Diandra Forrest & Shaun Ross

Diandra Forrest and Shaun Ross

The sky is the limit for these unusual Supermodels. Albinism was once considered a curse, but for the luminescent New Yorkers who have taken the fashion industry by storm, Diandra Forrest and Shaun Ross show the world that being different can be a blessing in disguise.

INTRODUCING THE LUMINESSIENT DIANDRA FORREST

Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York.

How did you get discovered as a model?

It’s funny because growing up I had quite a few people approach me about modeling and Ty-Ron, you was the first ever. Ty-Ron spotted me riding the subway in Harlem and told me that he was a Stylist and that I was beautiful and I should model. He immediately gave me his card and took some digitals. We had lost contact but a couple of years later a photographer by the name of Shameer Khan scouted me while I was shopping on 34th street. He worked with me for a couple of months then presented me to agencies in NY.

And then we reconnected backstage at the Arise fashion show and have worked together ever since. What do you love about modeling?

I love the feeling that I get when I am in front of the camera. And how excited everyone gets to see the image pop up on the photographer’s screen after he takes a shot and you can tell its something amazing. And of course the clothes!

You are one of the most creative Black Models to hit the scene in a long time. What ignites your creativity?

Music plays a very big part. It sets the mood for me while shooting. It’s crazy how the mood in a whole room could change just by what song is playing.

What is your biggest accomplishment as a model?

Traveling to so many different countries, meeting and working with so many different beautiful people. I never would have thought this would be my life and I love it.

What was your favorite modeling job?

Diandra: So far the most fun that I have had on a job was a shoot for paper magazine where there were about 12 models and we were all dressed up like Nicki Minaj.  The styling was amazing. We looked like life size Nicki Barbie dolls.  We had crazy makeup, hair, nails… the whole works and we were shooting outside. The reactions that we got from people were priceless.

Most models start off very young, have you ever had any other type of job?

Yes, I remember my first summer youth job working as a camp councilor for the summer camp at my school. I was 13yrs old and actually too young to be apart of them summer youth program, but the head coordinator let me slide since the younger kids took to me so well. From there I worked at a couple of daycares, some office work, and did A LOT of babysitting.

Most models have a situation that they can not believe they found themselves in… What was your most unusual, funniest job or situation?

It was a very hot day during fashion week castings and I was running all over the city trying to make it to all of my appointments. So I was rushing upstairs to a casting and bumped into a model that I knew and was chit chatting, but still on the move. I wasn’t looking where I was going and as soon as I turned around (SMACK) I ran into the glass door where all of the designers and models could see me. Everyone got quiet and I was a bit embarrassed but I was so tired that all I could do was laugh.  Everyone made sure I was okay but the designers ended up loving me so they did booked me for their show.

Ok, now that I stopped laughing… what project would you love to do?

Ahh… there are so many that I would love to be apart of now but my dream job would have been to walk in a show for Alexander McQueen. Also, I would love to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel.

The media often reports that Black Models do not get along, for example, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks had a tumultuous relationship in the past. Who would you say was your ‘Black Bestie’ in modeling?

Shaun Ross of course.

Do you think the Black Models of today have forged better relations amongst themselves or are they still fighting?

I’d like to think so but I’m sure there are some rolled eyes and hair pulling still happening.

Diandra, since you bought up the subject of hair, you are becoming known as the Linda Evangelista of Albinism with you coloring your hair and changing from long to short in a blink of an eye.

(laughs) Different jobs like different things.

Now we have to get serious here. Your hair is naturally blonde and your skin in white… being an individual who was born with Albinism, was it difficult growing up in a ‘Black’ or ‘Brown’ community?

Very. When I was growing up, there wasn’t as much awareness as there is today on Albinism. So growing up in a neighborhood and going to a school where everyone was much darker, they were not as accepting or understanding.

Are there any physical limitations to having Albinism?

No. A lot of people, even some doctors think since we are so fair we shouldn’t be out in the sun or should cover up which I think is ridiculous. I have enjoyed many summers on many beaches with just wearing sun block.

