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Life As A Fashion Model with Erica Mulkern

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As part of the blog, podcast and support channels here at Fashion Podcast, I will be interviewing a selection of industry professionals about their roles, with the vision to support students in their early career choices as well as supporting graduates into their first or future job roles. I hope that you all find them insightful! These blog posts are scripted from the Podcast episodes from ‘The Fashion Toolbox Podcast’ available on all Podcast listening platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

This week I have the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Erica Mulkern, Erica is primarily a professional dancer but has been modelling as her secondary profession since the age of 17 when her dad encouraged her to work alongside a professional photographer named Alex Moldovan.

She has since been involved in many events and photoshoots including London Fashion Week and beautifully merges the arts of dance and fashion together to create beautiful imagery and interesting shows.

In this podcast Erica discussions in detail how she first got into the industry and built her portfolio, sharing hints and tips for those of you who are interested in a career in modelling, may that be in Fashion or any other field.

I hope that you all find this episode as interesting and eye opening as I did, as this is a part of the industry that I have never had the chance to be involved in.

Fashion Toolbox 00:00

Welcome, Erica, and thank you for taking part in the podcast this week. How did you first get into modelling?

Erica 02:18

So, when I was 17, I was in first year of training, at the Northern School of Contemporary dance. And basically, my dad, one day on LinkedIn, he had stumbled across a young photographer based in Leeds as well. And he thought, Oh, well, Erica, you might like some images. And Alex, his name is Alex Moldovan. And he was the photographer, he said, "You guys might work well together, just get some shots and just see how it goes". So, we connected online, and then we met in person. And it was just absolutely amazing. And then from there, I've just gone on to continue to model for six years now. And it's just become such a big part of my life.

Fashion Toolbox 03:09

Yeah, it's really interesting that LinkedIn has served as a platform for you in that field as well, which I'd never even thought about. Obviously, we know about Facebook and Instagram being quite synonymous with modelling and fashion, but we never really think of LinkedIn. So yeah, that's really interesting.

Erica 03:29


Fashion Toolbox 03:30

How did you build your portfolio for fashion modelling?

Erica 03:34

So, portfolio building, what I did was I worked T.F.P, which is basically time for print for around two and a half years. So, I really wanted to build my portfolio and have a very diverse set of images. So I would create, like castings and propose them to some photographers that I knew, or ask if they knew anyone who would be interested and they would be very diverse castings because I wanted to make sure that my portfolio was interesting for people to see. So, I basically built my portfolio, you trade your time for the images, and then when you feel that you get to a good stage, at least this was how I did it. I then decided okay, so I can now start to ask for money as a model.

Fashion Toolbox 04:30

Okay, and would you say it is quite important to have a diverse portfolio in that respect?

Erica 04:37

Yes, because you're able to tap into more clientele and you're able, if you're interested in agencies, they like models to be very diverse, but I think it's also important for models to try things and then in a safe environment when they're not being paid to do something. Because if you're being paid to do something, and maybe it's your first time doing it, if something happens, or you feel uncomfortable or something goes wrong, you feel even worse when you're getting paid. Whereas if you're doing it just for free, basically in exchange for the images, you feel a little bit more that you can say, you know, actually, can we try something different? And then, you know, if not point, okay, that's not for me. That's not to say, obviously, if you don't like something, even if you're getting paid hundreds of thousands of pounds, you still can walk away from a shoot, but you feel less awkward doing so I think.

Fashion Toolbox 05:37

Yeah, I guess in that respect, as well, you get to realise what you enjoy doing as well, and you can maybe focus a little bit more on those roles when they come up? Yeah, absolutely Yeah. So, what is the process of getting bookings? And do you work for an agency?

