Meet model and opera singer Isabella Moore

Isabella Moore interview

Isabella Moore modelling for Juliette Hogan at NZFW 2019 (left) and for Havilah at NZFW 2019. Images by Getty Images.

Isabella Moore owned the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019 last month, with the statuesque model walking in eight different designer shows throughout the week. As recently as a couple of years ago it would have been unheard of for a plus-size model to appear in so many shows but things are changing in the fashion industry and definitely for the better. Isabella is also an accomplished opera singer and got into modelling after she was scouted at an Auckland mall and signed to Unique Model Management, with her gorgeous face, stunning curves and positive personality getting her noticed by some of New Zealand’s leading designers. Her recent appearance at NZFW also saw her picked up by huge international agency IMG Models who have the likes of supermodels Ashley Graham, Gigi Hadid and Gisele Bündchen on their books.

We caught up with Isabella to find out what she loves about modelling, her experience at NZFW and how she feels about the move towards more diversity in the fashion industry.

How did you first get into modelling?
In 2014, my agent Ursula from Unique Model Management scouted me while I was shopping with my Mum at Westfield St Lukes. She asked me if I had any interest in modelling and if I was interested then I should come into the Unique office and have a chat! A week or so later I signed with them!

How has your upbringing, culture and identity shaped how you view and have handled the fashion industry and how do you keep it in perspective?
I’ve been raised by two extremely supportive parents and extended aiga! So, I’ve grown up believing that anything and everything is possible if I work hard aim high and back myself. My mother, Sina Wendt is a proud Samoan woman and a huge advocate and creator of opportunities for Pacific islanders; helping to showcase what we have to offer as a people. I believe that Pacific people are multitalented and have so much to offer, so I too love to help inspire Polynesians to dream big, whether that’s a career in the fashion industry or in another field!

Growing up I’ve had a lot of strong, Pacific, female role models but none from the fashion or modelling industry. I never saw Pacific women in the media unless it was in some tourism advertisment promoting the islands as ideal vacation destinations, but never for clothing, fashion or beauty. This sends a negative message as a kid… That fashion isn’t meant for someone with my cultural background. That being ‘beautiful’ is exclusively for those you see on posters; slim, white women.

Sometimes I still feel quite removed from the fashion industry. I no longer think I don’t belong in it, but I do think I lack knowledge about fashion, designers and what’s ‘on trend’ because it’s still only quite recently that I felt I could take an interest without being judged.

Personally, I believe beauty is found in our differences! Only having one kind of beautiful is boring. I think my culture, upbringing and identity only add to what I have to offer as a model! Those things are what make me ‘beautiful’.

You made your NZFW debut last year for Augustine and this year you walked in eight shows, what was your NZFW 2019 like and what were your favourite moments from the experience?
I had such a positive NZFW experience this year in comparison to last year (and other fashion weeks I have cast for).
Sometimes with modelling, you can feel a bit like a mannequin instead of a living, breathing human! But, this year, I felt as though the designers and producers were excited to have me in their shows and they were very accommodating. In the past I’ve been cut from shows if the clothes didn’t fit, which was devastating for me, as I really wanted to walk!

This year, producers went out and sourced other clothes for me if they weren’t working or the designers made custom items for me to wear, for example, Paris Georgia and Juliette Hogan. I’m very proud of the NZ fashion industry. We still have a long way to go, but this year’s event was a huge step in the right direction.

Not too many people know, but for the Augustine show this year, I opened the Stella Royal part of the show with an operatic aria! I loved being able to showcase my other passion at NZFW. It felt amazing to fuse my two passions!

Isabella Moore interview

Isabella modelling for the Resene Designer Runway show in Mallo at NZFW 2019 (left) and for Paris Georgia at NZFW 2019 (right).

What’s the last thing you do before you step out onto the runway and what are you thinking about as you’re walking it?
I don’t do anything majorly profound before I step out on to the runway. I check my outfit, calm myself, breathe, and think ‘Beyoncé’ thoughts (haha!). I hype myself up with lots of positive self talk and go! When I’m walking the runway I am really just thinking ‘I’m a boss and everyone is going to love it!’ It may sound a little egotistical, but it works. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a healthy dose of self-confidence!

