Newcomer Samantha Gradoville is putting Omaha, Nebraska, back on the map. Yep, the city that gave us Conor Oberst, Tim Kasher, and other musical stalwarts also produces fine corn-fed models. The 20-year-old Gradoville got her big break when she was handpicked to open and close Prada's fall 2010 collection in Milan. That throws her in the elite company of Kristen McMenamy, Sasha Pivovarova, and Daria Werbowy. A week later, she made an exclusive appearance at the Miu Miu show in Paris. Since then, the Boggle fan has been living up to her post-runway buzz with an editorial in W, shot by Craig McDean; the cover of Italian D; and modeling for the Yves Saint Laurent, Donna Karan, and Prada resort collections. Trust us when we say this girl is here to stay.
Miuccia Prada and Russell Marsh are notorious for their casting process. How and when did you find out you were going to open and close the biggest show in Milan?
I had the fitting the night before the show and I tried on the black dress, which ended up fitting perfectly with no alterations. As I was leaving, I was taken aside and secretly told I was opening. I was so excited! The next morning I was fit for another dress and was shown how to walk the finale because I was told "you might also be closing." But I really didn't know for sure until just before the show actually started and I saw all of the looks on the board. It was the experience of a lifetime and I feel so honored to have been given that opportunity.
Before that big break, you flew under the radar for two seasons. What kept you going?
I have never been one to give up — with anything, actually. And modeling has been something I have enjoyed since the beginning. As I worked more, I gained more experience and became more confident in myself. This industry will always be difficult to deal with at times, but the support of my mom is my one constant. When I'm at my lowest, she knows exactly what to say to bring me back up again.
Who are some of your best model pals, and what do you guys do when you're together?
I have a lot of good friends in the industry, but the two girls that I am the closest to are Emma Ishta and Vanessa Hegelmaier. We usually just hang out and talk, [or] go for coffee or do some vintage shopping. But Emma is also a great cook, so we usually come over for an amazing dinner and play Boggle afterward. I usually win.
If you could follow the career path of one model, who would it be?
I have always looked up to Natalia Vodianova. She was able to work very well when she first started, and I think her editorials are just so beautiful. Now that she is older, she managed to find love, settle down, and have a family. She continues to work sometimes, which I think is fantastic. I know she also started the Naked Heart charity. I would love to raise a family like [she did], while giving back to the community as well.
We hear you're a fan of fellow Omaha native Conor Oberst. What's your favorite song by him?
I am more of a fan of his earlier work with Bright Eyes. My favorite songs are "Waste of Paint" and "Lover I Don't Have To Love." I'm also a fan of the Faint, another band from Omaha. I love their song "Hospital."
What's one thing you have in Nebraska that you can't find in New York, Milan, or Paris?
My family, of course. And my puppy!