The woman who wears many hats
While you may know her as a former contestant competing for the title of America’s Next Top Model, Victoria Henley’s résumé extends far beyond that. In addition to running her company, Magnifique, in which she books, trains, and develops a growing number of models, she’s also added the title designer to her list of talents after creating and showcasing a collection this past March on the 2017 New Orleans Fashion Week runway. This child model, turned reality TV star and entrepreneur gave us some insight on what it means to break barriers and transition into different fields. As she continues to model, host events, and run her company, it’s clear that the sky's the limit for this young talent, and she’s showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon!
Did growing up in such a small town in Georgia make getting into modeling any harder?
As strange as this may sound, I believe that being from an obscure town in southwest Georgia actually was an asset to me in the way that it inspired me to work harder to make connections, network, and really make a name for myself. Some of the models I know who originally grew up in larger cities either grew complacent and jaded because everything was right in "their back door", or they became discouraged because of the congested markets or high living costs. Although I constantly travel and work in metropolitan areas, I will always be proud of my roots and the town from which I came, as it provided me with the solid foundation I needed to stay grounded in such a lofty, unpredictable industry.
You’ve become a familiar face on the New Orleans Fashion Week Runway. What brings you back to this particular runway yearly?
I initially auditioned in New Orleans at the events inception several years ago, shortly after turning seventeen. I recall being completely mesmerized by the unconventional fashions the area designers created and being blown away by the sights, sounds, and cuisine of the city. My first Fashion Week New Orleans (what the event was called at this time) was such a memorable experience for me that I returned the following year. Only a couple weeks later, I was called by an ANTM casting producer, who informed me I had progressed to the semi finals of America's Next Top Model Cycle 19. I believe that working and interacting with all the various flamboyant personalities during my Fashion Week experiences in New Orleans left me well equipped for what was to be expected once I embarked on my "Top Model" journey, and for that, I will be forever grateful. I will keep returning to the New Orleans runway for as long as Tracee Dundas and the team will allow me. I find it to always produces beneficial networking opportunities. Coming back to the NOLA runway feels warm and nostalgic- like a little walk down memory lane each time.
How did you make the transition from modeling on the NOFW Runway to showing a collection this past year? Was it your first experience in the world of design?
Although modeling has been my career for some time now, I originally pictured myself with a career in fashion design, so I believe the transition was somewhat inevitable. My NOLA FW 2017 experience was both challenging and rewarding as I not only showed a full 12 piece collection, managed my production, and coached my models, but I also walked for three sets of designers on each night of the shows. I tend to thrive in chaotic atmospheres, though, so I felt right at home. I previously designed and sold glass bead and pearl/ cloisonné jewelry and had some illustration experience through work I have done on children's books, so I believe those experiences proved beneficial in the ultimate production of my collection.
Tell us about your collection for New Orleans Fashion Week. What influenced it?
Although I have worn pieces from my collection at many various TV, Red Carpet and other media events, New Orleans Fashion Week 2017 actually served as the venue for the debut of my collection on the runway. This collection was very important to me as each piece paid homage to iconic feminists and other trailblazing women in the mediums of literature, music, art, politics, and of course, fashion. I am and have always been an outspoken advocate for women's rights, and my main objective with the Victoria Henley Collection was to illustrate the point that feminism and fashion do not have to be mutually exclusive. Smart, talented and successful women such as Dolly Parton, Gloria Steinem, Frida Kahlo, and others served as inspirations for my pieces, and I hope to show that empowerment and leadership roles can take on many different forms. Ramona Eads (owner of the label Kassidy's Kloset, whom I have featured in many of the Magnifique Runway Shows I have produced) was the manufacturer of my collection, and I cannot imagine anyone else with whom I would have wanted to collaborate. Not only is Ramona a talented designer and entrepreneur, but she has also raised beautiful children and fought bravely for our country in the military.
How important do you believe a model is to the way in which a designer’s collection is portrayed on the runway? In your opinion, can the models make or break a collection?
