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Dreaming of Becoming a Fashion Model? Get inside tips from Nicole Nance

Updated: Jan 26

With over five years in the modeling industry under her belt, Portland-based model Nicole Nance is in the perfect position to look back on exactly how she got started. A signed model with Ryan Artists Management, she dove into the local fashion industry upon moving to Portland, OR, from Pittsburg, PA, and never looked back. Nance previously worked as a wedding planner, and has twelve years of theater experience, and puts the skills from both to work on professional fashion shows. She assists with talent coordination and creative direction for shows by fashion photographer Tom Lupton, in addition to modeling and performing. She was also the model director for the 2018 Fringe Fashion Show.

Nicole shares some behind the scenes!

IFD: How did you first get in modeling?

I have 11 years of dance and theater training and have always loved performing. I grew up dreaming of becoming a model but got my creativity out through theater. When I moved to Portland I had amazing coworkers who happened to model for a local designer, and I started pursuing it more.

IFD: How did you feel on your first few jobs?

I was totally nervous. Theater prepared me for things that are very similar to modeling, like taking direction, giving different emotions, letting go of your inhibitions, and body awareness. No matter how nervous I was, as soon as we started I just melt into the role. I love the thrill of it.

IFD: What do you find most challenging about modeling?

One thing that is challenging about modeling is staying “fresh” in your poses and keeping inspired. After enough back-to-back jobs, it is easy to lose inspiration and fall into comfortable, easy work. But your style and posing is what makes you unique, so you have to keep improving.

IFD: Can you explain how you keep your poses "fresh"?

Yes! So I definitely look up to other models. I study poses in photos I see. What shapes are they making? How are they holding their hands? Little things like that and I try and practice those on sets. I love Cocoa Rocha, she is an inspiration for me as a model. She is the queen of posing! I have 12 years of ballet training so that is really helpful for posing and movement so I like to stay flexible. I bring a lot of my training in that to set. I practice! I just stand in the mirror and do as many poses as I can in a row as if it's a shoot and I just keep going until I run dry. It's fun! I try to figure out a flow that I can roll through.... so many poses arms down, so many hands on face, so many extended. It's like managing your time on a shoot to deliver as much variety as possible quickly. Also- Mimes!! I did a shoot with David Bowie as the inspo and he studied mimes and their movements! I also practice my runway walking while I'm on the treadmill. I practice at different speeds. It's very helpful! I don't put heels on for that though haha

IFD: What’s your favorite job so far?

I have been working on a photo series for a small winery. We are creating art for their wine labels! This has been really fun because of the wardrobe and creative freedom.

IFD: What has been your least favorite job so far?

There is a runway I participated in a few times that I wish I could take back. The producer decided the mission of the show didn’t drive her morals or design passion anymore, and I do not agree with the direction she has taken her work. It’s harmful and I wish I could not have ever been associated. Beyond that I have enjoyed most of my opportunities!

IFD: what does a typical modeling job/day look like?

It starts the night before. I’ll “prep” by washing my hair, skin care, moisturizing mask for makeup prep and (hopefully) a good night’s sleep. I usually roll out of bed and wash my face, do my skin care routine, brush teeth, and brush hair. Then I throw my model kit together and head off to the shoot. My kit includes dress tape, breast petals (to cover the nips), a variety of nude underwear, deodorant, nude and black strapless bras, personal items like headphones, an extra phone charger and Advil. I usually have an extra pair of heels just in case. I also like to bring snacks.

Hair and makeup can take anywhere from one hour to three. Sometimes more depending on the shoot. That’s the calm before the storm! Once you’re ready to go it’s a lot of trying on different pieces, trying different accessories, and shoes. Testing it on film with the lighting. Expect changes and adjustments before starting. Then it’s kind of a whirlwind! It’s a fun adrenaline rush.

IFD: What do you wish or think other people should know about modeling?

I wish people would stop thinking that it is “easy”. If it were so easy then everyone would love how they look in photos. It’s a lot of practice learning how to make your look translate to film. It’s learning how to emote feelings that can be caught and frozen in a split second. There’s a lot of thinking that has to go into creating even the most natural of pose.

