Jenny Rieu is an Azazie Fit Model who has spent several years working in the fashion industry. In honor of Black History Month, she has shared her story and the secret to her successful career.
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1. Tell us about yourself
I was born in Paris 14th arrondissement and raised in a small suburban town by a single Mom in a city called Velizy, located near Versailles and Paris. I studied to become a Journalist and an Actress. I have a Bachelor degree in International Communications from the American University of Paris with a minor in Theater and I have an Associate degree from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. I should also add that I was classically trained since my teen years.
Truly, everything I have done my whole life was in the aim of performing (which I did — I used to have my own Cabaret show “ The Lady In Red) and acting ( I played small parts in plays and did a few cameos in films and TV projects). My work has led me to live in cities such as Barcelona, Spain where I used to work for a magazine, New York and now Los Angeles for the past decade.
When I first came to L.A. I did plays, small parts here and there, and I started producing my Cabaret show four months after moving here. I was doing that and booking work in pretty much anything I could get for nearly four years. From voice-over work in French, to extra work, to being an Intern on the Doctors TV show, or making a special appearance on the Fran Drescher Show, I have done it all. It is important to note that the industry wasn’t as diverse back then as it is today. When I first moved here, I wasn’t really plus size and my French accent kind of came in the way of me booking acting roles.
As such in 2013, I decided to start an Instagram account to share my work as a Model and Actress (back when filters were still considered a cool thing on IG!) My passion for all things vintage and for creating my own content early on has led me to start doing collaborations with brands, and this helped me book my first body positive campaign for a vintage brand in 2014. I think it’s important to mention that I also had my own PR agency for a while and I have worked a lot with my husband who is a photographer. From there I hustled my way up and pitched myself to brands to showcase their clothes on my instagram and build a portfolio for myself.
I started up as a pin-up model and became a commercial model with representation. I have also carved out my own niche with a vintage inspired branding that I envisioned for myself way back when I was still living in Paris and doing trade shoots with photographers. For me it’s always been about self-expression and shooting the stuff that would never get cast in. I took control of my own destiny. And that drive has helped me become an Influencer/Model.
Allure Magazine feature shot by Jason Kamimura @jasonkamimuraphoto
PR: Ooh La La Pr #Oohlalapr
Jenny wears the Vendôme top by Elise Anderegg @eliseanderegg
Custom corset by Glamorous Corset @glamorouscorset
Pants by Vivien of Holloway @vivienofholloway
2. What attracted you to the fashion industry?
I think what is exciting about the fashion industry today as opposed to ten years ago is that it has become accessible to so many different people now. Yes, there are still barriers in the high fashion world. But today if you have the drive and the passion you can really get yourself out there and model, no matter what size.
What I love about the fashion industry is that it is instant. You shoot something and you can see it right away. I did film projects and small parts here and there, and sometimes never got to see the outcome. The Commercial and Print work is ageless and operates with a very fast turn-around, like my first national campaign for Shapermint back in 2019. That’s ultimately why I am pushing myself to work more on that side of the industry.
I have always loved commercials and I used to go see the Night of the Ad Addicts in Paris with my Mum . It was a weekend festival that happened every year and showcased commercials from all over the world. This really inspired me to pursue that as well and now I get to do it. I would also love to do more high fashion work, even if I am not the standard 5’9. However, I have gotten myself this far so never say never.
3. How did you get to where you currently are?
I got myself to where I currently am by hustling like a mad woman. I’m older than most models in the business and I also have a fire in me that my Mum transmitted me. I used to think it was all me, but it never was just all me.
I have always seen my Mum work very hard, getting up early to study and get a better job. I have seen her hustle her way up until she reached her dreams. I grew up with her as a role model; she is a single Mum who has given me everything and has fully equipped me to follow my own path. I definitely got to where I am today and where I will be tomorrow because of her. Then, there is my husband Jason who has had my back since we first met in 2012. He has become my everything as well for his unconditional support and the fact that we are so complementary. We have shot so many projects together and his kindness and dedication are something that I truly cherish.
Now that I have mentioned my support system, I think it’s important to talk about work ethic, dedication and passion. I started doing self produced shoots more than 15 years ago. I wasn’t agency-represented at the time and I had no brand sponsorships whatsoever, but I was driven to create and get myself seen. I worked as an extra on movie sets for years and I felt overlooked. From there I started connecting with photographers on ModelMayhem to shoot projects that I fantasized about bringing to life. This was way before Instagram existed and I would essentially share those on Facebook. From there I kept shooting with a variety of people and without even realizing it, I established my own vintage-inspired and body positive branding.
