Serendipity is one of my all-time favourite topics. You know, finding something when looking for something else. More often than not, stories are coaxed from bleary-eyed friends over the last bottle of red, when the wick of the after-party is just about burnt to its smoky nub and the conversation is a free-for-all zone. The time a housemate found a pouch of cash on the floor coming home after a shitty day at work. When a wrong turn on a terrifying pitch-black hike in Australia led to the vantage point of the most blinding sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. This extends to movie-worthy meet-cutes as well. A colleague meeting her now-husband on a flight to LA when the old lady in the middle seat offered to swap places. You can’t make this stuff up.
But unbeknownst to most, this obsession all started 12 years ago, with me poring over a news article about a teenager randomly scouted by Storm Models (Kate and Naomi’s stomping ground), while mucking about in the sunglasses section of Primark in Hammersmith. Fortuitous, yes. But if anything, that teenager, a now 28 year old Jourdan Dunn, is living proof that whatever luck, or fate, or chance, or sheer coincidence can offer up in your fairy godmother pivotal moment, it’s up to you to make it count.
“I knew I was going to make an impact, but I just didn’t know how,” Dunn quietly admits to me over the phone when I ask her about the beginning of her career. Impact is surely an understatement. Counting backwards, the west London-raised supermodel has just been announced as the UK brand ambassador of Italian leg-wear giant Calzedonia, complete with her own party-ready tights collection – an apt appointment, considering her 5’11” infinitely-limbed frame. Undoubtedly an amazing feat by anyone’s standards, but for Dunn, the achievement holds special weight.
(LEFT) Jacket PHILIPP PLEIN, Top ATTICO, All jewellery BULGARI, Briefs MARCO DE VINCENZO, Boots MALONE SOULIERS.
(RIGHT) Bodysuit SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO, Tights CALZEDONIA, All jewellery BULGARI, Shoes SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO
Jacket PHILIPP PLEIN, Top ATTICO, All jewellery BULGARI, Briefs MARCO DE VINCENZO, Boots MALONE SOULIERS.
Bodysuit SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO, Tights CALZEDONIA, All jewellery BULGARI, Shoes SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO
“I used to get called chicken legs!” She chuckles. “Kids can be horrible at school. They pick on your insecurities, and my legs were one of them. Now I can laugh about it, because that same insecurity has made me become the model I am today. I saw the video of my campaign in the store the other day, and I know that the people that used to call me that will see it, like, ‘Oh damn, look how far chicken legs has come!’”
And so very far she has come. She’s secured some of the most prominent bookings in the biz, walked for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Dior – and for a wildly impressive measure of her work ethic, the model racked up 75 shows during the spring/summer 2008 season. More? She’s featured in two of Beyoncé’s music videos. Oh, and she’s been crowned the BFC’s Model of the Year. Twice.
But personal victories aside, there’s been more important work at play here. Two years after she was scouted, she became the first black model to walk a Prada runway in a decade. She made news as the first black model to score a solo cover of British Vogue in 12 years, and was the first black British model to make it on the Forbes models rich list. But when I praise her for all her history-making accolades, her tone is impatient, almost wearied.
“I mean, highlighting those achievements, they’re great, but to be honest when you really think deeply about it, that it’s taken 10 years or however long to see another black face in some of these situations, it is actually quite sad, because it shows how messed up the industry is. It’s kind of bittersweet.”
(LEFT) All jewellery BULGARI, Top LOUIS VUITTON, Briefs WHAT KATIE DID, Tights CALZEDONIA, Shoes AQUAZZURA
(RIGHT) All jewellery BULGARI, Bra WHAT KATIE DID, Top NATASHA ZINKO, Tights CALZEDONIA, Shoes AQUAZZURA
All jewellery BULGARI, Top LOUIS VUITTON, Briefs WHAT KATIE DID, Tights CALZEDONIA, Shoes AQUAZZURA
All jewellery BULGARI, Bra WHAT KATIE DID, Top NATASHA ZINKO, Tights CALZEDONIA, Shoes AQUAZZURA
Dunn has always been outspoken about the lack of diversity in the fashion industry, but even as a veteran of sorts now, there’s still not an ounce of complacency in her. “There definitely have been improvements, but there’s still a long way to go,” she ruminates. “When I was in Paris for the Off-White show, and also Burberry – looking around me, I am starting to see a more diverse range of models. Before, when I first started, it would only be me and one, maybe two others. It’s definitely improved, but it’s when I stop getting asked these kind of questions, that’s when I’ll know that we’re past it, and things are how they should be.”