You also have a career as a professional opera soprano. How do modeling and singing complement each other and what skills do you transfer from one to the other?
The mental prep before stepping on the runway is the same for stepping out on to the stage! You need to have self-belief and confidence. Being relaxed is also very important to having a good performance or runway experience. In the past (and sometimes still!) I suffered from performance anxiety and self doubt. People don’t like to admit this, as it can make you look weak or potentially unreliable, but it is very common. Even though I have been singing for longer than modelling, modelling has really helped my singing confidence and has lessened my performance anxiety!

What do you enjoy most about modeling?
There are many things I enjoy about modelling: the amazing, creative people I’ve met, the fashion I’ve been introduced to, events I’ve gotten to attend and be a part of. But what I enjoy the most is knowing that a plus size/curvy girl out there might see an image of me in the media and feel good about herself and may even feel empowered because she’s finally being represented in the media by someone who looks like her.

Social media has become a significant part of being a performer and a model. How do you feel about that side of things and as an active social media user how do you find interacting with your followers?
I am a fan of social media, but I do think your true self can get a little lost sometimes behind ‘life highlights’ posted. I try and keep my social media quite ‘real’ and show all sides of me rather than just the good stuff! I enjoy interacting with my social media followers and will make time to message followers back. I have had quite a positive social media experience so far – not too many haters!

Diversity is definitely a buzzword in fashion but actual change has been a bit slow until recently, what are your thoughts on it and how do you see fashion changing to be more inclusive?
I’m so excited about diversity in the fashion industry! And yes, change is slow but I’m hopeful for the future.

There’s the notion that if you don’t fit a certain mould that you can’t be ‘fashionable’. Curvy women are often left with clothes that aren’t considered fashionable or ‘on trend’ because people don’t design for sizes and shapes other than what is ‘standard’. I find that there is still this idea that plus women can only be ‘commerical’ not ‘high fashion’, which in my opinion is crazy. All shapes, sizes and bodies deserve to be represented.

Plus size models are now being included in runway line ups, but not for every designer/brand. In the future I hope to see a variety of models in line ups, not just one token curve model thrown in the mix. It sends a very strong and inclusive message when ‘standard size’ brands/designers include plus models in their campaigns. These are the innovative designers who are creating change! We need to support them and also encourage new, diverse designers to step up and give them a platform.

Isabella Moore interview

Isabella modelling for Ruby and Rain at NZFW 2019 (left) and for Resene Designer Runway Starving Artists Fund at NZFW 2019 (right).

Who do you look to for positive inspiration in terms of modeling and in general?
Supermodel Ashley Graham was my first modelling inspiration! She walked NYFW a few years ago and her career has taken off! She is boldly, fiercely and unapologetically herself all the time and it’s so refreshing. She’s paved the way for a lot of aspiring curve models.

Also, my friend Veronica Pome’e. She’s a Tongan model taking the world by storm! I’m so proud of her and all that she’s achieved for the body positive community.

NZ is home but it’s also a small place, how did your perspective change on NZ after studying and working overseas and what makes you grateful to be a Kiwi Samoan?
Because NZ is small, I find that I receive a lot of support and encouragement, not only from my friends and family but from the community and NZ public in general. I am hugely grateful for this. It can feel lonely and bit a scary abroad, but Kiwis and Pacific islanders stick together and look out for each other, which isn’t that common amongst other larger cultures/communities.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to get into the fashion industry?
Be true to you! And, be apart of this new, inclusive, diverse movement! For aspiring models, I say be your own role model and change people’s minds about what is ‘acceptable’ by loving and accepting yourself.

Are you someone that plans things out and where do you see your future?
I used to be an elaborate planner! Sometimes too much of a planner. These days I’m a bit more of a ‘live in the present and enjoy the journey’ kind of person. Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life so far have been ‘mistakes’ or unexpected opportunities that have come out of nowhere e.g. being scouted by my agent at the mall in 2014! In saying that, I do have a rough idea of what I’d like to be doing in the next few years. I’m hoping to be based in the UK and pursue both opera and modelling from London. London is an amazing place for both of these industries! I’m excited for the future and what could be in the works for me!

Isabella Moore interview

Isabella (left) modelling in the Resene Designer Runway Show for Ruby and Rain with model Lanu Faletau (right) at NZFW 2019. Image by Getty Images.