with friends and with my boyfriend. I met my boyfriend here, and I’m so in love with him. I love to go to museums like MoMA. I love walking around Wall Street or seeing the Statue of Liberty.
WWD: Was there a moment when you felt like you really made it?
M.B.: The most important thing that happened in my life was to be an exclusive for Givenchy. Opening Giorgio Armani in Milan was a dream come true — and Versace couture, too. Every show that I’ve walked, every client that I’ve had, I love them all so much. When I first started, I was a runway girl. Now I’m doing everything — campaigns, editorials. I shot my first cover with Steven Klein for L’Officiel Singapore. He chose eight girls and each one has her own cover. Naomi [Campbell] is on one of the covers — she is my icon.
WWD: Did you meet her?
M.B.: I met her at the DVF fashion show in 2012. [Stylist] Edward Enninful introduced me to her. I love him so much. I said, “Please, can you ask Naomi to take a picture with me?” He said, “Don’t worry.” He asked for me. And she was nice.
WWD: Are there any other models you look up to?
M.B.: I love Kate Moss. She’s the greatest. Linda Evangelista…Cindy Crawford…all the supermodel icons. I love to try to pose like they did.
WWD: You’ve walked the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show twice now. What was that like?
M.B.: I always thought I was too skinny for the Victoria’s Secret show. But I was healthy, and my agent said, “You should try.” I took myself to the gym and worked out, gave myself nice legs, a beautiful body. I went and tried out and thank God, I got it. I had worked with Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou (Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show creative director) and John Pfeiffer (the show’s casting director) in the past. They knew me, and that helped me to become a Victoria’s Secret girl.
WWD: Have you always felt comfortable in front of the camera?
M.B.: Photographers help the models a lot. Steven Klein, he taught me. He said, “You don’t have to try so much — just relax and move slowly.” Each photographer, they help me. They teach you how to be comfortable.
WWD: What are some of your goals?
M.B.: My career really only started two years ago, so I still have a lot of things to do. I’m dreaming to continue working, to help my family and to finish my university.
WWD: Do you remember your favorite hair and makeup look from a show or photoshoot?
M.B.: The greatest makeup ever I think was for Dior Couture back in 2012. They used this supershiny lipstick. You could barely move your mouth….It felt so heavy. Don’t eat, don’t smile, don’t speak…but it looked beautiful!
WWD: If you could give a new girl advice, what would it be?
M.B.: Listen to your bookers. Be friendly to everyone. Be punctual at castings and shoots. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, don’t do any crazy diets! And never give up on your dreams.