ON SET WITH MANUELA FREY FOR NU ICONS FALL ISSUE “NEW ERA”
There are many factors behind a model’s success, including optimism and joie de vivre. Swiss model Manuela Frey, who started working at the age of 15, is a great example of how people can thrive within environments that are stressful and competitive, but also rewarding and creative.
There isn’t a hint of bitterness in Manuela’s approach to life and the way she describes her own career path, which includes TV hosting for Switzerland’s Next Top Model. Disciplined and determined, she knows how to distance herself from the pitfalls of an industry that often relies on hype and overinflated egos.
Perhaps it is her Swiss pragmatism, but Manuela comes across as open, unfussy, and humble. Modeling has been a calling for her since childhood, and it became her way of life. We caught up with her to discuss living in New York as a teenager, working with some of the best designers in the world, and how she sees her future as an entertainer.
MANUELA WEARS TOP BY MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION
NU: Did you become a model by chance, or was it something you always dreamed of?
MANUELA: I remember being seven or eight years old and telling my parents I would be a model one day. I used to watch Germany’s Next Top Model all the time, and even though my parents tried to put me off that career path, I stayed at school until 15 and took part in the Elite Model Look competition. My parents supported me all the way, and I won the final in Switzerland. Then I flew to Shanghai for their worldwide contest, and even though I didn’t win, I was scouted there and told I had to fly to New York immediately for Fashion Week.
NU: What was that like?
MANUELA: I did a Calvin Klein runway exclusive, which was crazy. They even had to fake my visa application back then, because I hadn’t really done anything yet, so they covered my folder with pictures of Gisele Bündchen, because I looked a lot like her when I was younger.
NU: That’s hilarious. Can you remember your very first shoot?
MANUELA: Yes. It was for Interview Magazine in New York, and I had no idea what the publication was. I remember getting on set and asking someone in the team if I had to pay for my own lunch. I just had no clue about budgets and how things happened on a regular shoot.
NU: Did you enjoy posing in front of the camera?
MANUELA: Yes, I did, but I felt lonely and was away from my family and friends, so I always had this little knot in my stomach. That changed three years ago, but as a model you are under a lot of pressure, and the agencies like to take control of your career at the very beginning.
NU: So, you’re expected to behave like an adult straight away.
MANUELA: Definitely. You have to be responsible and professional from a very young age. I saw many girls lose their careers because they got involved with the wrong kind of people and destroyed their chances. Thankfully, I was always aware of this and made the right choices when it came to my surroundings.
MANUELA WEARS BLAZER BY KARL LAGERFELD
AUDEMARS PIGUET ROYAL OAK FROSTED GOLD SELFWINDING, 34 MM
NU: Do you think that comes from your education or the values your family gave you?
MANUELA: Yes. It’s also my attitude as a person. I’ve never had breakdowns, huge fears, or anxiety. I guess it’s my nature to always look forward and stay positive.
NU: What makes a great model in your opinion?
MANUELA: Back in the day, it was more about your physical attributes and this classic ideal of beauty, but now it’s about personality, your following and what else you can do besides modeling.
NU: You’ve worked for the best designers in the industry. Who impressed you the most?
MANUELA: Designers are hard workers, and I remember how stressful things got a few hours before shows, but I learned a lot, including some Italian, from Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce. They were really professional and friendly. I also worked a month with Jil Sander doing fittings before her comeback show and that was amazing as well. She was focused, kind and very respectful. It was cool being able to speak German with her, as well as the whole team. She even invited my mother backstage, which was sweet of her.
NU: Has your experience of the fashion industry changed the way you look at clothing?
MANUELA: Yes, it has. The agency took me shopping for castings and I learned a lot about style and how to put things together. In my opinion, less is always more. I like monochrome looks, and you can never go wrong with black sunglasses.
NU: Modeling tends to be competitive. How did you develop a thicker skin?
MANUELA: When I was a teenager and got rejected by clients, I used to find it quite devastating. The one person who always stood by me and gave me confidence in myself was my mother. She helped me a lot.
NU: Would you say modeling empowered you in any way?
MANUELA: I’m definitely more confident today and also more selective when it comes to work. I was always competitive as a child, especially at school, but now I’m much more relaxed about it.
MANUELA WEARS TOP BY MAX MARA & SKIRT BY MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION
NU: Which aspects of the industry do you like and dislike the most?
MANUELA: I love being around creative people, celebrities, and talented artists. As a model, you get access to privileged circles and can make a good living, but you always need a plan B. Relationships can be difficult, especially when you travel often. My body also changed after puberty, and it was more difficult to do shows then. We are seeing more diversity and different body shapes today, which is very encouraging.
NU: Is there a photographer who really impressed you?
MANUELA: I shot a lot with British photographer Richard Burbridge and he was amazing on set. I had dinner with him and his wife a few times, which was nice.
NU: What are the key elements to succeed in your field?
MANUELA: You must be humble and remember where you come from. Many models become arrogant and start thinking they’re more important than they actually are. You really have to want this career and love fashion as well. Keeping yourself informed on what’s going on and having an open mind is really important.
NU: Models now have more space to talk and express themselves. How do you see this evolution?
MANUELA: You’re definitely more empowered as a model today than when I started, and if something you experience isn’t acceptable, you can talk about it and get it sorted out. With some girls, you see how they evolved from models to actual role models, which is inspiring.
NU: With Switzerland’s Next Top Model, you have ventured into television and entertainment. Is this something you feel comfortable with?
MANUELA: I guess I’ve always been a bit of a performer and feel very comfortable on stage. I’m not camera shy and don’t have a problem talking in front of big crowds. I’d love to go to Germany and do more TV there. I think the best models are performers as well.
NU: What are the achievements you’re most proud of?
MANUELA: Breaking the record in 2014 with the number of shows I did during Fashion Week! That made me proud and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I feel like I’m enjoying my job a lot more now and getting more pleasure out of it. I’m also more in control when it comes to my career and making choices.
CAPTURED BY JUDITH HIRSBRUNNER
WRITTEN BY PHILIPPE POURHASHEMI
HAIR & MAKEUP BY NAJAT ZINBI & GURWEEN SANDHU
NU ICONS GIRL MANUELA FREY
PRODUCED BY NU ICONS STUDIOS