Jelena is an international model and stylist with a career spanning 16 years. She worked with many talented people, including Gianfranco Ferre and Galliano, and has graced the pages of fashion magazines all over the world.
Long before that though, she was my neighbour in my hometown in Croatia. She was always a beautiful girl, and was kind, intelligent, funny and a great friend. It makes me so glad that she carved this great career for herself, that her charm, personality and good looks took her all over the world and earned her a wonderful life.
Thank you Jelena for taking the time to give this interview and for being so honest. I wish you all the best in your new adventure in Grenada and hope to see you sometime soon.
- Occupation: Model, fashion stylist, volunteer
- Place of residence: St.George’s, Grenada (Caribbean)
Tell us a little about yourself
Well I always believed that other people should speak about us!
I’m based in St.George’s in Grenada, Carribean. I’m originally from Croatia and I travelled the world and lived in many places. I was an international model for 13 years and for the past 3 years I have been working as a fashion stylist in Croatia for magazines, TV, commercials and so on.
Recently I got married and became Mrs. Kristijan Habulan… and then we decided to go and volunteer so that’s why now we live in Grenada – the island of spice! So beautiful!!
How did you get your start in fashion?
I started at a very young age of 9 in my hometown in Croatia. With a few friends I took modelling classes for fun, instead of dance or piano, and by the age of 13 I had a contract with an agency and went to Milan for the first time (so young, now I can’t believe it when I see girls so young).
I went to Milan all by myself, my parents had to work, and the agent promised that some older girls from my country who I was living with back then would take care of me… and so it was! But I was all on my own and I remember hating it at the beginning. This of course changed with time. I wasn’t aware what was happening, I just had the feeling I have to do it (but nobody was pushing me). I could travel and see new places and cultures, but that was about it. Oh and of course I liked beautiful clothes, make up, photography, the transformation.
It was all interesting and besides that there was a lot of free time – that was what I didn’t like, I was too young to go anywhere on my own so I was missing my friends and family.
Why did you choose fashion?
I didn’t really choose fashion, fashion choose me. As well as modelling I studied fashion design. I was always a perfectionist, had a sense for what is nice, I was always creative, adapting my clothes, painting… I think it was in my blood.
Is the fashion industry what you expected it to be?
It is! See I always knew that for fashion you need a team. So it’s not about a model, or a designer, make up artist, photographer, stylist – it’s about all of them, doing a good job, being a good team. Any of them should not think they are the most important.
It is very important that everyone is nice and nice to each other (this is not always the case and that disappointed me sometimes). People that run the fashion industry can be arrogant sometimes, but there are some really nice people as well
There’s something within me that makes me dissatisfied with a life that is all about make up, clothes and things on outside. I think that there is more beauty in people and the world than just outside. But I would always meet nice people in the same state of mind so I have still have keept many good friends from fashion. Fashion is art and that’s how I look at it.
What does your job consist of?
Being a model is so dynamic that you can’t help but miss it once you are not doing it anymore. But then again, it made me who I am today. It taught me how to act, speak, dress etc.
It’s a lot of traveling, a lot of airports, many different people, I’m talking about heaps and heaps of people I meet on my way. Different cultures, different markets (every market is different, and they like different style of pictures to be in a girl’s book).
You can have a base where you live but it is constant moving from one city to another, leaving friends behind, saying ‘bye’ heaps of times, you just get used to it. Some people could never do it, I’m the kind of person that enjoyed that, but some people are too conected to other people and it’s hard for them to leave.
I’m so happy and thankful cause if there was no modelling I would never have travelled and lived and experience all these countries, cities, people. And the agency always lent me money in advance so basically I travelled and lived for free. If I wasn’t making money in some place I wouldn’t have to return the money in advance. Why? Cause they invited me and they were thinking I’m gonna work and make them money so it was their risk to invite me. So I’m so thankful for many trips that have been paid for me, even if I wasn’t working I was there living and experiencing! Praise the Lord!
Vice magazine, France
Describe a typical week
Monday – going to the agency if not working, take my go-see, casting list. Talk to my booker about the plan for the next week or so, see my options. Possibly go and see client for a call back. Maybe do a regular go-see, castings, going around the city with model friends or alone. Some cities like Milan when you come to a casting it’s normally hundreds of models there so you’re waiting in line for hours. Or just go to a different casting and come back. Sometimes the agency calls and gives you more appointments that just opened up. By the end of the day I call the agency tell them everything I did, they tell me if there is a call back or what I have to do tomorrow.
