Scene & Heard
By Dan Grant
Recently, during LG Fashion Week, I had the chance to chat with Liisa Winkler.
A few days earlier she opened for Jean-Pierre Braganza at The ShOws. On this night she would join the most star-studded cast of Canadian models to hit a single runway, walking with the likes of Kirsten Owen, Yasmine Warsame, Heather Marks, Meghan Collison, Kate King, Kori Richardson, Tara Gill, Taryn Davidson, Amanda Laine, Alex Loomans, Herieth Paul and others in Joe Fresh’s new collection.
After the show I spoke with her further, framing in my head the interview that would follow.
Over the years I’ve said many times that today’s Canadian models should thank Liisa Winkler, but never really explained myself.
Now, with the assistance of her mother agent, Mode Elle’s Audra Anderson, I have the opportunity to tell you why this industry veteran (and twitter newbie: @LiisaWinkler1) deserves the respect of every Canadian model that followed.
Modelresource’s feature on one of the truly legendary Canadian models (who also happens to be on the cover of Fashion Magazine for the sixth time), starts here.
I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: Today’s Canadian Model owes a debt to Liisa Winkler.
Before her, of course, there was Linda Evangelista, Shalom Harlow, and Yasmeen Ghauri; legends, every one of ’em. Kirsten Owen established herself as the Great White North’s Ambassador of fashion’s Grunge movement.
But after Heroin Chic, when clients were done with divas, over the unreliable and bored with bitchiness – when the internet suddenly meant clients could find models anywhere, and didn’t have to put up with childishness and unprofessionalism – it was Liisa Winkler that embodied a new brand the fashion world suddenly needed.
The Canadian Model as we know it today started with Liisa Winkler. A ballet dancer from Belleville, Ontario, she was a big, big deal when Canadians weren’t. She may not have pioneered Canadian Model qualities (principled, humble, polite, hard working, cultured), but she did hang firm to those traits without being boring, which is what the rest of the world expected of Canadians at the time.
It was her face appearing in all the right places without all the hype surrounding the Brazilians (Gisele Bundchen, Michelle Alves, Leticia Birkheuer e outro) that led Models.com to call her the most underrated model in the business. There were no public meltdowns, no celebrity romances and no attempts at a music career; just season after season of high profile bookings, the sort of which don’t get a girl a write-up on Page Six.
It was Liisa Winkler that gave the Canadian Model a glowing reputation when the internet made it possible for everyone to know what a Canadian Model could be. It was her career that allowed everyone after her to understand a Canadian Model can be successful without forgetting where they came from. Daria Werbowy, Jessica Stam, Heather Marks and Lisa Cant continued that trend, but it was Liisa Winkler that first showed a newly interconnected world that a Canadian Model is not merely a pale version of her American cousin.
Year after year Liisa stayed true to her roots, helping out at the Canadian Model & Talent Convention, which is organized by her mother agent (Mode Elle’s Audra Anderson).
Today, living in Toronto with her husband and two children, she’s still tapped for jobs like Balenciaga’s FW/11 campaign and – as cited in the current issue of Fashion Magazine – she walked for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Altuzarra, Marchesaand Zac Posen at the SS/12 shows in New York.
As you’ll read in the interview that follows, Liisa’s also involved in campaigns of the non-fashion variety, committed to causes like the World Society for the Protection of Animal’s Choose Cage Free and Collars Not Cruelty campaigns.
I’ve watched her career right from the start, and she’s never been anything but a source of pride for the Canadian industry, which is why I say with conviction: Today’s Canadian Model owes a debt to Liisa Winkler.
Modelsresource: You attended the Canadian Model & Talent Convention CMTC at the age of 15. What were your expectations going into it?
Liisa Winkler: I hoped to find an agency in New York and decide what I should do with my life based on feedback. I was still contemplating going to university or back to ballet.
Modelresource: And how did that work out?
Liisa Winkler: I discovered that there was a lot to explore in this industry and decided to give it a try. I signed with an agency in New York.
Modelresource: Throughout your impressive career you’ve been managed by the same same mother agency; Mode Elle. Tell me about your relationship with Audra Anderson.
Liisa Winkler: She has always been there for me in any aspect of my career that I needed guidance on. Just the other day she actually watched my kids when I had to leave for a flight! She has become much more than an agent, she is a friend and my biggest fan! (along with my husband and family of course!)
Modelresource: What qualities would you recommend new models insist on when choosing a mother agency?
Liisa Winkler: I am not sure that many girls know that there is a choice when signing with a mother agent. It is often the person who “scouts” you that will be your mother agent. I was lucky to have found a great mother agent right from the start, but others are not so lucky.
Modelresource: Since having your two children, how has your view of the modelling industry changed?
Liisa Winkler: I no longer see it as something that defines who I am. I was always looking for something more and could never fully embrace being a model. I found it frustrating, as it was very much luck and genetics and not enough “I worked really hard and so I got this job.” Now with kids and being a bit older, I feel very fulfilled and really enjoy working a lot more. They matter more than anything else ever could and so I am able to put things in perspective and realize that there are many other opportunities out there that stem from modelling.
