11.10.2015 - Elisabeth von Stackelberg


Living the American dream


Joan Smalls’ “breakthrough” moment came when she was exclusively hand-picked by Riccardo Tisci to walk for the 2010 Givenchy couture show. Known for selecting models who have more to offer than just beauty for his gang of Givenchy-girls, Tisci immediately recognized that Smalls, a relatively unknown model at the time, had a strong personality and the potential to become a present-day “super”. In an interview the designer stated, "Since the moment (Joan Smalls) walked into my couture salon, I knew that a star was born."


Born in a small coastal town in Puerto Rico, Joan Smalls Rodriquez grew up a regular girl, skinny and tall, but far removed from the fashion and modeling world. As she grew older, friends continually told her she should try modeling, but Smalls put her education first and obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology before finally moving to New York City to pursue a career as a model. Here she first signed with Elite Model Management, shooting mainly print campaigns. Although she was booked with well-known brands, she didn’t catch the attention of the fashion industry.

In 2009 Smalls signed with the world’s most well-known modeling agency, IMG. Only a year later, an exclusive contract with Givenchy skyrocketed her to stardom and she instantly became an international it-girl. From then on, Smalls career path climbed steeply upwards as contracts with Victoria’s Secret and Gucci followed. She opened and closed numerous shows for top designers in New York and Paris, appeared on the fall cover of i-D, and in Vogue editorials around the world, photographed by the most sought after photographers, such as Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier and Steven Meisel. André Leon Talley also selected Smalls to feature in Vogue as a rising star of the industry and Elle magazine called her “the new supermodel”.


As one of the few black models to “make it” in fashion, Smalls effectively uses her prominence to advocate more racial diversity on the catwalks of Europe and New York. Many black or mixed-race models, such as Jourdan Dunn, have publicly addressed their disdain at being cancelled for shows because the brand “already has one black girl”. Actively speaking out against those brands and the many designers that exclusively cast white models, she told Elle magazine, "People hide behind the word 'aesthetic’. They say, 'Well, it's just that designer's aesthetic.' But when you see 18 seasons in a row and not one single model outside a certain skin color? There are people in the industry who are advocates, who support diversity. And there are people who do not. I don't get it. Beauty is universal. These doors have to open."

Although the industry still has a long way to go, Smalls continues to push those boundaries. In 2011 she was selected as the first Latina ever to become a brand ambassador for cosmetics brand Estée Lauder. Global creative director at Estée Lauder, Richard Ferretti, comments that "The word 'supermodel' is overused, but if there is any woman of our generation who deserves the title, it's Joan."

Short Facts


Joan Smalls is renowned for her great legs and pout. Global creative director of Estée Lauder, Richard Ferretti, said “she (Joan Smalls) has the perfect face”.


Speaking about her high school years Smalls told Elle, "I was the popular girl for being funny: It was about my personality, not my looks. I was too skinny to be pretty at school." To this day, Smalls’ success stems not only from her immaculate beauty, but, more importantly, from her perceptible authenticity.


Joan Smalls is part of a gang of model-it-girls – including the likes of Cara Delevigne, Lily Donaldson, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Karlie Kloss - seen frequently on social media channels like Instagram. According to Smalls, the girls are all very close friends, on and off camera.

Awards & Recognition

2012   Model of the Year at the 9th Annual "Style Awards" and #1 on the Top 50 Models Women list by Models.com


1988 – Just a girl

Born on July 11 in Hatillo, a small town on the coast of Puerto Rico, Smalls spends her childhood and youth as a regular Puerto Rican girl, the youngest of three sisters, never dreaming that one day she would become one of the most sought after faces in the modeling industry.

2007 – Making it in NYC

After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, Smalls decides to go to New York to become a model. She signs with Elite Model Management, doing mainly print work at first. Later in the year she is selected to close the spring Ports 1961 show and to walk for several other designers including L’Wren Scott.

2009 – Switching it up

Smalls decides to leave Elite Model Management, with whom she had only moderate success, to sign with IMG instead.

2010 - Breakthrough

Riccardo Tisci exclusively selects Joan Smalls to walk in the spring Givenchy couture show in Paris. Following this leap in her career, other major brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Gucci choose Smalls to become one of the select faces for their campaigns and shows.

2011 – Fully booked

In 2011 Smalls’ schedule continues to explode with bookings and requests for top brands including Roberto Cavalli, Stella McCartney, Christian Dior and many more. Estée Lauder signs her as the first Latina brand ambassador to date.

2012 – From cover to cover

Smalls appears in the uber-exclusive Pirelli Calendar, as well as more editorials and covers of VogueandW. She also models ad campaigns for Chanel, Lacoste, Fendi, and Givenchy, among others.

2013 – At the top

In 2013, she ranks at #8 on Forbes magazine's World's Highest-Paid Models list.

2014 – Modern day supermodel

In January 2014, Smalls appears on the ‘Return of the Supermodel’ cover of American Elleas well as American Vogue’s prominent September issue.


© Imaxtree


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