Culture / Reportage / Visual Media

Yazemeenah Rossi: THE SPIRIT OF A FIGHTER, THE BODY OF A MODEL

How does she do to stay at the top?

On December 21st, she blew out her 60 candles. Despite her age, the model Yazemeenah Rossi has incredible features and a body that set the World Wide Web on fire this year. Retirement? Over her dead body!

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‘A woman, a dreamer, an adventurer, an explorer’ photo William Heuberger

‘I am at the margin, I live off the grid and sometimes I feel like I am from another planet.’

These words from the famous model could describe her whole career and illustrate the image she imprinted on global media.

Throughout centuries modeling displayed the fantasy of eternal beauty and youth.

The industry is pitiless and models have to fight competition to hold one’s spot under the lights. In fashion, only names last forever; models live the lives of ephemerals.

But the woman who once was called Yasmina, succeeded in reinventing herself, in a business field when one day you are in and the next you are out.

Ageless, with the body and face that would create the envy of women 20 years her junior, Yazemeenah Rossi was never conventional. If the secret to stay in fashion was: “the more you are seen, the more you are booked, the longer you exist”, she proved that wrong.

Away from runways, away from the public eye, she made her way up from fitting rooms, to the 60-plus models’ Hall of fame.

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Photography Marta Elena Vassilakis for jewel designer Sue Beningfield

 

 FIT MODELING OR FITTING MODEL, WHAT IS THIS?

At her debut on the French fashion industry, Yazemeenah struggled to be heard. She was already a mother of two, extremely shy and not fit for haute couture. The odds were not in her favor, yet her good shape and stunning appearance helped her find the best-suited job.

For about 15 years she worked in the shadows of fashion backstage where the collections shown to the world were adapted to the prêt à porter market. And that is what fit modeling is all about, make sure the new designs ‘fit’ the rest of us.

In haute couture, you must be a size 2 or 4 (US) to get the chance to walk to and fro the catwalk. Me, I was a perfect 6 and I got to be a fit model,’ Yazemeenah explains.

Put this way, the job does not seem glamorous for one bit. Though unseen, fit models are essential for designers. They are “the ones who can make or break a line”, says owner of MSA models Susan Levine, who has been representing fit models since 1947.

Backstage was where Yazemeenah’s talent and skills as a tailor were valued, so far as to direct designers when they worked fabrics on her.

 No longer a hanger among others, she used her beauty and head as she designed her clothes since ever, to manage in a business discriminating against elder women.

In 2012, The Daily Mail pointed out in its article Ready to retire at 24, the ludicrous average retirement age of fashion models, outdated in their late 20’s.

Contrary to the standards set by the fashion industry fit modeling is one of the few areas in the modeling world that allows for a longer career. Back in the 80’s Yazemeenah started in the fitting rooms of a company that was creating Jil Sander leather and fur collections and she was already 28 years old.

From those days she keeps the vivid memory of having to stand still for hours on high heels – causing her knee to ache today – her head in cigarette smokes for months. In exchange for very hard work conditions, Yazemeenah would earn $75-$150 hourly rate; a real motivation for her to keep on going.

‘It was incredibly hard but I made more money in one week than my father in one month!’

Yazemeenah’s spirit of initiative opened new doors for her and she decided to perform in TV commercials.

 

COMMERCIAL MODELING: TAKING RISKS TO LAST LONGER!

Always looking for new challenges, Yazemeenah shifted from fitting rooms to TV commercials. Starting in France, she enhanced her experience abroad and realized that the American market welcomed her western and mature ‘type’.

‘I was working like crazy, twice as much as in Europe and I was already 45!’

Out of her comfort zone, she seized the opportunity to settle in the US, in the end of the 90s.

The language is crucial on TV. As a French newcomer, Yazemeenah struggled with English as her new language.

The director of a famous talent agency told her she would never work in TV advertising in the US due to her accent. In fact these words stimulated her even harder to get hat she wanted:

‘I am not someone who can be easily defeated so when I started to do 4-5 TV commercials a year, I remembered that man and that he could see me on TV made me happy! :)’

As soon as she got to New York, she worked as an exclusive model for Ford, the famous car brand. Her TV career started the best way it could, in National advertising campaigns.

The author Cheryl Tobey wrote about commercial modeling in her book Choosing a career as a model’:

‘advertising work pays very well. Depending on the location and the type of ad, a commercial model can earn between $50 and $250 an hour. Exclusive contracts usually pay the highest rates.’

 

MODERNITY, FREEDOM AND SOCIAL NETWORKS

Artist in every fields of her life Yazemeenah considers herself a modern artist, an avant-garde model. The following step for her was to manage her career on her own.

Thanks to social networks, she has started a whole new adventure supported by her 10 000 followers. She has freed herself from the constraints of the market and interacts directly with the public now.

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Tecopa Mojave Desert, California. Photography/ Modeling/ Styling/ Hair&Make up by Yazeeminah Rossi

Photographer Nick Knight comforted such an alternative strategy in the article Older models: the women in their 60s, 70s and 80s who are shaking up fashion for The Guardian. He believes that the success of older models is part of a broader cultural change.

For him, we don’t live in a youth based society, as it was the case 50 years ago. The Internet is where most women get their fashion information from now and it displays all manner of different cultures and values.

‘I don’t depend on the media but I influence them’, Yazeeminah said.

She might have become the spokesperson for an entire generation. Even more rewarding, she has turned into a counselor, an advisor in beauty and health on Facebook and Instagram, for women (and men) younger than she is.

‘Plastic surgery is NOT out of the question… I am on the aging process effect like everyone else. But it took me so long to love who I am that I am scared not to recognize myself in the mirror. But I have my own tricks. I use naturopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy and all the parallel medicine. I have never been healthier. Be friend with your body. Think about the word buddy, then your body is a friend, your best ally.’

ACTING AS A FUTURE OPENING…

Yazemeenah Rossi never rests. A new idea is already on her mind, she wants to act. She is aware that modeling is coming to an end not because of age, but because of her longing for novelty.

‘I am 59, and everything they put on me still looks nice. It has become their excuse not to make me wear things they would give younger models. I don’t wear evening dresses, but they make me advertise nightgowns, and I am supposed to enhance them.’

She does not have as much fun as she used to and she is tired of it. Modeling was her therapy. Thanks to this job she has changed from a worm into a butterfly and she acknowledges it. In her positive mindset we all are God and Goddesses, we just need to reveal it to ourselves first.

However singular as she might be, Yazemeenah’s secret of longevity would be that she confirms the very stereotypes she challenges. She is an older model but she does not look her age; she is an older model but her body is still fit and thin; she is an older model and she will never be age-neutral. As the famous say goes: ‘In fashion only Kate Moss is eternal’.

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