For Irina Nikolaeva, getting into the modeling game was pretty much a cinch. “I just found some agencies on the Internet and chose one I thought looked good,” says the Women Direct-repped Russian beauty. “I called them and asked if I could come in. I went and got signed.” A bold initiative for a teenager but, clearly, it paid off. After taking Moscow by storm (racking up editorials at the Russian outposts of Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel and Vogue), Nikolaeva, now 22, is in globalization mode. While stateside for her first fashion week in February, she scored the Thakoon, Rebecca Minkoff, Jen Kao, Jenni Kayne and Rachel Comey shows, following them up with a walk down the Lanvin runway in Paris.
So I heard you’re only in New York for a few days.
Yes, I’m here for three days, then back to Moscow.
What do you do on flights to entertain yourself?
It depends. Sometimes it goes surprisingly fast; you get the food, you go to sleep, you wake up and you’re almost at the place. But this time, I couldn’t sleep so I did schoolwork.
What are you studying?
I study management at the International University of Trade [in Moscow]. I’m just finishing up my last course. I have to write this report, then I’m done. I was supposed to start writing it four months ago, but I didn’t have time because I was here in New York and then in Paris.
What was your first fashion week experience like?
I was really excited but I didn’t know it would be that hard. Normally I have five castings a day and it’s like you come, they look at your book, and you leave. But during fashion week, you have 10 castings and you have to wait in these lines, sometimes for two hours. You always have to hurry to the next appointment. All the girls are running around with these big maps because they can’t remember where they are or where they’re going.
What did you think of the actual runway shows?
That’s definitely my favorite thing. I get such different emotions when I walk. It’s strange that there’s so much preparation before the show and your actual time on the runway is like 30 seconds, maximum. You do all these castings, fittings, all for that 30 seconds but it’s worth it.
Yes, an extraordinary amount of work goes into each show.
They’re so hardworking. When I was doing my fitting for Lanvin in Paris, I was doing looks with [Alber Elbaz]. I really loved seeing the process and the way the designer and their team work because they want perfection. They finished at two in the morning so we were working for 14 hours or 15 hours straight.
What is your favorite thing about modeling?
The best thing is the traveling.
And what about your least?
The worst is that you feel like you just keep going, going, going. You travel a lot, you live in this model apartment, and you go to all these castings. Sometimes you go to the castings, and you feel like they just don’t care. They look quickly at your book and say, ‘OK, thank you.’ And I think, why do I do this at all? But it also has the opposite effect. If I come and they’re like, ‘Oh wow,’ I get so excited — it keeps me going.
Have you learned any beauty tricks since you started modeling?
When I started modeling, I stopped using makeup at all. I only use a little mascara now. Applying it and walking is very difficult. I think the main thing is you just have to be confident and realize everyone has their own look and their own special features. Maybe what you thought was your disadvantage can turn into your advantage. We can’t all look like Angelina Jolie.