When I started modeling on my own back in 2006 I had no concept of branding, yet I had a very specific aesthetic and inspiration that I was drawn to. What you see in my work is what I genuinely love, unlike other models who are usually staged into most of their shoots. I stage myself unless I get booked for a lookbook by a brand. Besides that, I have learnt the ropes of every aspect of the industry, working production for the International Documentary Association, working on shows as a PA, and also starting my own PR and Social Media business. And when I produce a shoot of mine I am behind almost every aspect of it. I am involved with picking the location, creating the mood board, sitting down in the editing chair, deciding on angles and most importantly styling myself from head to toe. Because of my commitment to what I do, it was a natural transition for me to become a Content Creator and Influencer. When brands hire us they want the whole package, not just a model. I am a self-taught hard worker who gets involved with everything.
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4. What are the best parts of being a part of the industry?
I think for me it is knowing that I am able to build something. At first I thought they were separate jobs, but at some point I realize I am building a career. I also love working in a creative field, which has always been my dream. Because I have experience both as a Talent and working behind the scenes as Crew. I am not shy about pitching myself and booking my own work. I love the fact that the industry has evolved in that sense. It is also an industry full of talented creative people and I constantly feel challenged and inspired at the same time.
5. What are the downsides?
The downsides are that it can consume a lot of your time and energy and it sometimes doesn’t feel real or tangible. I love modeling and seeing the end results in pictures, but at the end of the day everything is created. It can be raw if you decide for your work to be like that as a content creator. But when you book e-commerce work, which is mostly what the majority of plus models book these days, it can feel a bit empty. That’s why I like creating my own work, my own concepts and ultimately that’s why enforcing my personal branding has helped me book work. I am not your typical Model, because my path isn’t a traditional one. I started in my early 30s and I had to find other ways to get myself to where I wanted to be. And there is still a long way to go.
It can feel discouraging at times when the years go by and you see others fulfilling their dream before you. But it all comes down to having confidence that it will all workout in its own time and avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone is unique and special.
Shot by Jason Kamimura @jasonkamimuraphoto
Jenny wears a gold lame dress and vintage fur stole from her personal collection.
6. What is a project/design that you are most proud of?
My first editorial in Ellements Magazine (circa 2017) is one of the projects I am the most proud. I shot with Heidi Calvert who is an Inclusive photographer and my friend and Emmy award make-up Artist Natasha Marcelina. I have done plenty of other projects that I am proud of but that one will always be special to me because it was the first time I felt like a real model.
7. What or who inspires you and your work?
I spend so much time making mood boards on Pinterest. I love that side of social media where you can let your mind float and pin things, places, and people. I am always inspired by all things vintage and Old-Hollywood inspired. Right now I’m going through a phase of French New Wave 1960s inspired looks.
I love Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve, but I mostly love styling myself in a genre that wasn’t created for my type initially. It’s not everyday that you see black women do these looks. Although the vintage scene has evolved — from four visible black retro models, now you have several. But if you look closely at Instagram accounts that showcase the French girl look for instance, it is always highlighting Caucasian women. And having grown up in Paris myself, I know France is way more diverse than this. I love claiming looks from the past and making them my own.
Cover for Black Pinups Magazine @blackpinupsmagazine shot by Chama Chereau @chamachereau in Paris, Austerlitz.
PR: Ooh La La PR #Oohlalapr
Jenny wears clothing from her personal collection.
8. What advice would you give someone just starting out on their creative journey?
I would say go for it and make sure to stand for something. Do not lose hope and keep fighting to make your vision come through. Take all the No’s and use them as a drive to kick more doors down.
9. The Azazie LA team loves working with you! What has been your experience with us been so far?
It’s been great. I was especially excited when I got to do the Old-Hollywood Look Book with you guys. I started doing vintage inspired shoots in 2006 or so. I never thought that one day I would get to do that style for a mainstream bridal brand. This is one of my favorite shoots I have ever done, I love the set design, the make-up, and the fit of the garments. Aside from that shoot it’s always a pleasure doing fit modeling for the brand and playing a part in the perfecting fit of the designs.
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10. Do you have a favorite organization that supports BIPOC in general? We would love to spread the word!
I have volunteered for Dress for Success a few times, they support all women and especially women of color by finding the perfect clothes for job interviews and such. I would definitely recommend this organization. Be sure to follow them at @dressforsuccess
11. What are the most important things people can be doing to help support BIPOC or POC in general now and always?
I think the most important things people can do to help support BIPOC and POC is to treat us with the same respect they would with anybody else. I have zero tolerance for discrimination of any sort. Hire us, Pay us well, and highlight our work. We are worth it!
Old-Hollywood style portrait shot at the Parisian Photo Studio Portrait Madame @portrait_madame
Pr: Ooh La La PR #Oohlalapr
Jenny wears a Silver Lame dress from her personal collection.
To learn more about Jenny Rieu, see her IG @jennyrieu or visit her website at http://www.jennyrieu.book.fr