Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grace St. John Berger: Ordinary Woman, High Profile Model


It’s the day of the photo shoot. You wake up in plenty of time to drag yourself out of bed, making sure to leave your hair and makeup entirely natural as you arrive at the call time of 6 a.m. You sit around and sip coffee while treating yourself to the nice, catered breakfast. It’s time for hair and makeup. You make light conversation with your stylist as she gets slightly annoyed with you for talking while she attempts to cake on your makeup. This lasts three to five hours. Then, somewhere in there you try on all your looks. Finally, you put on your first look and pose away until dinnertime.
You just lived a day in the life of fashion model Grace St. John Berger. Previously modeling for Elite Chicago, The Rock Agency, and Wilhelmina, Berger now models for Muse, traveling all across the globe striking poses for Glamour, Italian Gioia, Nike, Liz Claiborne, Rinaldi, Allure Prom, and many more. How did this Springfield, IL native make it big? It all started with a bet.
“When I was younger, I always said I wanted to be famous, but my sister got so annoyed with hearing me say that, so she made a bet with me that I wouldn’t audition for AMTC [Actors Models and Talent for Christ], and I don’t like losing so I accepted that bet and it all spiraled from there.”
Berger explains why she recently switched from Wilhelmina to Muse. “Wilhelmina has a really good name which is a pride thing for me to let go of, but they wanted me to sign for another four years, and I just couldn’t commit that long to one person. I switched to a smaller agency, so there’s only like 20 people on the board. I figured I’d get more attention and more work, because I wouldn’t just fade into the background. And I’m the only redhead even though it’s not real.”
            Berger has found that the switch has proven to be a smart move, because her new agent is brutally honest with her. “When I was with Wilhelmina, I went and saw Ralph Lauren and they told me I was on hold for this job and they loved me. When I switched, I gave Muse a list of all my contacts and [my agent] called them and [then she told me], ‘They hated you… I don’t know why they told you that they liked you.’”
The agencies that hire Berger appreciate her front-to-back knowledge on the art of posing, which Grace explains as clockwork. “It’s more facial training. More than anything, you just have to be comfortable moving in front of the camera. Every time you hear the click of the camera, you move your face one way or reposition your arms or walk.”
And when she runs out of faces to make and poses to strike? She thinks to herself, “I’m running out of things to do over here and [am trying not to] look like a crazy weirdo. There’s the awkwardness of ‘what do you want from me now?’ Sometimes they pause and wait for you to move, and I’m just like, ‘Push the button, I’m thinking about it!’”
At a healthy size 4/6, Berger is not emaciated or towering. The lack of these qualities makes it challenging for her to land jobs in the modeling world. “I’m not really that thin, but I’m not really that big. My market is very small. I get a lot of hair and makeup. I pretty much never do runway, because I’m only 5’8 and you have to be 5’10. Any job I can get is a godsend.”
            Berger has a quality that sets her apart from her competition. “Something my agent always tells me is, ‘There are lots of pretty people out there, but your personality is what sells you and sets you apart.’”
In discussing the behind-the-scenes details that most magazine readers don’t know, Berger says, “Makeup—they cake it on. Even when they say it’s natural.”
Berger did a photo shoot for Fitness magazine on how to look good when leaving the gym. “Little did anyone know I was in hair and makeup for three hours just getting my hair braided and curled. Then they did my makeup perfectly and said, ‘Okay, you’re leaving the gym.’”
Despite the hypocrisy of photo shoots like that one, Berger says it’s not the Glamour or Fitness magazine shoots that pay well. “Editorial pays nothing. Well, I mean it pays something. Glamour was two 16-hour days, and it’s just $250. When I went over to Italy for the Persona Max Mara Campaign, they flew me there and paid for my hotel and food and everything. That was $2,500… Sephora was $3,000. If you’re selling a product, it’s thousands. If you’re taking a pretty picture, it’s maybe a few hundred.”
There are definitely perks that come along with being a model, but what about the not-so-bright side of the industry? Berger remembers a Glamour shoot that she did with five other models. One catty blonde in particular fires her up. “I was the biggest one in the bunch and was [also] the shortest. One of the blonde girls made little comments to me like, ‘What agency are you with? How did you get signed? Do you work a lot?’ I’m like, really?”
According to Berger, snide comments from other models are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dark side of the modeling world. “70 percent of models are naturally the way they are, but that 30 percent darkens the whole grid, because they don’t eat and they will just drink and smoke and do cocaine. They give everyone that bad name, so that’s the dark side, I suppose.”
Berger separates herself from that dark 30 percent by following her Christian-based morals. “I live in New York and I still go out a lot, but I never drink. I’ve never had a sip. I’ve never smoked. I’m like a walking oxymoron.”
Being in such a cut-throat world might push Berger farther away from her religion, right? She shakes her head and says she sticks to her roots. “I’m still very Christian. I go to church two times a week. Even if I went out the night before, I will get myself to the church service. I’m not pushy about my faith at all, but it’s definitely something I’m willing to talk about. Every job I go to, I’ll say something about how I’m blessed to be here and people pick up on that.”
Starting in the early years of middle school and continuing her modeling through high school, Berger always felt too shy and humble to admit she is a model. “I think people have this picturesque idea of a model in their mind which is a very tall, slender, stunning person, and I was just the soccer player/swimmer from Springfield High. Every time I'd have a job, I told my teachers and friends that I had an out of town appointment. This girl brought in this magazine and said, ‘She looks just like you,’ and I said, ‘you're right, she does!’ She'd ask, ‘Is it you?’ I'd say, ‘Umm, no.’”

Berger balances modeling with her college career at Hunter College. “I am kind of killing myself a little bit. I’m taking 18 credits every semester, so I go to school from eight in the morning until 9:45 at night two days a week, which is ridiculous. I leave those other three days open to work. I expressed to all my professors that this is how I’m paying for school so I have to work if I have to miss, but I have to keep my grades pretty high, otherwise I can’t miss.”
Living in New York has caused Berger to have ties with celebrities such as the Jonas brothers, Leonardo di Caprio, and Emma Stone. The Jonas brothers are Berger’s friends. “We hang out. I watched the super bowl over at Nick’s and we go ice skating. They’re just cool, down to earth people.”
Berger met di Caprio in a club, and as for Stone—well, Berger hasn’t met her, but she gets mistaken for her constantly. “People tell me I look and sound like Emma Stone. There was this one family in Times Square that was very persistent that I was her and they told me I was rude for not taking a picture with them.”
This Emma Stone-like red hair has advantages in the modeling world. “Any color care ad usually uses a redhead, because red is the hardest color to keep.”
Berger addresses celebrities as ordinary people, which makes it easy for them to relate to her like a normal person rather than an avid fan. However, Berger admits that there are a select three that she would jump up and down in excitement for. She half giggles, half whispers, “Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé.”
Berger looks forward to her future. “Eventually I want to try acting. Just to say I can. I don’t want to have any regrets. As soon as modeling becomes who I am, and that’s all that I do, I’m gonna quit.”
She smiles and gives her best piece of experienced advice—the advice she lives by day after day of photo shoot after catered photo shoot. “Never be ordinary.”


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