“Growing Up Beautiful”, Lori Jones – Modeling in Milan
Not many 21-year olds buy a one-way plane ticket to Milan, Italy, but Lori Jones found herself doing just that.
“Back in the 1980s when you were first starting out as a model, they put you on a plane to Europe almost immediately,” she says. “And it’s new, and exciting, and truly is an entirely different world than you have ever known.”
Jones began her modeling career at the age of 21 after realizing that working at an insurance office wasn’t right for her. “People always told me that I was tall and I had the face for it,” she recalls. After briefly attending classes the Barbizon School of Modeling, and with only six headshots, Jones was signed to the Los Angeles branch of Wilhelmina Agency, one of the most prominent and well-known agencies in the modeling industry.
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After working with famed model Wilhelmina Cooper herself for only a few months, Jones was sent to Europe for exposure and to gain experience.
“Looking back, I realize how some of the things that would matter to me now in Europe, like the food or the architecture—didn’t matter as much when I was there in the ‘80s.” Jones explains. “When we were there as such young and inexperienced women, it was not about the art or the history, but instead about the modeling and the experience itself.”
Initially expected to stay only for a few months that summer, Jones extended her stay for six years, continuing to work and travel as the jobs demanded.
“I will admit that I was entirely caught up in the adventure. Europe was so exotic and exciting for all of us, and at some point I realized that I could extend my stay and essentially be paid to travel and see parts of the world I had never seen before. It was an amazing opportunity, so I took full advantage of it.”
As Jones continued to model, she found herself booking photo shoots in Germany, Spain, along the Mediterranean coastline and Milan as well as other parts of Italy.
“It’s interesting because as exciting and new as everything was for me, it was probably equally exciting for the people we worked with,” Jones smiles. “You had girls from places like Arkansas and California and Wisconsin—all foreign and exciting places to the Europeans.”
“I wrote down everything—I kept so many journals,” Jones says. “I took note of everything I saw, the people that I met, the things I did, and the places I went.” When a friend suggested she channel her experiences into a novel, Jones decided to take a shot at it. Because writing has always been a passion of hers, the idea of a book seemed like the right fit.
Jones’ novel, Growing Up Beautiful, portrays three young women who find themselves thrust into the world of European modeling, much like Lori herself. Set in 1986, American models Casey, Joanne and Star first meet as they travel to Milan, winding up as roommates for the summer.
“This new world, three to six thousand miles away—it’s different than any other experience—even different from modeling in Los Angeles or New York,” Jones explains. “The experience in Milan was so condensed into itself. Growing Up Beautiful explores that world.”
A typical day for Jones—and for Casey, Star and Joanne—began by checking in with the agency for their daily schedule. Interviews, bookings, dinners and meetings with agents and photographers were set up through the agency.
“You have to remember that this is a time when no one had cell phones. We had to constantly check with the agency for any information. The conveniences that we have today just simply were not there,” Jones recalls. “It was hard to get anywhere or talk to anyone without your agent acting as the mediator. They were crucial to our success.”
In addition to Milan being a much smaller city than its American counterparts, the networking there gave the models a more isolated sense of a culture as well. “It was a tight knit group and you were at the center of all the action, which actually made it easy to become sidetracked.”
Jones explains that many girls embarked on their European adventure eager and excited to further their modeling careers. However, like the models portrayed in Growing Up Beautiful, it was easy for some to veer off course.
In the novel, Star, a waitress working to support an alcoholic mother, finds herself modeling solely to earn money. Joanne gets on the plane intent on finally making a decision without the consultation of her parents, and Casey looks at the opportunity with optimism and great hope of making a name for herself.
Though the three characters are very different from each other, they each represent different parts of Jones’ experience.
“The girls in the story all have their own experiences, and they are all representations of what I recorded in my journals through the years. Casey is kind of my catch-all character. She’s a good representation of the overall things that I saw over there. She sees and experiences a little bit of everything.”
“It’s easy to get into trouble when you’re naive and have not experienced the world,” Jones explains. “Thirty years ago, kids were not as aware of the world around them. The city was like our very own classroom. We learned from our experiences and from each other’s mistakes.”
The aspect of adventure captivated the models and sometimes took over; from the romantic possibilities to the parties to the travelling, the daily focus was not always on the photography. Networking, attending dinner events, and showing up at parties were also important.
Jones recalls that many models experienced drugs, such as cocaine, for the first time while working in Europe. Though not as common as they are in today’s modeling industry, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia were also present. “Like Casey, many of the girls I saw were naïve and sometimes were taken advantage of. I’d call it the darker side of modeling, and it’s more common now than it was then. But essentially, it just goes to show that modeling is not all perfection.”
“I think that readers will see that there’s much more to modeling than the glitz and glam. It wasn’t necessarily all about the clothes and the money. Modeling is more than a job, it is another world, a lifestyle of its own. It can be tough, but it is also like a wonderland—the people, the places and everything involved is so surreal at times.”
Jones and her family have lived in Palos Verdes for over 18 years. Her older son graduated from Palos Verdes High School last year, and her youngest is a currently a sophomore.
She is currently working on a sequel to Growing Up Beautiful, which is expected to be released later this year.
“Not to give too much away, but the sequel will return to Casey, Star and Joanne a few years after their adventures in Europe,” Jones eagerly explains. “When I myself returned from Europe, I saw how much I had learned and how much I had grown after my years abroad. I know this is true of my girls—Casey, Star and Joanne definitely have more to their stories, and I can’t wait to tell the rest.”
In addition to working on her sequel, Jones also teaches private modeling and audition classes through C!IX photo studios. “I really enjoy helping other women become the best they can be, both in front of and behind a camera. The big secret; confidence isn’t something you’re born with, it something you learn, and it can be fun.”
Jones encourages anyone who is interested in modeling to try it. While it can be challenging to get your foot in the door initially, Jones believes that it truly is a unique and wonderful experience.
“This goes for any dream you have or goal you wish to achieve—there is definitely something to be said for taking risks and trying new things. That is because your body, smile and everything about you lights up when you are in discovery mode, and that’s a wonderful thing in itself.”
Growing Up Beautiful by Lori Jones is available for purchase at Amazon.com, as well as in e-book format for both Kindle and Nook E-Readers.