The Model Student

By
Photography JANEY VAN IERLAND

Published December 4, 2015

NIRVANA NAVES IN AMSTERDAM, NOVEMBER 2015. PHOTOS: JANEY VAN IERLAND. HAIR AND MAKEUP: LYDIA LE LOUX FOR MAC COSMETICS AT HOUSE OF ORANGE.  

In Nirvana Naves’s hometown of Amsterdam, modeling isn’t the most obvious path for a tall, intelligent young woman. “A lot of people tell you when you’re tall that you should play basketball,” she recalls, “but never model.” She tried basketball—”I really suck,” she says—but modeling has been the more successful track. Nirvana, who professionally goes by her first name, participated in her first fashion month during the Spring/Summer 2016 presentations, walking the runway at J.W. Anderson, Prada, Chloé, Balenciaga, Acne, Céline, John Galliano, Hermès, and Valentino. Needless to say, it’s an impressive roster for a newcomer.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Dutch-Guyanese model has quickly become a favorite of Jonathan Anderson and Miuccia Prada. She cuts a serene figure, understated and possessed of doe-like deep brown eyes and a trademark pout (expressionless, lips slightly parted). Long legs and tiny feet (she’s five-foot-eleven and wears a size 11 shoe) give her stride a delicate sway. She works hard; the overwhelming impression we get when speaking to her (long-distance, New York to Amsterdam) is of a levelheaded woman, unfazed by the industry that has quickly claimed her for its own. She credits her equanimity in part to her hometown: “I feel like we’re just a bunch of hippies living together,” she says of Amsterdam. “Everyone has such a down-to-earth mentality.”

Nirvana is selective about the shows she works (“only a few shows that were really good,” as she tells it), but out of time pressure rather than exclusivity, as she also attends university in Amsterdam, where she studies business administration with a major in development economics. She’ll be writing her senior thesis when the next Fashion Week rolls around, and she readily admits that it’s tough to balance her work with still more work. Though she’s supported by an able team that helps her juggle her various obligations, she still finds herself finishing assignments in the wee hours during Fashion Week, completing work at 2 a.m. and then rising at 6 a.m. to do it all again. Yet Nirvana says as exhausting as it can be, she is equally energized in return: “Maybe you just walked a really good show,” she explains. “You get a lot of energy back from this.”

With top designers in her corner, Nirvana is poised for a breakout year. To the model, her career is all karma: “If you give good energy to the people you work with, you get good energy and jobs back.” 

AGE: 20

HOMETOWN: Amsterdam, Holland

AGENCY: NEXT Management

THE BIG BREAK: I was scouted when I was 18 by my model agent in the department store in Amsterdam. I was with my grandparents—we went for lunch, actually. My first shoot was just a test shoot to see if I was photogenic and if I could pose. I think I passed the test. My first real job, I think, was Harper’s Bazaar in Holland. I didn’t really have a clear image about the business at all. This was my first Fashion Week, and I was surprised about how dynamic and flexible the whole business is. But I really enjoy it, and I’ve met some lovely people.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: I got to open J.W. Anderson. It was my first show, and I really like the designer, Jonathan Anderson. I’m so proud of him; he just won two British Fashion Awards. I think he’s just really intelligent and I felt that when I had to do casting for him. He was so relaxed but he shows this intelligence about his fashion. He uses classics, but he makes it contemporary—for example, his last collection for Loewe.

WORKING THE RUNWAY: For me, a good show is when I feel like everyone’s really passionate about the show. I feed off people working backstage, and they put everything into it, so much effort. I have to bring my best and work those clothes as best I can.

FASHION FORWARD: When I was little, I went to Paris with my grandparents on a holiday. I was just walking around [Galeries Lafayette] and you see all these advertisements with women and brands and I remember how glamorous it all was. When I went shopping, I would look in magazines and see those women and think, “Wow,” they showed so much confidence. Now I really can be one of those women. I feel like I gained a lot more confidence in trying out new things—bold colors that I never would wear, or skirts, or maybe acting a bit more feminine than I used to. [My personal style], it’s still a bit sporty, but with a feminine touch. So a loose blouse and a leather skirt underneath—I try a basic piece with a more daring piece on top.

A FAMILY AFFAIR: My dad is not really artistic. My mum also knows how to dress, but she’s not really in art. But my grandparents are the exact opposite. My grandmother is very creative. She can do anything. When I had birthdays, she would always make these little presents for my classmates. She makes sculptures, she paints, she draws, she designs clothes as well. Whenever I had a dance performance, she would make the outfits for the performance. She is one of those superwomen who can do anything.

MODEL OFF DUTY: When I have free time I just hang out with friends. We chill, we go to see movies, and go to exhibitions in Amsterdam, or go to concerts. I love to run. I think I would go on with my Masters [if I weren’t modeling]. I would like to do some backpacking in Africa—my two friends are from Capetown, so I think we would go there. I backpacked with my friends from Malaysia to Singapore, China, Beijing, and Hong Kong. It was really nice, being able to live just with basics, without any luxury, being one with nature. It sounds crazy, maybe, but a detox for your mind. Living in the city can be really hectic, and sometimes I feel like it’s good to be away for some time and be with friends.

POSTGRAD: It’s my final year [of university]. I want to get this year done and then really pursue modeling. I think I would like to build a project or go to a developing country and make something of their own resources and build something sustainable. I want to combine those two but I’m not sure how I’m going to do that. I’ll figure it out somehow.

DREAM COLLABORATOR: I would love to work with Steven Meisel.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Fashion Week is calling again in January, Couture Week and then Fashion Week. I hope to graduate, so it’s a kind of big year for me. I’m really scared for writing my thesis. I have to give my subject in January, but I have no clue yet. I have a company, but I have no clue what to write about.

DEFINING FASHION: Fashion means feeling good in your own skin and matching your looks on that. Whatever you feel like, you put on. If you feel like shit, then put on shit clothes. If you feel really good, then you should enhance your confidence.

NIRVANA IS REPRESENTED BY NEXT MANAGEMENT.

For more from our 16 Faces of 2016, click here.