Tyra Banks once told me while filming my ANTM cycle, "People say models are walking coat hangers. Those people don't know what they're talking about." Especially now that I have some design experience under my belt, I understand exactly what she meant. As a model, your job is to convey the emotion and match the vibe or the wardrobe and/ or accessory piece you have been assigned. Whether a model is on the runway or in an ad campaign, if she is not conveying the right image, the product will not look appealing to the potential buyer. The following may not sound very glamorous, but in the end, sales are the main objective. If the model does not help sell the product, the designer or retailer will not profit, and the model will most likely not be hired back for said company. However, with a show like NOFW, which is a wonderful forum to up-and-coming models/ designers to gain exposure, I feel like the main objective is telling a story through the clothing and celebrating the art of fashion. So again, the model's role in this is equally important. Anytime I serve as a creative director on a shoot, or if I am showing my collection, I always work with each model individually and help her brainstorm poses and get into character for each shoot or show.
Many people are critical of those who “dip their toe” in several different fields (ie: modeling, acting, and designing). What’s your take on this and how did you handle any of the criticism? Were you nervous to go from walking the runway to showing a collection on the runway?
The model Hayley Baldwin actually made a recent quote saying that in order for one to be successful, he or she must stream line their talents into only one career path, and although this idea might make sense to and work for her. I simply could not disagree more. I have always been very aware of the evolutionary pattern that a career in the fashion industry can take, and this process can certainly be an exciting and beautiful thing if one properly equips her or himself with the talents and skills necessary to make transitions. For example, although runway modeling can be glamorous, being able to speak at seminars and work in the branding, development, and production aspects of the industry can be much more lucrative. Therefore, I have spent countless hours on end reading books on tips for success (and pitfalls to avoid) by CEOs and entrepreneurs in the fashion and business world who have made some impressive transitions. I am so thankful for each and every aspect of this industry in which I work, and I feel absolutely no pressure to sick to only one facet.
Being on a reality show is obviously great for opening doors in many different industries. Having been off of American’s Next Top Model for several years now, would you still say it positively contributed to your career today? Does it ever have any negative affects on your career?
Perhaps due to naiveté or arrogance, I truly did not acknowledge or appreciate the sheer magnitude of placing as a Top 5 finalist on ANTM. As I began to mature as both a model and businessperson, I realized just how competitive and brutal it can be for individuals who were not so fortunate to have such a platform as America's Next Top Model to help them gain exposure. For example, I wrote business plans during filming breaks at the show, and one of my goals was to shoot and walk for Neiman Marcus, a label for whom I had previously tried and failed to work with numerous times. Only three days after returning from the show, I received a notification through my agency saying that I had been booked by Neiman’s because they liked the new images taken of me from the show. Many of the opportunities presented to me have been because of my involvement on the show, and I will forever be thankful for Tyra Banks and the ANTM team for offering me the opportunity.
Would you recommend reality TV as a viable path to those looking to break into a segment of the entertainment industry? What would your advice to someone auditioning for a show like ANTM be?
Reality TV is not for everyone, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was comically under prepared for the whole "fish- bowl experience.” I call it the fish bowl experience because, as a reality TV contestant, you are filmed, watched, monitored and controlled constantly for 24 hour periods (it's all in the contract) with little to no contact with the outside world. In addition to dealing with constant scrutiny from fellow cast members, panelists, hosts, and producers, reality contenders also need to be prepared for the social media impersonators, stalkers, identity theft, and death threats (oh yes, I have had my share) which usually come flooding in after the airing of the show. If you are portrayed in an oddball or controversial light, you can expect social media bullying to double, which is sad, but true. Still, I gained some incredible fans through the show, who still loyally support all my projects to this day. Reality TV shows (such as America's Got Talent, The X Factor, American Idol and The Voice, Project Runway, and of course, ANTM) have launched some of the most celebrated and highest grossing names in their respective industries. If you feel that reality TV is the right avenue for you, I say, go for it, but be sure to keep a thick skin: It will be a wild ride, guaranteed!