Erica 05:57

So, when I was 15, I was approached by an agency, and my dad took me, I call him my 'Dadager' which is dad manager. Because he, I mean, of course, both my parents are so supportive, but my dad is heavily into networking. So, he thought, okay, you're under 18, I think they required a guardian to come anyway. Because if you're under 18, so he thought, okay, I'll come with you. And it actually wasn't a very nice experience, I hadn't even sat down and the woman said, your eyebrows are too big or has too long, you're not tall enough for catwalk, and I was like, Hello, my name is Erica, it's nice to meet you. So, it was a little bit off the bat, negative. And then she went on to say, "Oh, but you'll be fabulous". And then trying to charge me hundreds of pounds for images, when I knew I could get better images for free collaborating with a photographer, if that makes sense. So, it was a bit of a bad experience. And then, because I was going into full time training, I just kind of left it and I thought, well, there's not really much point, I'm not going to have time to be a full time model, because I'm in training. So, I went on to do some shoots. And then because of networking, and meeting photographers, and getting a website and word of mouth, I've never actually needed to have an agency. It's not to say I would be opposed to one. But the problem is, is some agencies that have approached me now, they say, Well, the problem is, is your portfolio is already there. So, I would have to pay 600 pounds for images that I've already got. Because normally when you join an agency, you need to have certain images from certain photographers, certain angles, lighting, because they like, most agencies, like their books to be very clean and the same. So, it's very easy for clients to see. Whereas if you got one in black & white, one with a flower background, one girl with her hair down, but you know, it can be a little bit for the clients hard to see. So, I understand why they do it. But because I've been doing it for years. I don't know if I would go through an agency because I haven't needed to yet.

Fashion Toolbox 08:16

I can't believe it's actually like that with such negative feedback to people , I mean, I know, not all agencies are probably like that. I would hope? But it is very disappointing to hear that isn't it? It must have been awful for you?

Erica 08:32

It actually wasn't because I have really thick eyebrows and I have very long hair and I'm not self-conscious about my height, I never lie about my height I am five foot six. I've never seen it as a problem. I've never been massively interested in catwalk even though I have done some catwalk. I've never been, oh, that's what I'm going to do. So actually, I just kind of brushed it off because I thought I like those things about myself. So, I don't really care if you don't and then it turns out a year later, big eyebrows came into fashion and they're still around. So, it was quite funny. It was quite interesting. No, there are some wonderful agents, wonderful agencies. It just wasn't a nice first experience. And then I just ended up not needing one but there are some wonderful agencies out there. So, it's not all bad experiences.

Fashion Toolbox 09:26

So, I'm thinking that you must need to be quite resilient to be a model, what other typical skills and requirements would you say are necessary?

Erica 09:38

I'm going to try and discuss this more fashion modelling. So, for fashion modelling, you need to have a very strong head on your shoulders, and you also need to know what you have to offer. So, a lot of models in very high fashion, have things that make them very different and they really exaggerate these things, and they're very proud of them. And it's about being proud of what makes you different. So, it is about being confident. And even if you're not confident, it sounds horrible, but you have to fake it until you make it kind of thing, you have to tell yourself, you know, you're great, you're doing an amazing job you're doing so well. And then eventually, you start to believe it. And then you actually end up becoming confident. So, the main thing is having a very strong head on your shoulders, and confidence.

Fashion Toolbox 10:35

What does your job entail on an average working day?

