Twenty-nine-year-old Saskia de Brauw got her first taste of modeling, like many of her peers, when she was just 16. After a year of modeling locally in Europe, the Dutch native quit the industry to study visual arts back home in Amsterdam. Upon graduation, de Brauw worked odd jobs as a waitress and a babysitter until she bumped into an old friend from the industry, who encouraged her to give modeling another shot. [Ed. note: Good call, friend.] Now, in a span of less than six months, de Brauw has appeared in ads for Givenchy, been a muse for Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, and perhaps most famously, is now starring on Carine Roitfeld's final cover for French Vogue. We caught up with the model at her agency, DNA Models, during New York Fashion Week.
Tell us a little about your childhood.
I have had a very protected and loving childhood. I grew up in a village close to Amsterdam with my parents and my older brother. The village and the surrounding farms were my playground. I loved horses at that time and with my friends we would groom the farmers' horses for hours for fun, and we made them jump over hurdles in the field. Then I went to high school in Amsterdam and later on decided I wanted to study visual arts (in Amsterdam) as well.
You first started to model when you were young, then quit. What do you remember about modeling the first time around?
At that time I did not work internationally, except for Germany and Belgium. I remember I did many nice commercial jobs and I traveled to some amazing places. Once, I was on a boat in the Cape Verde Islands. Dolphins jumped out of the water in front of our boat and whales were visible in the distance. [But] the work itself was, generally speaking, not as exciting as things I am doing right now, and as I never really made any progression, I decided at one point it was enough.
What made you come back to modeling?
After I graduated from Arts Academy I picked up various jobs to make my living. I worked with small children, as a waitress and in a bakery. If you only practice art, it is always a struggle for money. When I met an old friend from work, whom I had not seen for many years, she suggested I could still model and she made the decisive phone call to my current mother agency, Paparazzi Models, in Amsterdam. Back then, I thought that I might be able to work for some commercial clients in the Netherlands, but quite unexpectedly things moved into a different direction.
Has the industry changed from when you first started to model to today?
What I do see around me with photographer friends and stylists is that the economical crisis has had a deep impact on the industry. Budgets are much tighter. I think before there was more time and more money to create things. When I started, the “heroin chic” look was in fashion. So super-skinny was the standard. I think that has changed a little bit as well.
What does modeling mean to you today?
It means a lot to me. [Before I started modeling again] I was at a point in my life where things did not move forward very quickly anymore. The travel, the amazing work I have had the chance to do, the meetings with different people are all very inspiring and give me lots of positive energy. I have never felt better in my life than I do now actually. So it has been a very important twist in my life, whatever will happen next.
Why do you think your response from designers and editors is so strong in this moment?
I have really good management today. I think that is the biggest part of the trick.
Then probably the way I look fits this particular moment in time. I am far from perfect, but I have something else. I heard that people in the industry are longing for more personality and diversity. Perhaps I am more a "character" than a model.
What are your thoughts on underage models?
When I think of myself at 15, even 17, I could simply not have done this work on an international level and travel all the time, take care of myself and not feel lost. I feel very happy that this is happening now, and not 10 years ago, as I feel stronger as a person. I find the underage models very courageous, but I wonder at times if they see themselves that way. Maybe that might even be a problem — there are exceptions, of course — they do not realize yet enough who they really are and what they want from life. I think that you have to be able to go back inside yourself and your own world and not get sucked up into ideas of what other people might think of you. People can project many things on you which might not be the truth. Maybe when you are very young, you confuse the role you play as model and the person you are in real life. They resemble and they connect but are not necessarily always the same.
We heard that your artistic background is how you bonded with Riccardo Tisci upon first meeting him. What medium do you usually work with, and what's the last piece of work you've completed?
I do not work in one particular medium. My work is in its base conceptual. I use different media depending on the project I work on. My work is about the way people move through space and the traces they leave behind while doing so. These traces are often invisible. I like to make these invisible traces visible through my work. [For example] I did a work on daily routes of people in a certain neighborhood. I was curious where random people's routes would cross. These were invisible encounters to me. Everyday they would meet without knowing. I wanted to show these meetings to other people as well.
[But] the last project I have completed was a collaboration with my boyfriend Vincent van de Wijngaard. He is a fantastic documentary photographer and filmmaker and we made a little detour from our own work by collaborating on a performance piece. We created a cardboard city and we filmed it. We wrote a short story about a traveler who arrives in a city and describes what he sees upon arrival. The installation showed two projections — one blank and one of the cardboard city film. A live voice-over read the story of this traveler. I performed the role of the traveler. I used the projectors as sources of light to create my shadow which I interact with the film and the blank screen. It is a project that we wish to develop further into an animation maybe.
Outside of modeling and art, what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to do yoga, I like to cook, to go to exhibitions, cinema, films, dance performances, eat with friends, very simple stuff. Amongst my favorite artists you can find George Perec, John Berger, Italo Calvino, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Marina Abramovic, Francis Alys, the movie Tuvalu, Bjork, Glenn Could, Nina Simone, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, [Richard] Avedon, Alexey Brodovitch and more
What’s a normal outfit you would wear on any given day?
I would definitely wear flat menswear-like shoes. I like to wear skirts long or short. I would wear a top that is not very tight. I would probably wear a scarf which I find one of the best pieces of clothing there is.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I like to go to bed early. And I am not a bad cook, at all.
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