In lieu of a New Years Resolution, Paloma Elsesser has her word of the year: joy. Following the chaos of a year that robbed us of that very emotion and then some, the IMG model says she has been prioritizing her happiness. Right now, as we chat over the phone, that happiness looks a lot like a bagel with scallion cream cheese and a bottle of orange juice. “I’m starving. I’m so sorry,” she apologizes in between placing her order from her car. Joy also looks like spending time laughing with her loved ones, or her newest investment—a house she and her boyfriend recently purchased upstate to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. What she craves now is peace, quiet, and stillness.
“Having that kind of reprieve has been really essential. I like having a little anonymity and privacy,” she says. Coming up for air after an isolating and painful 2020, Elsesser needed a change from an “energy depriving” city like New York. “I find myself more drawn to having closer proximity to nature or a community that feels a little bit more restorative for me. Peace and quiet.”
Elsesser may be craving peace and quiet, but her debut in the industry was anything but. The superstar model has lived in the Big City for the past 10 years of her life and has walked in shows in just about every other major city there is. She made history in Milan as one of the first-ever plus-sized models to walk in a Fendi show. She walked for Lanvin and Alexander McQueen in Paris. She also appeared in New York for Eckhaus Latta and Savage X Fenty. When she’s not gracing runways, Elsesser can be found front and center in campaigns for the likes of Salvatore Ferragamo, Nike, Glossier, Fenty Beauty, Ugg, and more. Then there’s her latest trick: starring in a new campaign for Coach’s collaboration with fellow iconic brand Champion.
Below, Elsesser on her new Coach campaign, walking in her purpose, and meditating.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
This sounds really, really corny, but in the last year, I’ve definitely implemented a meditation practice. For the most part, nine times out of 10, I meditate when I wake up. It’s still an insane thing to me because I used to wake up and reach for my phone. Now, I do a guided meditation that’s a little over 12 minutes before I interact with the world. I’m feeling a little numbed out, honestly. But my new approach to every day is just staying in the moment and finding joy because we’re bombarded with news all day long. We are constantly bombarded with new information, whether to reference existing, or the pandemic, or just lifestyle. I just try and stay in the moment.
How did you come to join the Coach x Champion campaign?
It’s been really beautiful to work with Coach because we have a kind of long-term partnership. At Coach, there’s a family element. I went to CFDA Awards with Stuart [Vevers] a few years ago and Coach, and since then I’ve gone to all of the shows. The people who work within the brand know what kind of clothes I like to wear to the shows and being incorporated in the campaign and even the relationship that my own mom has with some of the people that work at the brand, PR wise and there’s a really beautiful family element to working with Coach.
This year has solidified that long-term partnership. In lieu of a show due to the pandemic, Coach has planned to roll out a bunch of projects, including this one with Champion. I’ve done a [Jean-Michael] Basquiat campaign with them and some other little projects, but the Champion one felt like a really authentic partnership. I know that when I’ve worked with Coach, I feel really taken care of and respected and honored. I saw the collection with Champion and was like, Damn, I think this is really cool.
When you heard that Coach was collaborating with Champion, what came to mind?
Coach is such an iconic brand because it’s one that can remain unchanged and deliver quality products. Champion is iconic in that way as well because they have provided quality products people are committed to and they’re not a luxury brand. Champion has evolved over the years to honor the identity of different kinds of people. Even with sweatpants or a sweatshirt, you can still be chic and refined.
I like how that’s been laid into each other. Champion and Coach are a very perfect collaboration because folks really honor long-term quality and products. These two brands always remain true to providing the customer and viewer with an authentic long-term commitment to what the brand stands for. I thought it made a lot of sense.
What is the first time you had a Coach bag or when you threw on a Champion sweatsuit?
My first interaction with Coach was a Coach bag. I found an authentic leather one at a consignment store when I was in middle school, it was like a saddle bag. Then there was the era where the it shoe was Coach’s monogram sneakers.
Omg, everyone had a pair of those sneakers.
Those are really, really iconic. I also found a pair at a consignment shop and I wore them in sixth grade. With Champion, I must have been in elementary school when I was first introduced to the brand. I was pretty experimental with clothes, but I was also kind of a tomboy. I would kind of play wearing sneakers and some Champions sweatpants for PE. I still wear Champion sweats to this day today.
What piece from the collection are you wearing on your Zoom meetings?
There’s an oversized red sweater that I really like that I’m wearing in the campaign. It’s really cozy. I’ve been really into sweaters lately.
I remember reading something that referred to you as an icon. What do you make of that honor? Do you consider yourself one?
I definitely can not consider myself an icon, but it is such a good compliment. I think that thinking of what I, or just the world, especially in fashion and beauty, have referenced what that icon is supposed to look like is pretty exclusionary, but also really powerful. When I think of beauty or fashion icons, that’s Pam Grier or Iman. To be an icon is to be aspirational. I’ve never really seen myself as an icon because I’m always a little rough around the edges, but I think that there’s a new age. We get to redefine around what being iconic is, you know?
Who is Paloma Elsesser right now?
She is in transition. I have a newfound willingness to set my own terms and my own boundaries, whether it be work and life. This last year has really referenced a fracturing of what we thought life could be like, and I’m trying to honor that.
What do you think your role is in the fashion industry, beyond your title?
I don’t exclusively want to exist as a figure in this industry. I am also a human and I’m a woman and going through life, so I don’t always want to play the role of the advocate or wordsmith, that’s been prescribed to me. Granted, I do also think I’ve prescribed it myself because that’s what comes with the terms of wanting change to happen. Honestly, I don’t know what my role is because my role is to show up authentically in the work that I want to create. And within that is to not always be the poster child of body positivity or success. I’m a person. I am very much so flawed and imperfect.
Are you still trying to find your purpose?
Yes, I’m still figuring that out. I’m a pretty outspoken person. I don’t think that one day I’ll wake up and shut up, but I’m still trying to figure that out.
What are you most hopeful for looking to 2021 and beyond, where the industry’s concerned?
What I’m looking forward to most is being able to be a part of a grander spectrum of talent on set and at other opportunities. I think the efforts the industry made to be inclusive can feel very disingenuous, but we can’t go back. Whether or not they want to or not, the brands and the companies have to do better. The time will be uncomfortable and I am fearful of what other black folks will have to endure on top of the daily precarity as we are brought into the fold more.
What have you discovered about yourself in the past year?
That I actually like spending time alone a lot more than I thought that I did. I’ve always been a really social person who always had people around. I grew up with a big family and a bustling household and I never really spent time alone. And now having to be home all the time, I like spending time alone. I value it. It’s essential. It’s necessary for me. But also it allows me to really value the time that I do spend with people that I love.
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