The purpose of this next statement is for it to be a “teachable moment” if I may quote Oprah? How do you feel when the word “Albino” is used? Is this derogatory or is it a word that has become in the community?

Most of the time it’s not what you say it is how you say it. Personally I am not at all offended when people refer to me as an “Albino”. It’s a long way from being called “white girl” or “Casper”. It shows that people are at least aware on what being “Albino” is, but most would prefer you say someone has Albinism.

Since this is the ‘Black Issue’ with Black being more of a state of mind rather than a skin color, what does ‘Black’ mean to you?

When I think of the word “Black” I think of power and strength. My mother is such a strong black woman and not only for herself, but for my whole family. She gives me so much faith and I could only hope to grow into the woman that she is.

What’s the one thing you know now, that you wish you knew when you were growing up?

I wish I knew that things would get better. Its funny how when you are a child and something happens to you, you just think that it’s the end of the world. But the things that you go through makes you that much stronger.

You and Shaun have worked so well together, even to the point that you agreed to kiss on film. Are you friends?

Yes.

When did you first notice Shaun? Were you aware that there was another top model with Albinism ruling the print and runway world?

You know I really can not remember when was the first time that I met Shaun. I know that he started modeling before I did and I immediately found out there was a male model with Albinism. When I finally saw his work, I was so amazed at how he moved so gracefully and with such power. But, I do remember the first time that we shot together and I remember thinking “this guy is truly a character. I love it!”

Due to the controversial presence that people with Albinism face today, are you surprised that you have been accepted into the modeling industry?

Not surprised… but I think it’s been well overdue for us to be looked at as the unique beauties that we are. A lot of the time in the entertainment business, people with albinism have been portrayed as something supernatural or odd or freakish looking and I love that we are being seen in a different light.

Do you feel successful?

I do. I feel that I have accomplished a lot but I am not even close to being finished.

I must say, I have followed your careers and watch your Facebook posts. I noticed you hugging young children with Albinism. Do you find ways to support the children who are born with Albinism community?

I get so happy when I read all of the inspiring Facebook messages and get pictures from my fans and from parents who have children with Albinism. They definitely keep me going. A lot of parent ask me for advice on what they could tell their children who are growing up with Albinism and I help them the best that I can.

What’s the one rule you feel you can break with impunity?

Oh goodness… the rule that I always break is jaywalking… LOL… it’s a New York thing.

When traveling and you are away from home, what foods do you love and miss?

I am a big foodie, but I must say that I miss hot wings and homemade mac & cheese the most when I am away.

There’s nothing like a super hot, hot wing. LOL!  Let’s play a game. Since you are on your way to becoming a Supermodel… if you were a comic book hero, what super powers would you like to have?

Hmm… I would want the ability to freeze time.

What is the riskiest thing you’ve done in your life?

 (Laughs) I was in London running late to a job and of course I got lost. I had seen a delivery man and asked him to point me in the right direction and instead he offered me a ride. I wasn’t hesitant at all but when he pulled off I thought, “Oh God what if this man is crazy!” LOL! it turns out it was only about 5 min away and he was actually really nice.

What social or political cause are you most passionate about?

There is an organization that I have worked with called Assisting Children in Need (ACN) and they have a project called, The Tanzania Project, which helps provide people with Albinism in Tanzania… with housing, schooling, meals, and protection. For years there has been discrimination against Albinos in Tanzania because Witch Doctors have told horrible myths of Albino limbs being sort of good luck charms bringing good health and wealth. So far there have been over 60 mutilations. This organization helps to keep them safe.

Thank you so much for sharing the plight of people with Albinism. I did see your story on 20/20 and I am extremely proud to see that the little 14 year old girl I discovered on the train has become such an activist. You are a beacon of success and your presence and voice can help save so many lives and prevent others from being maimed. It is important that not only the fashion Industry understand or other people with Albinism be aware of your work with this organization, but every human being should be aware of this atrocity and help in any way that they can.

Yes, this is such a huge problem. If anyone is interested in learning more information about ACN’s Tanzania Project it can be found at www.assistingchildreninneed.com

When you are not modeling, what do you love to do in your leisure time?

I love to party or hang with my friends… oh and I love to shop and eat.

