CONTRACTS: Valentino, Christian Dior
Michelle was a top student in civil engineering at Londrina State University before she moved to Sao Paulo to pursue a full-time modeling career. A self-described "nerd," Michelle can speak Portuguese, Italian, French and English.
Brazil continues to be the fashion industry’s best resource for bombshells, but twenty-two year old Michelle Alves is not just another pretty face. This civil engineering student is finding that it takes beauty and brains to really make the most of this business.
Whoever thought models couldn't be engineers has obviously never met 21-year-old Michelle Alves.
"I had been modeling for a few years before my parents made me go back to school to take civil engineering classes," Alves told FWD during a fitting for tomorrow's Victoria Secret holiday fashion show, an event that's become more highly anticipated every year. "Although I won top awards in my class at the university, I didn't want to be there. I wanted to travel and make my own money while I was still young."
And travel she did...straight to the top. Alves debuts as one of the freshest faces at the lingerie powerhouse's show Thursday night, just two years after the Brazilian bombshell left her small town of Londrina to pursue a modeling career in the States.
Although she's done runway shows for major names like Versace, John Galliano, and Stella McCartney and just completed her first Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in Grenada, becoming a Victoria's Secret angel is exciting, as well as nerve-wracking, for Alves.
"Anytime you wear underwear and expose a lot you get nervous in front of all the people who are watching the show," Alves said, casually dressed in jeans and an embroidered cardigan, a change from the steel bustier and G-string she sported for the fitting. "And you have the responsibility of doing well because you want to do a second [show]."
No one stresses this point more than Monica Mitro, executive vice-president of public relations for Victoria's Secret and executive producer for the event. "Not only do the models have to be beautiful, but super-confident as well. We look for people with major personalities because some end up being spokespeople for us," Mitro explained. "It's surprising that some girls who are extremely beautiful are also quite shy."
A casting call brought out hundreds of already-famous models in the industry that desperately wanted the coveted runway spots. Besides the models Mitro said "were absolutely going to be in the show (Heidi, Gisele, Adriana, Tyra, Naomi and Karolina)," there were only 16 openings for Victoria's Secret virgins.
So what was it about Alves that appealed to Mitro? "I had seen Michelle at the shows in Europe and I really liked her. Every time I saw her, I was like, 'Who is that girl?' I love the way she walks, I love the way she looks and she has the perfect Victoria's Secret body!" Mitro gushed. "Plus, she has a great personality, bubbly and fun."
Stylists and dressers buzz around 5-foot-11-inch Alves, lacing and unlacing her four-inch gold stilettos and fussing with straps to ensure every detail will be perfect for the Lexington Avenue Armory show. She appears to have the confidence of a Victoria's Secret veteran but when a piece of strategically placed gauze is taken away, she modestly covers herself in front of the camera crews.
Alves said she's grateful to have many friends in the show, including fellow Brazilian Gisele Bundchen, Fernanda Tavares, Alessandra Ambrosio and Karolina Kurkova, who all offered her sound advice. "When I am in a bikini, they say, 'Pretend you have all of your clothes on!'" Alves said, laughing. And for her nerves? "It never gets any better," said Heidi Klum, who arrived at the fitting, parents in tow. "It's my fifth time and I still get nervous!"
Alves knows how lucky she is to earn this coveted position, saying it will help move her career another step. Mitro agrees. "I think that with all models, they can be on the covers of Vogue or Bazaar and get a lot or recognition. But once you are in the Victoria's Secret catalog or in the show, it propels your career in a whole new direction and you become a part of America."
When asked about her current relationship with Guy Oseary (of Maverick records and Madonna fame), Alves puts her hands to her hips in mock anger and asks, "Hey, what's with all the personal questions?" but says her current beau approves of her participation in the lingerie show. "He thinks it will be good for my career. He is very supportive of me and it is very important to have that in a relationship." Especially important for Alves, who said not sleeping and not eating on time is her least favorite part of the job.
"But I love to travel and learn about new cultures and languages...I used to know just Portuguese and a little English, but now I can speak Italian, Spanish and French and I am happy with that," the South American beauty said with a grin. Coming from a family of engineers, doctors and a lawyer mom, it's not surprising that Alves is a fast learner. When she was studying civil engineering, she attended UEL in Londrina, one of the best programs in Brazil.
British Vogue stylist Charlotte Stockdale fashioned this year's Victoria's Secret show, which will feature a holidays around the world theme, according to Mitro, hinting that attendees at the exclusive affair will be treated to "red flowers, black lace, lots of richness, jewels" and promising that "[it] will be even more over the top than last year." FWD caught sight of the illustrious wings protected in garbage bags and saw black, neon pink and peacock feathers instead of the angelic white feathers used in previous shows.
Alves has been mistaken for Gisele on numerous occasions because both have the same Brazilian coloring and bear some resemblance to each other. But Alves said she thinks that there are a few girls that people put in the same group and "maybe I am in that group, but I don't think I look exactly like [Gisele]."
"If I was to give a tip to any girl starting out it would be to not compare yourself to anyone else," Alves said. "Once you start comparing, you are always going to think someone else looks better than you. You have your own beauty and are special because of your own beauty."
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