People think it’s just easy-peasy—get your picture taken. And it’s really not. JEN RAMEY
DAVID COLMAN: How did you end up in the modeling business?
JEN RAMEY: I was a high school dropout from Marietta, Georgia, doing a bunch of jobs here and there, and I started dating a male model. I went to a barbecue at his agent’s house, and they were like, “Do you want a job?” I was like “Okay.” You got to wear what you want, hang out with people your own age, and talk on the phone—what could be better? But I did want to get out of Georgia, so I moved to Chicago. I worked there for two years, but there wasn’t really much of a fashion thing going on there, so I figured I had to go to New York. I had three interviews set up, and I met with Paul Rowland at Women and worked there for forever.
COLMAN: What girls were there at the time?
RAMEY: Robyn Mackintosh, Cynthia Antonio, Shana Zadrick, Michele Quan. It was, like, four of us around a card table. Mario Sorrenti and his brother Davide used to come around—Mario was still a model with Men. He used to come eat lunch and fall asleep on our couch. Then he started taking pictures and went to London and brought a little girl called Kate Moss back. Paul was her agent and basically treated me like shit, so I was washing windows and emptying garbage and stuff. But Kate and I hit it off and became friends. We kind of grew up together because we were both new. It just worked out.
COLMAN: This was in ’92?
RAMEY: Yeah, I was there for more than a year before Kate showed up. Kate and I did everything together—traveled, hung out, lived together. She was quite shy. She wasn’t Kate Moss, she was just Kate. Then I quit Women. Or was fired. I’d had enough.
COLMAN: What was fashion like at the time?
RAMEY: Those were the times of Christy, Naomi, Linda. Then grunge hit with the Marc Jacobs-Perry Ellis show. Nobody knew what it was when it happened. Kate was in it—she was completely sick and had the flu. Those days were so fun. You’d stay out until five in the morning and come to work at nine. We were on Greene Street and Marc was on Spring Street. We used to go over and have beers and eat pizza and look at fabrics. Everybody was still having a good time and being creative. Everybody loved Kate so much. I lived a lot through her.
COLMAN: Where did you two live?
RAMEY: On Waverly Place. Two floors and a roof garden of deliciousness. Carolyn Bessette lived on the first floor. Kate used to live in the back house. It became such a place of fun and parties and fairy lights and big pillows all over and carpets on the roof … It was so much fun. It just was happening.
COLMAN: What other girls did you work with?
RAMEY: Emma Balfour, Cecilia Dean …
COLMAN: Cecilia is one of my best friends.
RAMEY: Is she? I adore her. But back then I was scared shitless of her. [Colman laughs] She’s a quite serious person. And I worked with other girls, like Carolyn Murphy and Chandra North …
COLMAN: What were some of your favorite memories of that time?
RAMEY: It was a treat to travel. I got to see the world. Before there was the Marc Jacobs show, Todd Oldham was the show to go to back then. Remember that? The drunk Barbie show? And the first time I went to see a John Galliano show, I was mesmerized. I’m a country girl.
COLMAN: You briefly ran a photo agency. How has the industry changed from those days?
RAMEY: In terms of photography, now you’ve got Terry Richardson shooting Mango. These top-tier guys who wouldn’t even dream of doing those things before are now doing them. It’s the same for models too, because those big fashion houses aren’t paying a lot. So you go do Prada for five dollars and then go do H&M for a regular, great rate.
RAMEY: So the photography thing fell apart and I took a year off. I was sitting at a pool in the south of France with Kate and she was like, “What are you going to do?” I told her, “IMG offered me a job.” She goes, “I’m coming!” So I started at IMG. I wanted to go to the place that did everything by the book and had the greatest people. I think they were scared of me because they’re quite serious and I’m just … me. They didn’t really hire from outside very often. But once I got used to it, I just grew as a businessperson and as an agent.
COLMAN: And Kate came with you.
RAMEY: Kate was my first girl. It wasn’t official that Kate was coming but I knew she was, so I was sitting around [whistles a tune], and Daria Werbowy walked in and I was like, “Oh my god, who’s that?” Daria and I sat down and talked, and she was like, “I’m going to go see other agencies.” She went to see Paul Rowland and he wouldn’t even come out of his room. I loved that. She went to DNA and they didn’t want her either, so she was my second girl. She’s amazing and I’m grateful every day for her because she’s the best. Her look is amazing and she’s an awesome human being. It’s funny because people will tell me, “You have all the troublemakers,” because they’re not easy. But they’re all really strong people. I have Freja Beha, Lily Donaldson, Laetitia Casta, Missy Rayder, Frankie Rayder, Du Juan, Andreea Diaconu. It’s funny how girls with the same personality gravitate towards each other. It’s not like I discovered them, but it’s almost like you’re raising them. I feel like a big camp counselor. They’re very sophisticated teenagers, but they’re still teenagers.
COLMAN: It seems like a lot of pressure.
RAMEY: I go to work in my pajamas sometimes because it doesn’t matter how I look. They don’t have a choice. You or I can have an off day. Those girls don’t get that. And they have to be nice to everybody and can’t be in a bad mood because everybody’s so freaky and no one makes it easy.
COLMAN: And they can’t eat either.
RAMEY: Well, I think eating or not eating comes from being unhappy. I’ve never had anybody with an eating disorder. But I’ve had girls who are like, “I don’t want to be a V.S. girl—a V.S. Angel—because that means I wouldn’t be able to eat for five years.” There is that pressure. And there are times when they don’t want another person touching them and they don’t want somebody ogling at them. Freja Beha worked her ass off but could never make it through an entire season of shows because it’s just too much. Those girls are at the top because they’re the hardest working. They will jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. They’re making a ton of money, but money is not everything when you wake up and you’re 28 and you don’t know where your friends are. But my girls get hired over and over again because they give and they know what they’re doing. That’s why older girls are great. What photographers complain about is that nobody has any personality. You could be just to-die-for beautiful, but if you don’t have personality, nobody cares. Like Daria, she’s 29 now, and in any picture of her, you feel like she has personality. What I also like about all those girls is that they’re all happy for each other. If you have girls that aren’t happy for other ones, that’s not a good sign.
COLMAN: Well, the fashion industry in general is not known for its generosity of spirit.
RAMEY: [laughs] Gee, really? Why would you say that? The worst part of this interview is not over, because I still have to have my picture taken. That’s the fucking worst part.
COLMAN: There’s nothing worse.
RAMEY: That’s how I know that modeling is hard, because just doing one picture and I can’t think of anything worse. I told Fabien he better make me look really slim and young or I know where he lives …
COLMAN: I don’t want you angry at me—that’s all I have to say here.
RAMEY: Yeah, you’re either my best friend or a worst enemy.
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