Anouck of the north: Tips from a Belgian supermodel
Top Belgian supermodel Anouck Lepère talks to Jon Eldridge about Antwerp, living internationally, and what (not) to wear.
Have you ever wondered what a supermodel eats? Well, apparently it’s pizza, or at least that’s what Anouck Lepère, one of Belgium’s top models, put away before meeting me at Maasmechelen Village– I saw the empty box.
Dressed in tight black leggings and a black top, however, Anouck is the height of svelte elegance. She seems to have been born to sashay down runways – she has worked with some of the biggest names in the fashion world such as Karl Lagerfeld – and strike poses (her CV includes campaigns for Jimmy Choo and Chanel). But she says with disarming modesty that modeling continues to be a “nice surprise”.
In fact, Anouck entered the business comparatively late at the ripe old age of 21. Originally from Antwerp, she was studying architecture at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Art. Around this time, the institute’s fashion department was gaining an international reputation largely thanks to a group of six designers – the Antwerp Six – and Anouck was asked to model for shows by Walter Van Beirendonck and Dries Van Noten.
“But I didn’t decide in that moment to make it my job,” she says. However, she was then approached by a representative from the modeling agency ING, who offered her the opportunity to go to New York. “I couldn’t refuse it, but I still didn’t expect it to become something. I had this initial plan to only go for two months. I planned it over the Christmas holiday and I still could go back to school – but then it kicked off so quickly and I just kept on working.”
Ten years on, Antwerp still has a reputation for being a centre of fashion, something Anouck puts down to the historical importance of its port and the international influences that the city has absorbed over the years. And it appears that eyes are still trained on its Academy. “They have a fashion show every year, and everybody that comes from there gets watched by the fashion world and gets picked out. They get hired straight away.”
Anouck has flown into Maasmechelen Village on the ‘red eye’ from New York, a city along with London where she has spent much time in recent years. “I’ve been living very internationally, which is fun. You learn all these things. When you’re abroad, you are always a foreigner…but you never feel that in New York. It is an international city and it doesn’t matter where you come from. But in other places, people will always hear your accent, or something.
“But Antwerp will always feel like home. It will never feel like a strange place because my family is here, and it is very homey.”
Has the experience of being away changed her? “Definitely yes. I try to push people, because I notice things that are different in different countries. I push it to my family or friends. I don’t know if it’s annoying. I notice things that people do in other places, and then I’ll talk about it.
Anouck admits to being very shy when she started out. “Belgians are very reserved, and I was very reserved. We’re a bit more conservatively dressed in Belgium, but my parents dressed me really colourfully when I was growing up and I still like colourful stuff.
“You always have to adapt to the local dress code. We travelled when I child and that was one of things that they taught us. One time, we crossed the border from Turkey to Syria and I was wearing short shorts. I was around 12, and we could not even walk a short way. I had to go back to the hotel and change, because every person on the street was stopping and starring. My brother was walking right behind me just to laugh.”
I imagine that with her glossy dark hair and sculptured cheek bones the effect could easily be replicated on the main square in Antwerp in just a pair of jeans and a jacket. Fashionistas tend to shun such simplicities and Anouck says that she’s open-minded about the clothes that she wears, providing they don’t hurt. “Fashion is art and an expression of something, so I find that you have to let the artist do their stuff,” she says.
One aspect of her career that she’s most proud of is the jewelry line that she produced. “Because I don’t have pierced ears, I made these things that go round [the ear], just using the shape of your ear. My mum wanted me to wait until I was 13, and then when I was 13 I started to become a rebel. I thought that I’m going to be stubborn and not have pierced ears!”
Kageno kick start
Anouck is an ambassador for the Maasmechelen Village and says she was “very pleased and honoured” that they wanted to raise money for her charity, Kageno, a non-profit from New York active in Rwanda and Kenya. She has worked as a volunteer in Banda, Rwanda. “What they do is they find a really poor community or village and kick start them. When you’re below a certain poverty level, you just can’t get out of there on your own. It was first time I’ve gotten involved in something like that. It was very interesting to see that it’s working. You hear all these stories about donating money and then it goes in the wrong hands.
“I go there and I actually help. They show you a little thing that you can do there, so you’re active. The first time, they had just finished building a nursery school, and the land around it had to be developed to grow crops on to feed the children. So you have to work with the local people to discuss how this can be done.
“A friend of someone that I had worked with in fashion had done the same thing, and I heard her talking about it, and how impressed and taken with it she was. It sounded very interesting to me, and I merely picked up on it. It was like a great escape. It’s a big world, and this was a part of the world that I’ve never been to. I felt in that moment that you just hear all that negative news from Africa, that there must be another side to it all, and I wanted to see for myself. We’ve been [working] in there for seven years, and what’s happened between then and now has been incredible. They are now developing microfinances and little businesses are popping up suddenly.”
Reprinted with permission of Away Magazine.
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