Erica 10:40

So, the majority of my bookings at the moment are more for dance modelling. So, I'll kind of discuss a typical day for both dance modelling and fashion modelling. So, for dance modelling, let's see if my shoot starts at around 10. I tend to do my own hair and makeup for dance modelling because I've been doing it since I was very young. And also, my mom would do my hair and makeup. So, I learned a lot from her about what suits my face for a dancer because of course, fashion makeup is very different from dance makeup. So, I tend to do my makeup. So, let's say, I'll take today, for example, actually a shoot I just did. So, the shoot was around a 40-minute drive away. So, I woke up a bit before seven. And I normally allow myself around an hour and a half to get ready. I kind of eat as I as I do my hair and makeup, because I would rather sleep than have a leisurely breakfast. Then I go to the shoot because I have my own car, I'm very lucky. So, I normally drive pretty much to every shoot. So, go to the shoot, normally I'll be shown the space or the location where I'm shooting in if I haven't already seen it before. And then I'll be given a little bit of warmup time whilst photographers are setting up the lighting, then we'll take some test shots, see how it goes and then kind of go from there. Some photographers have mood boards, some don't. It really depends on what the photographer or the client wants. Sometimes it's very specific, others it's very free flowing. So, it just really depends. Yes, so that can be anywhere between I can have like a two-hour shoot or I've had 10-11-hour shoot. So, it just depends. And then for Fashion. So, in terms of London Fashion Week, basically because I was a dancer as well as a model in the London Fashion Week in 2018. So, we had rehearsals in the morning. So, we got very early. We rehearsed we then got to the main venue, which was incredible because I saw, oh, what's her name one of the Kardashians I think it was Kendall Jenner. I'm so terrible with pop culture! So, Kendall Jenner, I actually saw her walk passed because I think at the time she was modelling for Burberry, and they were in the same building as us that was quite surreal. I was like "Oh hi, you're a person and you're quite famous." So of course, you know she didn't clock me. I am dirt beneath her shoe. But I just thought it was very surreal. So, we got into hair and makeup. the head makeup artist and the head hair stylist actually took me which I mean of course all of the stylists there are incredible. But it just depends on the order you go into the room normally and I have extremely long hair so the head hairstylist said okay, I need to do the hair because he had to do it in a certain way for me. And it just so happened that the head makeup artist was free when I was ready for my makeup. For high fashion, at the moment at least, they don't really I had no foundation on and you have to go completely bare faced because they don't like if you go in with makeup because they want to see what they need to do. So, she (the makeup artist) put a touch of concealer, hardly any, just a little bit under my eyes because you know, no sleep catches up to you eventually. Fluffed down my brows a bit, she did some like wet look kind of gloss on my eyelids, put a little bit of lip gloss on my lips and that was it. So that was a really fun experience. Although my eyes were very sticky. I mean, it looked incredible! It was supposed to be like a kind of under the water, that was what the line was inspired by this type of thing. Yeah, it was very funny also eye contact lenses. So, it was quite funny battling stickiness whilst you're having lenses, I thought, oh god, my vision is going blurry! But luckily, the show was only for around two hours because we did four cycles of the same show. It's funny, I call it a show, because we were dancing as well. So yeah, and then we finished around 10. And then we packed everything up, I immediately wiped everything off my face, I thought this needs to go! And then we went for dinner. By the time we got back to the apartment, it was very late. Yeah, so I'd say for fashion, especially doing catwalk you're looking at. I mean, for the models, they arrived around half one to see the space because they had already their castings and fittings, and they had some final fittings as well, just to check everything was okay. But they arrived a little bit later, but their hair and makeup took longer than ours, because we were dancing and moving, we had to have different types of makeup and hair. And theirs was it had to go under a mask that they were wearing. So, it was a lot more complex for the models.

Fashion Toolbox 16:17

Okay, sounds very much hard work. And like there's some really long days there for you, but fun as well at the same time, I think. So, did you need to study anything in particular to get into modelling?

Erica 16:33

In terms of a degree or a qualification, for me personally, no, I do know some models who studied photography. And they found that extremely useful, because they understood a lot about lighting, and they understood what it was like to be on the other side of the camera. So, I would recommend if you if you don't want to do a formal qualification, if that isn't something your school offers, or you don't want to do a degree in that that's absolutely fine. But there's a lot of YouTube tutorials or free online courses, I think also Skillshare do like a month trial or two-month free trial. So, you can get some good courses on there. And I would recommend understanding a little bit about lighting, because it's very important for fashion modelling, understanding where the light is, if I put my hand here does it block a certain light, and you can even play with that in your own home with a lamp. And obviously, it's not going to be as nice, but just understanding the shadows and figuring out the angles that work best for you as well. But also understanding that what angle you think is nice for you, sometimes photographers don't want the conventionally beautiful angles, they actually want something that's very different and more raw. So, don't go into shoots expecting, Oh, I know my perfect angle. And that's going to be it, because often they'll ask you to do something that could be very different for you and you've just kind of got to roll with it.

