Twenty years ago while I was applying lipstick in the bath just off of the food court at Lenox Mall, in walked Paulina Porizkova. At the time she was the spokes model for Lancôme. At the time I remember thinking how ethereal she was. I couldn’t put my finger on it but something about her made her seem different, like she somehow deserved to be a supermodel. Although I intruded on what was really a personal moment for her, she was friendly, although a little aloof but seemingly more from shyness than anything else. After leaving the bathroom, I saw her again as she walked through the mall with Rick Ocasek.
In her debut novel, A Model Summer, Paulina tells the story of Jirina —pronounced Yee-Rish-Na. Jirina is a fifteen-year-old girl who immigrated to Sweden from Czechlovakia. Growing up in Sweden she was often degraded by her schoolmates and her parents. Almost overnight, circumstances rapidly change when she accompanies her friend on a photography session. Next thing she knows Jirina is soloing it in Paris to spend the summer finding out whether or not she can make it in the world of modeling.
Jirina spends a whirlwind summer learning the ups, downs, ends, and outs of the fashion industry. Like a child pushed into the water and told to swim, Jirina is thrust into the world of fashion. From one incident to another she learns that nothing in this new world is what it seems. Accustomed to being the outsider and hard pressed to see her own beauty, she is determined to make it. Incident by incident she survives the actions of jealous fellow models, cruel photographers and stylists all while attempting to stay true to herself. During this new and fast paced life that takes her to exotic locales she finds true friends, falls in love and finally discovers what it means to accept herself.
Porizkova gives us front row seats to witness the ugly side of beauty. It is somewhat odd to see world full of beautiful images for the harsh reality that it is. Like many writers there are parallels between this story and Porizkova’s own life. One thing is for sure, the next time I look another beautiful image in a magazine I will have a whole new appreciation for the model in the picture.
In addition to A Model Summer, Paulina Porizkova is the author of Ralphie the Roach. She currently resides in New York City with her husband and two sons.