Whether she is voicing her opinions or shattering glass ceilings, she is truly unapologetic. And now at 28, time and experience has given her the scope to look back with firm advice for the next generation: “Not even just for young girls, but for women in general, we have to stop comparing ourselves to other people, to celebrities, to our friends, to sisters, whoever, and just embrace you and remember that there’s only one you,” she insists. “The things you can’t change, learn to love and embrace, and the things that you can change — if that’s going to make you feel good — then change. Accept all your flaws, then no one then can use them against you. Turn the negatives into positives, that’s what I’ve done.”
And it’s true. That’s the thing about Jourdan Dunn. Like drawing from schoolyard taunts, her critics bolster her. Just like Superman eating the kryptonite, then coming back harder and stronger, cape billowing, with an impervious “you were saying?” When news broke that the model was to become a single mum at 18, the press jumped down her throat, others predicting the premature death of her career. Her response? To take to the catwalk in a custom-made Jean Paul Gaultier corset, showcasing her six-month baby bump in all its glory. It was a statement. A back-off. And when her son Riley was born with sickle-cell anaemia, she stepped up as an ambassador for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. The supermodel attributes her son to completely overhauling her mentality and “teaching [her] patience, showing [her] what’s important and what’s not.” She continues: “If one opportunity closes, I do believe another one opens. I don’t take it to heart, I think ‘ok, it is what it is, something else will come along.’”
Since the start of our conversation, success is a word that has been repeatedly bandied about, as I’ve tried to come to terms with what exact forces were at play to turn sheer serendipity into the kind of unprecedented, astronomical career that Dunn has enjoyed. Is still enjoying. But once you observe her bullish willpower and determination, you realise that if it hadn’t happened in a Primark 12 years ago, it would have happened sooner or later – because that’s what happens when you really want it. And while her hunger for success hasn’t changed, how she defines it has.
“When I was first starting, the way I would measure success is completely different to how I measure success now,” she says. “It would be how many shows I walked, or if I was doing this campaign, or this editorial. But now, I don’t do shows any more, and I’m not constantly on covers, but I’m still working. I’m still providing for my family, so to me, that is success. My family’s happy, so I’m happy. That’s true success.”
Jourdan’s critics be warned. You’re only fanning the flames.
The Jourdan Dunn for Calzedonia campaign is in-store and online at uk.calzedonia.com now.
Taken from the Winter 2018/19 issue; out now and available to buy here.
(LEFT) Headpiece VICTORIA GRANT, Bodysuit ELISA POPPY, Cardigan and belt CHANEL, Rings BULGARI, Tights CALZEDONIA, Shoes DSQUARED2
(RIGHT) Blazer CHRISTOPHER KANE, Earrings BULGARI, Briefs ALEXA CHUNG, Tights CALZEDONIA
Headpiece VICTORIA GRANT, Bodysuit ELISA POPPY, Cardigan and belt CHANEL, Rings BULGARI, Tights CALZEDONIA, Shoes DSQUARED2
Blazer CHRISTOPHER KANE, Earrings BULGARI, Briefs ALEXA CHUNG, Tights CALZEDONIA
(LEFT) Dress MIU MIU, Tights CALZEDONIA, Boots MARCO DE VINCENZO X SUPERGA
(RIGHT) Dress and shoes DSQUARED2, Bracelet BULGARI
Dress MIU MIU, Tights CALZEDONIA, Boots MARCO DE VINCENZO X SUPERGA
Dress and shoes DSQUARED2, Bracelet BULGARI
Renda Attia at The Hideout London
Alex Babsky at Premier Hair and Makeup using Bobbi Brown
Michelle Humphrey at LMC Worldwide using The GelBottle Inc