Fashion Toolbox 18:06

So, what makes a successful fashion model, in your opinion?

Erica 18:11

Someone who is a very good businessperson because you are basically a brand as a model. And you can take that as a negative thing, or you can feel empowered by it. It depends on how you see branding. I personally find it empowering because it allows me to have a marketing side and figure things out. And I think successful models, of course, those who get to a very high standard, they will have people who handle all that side for them, you know, but everyone starts from the same place and everybody, you know, goes to the agencies (well, apart from me!) Everyone goes to the agencies with their little book of all their headshots, you know, and it's how you walk into the room. It's how you present yourself; how did you send that email to get the casting? Do you have a website? Do you have social media handles, and it's not even about having millions and millions and millions of followers because if that's something you're interested in, that is something that comes with time and, you know, stuff can happen overnight as well. Lots of people blow up overnight and they wake up to hundreds of thousands more followers, you know. But just find what's important for you and you need to market that. So, what makes you different? What makes you special? and make that your tagline, make that your logo and also make sure that if you are using social media - to have a clear out. This is my advice to people make sure you have a clear out because, you know unless you start a separate thing like for a business, then that's okay but also make sure your personal accounts are then either private or you just clear things out or you hide who can see what because you know, it might be a lovely picture of you at the prom with your best friend. But if you get to a stage in your career, people are going to find these images and dig them up and make fun of you. And oh, yeah, you know, there is a model I know, she really changed a lot from the age of 16 to 19, totally blossomed, and someone pulled up a picture of her when she was at the prom, she was 15. And they said, Oh, she's obviously had plastic surgery look, you can see here, and she genuinely hasn't. And even if she would have, if it's her choice, that's okay. And as long as you're not being forced to have surgery, that's okay. But she genuinely had had no surgery. And it was just, you know, she changed, you know, she developed into a woman from a young girl 15 to 19, we do change quite a lot. Also, now she knows how to do her makeup, her hair styles changed, you know, so many things change. And it was just things like that can get brought up and then it can cause a bit of a stir, you know, so it's just have a good clear out if you are wanting to go down the marketing route and using social media.

Fashion Toolbox 21:20

Yeah, I'd say that probably social media is quite important, isn't it now. So? Yeah, an idea and an understanding of how to operate social media and how to market and brand yourself as you say probably really important. How much input Do you get with the designers and photographers when you're on the shoot?

Erica 21:43

It really depends. So, for the London Fashion Week, zero, the outfit was given to us. The makeup and hair, we had zero idea. We had a couple of tests; I think the day before we did some promo filming. So, we kind of had an idea, but actually because it was a different makeup artist. It was quite different. Both were beautiful, but very different the approach, so with Fashion, especially if you're working for a client- Zero, typically, you might, they might ask you; do you have a preference on which dress you wear? And it does really depend I have done some fashion shoots were highly collaborative and they really want my input. But I'd say the majority of shoots for dance shoots it is very different. Because normally the photographer's I work with have never shot a dancer before and they're not in the dance world. So, they can give direction in terms of I want this kind of shape. Or they'll look more at the lighting or the location or these types of things. But I will bring all the outfits, I'll do the styling, I've already done hair and makeup, these types of things. So of course, I asked them, is there anything in particular you'd like? But I'd say 9 times out of 10. They're like, Oh, I don't know about that stuff. You can just, I trust you, you can just pick it. So, it does depend.

Fashion Toolbox 23:16

So, you mentioned previously that you have done some work on London Fashion Week. Can you tell me a little bit more about that experience and what it entailed?

