Former Def Jam labelmates Rihanna and Kanye West are perhaps two of the most successful music-to-fashion crossovers. Both Yeezy and Fenty are prone to casting under-the-radar models that subsequently blow up. Luckily for Nisaa Pouncey, she's had the opportunity to walk for both.
The 19-year-old self-proclaimed Georgia Peach got her start in the industry when she entered a modeling search at age 14. The prodigy went on to win the entire competition. In the time since, she's landed campaigns for Urban Decay, Nars and Victoria's Secret. The highlight of her career, she says, was walking in last week's Fenty show, Rihanna's third collection with Puma since assuming her creative director position in 2014.
Though she's walked two of the most talked about shows in the past year, Pouncey is already strategizing ways to double down on her exposure. With her optimistic attitude and delightfully candid nature, we have no doubt that you'll be seeing more of her in the future. Pouncey spoke with BET about walking Fenty and Yeezy, beauty standards in the industry and her aspirations outside of modeling.
Did Rihanna give you any advice before heading out on the runway?
Yes, and I literally almost bawled out in tears when she was talking to me. She’s fixing me up and she’s like, “You look bomb as f**k. You look so good.” It’s like…Rihanna. Everybody looks up to Rihanna, but like when I was in sixth grade and Rihanna shaved her hair on the sides I was like, “Mom, oh my gosh, can I please shave my hair on the sides like Rihanna.” When she died her hair orange, I was like, “Oh, I gotta have orange/red hair!” I was just always following Rihanna and everything, so for her to be sitting in front of me and being like, “You look f**king bomb.” And my look was part of the nerd group so she was like, “You’re going to go out there and you’re going to be the sexiest, b***hy nerd ever and you’re going to kill it.” I was just like looking at her and my heart was beating so fast and I was not even processing the fact that she’s sitting in front of me. She’s so gorgeous, flawless in person, and she’s sitting here telling me, “Oh, you look gorgeous, you look bomb.” And I’m like, “Uhhh...what? Huh?” And then she was like, “OK, now GO!” And I’m like, "Oh wait, now I have to walk and you just told me all this stuff and now I’m feeling crazy inside. Even the next morning I woke up and I was like, “Rihanna told me I looked bomb. Did that really happen? Did I dream all of this? Where am I? Am I even really in Paris? What’s going on?” It still didn’t even hit me until I got back to New York and I was sitting in my hotel room and thinking about everything, like, “Oh my gosh, that really happened.”
Are there pressures in the industry to change yourself?
They’re not being like, "Oh, you need to starve yourself," but they’re just like, "We want you to tone up a little bit." Which I totally understand telling me to tone up, because when I first started modeling I was still doing sports so my body was way more toned and then I stopped doing sports. You know, if you’re not working out, you won’t get super fat, but you’re not as sculpted as you were before. Even in my personal opinion, I feel like I could definitely work out. I get out of breath from walking up the stairs in my house and that’s when I’m like, “OK, maybe you do need to do a run on the treadmill.” It’s not like, “Oh you’re super fat, lose weight.” It’s like, “We just want you to be more fit and more toned.” To a lot of people, when I’m in castings and stuff, they’ll say I come off super shy. You know when you meet somebody off the bat you’re not just like, “Oh my gosh, let me tell you my whole life story." It was kind of just always about preparing myself. They just wanted me to be prepared to go out there, because the industry overseas is much more harder than the industry here. In Paris, they’re going to tell you everything and not care if you walk out crying because it’s the truth.
Did you hear about the controversies that occurred this fashion month?
Well, I feel like…I don’t want to say this and then people start coming at my throat about it…I always feel like just for being a Black girl or being Latina or anything, naturally you’re a little more curvy. I'll go to a fitting and get dropped from a show because basically what they describe what they want my body to be like is like a 12-year-old boy. Like, I’m 19 years old and I’ve been through puberty and I’m still growing and everything like that, but I’m going to have body curves and boobs and butt. I can’t be a 12-year-old boy for you when I’m a 19-year-old girl. So I always feel like, it's bad to say it, but that's just the way that it is in the industry. You can go to something and try your hardest and even though you know you’re better than the girl that they pick, and say the girl they picked is white, and you’re like, "If they picked me for it, I know I could've done better." I feel like they always do what they trust and what they know rather than trying something different. For the fact that you are Black or Latina and you naturally have body curves and naturally have things that go against you in the industry, you just have to work 200 times harder than what anybody else would to get the job, because you’re just different and you have a little something that's just not accepted in the industry. It's like motivation. I see it as motivation, people tell me I can’t do it, but I’m not taking no for an answer. I’m going to make you say yes. I’m going to make you see what I see in myself. There's always going to be something put in front of you. If everything was just so easy to where you can walk in and get it, then everybody would be a millionaire model making money, being famous.
And you also walked in the Yeezy Season 4 show. How was that?
It was fun. I actually did the show with one of my best friends. It was super fun. I feel like the show got so much backlash and so many bad things said about it, but honestly, for me, I didn’t have a problem with anything. I didn’t meet Kim Kardashian [personally], but she walked into the room, said hi to everybody and checked in on all of us. And Kendall walked in the room and Kylie, too. I just see everything as an experience, you know? When else am I ever going to be two feet away from Kim Kardashian unless I’m on some crazy stalker stuff?Or even Kanye West. When I first worked with him, I did his fit model job. My mom even when I was younger always played Kanye's music and stuff like that, so he’s always been one of the people when you think about somebody who’s really successful, that's like who I go to. When I met him for the first time, he was like, "Oh, it's great to meet you!" And I was like, "…What?" I see it as experiences that you never really would get in any other regular day just doing anything else.
How would you compare the two experiences? Is one of them more involved in the process than another?
I think they’re both equally involved in it. I would say it was more of a fun experience working with Rihanna. I thought Kanye was very serious about it. You know when you have something you just want to come out perfect, you get really serious about it and focused and in your zone? Rihanna, I feel like, was more just like, "Go have fun! This is going to be great! No matter what happens, this is going to be good." It was just more not stressed to be super perfect. It was more just like go be you, shine like you shine. After the [Fenty] show, we all took pictures like everybody playing around in the big group picture. It just was more of a carefree vibe than “this is a job” vibe.
Do you have any interests or aspirations outside of modeling?
I’m working on getting acting classes. What my goal is once I get a little more established in the modeling world, I want to try personal styling. I always said I wanted to open my own personal styling business. As a kid, my grandmother would get me subscriptions to Teen Vogue, Vogue, all the fashion magazines. I would go into the magazine and cut out snippets and put the pants from one outfit with a shirt from another. If I ever get off time or let's just say modeling doesn’t go well for me, which god forbid, but that would be where I would go toward. And I would want to be able to do that in the near future, styling for people. Even when my mom's getting ready to go out or she has a business meeting, I’m like, "Ooh, let me get your outfit together, this is what you should wear." That's one of my biggest things that I want to do.
(Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images)
For the past 10 years, Yusef has been dictating all of the beauty trends we emulate via his most famous client, none other than Rihanna. He started out his career as a performer, but he ended up behind the scenes. In Hairstory, he details his rise in the industry from aspiring singer to creative directing the hair for Fenty x Puma.