Modelresource: You’ve posed with your kids. What was that like?
Liisa Winkler: I loved shooting with my daughter! She made it feel so natural and fun. Her impressions of what was happening were so interesting. If she did not enjoy it, it would have been terrible, but luckily she felt very comfortable and had a lot of fun. My son was just a baby at the time, so it was nice just having him close to me while I was working.
Modelresource: In the current issue of Fashion Magazine you mention the industry is more accepting of women than it used to be. Does having taken a break from the industry change how you approach bookings?
Liisa Winkler: I really enjoy work now. I am more able to see things from the client’s perspective and understand what they are going for. I love working on a job where I have a bit of “creative freedom”. I don’t take things personally anymore, and that gives me a kind of freedom to try new things. I think being out of the industry also made me appreciate it much more. I am always excited to go to work and grateful that every job is different.
Modelresource: The modelling industry has changed so much in the past decade. What changes do you think are for the best?
Liisa Winkler: I love (of course) that the industry is using older models more and more. I love seeing the “supermodels” come back. It’s really a lot more interesting to me to look at women who know who they are. I also love that everything is digital now! Polaroids used to take up so much time waiting for them to develop and then trying to recreate that exact Polaroid everyone loved. Although, there was something nice about that as well. With film, you never really knew what you would get and so you kept shooting, but with digital, as soon as people feel it looks ok they stop… there is less room for spontaneity and it breaks the flow a bit.
Modelresource: What development concerns you?
Liisa Winkler: Everything is online now! The amount of video that goes on at photoshoots is way more than before. All that behind-the-scenes stuff is now on YouTube. I shot a perfume campaign for Gucci Envy and it was pretty racy… I always feel so grateful that there was no video backstage at the time. You cannot find much about it online, but if it were shot today, there would be “the making of ” video etc., all over the place. Social networking is so important now as well. Not that this is all a bad thing, just a very different, more exposed thing for models and anyone in the public eye.
Modelresource: If you had to pick one highlight from your career, what would it be?
Liisa Winkler: I really enjoyed working on all of the Gucci campaigns. They were such big productions and so perfectly planned and fun to be a part of . The one with the groups of actors shot at LAX really stands out. I remember doing one shot with the white cat that was from those Purina cat food commercials.. (who wouldn’t be impressed by that? )
Modelresource: What have you learned about yourself in the last year (modelling or otherwise)?
Liisa Winkler: That things are not over until I say that they are. There is so much that I am still interested in doing. I realize that I am the kind of person who likes to “do things” and happiest when I have a few projects on the go. I have realized as well that Toronto is home, and anything for which I have to travel and be away for a long time, is difficult and sometimes not worth doing. (And that thats ok! Sometimes work needs to come second.)
Modelresource: What advice would you give a new model about to embark on an international career?
Liisa Winkler: Always be true to who you are. Sounds so cliché but it’s true. Also find out who you are… take the time to figure it out and whoever it is, that person is enough. You don’t have to change who you are and what you value in order to work as a model. Models start so young and I always wish that I knew what I know now, back when I first started. All you can do is to keep up your interests and relationships with family and friends and try not to take things personally.
Modelresource: You’re a bit of an activist / environmentalist (WSPA, David Suzuki Foundation, Farm Sanctuary) Can you tell me about your relationship with food?
Liisa Winkler: I have been vegetarian on and off since high school. But now knowing how farm animals are treated and raised, I cannot feel good about eating animals. I wish that everyone could read Eating Animals by Jonathan Saffron Foer… such a well written book about the truth behind where our meat actually comes from. I truly believe that if everyone could see inside a factory farm, they would either decide to stop eating meat or to eat less and buy from a local farm where animals are raised naturally and without antibiotics in their food and genetic engineering.
Same goes for non-organic foods which are mostly genetically modified at this point. Jane Goodall wrote an awesome book called Harvest for Hope. It was very eye opening for me about how agriculture has changed over the years and the problems farmers are encountering. Having small children, we try to buy only organic and shop mostly at our local farmers market. My kids eat a mostly vegetarian diet as well… if they are served meat when we are out, my daughter asks “Was this animal treated nicely?”
Modelresource: Are these views driven at all from your life as a model?
Liisa Winkler: I think that I was one of the lucky ones with a fast metabolism, so my relationship with food has been a relatively healthy one. Also having been a ballet dancer, there was always a lot of pressure to be thin. Even though I knew I was thin, I knew it was important to make sure that it stayed that way! (eating lots of healthy foods and minimal junk)
Modelresource: This past season you not only did some very high-profile shows in New York and Europe, but also took time to do shows in Toronto. Can you tell me about supporting Canadian fashion?
Liisa Winkler: I loved taking part in Toronto fashion week. It is truly so important for Canadian designers to have the support of their home country. How can they feel good about showing in New York if they are not supported by their own city. We need to give them the opportunity to show their collections at home and appreciate what they have to offer. It is the same for any aspect of Canadian fashion or anything at all really!