“When I was beginning my modeling career, it was challenging,” says Gigi Thoennes, choosing her words carefully to describe her early foray into the Fashion world as a teenager. “I grew up in Germany, and I was so thrilled to move to New York for my career – the other girls were so competitive though, that it wasn’t fun. They weren’t about women supporting each other, it was the opposite”.
Perfectly put together in an olive jumpsuit, on-trend espadrilles, and delicate gold accessories, Gigi appears to have just strolled in from shopping on Melrose Ave., but her striking bone structure is also balanced by a focus that denotes a serious businesswoman underneath with direction, and her sincerity hints at a warm, down-to-earth personality. Certainly not the type of person you’d imagine having any sort of unpleasantness aimed in her direction.
When asked of the types of encounters she had during her initial days modeling, she recalls one manager she had while working in Turkey, who refused to allow her to see or go out with any of her friends, even other models who were working in the same city. “He was very controlling,” she says, “We could only go out at night with him. If I wanted to see anyone else, that was off limits”. Clearly, that arrangement did not work for the young model, and she says the two ultimately parted ways amicably.
Gigi also describes going on fittings, where models would misdirect her to the wrong floor of a building, or not respond, if asked in which floor or studio the designer was holding appointments.
“I had an agent early on who was demotivating when I wouldn’t book a shoot, and who didn’t know to remind me not to take these things personally; instead, it became a critique on my physicality, which was on the destructive side”.
It’s funny, what a little time can do. . .
Today, you might recognize Gigi from any number of print or editorial shoots and ads that have been published in a myriad of magazines across the globe; she is a successful international model, formerly with the powerhouse Wilhelmina agency while living in New York, and is currently with a premier boutique Los Angeles based agency, as the trend among more established models has been to go with smaller representation whose heightened focus on individual attention to clients allows for greater focus on each client’s career trajectory.
As we sit at SOHO House in West Hollywood over drinks, Gigi looks every bit the jet setter model. What sets her apart though from many of today’s models, Instagram influencers, and public personalities, is her substance and authenticity. “I’m really excited about the time we’re in now, and about women coming together and supporting each other, and finding a voice. It’s exciting to see all of this come together in today’s climate”.
When I ask Gigi what her professional and personal goals are, she refreshingly does not respond with a rote checklist of “been there, done that” items, or designers she’s “dying to work with”, even though her love for fashion is unmistakable. Instead, she grows enthusiastic mentioning one of her current passion projects, having gone into business for herself to promote skincare that she believes in, and a company whose values she backs wholeheartedly. (Her products, which she uses herself daily, are newly available at femkethoennes.myrandf.com).
And what about her goals for the next five years? “I want to empower other women,” Gigi says. “I overcame a lot when I was just in my teens, from health difficulties to moving on my own to a new country, and working with people who were very intimidating (for me), at an age when I wasn’t sure yet how best to respond to people and circumstances”.
“Over the years, I’ve continued to work with amazing, talented people whom I’ve felt that I’ve aligned with. I’ve walked in Paris and New York Fashion Week shows, and hit some of the typically desired career milestones in the industry. But then, I decided I also wanted my degree, which I earned in Psychology, and to broaden my options beyond just modeling. I became an entrepreneur. If I, a girl who came over from Germany, without any local friends, and being intimidated by managers or reps at different agencies before finding my ‘home’ with people I ultimately chose to work with, can make it in this industry, and succeed, then anyone can,” she says humbly. “I would love to talk to models new to the industry as I was, and to offer them the mentorship and positivity I would have liked to have had starting out. I don’t want them making any of the mistakes I made early on, with not being sure enough of myself to demand the treatment from some individuals that I deserved”.
Even with her busy shooting schedule, and keeping up with her many appointments, she makes time for her newest passion, because it is aligned with her overarching goal, to be a cultivator of a community of strong, successful women, who confidently celebrate each others’ success. She’s come a long way from the days of abiding by curfews and managers’ rules in Turkey. Now, Gigi’s biggest driving goal? “To be a powerful, successful woman, that other women can look up to, and who is able to give back”. We can’t wait to see what’s next for this inspiring model and entrepreneur.
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