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Hilary Rhoda

February 3, 2006

Hilary Rhoda
Hilary Rhoda


I'm standing near the stage where minutes earlier Kenneth Cole's latest collection was launched by models named Freja, Vlada, Snejana, Iselin and Inguna. Ironically, Hilary Rhoda was the lone American girl wearing this very American collection, but if many fashion followers have their wish this 19-year-old model will lead a steady stream of U.S. girls back to fashion's forefront.

From just outside the nation's capital, Rhoda really is America's next top model. Equally humble as she is striking, the 5'11" mannequin isn't distracted by preconceived notions of what a top U.S. catwalker should be.

If you were to believe the popular TV show, Rhoda should have had a rather public meltdown by now. She hasn't. She should be whiny and demanding. She should turn the focus of the fashion show on herself, rather than the clothes. Nope - hasn't done any of that. In fact, those characteristics are more akin to America's last top models.

So why did Manhattan designers initially pass on this poised and polished young thing? Because, explains Rhoda, the French had not yet confirmed her. "Paris takes more of a chance on a new girl," she says in a manner that tells you she took no offence by being slighted at home. "New York is known for being tougher on new girls."

Things started to roll for Maryland native last year when she did the rounds of the top fashion studios in New York. And by "started to roll" I mean the designers pretty much rejected her outright. Rhoda viewed the experience as an opportunity to learn about the industry however, and when she met with the same response in Milan she chalked that too up to experience.

Hilary Rhoda
Hilary Rhoda
The page finally turned when Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière presented her with a glass slipper. Cinderella's size nine (well practiced by now) slid gracefully in, and a fairytale was written. Whatever Ghesquière saw, almost immediately everyone else saw it too, and now comes the happily ever after.

Back in the USA, where everybody loves a good fairytale, media frenzy has surrounded Rhoda. Trying to arrange this interview was much more difficult than it should have been with one so new, but camera crews were following her around the day prior to our meet-up. It seems everybody wants a piece of her.

As I waited this morning in the rain, the Kenneth Cole show was about to begin when Rhoda's agency, IMG Models, arranged for me to meet Sr. Vice President Ivan Bart and his assistant in front of the tents that make up Olympus Fashion Week. The pair arranged for me to get inside the tents with one of the fashion week organizers, who then led me to a third row seat (Bart's, no less) for the show itself.

Following the show I was on my cell phone, being directed to the corner of the stage where yet another of IMG's staff was waiting for me. She was phoning back to the office to find out why she couldn't reach Rhoda, then backstage.

Finally Rhoda made her way into the runway room and this is where I get to know her. Typical of many models, this one grew up a tomboy. Rhoda played field hockey and lacrosse in high school, and wanted to be just like her older brother. Fortunately it didn't work out that way.

Models.com asserts "Once every three years there comes along a girl who is that very thing the modeling industry has been aching for." The New York Times calls her "the 19-year-old with the poise and classic patrician looks of a Fitzgerald heroine."

When I ask her how she feels about such bold statements she pleasantly replies "It's really flattering. I guess you just take it case by case. Everyone will say different things, so when it's really good what they say about you, you can't really let that go to your head because people are going to say bad things about you too, eventually. It happens so quickly. I think you have to really stay true to yourself. Stay grounded because if you let things go to your head you can either get a big head, or you can crash."

"Since I am one of the few, it's nice that people recognize that. It's a really good opportunity, and it's nice how people are responding to it nicely, rather than before when they were saying 'we don't want an American.' So it's nice, the change."

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