Tuesday – let’s say it’s my working day today. So I have to come to a location or to the studio, if the shoot is somewhere outside the city then probably the team is going together in a van. Once we are all there we start the makeup, hair, stylist is getting prepared, photographer as well and when is all done we start shooting. Depending on a photographer, location, me, make up… that’s how long the shoot will last.You can never tell.
You can never make appointments for later in the day cause you don’t know how long it’s going to last. So I’m used to that and I don’t make appointments for the day I’m working. Once the day is finished I go to see friends, or just back to model flat or place where I was living. I have dinner, a shower and go to sleep.
I must admit there were many nights that I wouldn’t go to sleep but out to party. The good thing is that as a model you can get in anywhere and more or less everything is free. I remember once in Miami in front of a club, a guy was offering so much money to the entry guy just to get in and I just went in with bunch of models, for free.
Wednesday – I wake up in the morning, have a little breakfast, exercise and go out to my appointments. My agency can call me any time to tell me that I got a job and have to go there, or I have a test shoot, or I have to go to a new casting… You can never really tell, every day is different.
Now you are in Miami tomorrow you could be in New York or where ever else. It’s so dynamic. You live with other models so it’s a big happy house, kind of “Big Brother” house… someone is always messy someone is always complaining, someone is always partying, someone is nice and tidy… all different characters in one place.
If you stay longer somewhere of course you get friends and maybe move to where you want to live, but when you are on short term travel most likely you’re going to end up living in a model flat with people the agency puts you with. Sometimes they don’t make a very good match, but more or less it’s a mixture of people you would normally never live with.
So the rest of the week goes by in the same tone, maybe you’re working, maybe just doing castings, sleeping a lot, partying. In most countries you have a lot of free time, just some like Japan, Taiwan and these Asian markets you work all the time.
If you’re are not working they simply send you home, when in other countries you could be sitting for months, they just keep you even if you are not working.
Roughly how many hours do you work per week?
As I said it depends on a market. In Taiwan for instance you work all the time. You start at 4 am and are finished by 2 pm and then the manager comes to pick u up, drives you to your other job which is from 3 pm to 8, 9, 10 pm and then you go home or you may have another job after this. It’s pretty crazy over there… They take girls on contracts for 2 months and then you work all the time, if you are not working they send you home.
It says in the contract that you should get (depends on the country, but you get the picture) 7-10 jobs in fourteen days and if you don’t get them, they break the contract and send you home. That’s how they save money. They pay loads for contracts and if you stay for 2 months they should pay the entire amount, so in the beginning if they see you are not working they send you home. It’s the same in Japan and all Asia I think. In other countries you don’t work so hard, you have a lot of free time.
But no matter how many hours you work it’s not the hardest job in planet. It’s the most fun and easy job you can have. A stylist works much more than a model, photographer and all the team. As a model you just need to be there on time and they do everything for you and then you have to be a good friend with the camera and that’s about it.
How many hours you work depends on if the market really likes you at this time, if you have good agency to push you, if you yourself are in the right place at the right time.
What are the key skills you need for your role?
I guess it’s to be naturally skinny, funny, have a good character, be easy going, easy on the eye or just different. Like Andrej Pejic these days.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoyed all of it. It was a great and lovely experience!
What do you find challenging?
You kind of grow up fast. You’re meeting all these people, traveling on your own, cooking for yourself, trying to have things in order. It makes you stronger and wiser and you get to see so many beautiful places!
What do you do in your time off?
What I liked back then, I liked to search for my favorite musicians and go and see them play. Walking around, meeting people, seeing friends, cooking a good meal for friends, helping girls that I could see having hard times on their own, all different kind of things, visiting different places, draw, sew, make things with my hands…
What’s the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve been travelling around for 13 years. Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, New York, Miami, Athens, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Taipei, Munich, Vienna, Hamburg…
I’ve been working with wonderful people… In Croatia I’ve been working on commercials with clients from Russia, France, Spain and all around the world. I’ve seen many famous people from fashion and worked with some of the best – Gianfranco Ferre, Galliano. There is a lot of work behind me, many pictures, editorials, catalogues, commercials etc.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in fashion?
Yes enjoy it while it lasts. Use every opportunity to go around the world and meet the world and fashion industry. You’re not going to stay young forever and for those who are into photography and styling and make up – grow and investigate and free your spirit.
Finish this sentence: Fashion is…