Erica 23:30

Yes, so there was a call out for dancers/ models. I can't remember which website I had seen it on. And I just sent my show reel. And they were very interested and replied very quickly. And they asked my statistics and I thought, Oh, here we go. They are going to say I'm too short, you know, fair enough. So, I sent everything through, a never lie about my statistics again, NEVER LIE because it's going to catch you out. There's no point lying. No one really cares anymore to be honest, you know, there's every shape, size, height everything. There is a place for everyone in the modelling industry. So, there's no point lying. But basically, I applied for that. They were like, Yeah, that's great. That's really nice. They sent me a chorographical task to record. So, I did that, and then they said, "Great, you're through we've picked six of you to do it". So, they booked me to go for three days in London. So, it was rehearsals, which we had. The show was turned around, I think in three to four days. And in between that, in between rehearsals. So, there were six dances, and we were all like, baggy clothes and you know, no makeup. And we had these gorgeous six-foot models walking in having these casting calls. And they were looking at us thinking Who are these?! We were looking at them and we would say to the designer, if we liked one "Oh, you Should pick her!", it was quite funny because actually, all the models we said we liked ended up in the show. I mean, of course, we didn't really have anything to do with it, but they were just so incredible, we thought they have to be in the show, they are just absolutely beautiful. And they were just very nice as well. So, it's always it pays to be nice as well, because you never know who's going to put a good word in for you. So, then we went and did the show, basically, which I've already told the story about. The rehearsals were very interesting, but that was definitely as a dancer. And then we were showcasing more than outfits that were definitely stretchier, and we were trying to showcase how the fabric moved or looked on a different way of moving versus just walking and being still kind of things. So that was what the designer was after. So, we were incorporating that into the show.

Fashion Toolbox 26:00

How would you describe your speciality area in modelling? I think we've kind of already touched on this, but just... go on, divulge!

Erica 26:08

Yeah, so my speciality area is definitely dance modelling because that is my profession. So, I class myself as a dancer, and then a model. So, I would definitely say my speciality is dance modelling, because it's what I've trained for since I was four. And I think it's a very interesting journey, because you can be a great dancer, you can look beautiful on stage, you can be terrible in front of a camera. It's not the stuff that works in movement or looks good on stage doesn't necessarily photograph well. So I was very glad to have done the two and a half years of, in essence working for free in return for the images, because I learned a lot about, Oh, that actually doesn't look good, or that looks really nice, that's interesting, okay, let me explore more things in this angle. And that colour works really well with this background because I was able to actually study the images, and able to get better from that.

Fashion Toolbox 27:09

I think that actually viewing some of your images in your portfolio, I think that fashion and dance actually work together beautifully, they look so nice and it's something that I've never actually really thought about before. But yeah, beautiful.

Erica 27:26

Thank you

Fashion Toolbox 27:27

You are welcome! So, in your opinion, what level of fashion knowledge is required for a model?

Erica 27:34

It's a very interesting question. I think if you're going strictly down the fashion route, you've got to know basics. Eras, when things were fashionable, also, understanding that fashion is cyclical. So, kind of understanding the cycle, figuring out, okay, what's going to probably come back into fashion? These types of things, you probably should know, your very famous models, or not necessarily famous, just the ones that you really like. And you should understand why you like these models and what they do. I would definitely say knowing about recent campaigns, for big brands, smaller brands, seeing what they do and how they've done it. And I think also just a general knowledge, for lighting, timing of the camera, all these types of things, you know, understanding OK so, that's what happens when the flash goes off, that's what happens when it doesn't, these types of things that might seem really easy, but actually, when you're under the pressure of the spotlight in a way and someone's paying you a lot of money to do something, you might forget these things if you haven't spent the time to learn them. So, I think it's always good to just continue to study, continue to learn, and not necessarily try and be ahead of the game, but just be aware that everything changes. So, what's trendy now isn't going to be trendy in a years’ time. The big eyebrows have stuck around. That's very interesting! But, you know, they will eventually fade out at some point. So, it's just, I'm thinking, Okay, well, do I want to go with the trends? Do I want to go against them? and making a conscious decision about that.

