Drea Grady has been photographed perched on marble coffee tables at the Ritz, has conquered runways at New York Fashion Week and modelled in Paris, New York, London and Milan.
“I tried Asia once,” she adds. “They said they’d take me but only if I got a nose job. So…that didn’t happen.”
Drea Grady is a Plano girl with the “look,” tough skin and a glossy career. Blonde with arresting features, she stands out in a crowd. But she’s also chill enough to hang loose at Starbucks and talk about the unglamorous side of glamor.
A self-confessed “little string bean kid,” Drea Grady always had the look even if she didn’t have the dream; she was discovered by Wallflower Agency after doing amateur shoots with photographer friends. She actually wanted to be a zookeeper growing up and it’s still her dream to do a shoot with exotic animals.
“You can totally tell who is a model,” Drea says. “They’ve got a bag big enough to fit their book, [their portfolio of past work]. Usually they’re in all black, form-fitting clothes. They either look really determined or really lost.” She smiles wryly. Drea has cultivated a sporty, rocker attitude on the advice of her agents: band t-shirts, skinny jeans and bleached hair. Her look is vital; during a casting, she has five minutes to make a better impression than a hundred other girls.
“There are multiple levels of casting for each job too. You have your fittings and callbacks,” she says. “Maybe one casting goes long and you have to rush to your fitting. And then your agent calls saying, ‘Hey skip this casting, go to this callback,’ and so you’re fielding calls all day and racing around the city. And you’re staying in an apartment with like 10 other girls in bunkbeds.”
Two weeks before New York Fashion Week, models spend 18-hour days at as many auditions as possible. Drea describes a strange balance of camaraderie and competition. There are tears and occasionally drama—she recalls one horror story of two Russian girls, one job and one cut up passport—but in general, it’s an atmosphere of support. And age-lying.
“I’ve met a woman in her late thirties who says she’s 21. They’ll go down the line and ask us: ‘How old are you?’ And you get ‘16.’ ‘18.’ ‘18.’ Once I was like, ‘I’m 22,’ and everyone stared at me,” she says, laughing.
The industry isn’t known for treating models with respect or even like humans—“You’re a thing people put stuff on,” Drea admits good-naturedly. But she has seen a slow-boiling movement to better the treatment of models in the wake of allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, along with eating disorders that are almost expected in this line of work. A famous French casting director, Maida Gregori Boina, recently came under fire for locking models in a stairwell for hours with no food, water or bathrooms. Since this news came out, models at her casting have been treated better, in and out in thirty minutes, and provided snacks and bathrooms.
Drea Grady has always felt protected. She recalls one instance where she and other models weren’t fed on an 8-hour shoot and were actually told not to eat in case they had “food babies.” Drea, who happened to be eating a fruit roll-up at the time, texted her agent who threatened to pull their models off the job unless they were allowed to eat. “Things are changing slowly.” Drea has only known two girls with an eating problem and is weighed regularly to make sure she’s a healthy weight.
“Really, I like it a lot,” she admits. “It’s opened up my world. I have a more cultured perspective. Even down to food. I used to be picky, but now I’m like, ‘Just tell me what the gross thing is after I eat it’… Sometimes I’m not gonna like the clothes.” For one shoot she wore what she describes as a “face rug” because neither of us know what exactly it is. (Basically it looked like a furry square as tall and wide as she is, worn on the head with holes for the arms, legs and face.) It’s better not to comment.
“Everyone puts in work, and sometimes when you think you’re constructive they’re offended.” She grins. “And I can be really sarcastic. That gets me in trouble.
“People see the glamour in glossy magazines. They don’t see the work that girl puts in to get there, how many castings she went to, how many times she got rejected. You get glamour for one day before you’re back to sweating outside, waiting for a casting. But you get to shoot in the Ritz on that one day.”