Jourdan Dunn: the social super
THERE’S SOME speculation about what Jourdan Dunn will be like. I have flown to London to meet her and talk about her creative collaboration with HTC. According to some, Jourdan has a reputation for being difficult, while others swear she’s one of the most genuine models in the industry. As I’m escorted up the stairs to the penthouse at ME London hotel to interview her, I get strict instructions – only 10 minutes, and stick to the list of pre-approved questions. Can I take a selfie with her? One, I’m told.
As I enter the modern, minimalistic room with its panoramic views over the city, I see all 1.8m of the 25-year-old model unselfconsciously and leisurely stretched out on the white couch. When she sees me, she gets up and wraps her long arms around me like we’re old friends. She’s wearing white strappy heels and a short, sleeveless navy dress with intricate orange paisley patterns. Even after eight hours of interviews, she’s fresh, composed and glowing.
We start by talking about her work with HTC. The model worked with leading English tattoo artist Cally-Jo, who has inked the likes of Rihanna and Sienna Miller, to create the HTC One M9 handset. The smartphone has a body art illustration engraved on the back, which the two women created together. The inspiration, Jourdan says, came from her existing tattoos – she has eight, including her son Riley’s name inked on the side of her hand, which was her first tattoo. ‘For me, body art is very personal. I took inspiration from my own and also what I would like to get done next. The open hand and eye symbolise the need for protection and strength, while still being open and approachable in personality and
style,’ she says, describing the image. The leaf elements and patterns reflect the growth in creativity that she is feeling at this time, while the sun and moon indicate balance and harmony. ‘For me, that’s a good reminder to have on a handset,’ she says.
‘In the past I’ve expressed how much I really want to get into design,’ she says about the collaboration. ‘HTC picked up on that and when they presented me the opportunity, I thought, you know what, I love my phone, I love body art, I feel like this is a good mix.’
Our conversation moves to social media. She has more than 1.3 million followers on Instagram and 225 000 on Twitter – giving her the kind of social media clout most models only dream of and that brands are more than happy to buy into. Jourdan – along with her friends Karlie Kloss, Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne – is part of an era of social media supermodels whose selfies are as intrinsic to their brands as ad campaigns. They can influence the industry with a single post and form part of an exclusive club that we all have access to in some way. Yet she bubbles with laughter when I tell her I follow her on Instagram. ‘When I first got into social media, it was some time before people were looking at me. Christopher Bailey [CEO of Burberry] said, “I follow you on Twitter, you’re hilarious” and I was just like “what?”. Very, you know, no filter. But I don’t do that any more.’
She could be referring to any number of times she’s used social media to address important issues. Jourdan is an outspoken force for diversity and in 2013 famously tweeted about being cut from a Dior show: ‘I’m normally cancelled because I’m “coloured” so being cancelled because of my boobs is a minor :)’
Her fearlessness is part of what makes her popular. She has contracts with Burberry and Maybelline, has run campaigns with Calvin Klein, DKNY, Balmain and Topshop and was recently the first solo black model to be on a British Vogue cover in 12 years. In 2014, she was also the first black model to Make Forbes magazine’s list of top-earning models. And when Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing announced his collaboration with H&M in May, it was Jourdan, along with Kendall, who wore the first pieces from the collection to the 2015 Billboard Music Awards.
But that doesn’t mean she’s oblivious to the kind of uproar her tweets cause: ‘Because now I’m a mom and all that stuff – I have to think before I tweet. So I don’t really have a social media strategy, I just try to keep a good balance and give people what they want. A couple of selfies, show what you’re working on, then more selfies.’
Part of her success is how relatable she is. She laughingly tells me about how she tripped the first time she shared a runway with Naomi Campbell. ‘I still can’t really walk in heels,’ she says. Dubious for someone who walked in 23 shows in the last year alone.
Jourdan was discovered at the age of 16 and has modelled ever since, with a short break to give birth to Riley, now five, in 2009, when she was 19. She continued modelling and walking runways while pregnant, with Jean Paul Gaultier specially dressing her sixmonth bump for his SS10 show. She returned to work 10 weeks after having Riley, who has sickle-cell anaemia. (The inherited genetic mutation causes abnormally shaped red blood cells, which then can’t carry oxygen efficiently through the body.) Jourdan uses her high-profile position to raise awareness of the disorder and supports the Sickle Cell Society, a UK-based NGO, through fundraising and events.
When asked who inspires her, she says, ‘When I grew up, my mother and grandmother inspired me, because they were working moms and got things done. Another working mom who inspires me is Beyoncé; she’s just like superwoman.’ Jourdan should know – she starred in Beyoncé’s ‘XO’ and ‘Yoncé’ music videos.
Her publicist calls ‘last question!’ and so I ask: what is her guilty pleasure? ‘Ah… I know it’s really bad, but I do enjoy swearing. It feels so good,’ she says with a laugh.