Fashion Toolbox 29:35

What is your favourite part of being a model?

Erica 29:40

I'd say my favourite part being a module is when a photographer looks at the camera and says, "We've got it!" That is priceless. It doesn't matter if it's their first shoot, If it's the millionth shoot, if they're working for a big magazine, if they are just doing it for their own portfolio, or just to pop on their living room wall because they've always wanted that picture there, it doesn't matter. It is when they are so happy with the image, it makes my job really worthwhile.

Fashion Toolbox 30:13

Yeah, I can imagine that must be like the biggest compliment they can say! And what would you say is the most challenging part?

Erica 30:18

For me personally, it's actually having someone else do my hair and makeup because it is nice, it feels almost like you're getting pampered in a way. So, I can see why people like having it done. But I'm so used to doing everything myself, or it was my mum doing my hair and makeup. You know, and I really trust my mom, it's not to say I don't trust the hair and makeup artists. But I think, I know my face the best! But obviously they're looking at brief, or they want to accentuate something that actually you don't like, because that is the brief or that's what's in trend, or that's what the client wants. And that can be a little bit scary in a way when you're not, normally as well, they don't let you look in the mirror until afterwards. So, you can kind of have an idea, and I always try and strike conversations with the artists being like "Oh, what palette is that?!" So, I can try and get a little bit of an idea of what they're putting on my face. But I do like working with stylists and hair and makeup artists, because I learned a lot from them. So, I'll ask them all what product was that? What would you recommend? And it's not to say I'll go and buy everything that they say. But it's very interesting to hear the different opinions and just to get a different insight. But for me, that is the hardest part because it's a sense of control that I'm very used to having and then giving it to someone else, I think Oh, no, no, no!

Fashion Toolbox 31:53

Yeah, I can't imagine doing that at all. I've always done my own makeup, even for big events. No, I just can't imagine somebody else (doing it). But I mean, you know that they're skilled in what they do as well aren't they? They see things that you don't always see to highlight. So yeah, it must be really interesting sometimes to see how somebody else sees you. Definitely.

Erica 32:25

Yeah, is very interesting.

Fashion Toolbox 32:29

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a model?

Erica 32:35

My personal advice is really, really try and get a diverse portfolio, whether that's through an agent, or whether that is you networking and finding photographers, whatever pathway that is, try and get a diverse portfolio. Diverse doesn't necessarily mean working up to all levels, because working up to these adult levels is really not for everyone. It's something I personally don't do, I think more power to you, if you want to do that. It's your body, your choice, but it's not necessarily about our diverse portfolio means working up to these levels, you can work within the very safe work category and still have a very diverse portfolio. So, I think it's important from the beginning to establish, if you have a feeling of, okay, am I comfortable trying some more adult style shoots or not? And that's okay, of course, if you're over 18. And if you are then ensuring that it's with a photographer, and I would always recommend bringing a chaperone as well, even if it's not an adult style shoot, especially if it's your first time doing modelling or some style that you're not as used to. Bringing a chaperone can make you feel a little bit calmer as well.

Fashion Toolbox 34:02

Yeah, it must be really daunting, especially in the beginning, not knowing what to expect. So yeah, I can imagine that it would be good to have someone there with you just to back you up and make you feel a little bit more comfortable.

Erica 34:17


Fashion Toolbox 34:17

So, that is all of the questions, Erica! So, thank you again, for offering to take part. I've found it really, really enlightening, because this is an area that I had absolutely no clue about. And I'm sure there's many people out there as well that will be the same as me just not got a clue. So, you've really flung those doors open and given us all a really good insight into what it's like. So, thank you for that.

Erica 34:46

Thank you so much. It was so much fun. Thank you.


Follow Erica's Journey here:

Twitter: @EricaMulkern

Instagram: ericamulkern

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