Style Q&A with Model Lisa Cant
Sometimes you choose your path and sometimes your path chooses you. It’s rare when that path is laid out among the Billy bookcases and 300-square-foot model apartments at Ikea, but that is what happened to then-14-year-old Lisa Cant. The shy teen from Redwood Meadows, 30 kilometres west of Calgary, was scouted by a model from local agency Images Models while shopping with her mom and sister. With the exchange of a business card and a few phone calls later, Cant was whisked into the modelling world while her peers were preoccupied with getting their learner’s permits.
Anyway you describe her look — elfin, bug-eyed, alien, gamine and doll-faced have been thrown around — she’s coveted by fashion houses around the world. Cant is repped by Trump Models and has walked the runway for Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Betsey Johnson, and has been the face of Juicy Couture, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Van Cleef & Arpels and Joe Fresh.
Now 27, she calls New York City home and comes back to Alberta to visit with family and friends. And while those friends are getting married, having kids and starting their careers, she contemplates life after modelling as her first career winds down.
Leather skirt by Hugo Boss, $695, from Blu's Womens Wear (Bankers Hall, 403-234-7971, and Southcentre Mall, 403-225-8315); suede vest, $238, from BCBGMAXAZRIA (Chinook Centre, 403-536-1344, and two other Calgary locations); glove, $185, and studded leather cuffs, $385 each, both from Paul Hardy Design; vintage bracelets, $800 (top), $1,050 (middle) and $900 (bottom), from Hopea (hopea20.com).
Before you were approached in Ikea, had you ever considered modelling as a career?
No. I was 14 years old and from Redwood Meadows. I had never met anyone who had done it, so it never crossed my mind.
What did your parents think about what was happening?
My mom was really excited. My dad was a bit confused about the whole thing. He had no idea what the modelling world was. They had never considered the world of fashion. They’re both geologists and had no fashion inclinations. Everyone was excited and confused at the same time.
So you get scouted at Ikea. How long was it before you were a working model?
I went for a few test shoots. About a year later, the agency said Tokyo was interested in having me come over, and I went to Tokyo and worked for six weeks that summer.
Most 15-year-olds are thinking about their first year of high school and you were starting a career in Asia. What was that like for you?
It was exciting. I lived in an apartment with a group of girls. Everyone shared two rooms. Tokyo is such a safe city, and the agency drove me around to all of the castings and really took care of me. It was almost like being at summer camp. After that, an agency in Milan wanted me to go there. I was 17 by then. My mom came with me because Italy isn’t known as the safest place. I came back from that trip and went to an agency in New York. That was nine years ago.
Blouse by Beryll, $219, from Primitive Culture (814 16 Ave. S.W., 403-244-4404); blazer by Max Mara Studio, $690, from Blu's Womens Wear; leggings, $142, from BCBGMAXAZRIA; necklace, $70, and bangle, $25, both from Mealan (1518 4 St. S.W., 403-457-4020); shoes, $229, from Arnold Churgin Shoes (227 8 Ave. S.W., 403-262-3366, and two other Calgary locations).
Looking back on your 14-year-old self, did you think you would make a career of modelling?
I thought it would be fun to try, but I never thought it would last this long. There was always this idea that it would fizzle one day, I wouldn’t get work anymore and I would just come home.
Why do you think it didn’t fizzle?
I think it was luck. I got a big break. If you hit certain things, it makes a difference. Shooting with certain photographers or magazines, or getting the right runway shows really opens things up. Once you do that, all the magazines and runway shows want to book you, even though you looked the same before when they passed you over. You think that because this is an industry all about looks that success would be about how you look, but it is really about who has worked with you and who is supporting you.
What was your big break?
I had two "Italian Vogue" covers back-to-back. That was really exciting. I got to work with the photographer [Steven Meisel] who is known for finding new models and making them big. He gets thousands of submissions each year. It is a big thing to be photographed by him, and I was lucky that he picked me.
And your career just took off from there?
The show season was right after that and I did a lot of runway shows because of those covers. Those shows gave me great coverage and some advertisements and it just started going.
Other than the obvious, what is the biggest difference between runway and print?
Runway is about launching careers, so new models are often chosen. All of the stylists and fashion editors are there and it is great exposure for a newer girl. You do the runway shows so that you can book print advertisements. After a while it is a natural transition to do less and less runway because there are always new models coming up and they are chosen for runway. Once in a while I’ll go back for one show, but never a whole season.
And you prefer print?
Definitely. The shows are really scary.
Pants, $195, from Michael Kors (Chinook Centre, 403-537-0093); sweater, $190, from BCBGMAXAZRIA; fur by Luisa Cerano, $750, from Blue's Women's Wear; boots, $349, from Arnold Churgin Shoes; belt $185, from Paul Hardy Design; ring $255, from Hopea.
What’s scary about them?
It is stressful backstage. Everyone is running around screaming and pulling at your hair. And I always got scared when I walked out onto the runway. Everyone is looking at you and there is a wall of cameras. The more nervous you get, the more you think you look nervous, and that makes you nervous [laughs]. I was worried about losing a shoe because the shoes only come in one size and my feet are smaller.
If you are trying not to think about how nervous you are, what are you thinking about when you are on a runway?
