Despite what Tyra says, winning America's Next Top Model basically guarantees that a girl's high-fashion modeling career is doomed. With that precedent in mind, losing the competition might have been a stroke of luck for Cycle 10 reject Fatima Siad. Leaving the show as the third runner-up, 24-year-old Siad was then scooped up by New York Models, who currently represent Niki Taylor and Sui He. After three years of quietly working in the commercial market, shooting for department stores and catalogues, the Somali model landed on the spring 2012 runways for Dries Van Noten and Hermès — a Top Model first! Siad also confirms that she recently shot with Swedish photographer Camilla Akrans for Hervé Léger's spring 2012 campaign. We met with the refreshingly frank Siad this week to talk things Top Model and her transition into high fashion.
Why did you choose the reality TV route instead of seeking agency representation right away?
Basically, I didn't know anything about fashion. I was very nerdy; I went to Bryn Mawr and never even noticed models when I was 21. After going to Bryn Mawr for three years, I transferred to NYU, and as soon as I moved to New York, people were like "You should model! You should model!" That was the first time I heard it in my life.
Really, the first time?
Well, once in a while, people would tell me, "You look like Iman." But they didn't really know fashion either. Anyway, when my friend was auditioning for Top Model she asked me to go with her, and I just went with the flow all the way until I became a cast member. Next thing you know, I'm in this house with all these crazy people and I'm thinking, "What the fuck did I do?!" And you don't realize it because they kind of brainwash you. Until you get out and you realize, "Oh my gosh, I really could have just gone to an agency, because these people obviously had no interest in my career."
What do you remember most about your time on the show?
It was really intense and dramatic. There was unnecessary stress; they made fashion seem like it was the hardest thing in the world. Now that I work as a professional model, I advise people to stay away from any television shows. It's a waste of your time; it's just entertainment. It's not the fashion that we now know.
I'm sure you still get recognized when you're out, no?
Yes! All the gay guys! When I go Harlem or Brooklyn, I can't go to stores. It's crazy. It's nice, but when you deal with that for three years every single day, it makes you a little bit mean. I'm running somewhere and someone will be like, "How's Tyra?" I want people to recognize me for the work I do now as a model, and not something I did three years ago.
Well, now that you've done high-fashion work, how legit was all that ANTM training?
I have a love and hate relationship with Top Model. I think, obviously, if I didn't do the show, I wouldn't be where I am now and I never would have been exposed to fashion. I learned to love fashion. I went from not knowing anything to becoming really curious and wanting to know and respecting people in the industry, realizing how hard they work. I will always be thankful for Top Model for that.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your cycle?
Actually, Whitney lives right next to me. I went to her birthday party and we hung out; she's cool. It's really hard to be friends with people on a TV show, especially when there's cameras shoved in your face 24 hours a day. After the show, I see the girls as human beings. In the show, it just brings out the worst of you. They put you in uncomfortable situations so you're not yourself.
What do you mean?
Like not being fed on time. If I'm not eating at my times, then you don't want to be around me. [Laughs.] They just want to make you the most uncomfortable, so that you're on edge. As an example, when we were shooting on the boat and Marvita [Washington] was getting seasick and basically, what happened was that they had Advil, but they didn't want to give it to her to see how she would react. Or if you wanted water or needed to go pee, sometimes they would just hold us in the car. Psychologically, it's smart because then the girls are uncomfortable and then clashes will happen.
When you first started modeling, how did clients respond to you?
I didn't really work well my first year. My agency wanted to strip the whole Top Model off me and basically sell me as a model, and not a reality TV model. I did jobs here and there, but I think what was going on was that my agency wanted to build me from scratch. I was learning through it all.
This season, you were selected by top casting director, Russell Marsh, to walk the Dries Van Noten show. What was that process like?
First of all, I work in fashion, but I still don't know much about it. I don't know names, but I'm working on it. I remember I walked in and he's just looking at me and I thought, "Who's this guy just staring at me?" I had no idea who he was, but maybe it was good that I didn't, because I would have been nervous. It was a really great experience, especially because I didn't expect it at all.
What was it like working with Christophe Lemaire at Hermès?
He has to be one of the nicest people I met. He's genuinely interested in the world and other people. He's very global. I heard he lived in Africa when he was young. At the show, people were giving us massages; they really take care of their girls. Normal fashion shows are chaotic, but he has a very interesting energy; he's very subtle and very calm, which carried over to backstage. I could not believe how nice they all are, which was a completely different experience for me.
Overall, do you think being on Top Model helped or hindered your career?
Honestly, I don’t know. I hear a lot of Top Model girls say they are dismissed by clients because they recognize them, but it never happened to me. I think it might have helped in some ways because some people know of me. If you use your time on the show in a smart way, you can take your career to the next level.
Lastly, have you heard anything from Tyra after your successful show season?
No, I just got back three days ago. But I have to say, I think she's a smart business woman. Months ago, I ran into her in the Lower East Side and she hopped out of her car yelling, "Fatima, girl! I'm so proud of you!" She shows me love. I feel like she's always tried to coach me, but I was never there yet to understand. I always thought she was really tough on me, but now I see, I think she saw potential.