A report by Angelica Xidias for Vogue.
Vogue visits where it all began.
African-Latino supermodel Joan Smalls takes Vogue back to her roots, introducing us to the family members she credits her beauty to, showing us where she grew up, and enlightening us on how she developed the wit we’ve come to know and love her for.
Taking viewers on a journey of her life, family and career, watch as Smalls travels from her home in New York City, to her family house in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico.
While in New York, Smalls catches up with fellow model and friend Damaris Lewis for dinner, where the pair talk of the times they struggled to find work and questioned their purpose.
“It was never handed to me,” the model remembers. “Like, I discovered myself. A lot of girls, you hear their stories and they’re like, “an agent saw me and gave me the card and I just got the golden ticket”…and that was never my scenario,” she says.
After flying home and visiting a waterfall called Gozalandia, Smalls heads home to catch up with loved ones, feed her mum’s chickens, and spend quality time with their family dog, Karma.
“Because Karma’s a bitch,” she laughs. “Get it?”
It’s here in Puerto Rico that Smalls gives us a look into her childhood, before introducing us to the people that make up her “crazy little tribe”. The model talks of trying times that cause her to tear up, the day her mum cut her bangs and she got picked on at school, and the scary reality of hurricane season.
“I always see Puerto Rico as the island that’s just resilient,” she says. “You take pride in who you are and what you have and you need to protect it.”
Aside from Smalls, her father Eric soon becomes the star of the video, sharing the modelling tips he left with his daughter shortly after she finished her studies and decided to leave for New York City.
“Walk with respect and get the person’s respect,” he said. “Once you get that, the person sees that you honour their clothes. And that’s what modelling is all about,” Eric added as his daughter gave him a round of applause.
Smalls also shares what it meant to be crowned the first African-Latino model to represent Estée Lauder, that she was named after Joan of Arc, and the exact moment she knew she’d made it.
“I have a double whammy you know, I’m not just black and I’m not just Latina,” she says. “I didn’t know that the message was so much greater than me booking a job after a job. That what I was doing was creating a way for others.”
Watch the full video below.