It happens so quickly that I try not to think at all. And I try not to look at the people looking at me.
So, like most of us, even though you are a model, having people stare at you makes you uncomfortable?
On the runway, it is intimidating seeing all those eyes on you. In a print ad, I don’t mind at all because I am not there when people are looking at me. The pictures are always good. They are retouched. And you have the best hair and makeup people, the best lighting and the best photographer, who takes 200 shots to get that one perfect one.
How much of modelling is looks and how much is skill and talent?
A lot of it is knowing what a client wants. I know what poses they like and how to show the clothes the best. I know which magazines want something different than just boring straight shots. On the runway, certain designers want severe straight walks that are stern and others want smiles and happiness. You learn those things. Part of modelling is also personality. If you are fun to work with and you chat with people, they’ll tend to like you a little more. If you come late and act like a diva, they might not like you. It doesn’t necessarily stop you from working, though — there are lots of girls who are known for being divas, but the photographer likes them. Modelling is how you look, how you move and what your personality is like.
Blazer by Bano eeMee, $250, from Mealan; pants by Max Mara Studio, $360, from Blu's Womens Wear; boots, $440, from Arnold Churgin Shoes; necklace, $190, from BCBGMAXAZRIA.
You have been in some pretty elaborate photo shoots; are there any that stand out?
I did a shoot for Juicy Couture and they had these little white dogs. They wanted each one a different pastel colour. The photographer [Tim Walker] doesn’t like to retouch his photos. Apparently, you can buy dye for your dog. I guess people like to dye their dogs pink a lot. They were dying the dogs right where we were shooting it. The green dog didn’t like it and jumped out of the bath and ran around leaving a trail of green bubbles everywhere. That’s a good lesson for everyone. Pastel puppies don’t necessarily take direction well. I was on another shoot in London with the same photographer, and I was sitting on top a pile of red chairs surrounded by more than 80 white rabbits in an old town hall. The rabbits were everywhere and the caretaker was running around trying to protect the carpet. All of a sudden, we couldn’t see any rabbits. Apparently, they didn’t like daylight and had run under the chairs and were stacked one atop the other. All 80 of them crammed under the 10 chairs like a wall of rabbits, while I was perched on the chairs wearing bunny ears.
At photoshoots you get styled in accessories like bunny ears, but what is your personal style?
It is pretty simple. I like dark colours, skinny jeans and little black dresses. I prefer wearing shorter skirts and being more covered on top. I like classic shapes and colours and wear necklaces or great shoes to brighten up the look.
What do you avoid wearing?
I would never wear something that is shiny all over or covered in sequins. I’d feel like people are looking at me and I’m just not that girl, despite being a model. I know it is strange.
Do you shop often?
I try not to. I find I buy the same silhouette over and over. There are small differences, but it is a bit unnecessary to keep shopping and buying the same things.
You must have clothes from fashion shoots that you get to keep?
Not really. They are really strict about that. During shows in New York, you get to keep shoes and every now and then you get a bag. I have a ridiculous amount of shoes. I would venture to guess at least 100 pairs. They are all runway shoes with really high heels that I have never worn again, but they are really pretty so I keep them. I have a huge box in my basement.
Sweater dress by Max Mara Studio, $500, from Blu's Womens Wear; boots by Attitude Femme, $449, from Arnold Churgin Shoes; ring, $235, from Hopea; bracelet, $79, by Anne B. Accessories.
Do you have a favourite designer?
I love Helmut Lang. Most of their palette is black and grey, which I love. It’s simple and classic and cut well, but it is not cheap. Every four or five months, they have a sample sale in New York that is crazy, but it is great.
What’s the best part of your job?
Seeing myself in magazines. Billboards are even better. I still like that. It’s exciting and it doesn’t get old.
If you know you are going to be on a billboard do you go look for it?
Sometimes. And my mom loves to collect everything I have ever done. She has a museum of my work in binders. Everything is catalogued.
What is the most challenging aspect of modelling?
It is mentally challenging never knowing when your next job will be and knowing that it could all be over tomorrow. It does happen sometimes. A girl could have a great two years and then never work again. A photographer who really supported her could move on to other models. That is sort of scary.
You are studying European history at Columbia. Why was it important for you to go back to school?
The career span for models is short, and I didn’t want to finish and have a high school diploma and have to find another job with just that. I also just wanted to go to school. I was in New York and I had time because jobs come and go. I wasn’t doing shows anymore, so I wasn’t committed to being away for four weeks each season. I typically only work a day or two at a time. My parents are very encouraging of school.
You skipped past that moment in high school when you have to figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up. Do you feel like you are having that moment now?
Yes! I am graduating a year from now and I have no idea what I am going to do. I’ll still model a little, but eventually I am going to have to figure something else out. I think it is hard for anyone to think about what kind of job they want to pursue. There are lots of jobs I can see myself doing. I still have time to figure it out.
Lisa Cant's Favourites
Favourite place to hang out in Calgary
Scotiabank Theatre Chinook
Favourite place to hang out in
New York City Soho
"Watership Down" by Richard Adams
Favourite figure from European history
Olympe de Gouges
Alexa Rudolpho Candle Collection
Favourite ice cream flavour
Cover Girl Lash Blast
Favourite place for a photo op
In the makeup chair on a photo shoot