Diandra, you have posted Rihanna lyrics in the past on Facebook, what are you jamming to right now?

Diandra: Definitely some Rihanna, Adele, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Kayne West.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Diandra: To Pray and never loose faith.

If you could say one thing to the next generation of Black models looking to enter into the world of fashion, what would it be?

Follow your dreams. Don’t listen to people that tell you otherwise.

What do you hope to get out of modeling? What do you want to do next?

I want to keep moving forward in my career and inspiring others as well as being inspired. And I would love to do some acting!

MEET THE IMCOMPRABLE SHAUN ROSS

Where are you from? Where did you grow up? 

I am from New York and I was raised in the Bronx.

I am as well, from New York and raised in the Bronx… how did you get discovered as a model?

I use to be a dancer when I was younger and posting videos of my latest moves on youtube was a passion of mine. Along with that came messages from different people telling me how good I was. Eventually, a NYC based photographer by the name of Shameer Khan discovered me. He asked me for my measurements and expressed how he thought I could be a model. I responded and then a day later I was taking shots and signing my first contract.

What do you love about modeling? 

Traveling! I love seeing other parts of the world that I would only dream of as a child.

You are one of the most creative Black models to hit the scene in a long time. What ignites your creativity?

The ability to create and be creative is a gift in itself. People like Michael Jackson really inspire me because I ask myself how can one person have so much power, so much charisma. That drives me to do the same, to be creative to allow people to see something they are not use to and help them to understand it .

What is your biggest accomplishment as a model?

My biggest accomplishment in modeling has to be the fact that I have created a name for myself and I continue to work hard to keep my image relevant. I am making something that is a “ Wrong “ look so “ Right “.

What was your favorite modeling job? 

My favorite modeling job had to being co-starring on Katy Perry’s E.T. music video with Kanye West.  In this video, there was an endless amount of inspiration on the set and I had never gone to California before then.

Most models start off very young, have you ever had any other type of job?

I worked for a month in a Haunted House as a prop when I was 15, other than that, no.  LOL!

LOL! Well, it seems that you have always been an artist your for most of your adult life. Most models have a situation that they can not believe they found themselves in… What was your most unusual, funniest job or situation?

Posing nude in Katy Perry’s E.T. music video. 160 million viewers have glanced at my tooshie! LOL!

Yes, I think we have all seen it… What project would you love to do?

I would love to work more with NYC Cares. They take on serious social issues here in NY. It’s the largest volunteer organization, running over 1,200 non-profit, city agencies and public schools. They really are trying to make the city a better place for everyone.

We worked on a film together called THE SKINNY directed by Partik Ian Polk. I was the key make-up artist and hair stylist on the set and it was our first time working together.  I also played a waiter who eventually went to the club that night. What was your role in the film?

I was a fierce, catty doorman at a nightclub,  along with being a ballroom scene Voguer for the float during the Gay Pride Parade scene.

Do you have any other films or projects out that we should be aware of?

A wise man never tells his secrets and I have learned that you have to keep your projects under your hat until they are ready to be released. I have not Tweeted or discussed my cover story and cross-over shoot with West East Men and West East Magazine with Diandra because I want it to be a total surprise. This is such an amazing concept linking the two magazines together. As soon as it is released, I would tell everyone to get it. If you guys continue to follow me on Facebook, I always post what I am doing for my fans.

The media often reports that Black models do not get along, for example, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks had a tumultuous relationship in the past. Who would you say was your ‘Black Bestie’ in modeling?

I was never the type of model to hang around a lot other models or have the fake ‘bromance’. I always stayed to myself, so thank God I did not have a Tyra / Naomi moment.

Yes, I noticed that about you. You were far more quiet than people would imagine and extremely professional. Do you think the Black models of today have forged better relations amongst themselves or are they still fighting?

I think the situation between Black models have gotten better but, I think the media will always make it seem as if it has not improved because it is more interesting to show the negative side of modeling.

Now we have to get serious here. Your hair is naturally blonde and your skin in white… being an individual who was born with Albinism, was it difficult growing up in a ‘Black’ or ‘Brown’ community? 

