Class work and casting calls

A day in the life: U student models

Retail Merchandising major and model Emily Gernes.

Photographer Kris Lou and Erik Robert

Retail Merchandising major and model Emily Gernes.

Micaela Resh

Part-time jobs are a part of the college experience — working as a barista in a coffee shop or an assistant in a research lab — but for some, it’s a little less typical.

They’re working it in the classroom and on the runway.

Ignite Models and University of Minnesota students Emily Gernes, Meghan Rook and Gabby VandenAvond explain their experience breaking into the industry, the job’s stressors and what they hope to pursue in the future.

Gernes, who is a retail merchandising major, said she has always been interested in modeling. Growing up, she would host fashion shows at her grandma’s house, mixing and matching pajamas for her looks.

“When I got older, I never thought I was pretty enough to model, so I didn’t even try to break into that field,” Gernes said. “It wasn’t until I [got the photos from my first] shoot that I actually thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this.’ It sounds silly, but that was really a life-changing moment for me in a lot of ways.”

Compared to Gernes, VandenAvond saw modeling as an open door for travel and bettering her connections in the acting world.

“One side is to pay the bills and be able to travel with the money I earn,” VandenAvond said. “The other is the art you can make in this industry. My background is in acting, so I see modeling as a way to portray a character, emotion, situation, etc. through a still frame rather than a play or film production; you can really tell a story with pictures, and that’s what I enjoy doing.”

Similar to many creative industries, modeling is tough to break into. Casting directors are continually on the hunt for the youngest, freshest faces.

“I got started after one of Ignite’s open casting calls. Before that, I worked with a few photographers just for fun, but Ignite was where I’d say I got my start,” VandenAvond said.

Unlike VandenAvond, who sought out the modeling world, Rook stumbled into the industry by chance.

“I was actually ‘discovered’ at the University of Minnesota apparel design fashion show in 2012, where I walked for a friend of mine. My agency came up to me afterwards and asked me if I had ever considered modeling professionally, so I decided to look into it,” Rook said.

The stressors of exams, papers and attending class can be hard to manage on top of a modeling schedule.

“Balancing work and school is difficult sometimes. I was raised to put school first, and I love my work at the ‘U,’ so classes are always my priority. Oftentimes, it’s hard to turn down jobs because of classes, but I always do because I want to earn my degree in an honest way,” VandenAvond said.

In addition to the on-set work, behind-the-scenes work is crucial for modeling.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but it keeps you on your toes. A modeling career isn’t just photo shoots and runway shows like most people think. A large part of the career is making sure you get/stay in shape.” Gernes said.

Each model recalled notable successes in their careers thus far.

For Rook, it was working with Sigma Beauty on the release of the company’s new eyeliner. She was excited to see makeup artists and bloggers posting about the product across social media.

“Kim Kardashian’s makeup artists even Instagrammed me, although he has no idea that it is me,” Rook said.

As for VandenAvond, her November cover for the City Pages’ Winter Style Guide set her status as a Minnesota model.

“I had a blast on set with the photographer, and I loved the way the pictures turned out. My friends and family were all really excited for me, which was cool, and a few random people recognized me from the cover. That was a bit bizarre,” VandenAvond said.

Modeling pays the bills, but it also opens up countless other opportunities.

Right now, Rook is modeling full time and traveling around the world.

“I am in Singapore at the moment on a three-month contract, and in April I am moving to Jakarta, Indonesia, for another three-month contract. After that, I plan on either going to a new market in Shanghai or Thailand to further develop my portfolio,” Rook said.

VadenAvond, who is a theater arts and English student, also hopes to travel and potentially branch into acting through her connections in modeling.

“It’s really exciting to think how the industries are connected and how my degree at the ‘U’ and my work through Ignite might one day be synthesized,” VandenAvond said.