I also wish people realized that it isn’t just “show up and shoot.” Models have to maintain their physique and stay healthy. There is a lot of networking involved and promoting yourself. It’s a daily routine of “maintenance” with skin care, working out, eating well, and practicing.

IFD: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into modeling?

Do your homework. Learn about the industry and the market you want to be in Look up local artists you want to work with. Show up and support people and events. Don’t expect to be discovered on the street—you have to put in the work. Take classes if you can. Go for it with everything you have!

IFD: What would you say are some characteristics needed for this type of work?

Patience — modeling is a learned craft and you will improve over time. Have a healthy mindset on rejection and criticism. Be respectful. You aren’t going to get anywhere if you’re rude, gossip, complain, or act unprofessionally. Have a real thrill for modeling itself.

IFD: If you weren't modeling, what would you be doing instead?

I run my own website design business, which allows me to be available for jobs and networking. It’s also a different creative outlet. And if I weren’t modeling I’d be acting.

IFD: What was your experience working with the recent Fringe Fashion Show like?

This year we had about 85 models. Our line-up of models is insane. Anyone can look at them as a group and find themselves in there. I mean it when I say anyone.

Photo by Tom Boehme. Make up by Mikki Willis. Hair by Angela Foster. Design by Tulle on Lace

So many of them have never walked a runway in their life. Most of our models have been told they “could never model” or made to feel like they’re not good enough. Which is just not true.

I feel a sense of responsibility to make Fringe as enjoyable and exciting as possible. I helped prepare them for each event: what to bring to their fittings, what questions to ask. Same for rehearsal and the show — a detailed list of what to bring and what to expect. I believe being as transparent and honest as possible is effective in making something huge feel more tangible. I want to be real and honest.

I have a lot of experience in being on stage, whether it’s dance, acting or modeling. I know how to prep. I know what feelings to expect. And I know how hard it is to do. So I am happy to be able to offer real empathy to any models who are scared or unsure of themselves.

IFD: You also have some very exciting news! You recently launched a podcast called Model Talk with Nicole and Devon! Congratulations!!!

Model Talk: About The Show

"We are Devon Blackerby and Nicole Nance. We are both models in the Portland, Oregon and the west coast market. We are using this podcast to make the modeling industry more transparent and approachable for models. We will share stories about our experiences and advice on how to be a professional model and get hired. Our experience combined is over 20 years experience in the modeling, fashion, and art world."

Model Talk Podcast available at:

IFD: You're very complimentary about some of the people you've meet in the industry. Are there some photographers, make up artists, fellow models, artists you'd like to highlight that you believe more people should know about?

Hell yes!! I hesitate to point out specific people in case I forget people but here are some phenomenal talents... Tom Lupton – I mean we really grew up together getting into shooting fashion. He didn't ever consider fashion, we met, somehow our theatrical style worked with fashion and boom. I'm grateful for him as a friend in this industry! I also have to acknowledge Angela Foster, a MUAH. She is just insanely talented and such a hard worker. She's also such an incredible friend. As well as Cherrity Patt – Her creativity never ends. In fact, I'd like to point out that makeup and hair artists are some of the hardest working people I know and they don't get the credit they deserve. They give me the confidence to do what I do.

Cobalt Studios is another amazing space in this industry. They have welcomed me in and given me a place to go and be creative and have fun! Bill and Tammy Linn, the owners, do sooo much to support this community it is unbelievable. Tulle On Lace used to be a local designer but recently moved to Atlanta. She is a great friend and incredibly talented and gave me the opportunity to walk for her in New York Fashion Week one year. ! I'd love to just give you a long list as there are so many others! My husband is insanely supportive of me pursuing this as well. He's the reason that I am able to go out and do this as hard as I have been. So, I'd love to give him a huge thanks!

IFD: Nicole, it has been a pleasure to hear your journey. Thank you for sharing with us and we wish you continued success!

Interested in learning more about Cobalt Studios? Here is a sneak peek!


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