Push­ing bound­aries

Un­ex­pected, un­con­ven­tional and un­stop­pable. An­golan su­per­model Maria Borges carved her suc­cess by be­ing ev­ery­thing the fash­ion in­dus­try isn’t – her­self.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents - Words by YOLISA MJAMBA

Su­per­model Maria Borges carves her way to suc­cess

stat­uesque, el­e­gant and red-lipped in a striped but­ton-up shirt dress, Maria Borges ar­rives fresh off the new Wool­worths Edi­tion cam­paign shoot when I make my way to in­ter­view her at a stu­dio in Green Point, Cape Town. “I’m ready for you,” she tells me with a smile. She’s the face of L’oreal, a reg­u­lar fea­ture in the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret shows, has strut­ted down the run­ways of Chanel, Bal­main and Moschino, calls de­signer Ric­cardo Tisci a per­sonal friend and is signed to 20 Man­age­ment, SA’S most elite model agency. But as a black woman whose look was con­sid­ered atyp­i­cal, suc­cess was not guar­an­teed for her. Ac­cord­ing to the 25-year-old, it was her refusal to com­pro­mise on be­ing her au­then­tic self that po­si­tioned her where she is to­day. “I think that the in­dus­try em­braced me be­cause I’m al­ways my­self and I never try to im­i­tate any­one,” she says. “When you show peo­ple that you’re just be­ing you, it changes ev­ery­thing, and they re­ally start to re­spect and support you. That’s why I just have to keep on go­ing, mak­ing sure I open the door for other mod­els as well.”

She ad­mits that it wasn’t al­ways easy, but deal­ing with re­jec­tion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis at the start of her modelling ca­reer only helped build her char­ac­ter and strengthen her de­ter­mi­na­tion. “I started modelling when I en­tered a model search con­test in An­gola, but they didn’t pick me as the win­ner,” she ex­plains. “For me, that ‘no’ was re­ally a ‘yes’ in dis­guise. When some­one says, ‘This is not go­ing to hap­pen for you,’ it just gives me more mo­ti­va­tion and I’m like, ‘I know I can get this – no mat­ter how hard or how long it takes to reach suc­cess!’”

With Ed­ward En­nin­ful’s appointment as the ed­i­tor-inchief of Bri­tish Vogue and Vir­gil Abloh’s place­ment as the cre­ative di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton Menswear, the model be­lieves that the fash­ion in­dus­try’s em­brace of di­ver­sity is long overdue. “It’s about time,” she ex­claims. “Ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pened to me, to Ed­ward and Vir­gil is be­cause we’ve all been work­ing hard, and when the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, we went for it. Now we need to keep it up and con­tinue to do our best. But it’s not only fash­ion, though. What­ever po­si­tion we’re in, be­ing black is pow­er­ful, and ev­ery­one should re­alise this and be proud. You should wake up ev­ery­day and say, ‘I’m beau­ti­ful, I can do this!’”

She also cred­its other African mod­els like Alek Wek and Ajuma Nasenyana for paving the way. “These are the two women who in­spired me when I was grow­ing up. When I met Alek for the first time, I was in awe. As soon as I spot­ted her, I was like, ‘Oh my God! I love you, let’s get a pic­ture.’ Af­ter­wards, she told me, ‘Girl, never change. I know it’s hard in this in­dus­try, but keep it up and be strong.’”

Maria em­pha­sises that she tries her best to live by those words and that she has no in­ten­tion of slow­ing down. “I want to be the Anna Win­tour of Africa, or be some­one who’s go­ing to make a change for the fash­ion in­dus­try on the con­ti­nent,” she ex­plains. “I’ve al­ways dreamed of be­com­ing a busi­ness­woman and hav­ing dif­fer­ent projects, but most im­por­tantly, I want to start my own char­ity foun­da­tion, so I can give some­thing back to the place that made me who I am.”

Although she now re­sides in New York with her boyfriend of five years, busi­ness­man Perik­les Mandinga, and leads what ap­pears to be an A-list life, she in­sists that she’s still the same per­son she was be­fore leav­ing her coun­try. “I’m still the young girl who left An­gola five years ago to pur­sue her dreams. I never for­get to be hum­ble, and I keep my cir­cle of fam­ily and friends very close to me,” she says. “I make sure I take the ad­vice of those who have lived more than I have, be­cause I don’t know ev­ery­thing and there’s still a lot that I need to learn.”

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