Milana Ivashkina: “We gave it a shot and it all worked out.”
How model Milana Ivashkina became a breakout star – navigating new languages, cultures and the business of international modeling at an early age.
You began modeling very young. Tell us how you got started?
My modeling career started when I was 7. I grew up in China and actually, I had no interest in modeling or acting or anything like that – I was more into dancing, swimming and learning foreign languages. But my mom saw something in me and she believed I could make it as a model. She taught me how to pose and helped me to start getting work and at first, I just went along with it. Over time, I began to appreciate and even love the work. One day, a photographer said, “Why don’t you sign with an agency?” We gave it a shot and it all worked out.
How have sports affected your life?
Sports and also dance have taught me so much. I’ve taken a lot of ballroom dance and it’s all about that partnership dynamic – you have to work together to create something beautiful. A successful photo shoot is just like that, except there are more players on the team: photographers, make-up artists, stylists, designers and more. You have to know how to support each other, how to negotiate and how to keep the positive energy flowing.
On the other hand, swimming is an individual sport, where it’s all about competition and the drive to win. Swimming taught me how to lose and not give up. Overall, I had a lot of success with swimming and I think it was because it hardened me – it taught me endurance and patience. Those skills definitely carried over to building my modeling career.
You are fluent in English and Chinese. How has speaking multiple languages impacted your career?
It would have been impossible for me to get to where I am today if I hadn’t had the chance to learn English. English enabled me to build genuine relationships with so many talented people all over the world. Plus, good communication at shoots is so important. When you’re working with a photographer and you understand exactly what they’re saying, exactly what they’re looking for in the moment, you get more opportunities. The same goes for designers, stylists, agents – everyone you work with. I’d say English is absolutely key for anyone who wants to make it in the industry today.
You attended school in the US. What was that like?
I did an exchange program in a small city in Kansas. It was a wonderful experience but also a little overwhelming since absolutely everything was new to me. Overnight, I had a new country, a new city, a new school, new friends, I even had a new family! But everyone was so welcoming and I felt at home right away. My new friends and host family were so supportive and generous – they even taught me how to ride horses.
I really fell in love with living in the US, so I decided to continue my education there. I ended up transferring to Catholic College Academy, and now I’m studying Business and Economics. I’m really enjoying it; the instructors are great. Also, there are lots of international students, so now I get to speak Chinese and English regularly, which is really fun for me.
What are your proudest achievements thus far in your modeling career?
I think I’m most proud of my ability to show up at any job in any country throughout the world and be able to communicate and build good relationships with the photographers and the rest of the team. Also, I’m proud of my drive. The most important thing is to start and keep going, you can never give up no matter what.
Photographers have noticed your skills as an actress. How does acting relate to modeling?
Acting is so important in modeling, because a good model has to be a good actress. You need to be able to express emotions authentically and be able to switch them up on click. Plus, you have to understand what character the client is looking for – how you can help their brand tell a story.
At the same time, you have to remain true to yourself and bring what makes you ‘you’ to the job. It’s a balancing act, but when you get it right, photographers can feel it and that’s what gets you to the next level.
You’ve mentioned being inspired by the success of world-famous models who come from small towns. Who do you look up to?
I’ve always been inspired by Irina Shayk and Natalia Vodianova. I know their career stories like the back of my hand. They were both discovered at beauty pageants, they didn’t rely on favors or any outside help to get started. They’re the perfect examples of never giving up and staying focused, plus, they’re always evolving, growing and dreaming big.
I also come from a small town and I haven’t let that stop me from trying to achieve my goals. I started out in China and I’m working on developing my career in the US. I really believe that anything is possible, the main thing is to keep going.
You recently participated in a beauty contest in New York. Tell us more about that experience.
I felt really lucky to be able to take part in the Ms. USA World Universe pageant in New York. It was a 2-day event in March with 37 participants from all over the country. It was a fabulous experience and I was thrilled to receive the Ms. USA World Universe title! I met so many new people and I learned so much from the stylists, photographers and coaches. I’m so grateful to everyone who believed in me and gave me their vote!
Congratulations! Have you done any other recent events we should know about?
Thank you! Yes, I also was really excited to be at Los Angeles Fashion Week at the beginning of April. I was cast to walk for two designers, Bless By Bless and Demobaza at LAFW. It was an amazing show and I met so many fantastic people there. I can’t wait for the next one!
Milana Ivashkina on Instagram