Face of the future
Everyone told Aliana King that she didn’t stand a chance.
At 5ft 4in, she was far too short to be a model.
As it turns out, everyone was wrong.
The 17-year-old daughter of Eileen and David King was this year picked up by management agency MP Mega Miami in Florida.
Elite is arguably the most renowned of three in New York now considering signing her. There’s also an agency in Paris mulling a contract.
“Everything happened so fast,” said Aliana, who modelled as a child but only got serious about it after she took to the catwalk for the Bermuda Fashion Festival two years ago.
Before she knew it, her face was on a poster at City Hall advertising the annual event. Fashion magazine coverage then followed, with help from Bermudian stylist Shiona Turini and American designer Thomas Lavone.
“The thing with me is I’m 5ft 4 and models usually start at 5ft 9,” the teenager said. “I never thought this could happen to me. I enjoyed doing it in Bermuda and was satisfied with that because I didn’t think I was tall enough, or even good enough, to go any further in modelling. I wasn’t very confident at all in school; I was definitely teased a lot. It’s funny but the things that make me different as a model are what I was teased about: my sharp jaw structure — they would call me a lizard. My hair is big and kinky and I had long pigtails and they would yank them like a horse. The things that make me proud of me now, were things that I hated before because of how I was treated. Modelling helped me understand that you’re beautiful no matter what you look like. Things I thought were bad were actually my best features and I gained that confidence through modelling.”
Agents began calling once she started posting pictures of her photo shoots for the 18,900 people who follow aliana.king on Instagram. As soon as she mentioned her height however, “they turned me down”.
“Every time I got excited I was let down,” said Aliana, who graduated from the Bermuda Institute in June. “Eventually I gave up on the idea.”
And then Leah Hibbert reached out. The Brit runs Mutha, a personal management service focused on “scouting exceptional talent [and] nurturing and developing potential superstars”.
The industry vet vowed to try to make it so her height wasn’t an issue. In April, she presented the teen with her MP Mega Miami contract.
“I went there during spring break for a week,” Aliana said. “I did a bunch of test shoots, building my portfolio and learning the technical things of modelling. When you sign with an agency it doesn’t automatically mean you will get a job; all they do is put you in front of people so you can. You have to go to castings with 40, 50 girls. They talk to you, take your pictures and then decide if they want to work with you.”
In July, she headed to England to work with London agency, The Squad. Her six weeks in the capital city were enough to put her on the fashion radar.
“[Leah said it would show me how] to do hair and beauty and fashion without doing the runway where the average height of models is 5ft 9,” said Aliana, who had never spent time on her own outside Bermuda before.
“My mom came with me for the first week to settle me in and I was basically on my own after that. Because I’m young, they put me with a stylist, in a room in her house, and I stayed with her the entire time I was there.
“At first it was pretty scary, but it made my personality come out more. I learnt so much more about myself.”
The agency offered a cash advance to cover her expenses in the UK; Aliana refused.
“They will pay for your expenses, but will then take from what you make,” she said. “I didn’t want to go and not make any money and then owe the agency, so I paid for everything. I went for the experience more than actual modelling jobs. For the first three weeks I got nothing — although I was out there every single day, from first thing in the morning to night.
“I was getting a bit discouraged, especially as my family wasn’t there, but towards the fourth week I got my first job and it was a big, big deal. There’s a handbag company, Furla, and I did a commercial with them that comes out in December. I was freaking out; my agency was so proud of me. It was an amazing feeling to get that first job.
“Then everything started picking up. I did an ecom for [fashion website] SHOWstudio and [East London fashion label] Illustrated People and at the end of the trip, two days before I left, I did another commercial with [hair appliance manufacturer] Babybliss. At first, I guess they didn’t see my personality. They didn’t know who I was; they hadn’t heard of me before. Once I started building a name for myself, it changed.”
Despite that success, she’s sticking with school. She’s studying animation at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, having received the Joseph CH Johnson Scholarship from the Bank of Bermuda Foundation.
“I enjoy modelling so much I would have taken a gap year, but I got the full scholarship and that really encouraged me to come and do my degree and finish college because it’s all paid for,” Aliana said. “I’m 17. Most models I met were 21, 22 and just starting out, so I know I have plenty of time. I don’t need to do modelling now and I enjoy animation a lot. So I’m getting the best of both worlds right now and when I finish college I will be free to decide whether to look for a job in modelling or animation or both. I’m just excited to see what will happen in the future. There are so many possibilities for me.”
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