Top models see more clothes up close than anybody else. They're constantly slipping in and out of dresses, visiting showrooms and witnessing the best designers at work. Lois (pronounced "Loy") Samuels has been modeling for 16 years, working with everyone in the fashion world from Yves Saint Laurent to Calvin Klein to Ralph Lauren, Thierry Mugler and Banana Republic.
Just this past Christmas, she appeared in a series of national advertisements for Macy's. She was among the first models of her era to sport a shaved head on the runway, paving the way for the many beautiful buzzed coifs that have graced the catwalk recently.
Samuels has written two well-received books: A Glow in the Dark, about her career in modeling, and Jamaica Through My Eyes, a collection of her photography. She started modeling at 21 after she was discovered in Jamaica, where she was born, and lived in London for several years before moving to New York six years ago with her son.
She took a break from modeling this week to introduce her latest styles from the Vessel by Lois, the collection she debuted last year. It's a spare, sharp group of clothes in black wools and cashmeres, perfect for the career power player or social mover looking for something other than a sleepy, four-button jacket for the office or meet-up. Presented by Samuels herself, the clothes were placed on mannequins and depicted in photographs of Samuels modeling the looks.
The Root asked the 37-year-old Samuels about life as a model and a designer.
The Root: So you've left modeling and gone into design?
Lois Samuels: I still do modeling. I'm signed to Q Models. I do a lot of commercials. I do print and broadcast.
TR: When you were designing this collection, what were you thinking of?
LS: My inspiration has always been classic tailoring. The uniform. This season I came up with the seven days of winter; it could be seven days of a woman's life. I didn't want it to be too masculine, so there are plunging necklines, slits up the leg. Simple, yet sexy.
TR: How does the fact that you're a model affect your casting of models for your presentation?
LS: Whenever I have shows with models, I always have a diverse cast. It's always important to me to have diversity not just in race but also in age and in size. I use older and younger models. And why should all the models be size zero — or minus zero [laughing], as I call it?
TR: What do you think about the current state of diversity on the runways?
LS: I don't think it's as diverse as it used to be. In some ways, it seems it might have gotten worse than it was. There are one or two [black] models in a show, but I feel there should be more. It's always like 20 [white models] to one [black model]. I don't know when it's gonna change. There was a time it was changing, and now it feels like we've gone back. I have a son who's 9, and I tell him, "You can do anything; you can be anything." So you can't let it stop you.
TR: What led you into design rather than, say, acting, which a lot of models do as a second career?
LS: I feel like this is my life. Fashion is what I'm used to; modeling or design, the glamour and the grit are the same. Once you're in fashion, you're involved. I've been an account manager at Thom Browne. I do photography. I've written two books. I do painting. It's my personality to create.
Also, with design, I am doing something where I am in control of my life. I'm creating something. In acting, you are constantly judged and told what to do, and you have to deal with, "Do they want me?" You have to deal with all that.
TR: Where is the collection sold, and what's the price range?
LS: Right now it's only available through my company. I hope to sell to stores like Barneys. Prices are $350 to about $1,000. Most things are under $1,000.
TR: How do you keep in shape for your modeling?
LS: Well, you know, you get older, you have kids and you start to put on a few pounds, you get a little belly. I am tall [5 feet, 10 inches] and my legs are thin, so it doesn't show as much, but I put on a few pounds. But I eat well. Lots of vegetables, soups. I cook at least five times a week, with my son. I try to make sure we're eating healthy.
TR: That's it? You eat healthy? Do you exercise?
LS: I dance a lot at home. We have a lot of parties, and I always dance.
TR: Where did you get the name "Vessel"?
LS: I always used to say, "We're all vessels of life. We are all vessels of love." So when I started the line, I said, "That's it!"
Constance C.R. White, a former style reporter for the New York Times and style director of eBay, is a consultant and independent journalist.