The Story Of Joan Smalls

The Story of Joan Smalls

Joan Rodriguez Smalls was born on July 11, 1988 in the town of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, on the island’s northern coast. She is the youngest of three sisters and grew up on a farm that produced fruit and livestock. She learned about modeling by watching Fashion TV, and by the age of 13 she was entering local modeling competitions. But she never won any of them, “I was told I was too tall, too thin and too dark,” she lamented in a Harper Bazaar interview. Smalls went online to and searched out the details of New York’s top ten model agencies. She worked out when they were seeing new girls, then presented a planned schedule to her father. He agreed to pay for Joan to go to New York for a week of open castings. But there was one caveat; “He always told me, ‘Make sure you get your education. No one can take that away from you.” After her graduation she relocated to New York permanently, moving in with her aunt in Ridgewood, Queens in 2007.

In 2007 she signed to Elite Models NY and began working, although mainly as a catalog model. To attend castings she would navigate the long commute in from Queens to Manhattan, taking the bus, then the subway, and then finally walking the rest of the way in combat boots. “I wanted to be as comfortable as possible,” she told CNN. In June of 2008, Smalls graced the cover of the American magazine Bond, her first cover shoot as a professional model. Her career did not take off until 2009 when she switched to the IMG agency. Her new agent made some changes, amongst them insisting that she dress differently for castings, and so she exchanged her tomboyish attire and clumpy boots for high heels and dresses. Her big break came in January 2010 when the young model signed the contract to walk the spring haute couture show for Givenchy in Paris, “I thought, this is going to be the moment that is going to change everything.” And she was right. From there the top fashion magazines came along calling.

She was photographed by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, followed by American Vogue, who featured her as one of its rising stars. Since working for Givenchy, Smalls has modeled haute couture and ready-to-wear collections for designers and fashion houses such as Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Burberry, Lavin, Missoni, Alexander Wang, Versace, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Fendi, Dior, Oscar De La Renta, and DVF. She has appeared in shows for fashion week in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. In 2010, Smalls began modeling for Victoria’s Secret and has appeared in their 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Her success reached new heights in May 2011 when Estée Lauder selected her, along with Chinese model Liu Wen and French beauty Constance Jablonsky, to star in their global advertising campaign, for a reported $1million a year. Smalls made history as the first Latina ever to represent the company. “Joan is a modern beauty with elegance, style and confidence,” stated senior vice-president Aerin Lauder. “She is the perfect addition to Estée Lauder’s global faces”. Lauder’s comments are indicative of the extent to which attitudes towards non-white models have changed over the last half-century. Back then, East Asian, black, Indian and Hispanic models were openly discriminated against within fashion, rendering it almost impossible for them to make careers in the business. Now things have changed greatly. But inevitably perhaps, racial issues remain, even within the progressive 21st century. Smalls recalled how, early in her career, a model agent advised her that work would be difficult for her, as “there’s only room for one” black girl at a time. During another incident in Paris she recalled “going to casting after casting where they wouldn’t even look at my book. I was sitting on a bench on the Champs-Elysées, and starting to cry.”

Smalls is the first Puerto Rican fashion model chosen by brands to front their advertising campaigns, including Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Calvin Klein jeans, Givenchy, Roberto Cavalli, Lacoste, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Balmain, Neiman Marcus, Woolworth S.A, Ogilvy, Next, H&M, ICB, Giambattista Valli, David Yurman, Estée Lauder, Mercedes-Benz, Barneys New York, Ports 1961, Rag & Bone, Prabal Gurung, Hugo Boss, Tiffany & Co., Stella McCartney, Versace,  Missoni, Marc Jacobs, United Colors of Bennetton, Calvin Klein Underwear, Joe Fresh and DSQUARED2.

In September 2013, Smalls and fellow model Karlie Kloss appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, which dubbed them “The New Supers“. She appeared in the 2012 and 2014 Pirelli Calendar. She also featured on the cover of American Vogue‘s September 2014 issue.

Kloss was featured alongside singer Bruno Mars in the June 2011 edition of Vogue. In 2006 she appeared in Ricky Martin’s “It’s Alright” music video. In November 2013, she co-starred with actor Michael K. Williams in the music video and short film for the American rapper ASAP Rocky’s track “Phoenix”, written by Asia Argento and Francesco Carrozzini. In 2013, she appeared in Beyoncé’s “Yoncé” video.

In September 2012, Smalls was named “Model of the Year” at the 9th Annual “Style Awards”.  In September 2012, Smalls was ranked #1 on the “Top 50 Models Women” list by She remained at the top of the list until August 2014, when the site named her as one of the “New Supers” In 2013, Smalls ranked #8 on Forbes magazine’s “World’s Highest-Paid Models” list, earning an estimated $3.5 million. When she started earning serious money as a model, as one of the first things she did was to buy her father a new pick-up truck, and her mother a new fitted kitchen for her house in Puerto Rico. In January 2014, Smalls appeared on the cover of American Elle and was featured in the article “The Return of the Supermodel: It’s Joan Smalls”. In April 2014, supermodel Cindy Crawford posted an update on her Facebook page calling Smalls one of her favorite new models. Crawford wrote, “She has great style—sexy and elegant with a touch of tomboy thrown in! And she showed off her great moves in the “Yoncé” video!”

Now, after years in the industry as a successful commercial model — and after lending her irresistible legs and pout to a number of the top names of the fashion world Joan Smalls continues to make serious headway into high fashion. She was named Paris Fashion Week’s Top Model and made AskMen’s Top 99 Most Desirable Women 2011 list. She became the face of Estée, continued to appear in multiple Vogue and W editorials and is currently ranked as’s No. 1 model. In January 2014, she graced the cover of Elle Magazine, causing many to call her a true “supermodel”. We’re not going to argue with that.