Most people ask me this question. I do not want to say yes and ask for sympathy because almost every child gets teased along with being bullied, but yes it was hard. Growing up in the surroundings of everyone looking somewhat the same, yet so different was a problem because children did not understand.

Are there any physical limitations to having Albinism?

We just tend to have poor vision along with getting sunburned easily.

The purpose of this next statement is for it to be a “teachable moment” if I may quote Oprah? How do you feel when the word “Albino” is used? Is this derogatory or is it a word that has become common in the community?

Unlike others, I do not feel offended when I hear someone says, “…He is an Albino. “ I just correct them. Not everyone is educated on the condition so I am happy I could be an advocate to those who do not understand.

Since this is the ‘Black Issue’, with Black being more of a state of mind rather than a skin color, what does ‘Black’ mean to you?

Black to me is a color. But being of the African decent is another feeling. I think of culture and for some reason a lot of body movement. The energy we call “Black” flows through me and I am fascinated with African dances and the way you move all of the parts of your body.

What’s the one thing you know now, that you wish you knew when you were growing up?

To be patient and keep my mouth shut. LOL!

You and Diandra worked so well together even to the point that you agreed to kiss on film. Are you friends?

Yes, Diandra Forrest is a good friend. I love hanging with her.

When did you first notice Diandra? Were you aware that there was another top model with Albinism ruling the print and runway world?

I was aware of Diandra because we were both discovered by the same person… at the same time. We came up together.

Due to the controversial presence that people with Albinism face today, are you surprised that you have been accepted into the modeling industry?

Not at all because I knew what was planned for me was nothing but greatness. I would not strive for anything that I knew I could not manage or handle and this was something I could do and do well.

Shaun, I have worked with several male models in the past; none quite like you. You struck poses that are not typically seen in the male modeling world… striking very difficult positions, high-kicks and Voguing poses, what experiences are you bring into your modeling?

I studied dancing in Alvin Ailey for some time along with early dance advances from Bronx Dance Theatre.

Well your training has paid off and aided in making you a very unique model. Shaun, how often do you stretch? Do you implement your dance background into every photoshoot?

I stretch once in a while, but I always remain limber.

Do you feel successful?

Yes, every single day, but I am always hungry for more and to do better.

I must say, I first met you at 16 and have followed your career since. I noticed you hugging young children with Albinism on Facebook. How do you find ways to support the children who are born with Albinism?

Yes, tolerance and education helps our community and I go to Belgium for conferences pertaining to people with Albinism; to see how we can help educate others.

When traveling and you are away from home, what foods do you love and miss?

For some reason when I go across seas, I always crave Chinese food… like some real ghetto, New York down-home Chinese food from your local neighborhood. LOL!

Same here! General Tso chicken to go! LOL! Let’s play a game. Since you are on you way to becoming a Supermodel… if you were a comic book hero, what super powers would you like to have?

I would love to have the power to create life in a dramatic amount of time!

I choose flight. I wish I could fly. What is the riskiest thing you’ve done in your life?

Walk outside the house! Haha… no… just kidding. Maybe… Shoot on a horse that had an attitude.

What social or political cause are you most passionate about?

Anti bullying!

I agree. It kills spirits, which is exactly why people do it.

Obama or Mitt Romney? Who gets your vote?

Obama

When you are not modeling, what do you love to do in your leisure time?

I love to sit on my roof or go hang with friends and family.

Shaun, you deejayed at our shoot and kept the studio pumping, what’s in you music playlist right now?

Everything you could ever imagine from Bjork to Beyonce. I love music… it is my drug.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Singer and song writer Brandy told me to remain humble.

If you could say one thing to the next generation of Black models looking to enter into the world of fashion, what would it be?

Be an original!

Text & Interview by Ty-Ron Mayes

Photography: Emin

Editor and Styling: Ty-Ron Mayes

Models: Diandra Forrest @ Krush Model Management, Shaun Ross @ Natalie Paris

Make-up & Hair: Roberto Morelli for NARS

Photography Assistant: Chris Morel

Styling Assistant: Polina Roytman

Published in Issue 37 BLACK, 2012

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