“Meet Rachel” – Nicole Clevenger

383 578 Lauren Sims

Meet Rachel:

rachel - the row

It has been a crazy week of casting, fittings and shows for my dear friend Rachel, who so kindly offered to meet me at one of my favorite spots in all of New York City – The Champagne Bar at the iconic Plaza Hotel.

After greeting me with a huge hug, Rachel started shedding the many layers of coats that snuggly protected Rachel’s slender figure against the single digit temperatures (with wind chills making it feel like -15 degrees).

She immediately apologized for running a little late – she had just come straight from a fitting for The Row, the brand Mary-Kate and Ashely Olsen started in 2006.

This is Rachel’s 3rd, time modelling in Fashion’s most prestigious event of the year, Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion week held in Lincoln Center. Here, she has walked the runway for some of the world’s most iconic designers like Victoria Beckham, Thom Browne, Ralph &Russo, and Oscar de la Renta. This year she has represented the likes of Mara Hoffman, Jonathan Simkhai, Creatures of Comfort, The Row, Greg Lauren (Ralph Lauren’s cousin), and Giulietta on the runway.

With a resume full of Fashion’s most respected designers, one would think this beautiful brown-eyed, bare-faced, brunette would have would have an air of superiority about her. Fortunately, this supposition could not be further from the truth. The reason I was so excited to interview Rachel is because her true beauty radiates from deep within her soul. For 21, she is one of the most mature, humble, graceful, and well-spoken young women I have ever met. She has big dreams and deep passions that stem from her desire to make a positive impact, not only in her industry but in the world.

With tea in hand, and cookies “sue le cote”, the interview began. Rachel shared her perspectives on NYFW, what a life of a model looks like, her love + hate relationship with the industry and the once in a lifetime experiences we all wish we could have.

What makes this interview particularly captivating is hearing Rachel talk about her love + heart for people, what keeps her grounded, and her unique perspective on purpose in the fashion industry. Yes, she has a job that very few people have, but I think you will find that the girl behind the model is relatable and extremely down to earth.

How did you get into modeling? Was this something you always wanted to do?

No {…politely laughing..}, I almost tripped into it. I t wasn’t something I actively sought. I was 13 when I was scouted, at Stonebriar Mall [In Frisco, Texas] by an agency. I first thought it was a scammy thing but then I looked up the agency and learned that it was The Campbell Agency, which is totally legitimate. I was just that really tall, awkward, lanky girl that grew up too tall, too quickly, which in a way, helped me find my niche.

I started modeling in Dallas on the weekends up until I was 16, when I graduated high-school. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I moved to Paris and really started to pursue modeling as a career.

Did you graduate early so that you could move and pursue modeling full-time?

No actually, my mom homeschooled us [Rachel is one of five kids] up until 3rd grade and then I tested into an actual school a grade higher than most other kids my age. Also considering the time I was born, I was just really young for my grade to begin with…. (this girl is smart!)

But then at 17, that is when you moved to Paris and really decided that you were going to pursue modeling…

Yes, crazy right? That is when I really just dug my heels in and decided that this is what I am going to do. I was going to go where they needed me and where they wanted me and I’ve been doing this for 5 years now.

…and how old are you now? 21?

Haha yes, I am 21. (but maturity wise, she is at least 27)



You clearly have had a lot of success in your career. Would you say that modeling is something you are really passionate about? Where do you see this going?

(hesitantly speaking).. umm…It’s been a tug-of-war between God and I. Modeling. I loved it when I was 17 and 18 but when I was 19 and 20 I was struggling to get away (from the industry). I lived in Paris when I was 17, lived in New York when I was 18 and then when I was 19, I moved to LA because I really wanted to get out of the modeling industry. I was worn out and tired. I didn’t feel like it was purposeful, so I decided to try acting. Not too long after I made the move, some opportunities came up that would bring me to New York but I still kept saying “No, no, no, I am done with modeling..”

Then right before I turned 21, I felt this panging of wanderlust. My mother agency in Dallas (The Campbell Agency} coincidentally contacted me a week after and asked me if I’ve ever thought about London? And I was like “No but I am kind of up for anything.” They were surprised because they knew that at the time I was shunning modeling. But they went ahead and told me that they wanted to submit my portfolio to a few agencies (Select and Premier) and they both really wanted me. But I wanted to be with Storm (Storm is the prestigious modeling agency in London representing some of the industry’s most famous faces – Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Cara & Poppy Delevingne to name a few..) My agency was really skeptical saying “oh but Storm is really prestigious” to which I replied, “Just try!”. To our surprise, Storm actually ended up accepting me which was absolutely amazing! Then this past March, I jetted off to London (quenching that pang of wanderlust).

(Talk about a resilient girl who is not afraid of change).

So here I am, in London, modeling for one of the most prestigious agencies but I still don’t feel the purpose that I feel like I should have in a vocation. Then out of the blue, one of my friends connected me to Christina Nearman, the Global Director of an organization called Model’s for Christ (MFC). She was looking for someone to head up the London MFC. We met a few times and then she inducted me as a leader in the global, world-wide organization. This is when I started to begin feeling purposeful. I started feeling a deep sense of meaning when I wasn’t just smiling and taking photo’s but also helping other women find meaning and hope. Models are a hard demographic to reach (since their lifestyles, schedules, and experiences are so unique) and I really feel that the only people that can reach models with the Gospel, are models. So that is what I am here to do – and the Lord has been blessing this new found purpose. This purpose has become my passion.

Clearly you are passionate about your faith and your work with Model’s for Christ. What is an example of an outreach program you have that encourages women in the modeling industry?

The outreach programs we have are really about building relationships and pouring into the lives of girls who are trying to find their identity, as well as peace and purpose in what can be a chaotic and ultra-competitive career. In fact, this Fashion Week, Models for Christ has a room set up at the American Bible Society (located right next to Lincoln Center) which is stocked with food, snacks, waters, and charging stations for models who just want to take a break and get away.

So how do you even begin reaching out to these girls?

During shoots or shows – that is when you are surrounded by like 30 girls and, believe it or not, religion inevitably always comes up.

Really? That is surprising to me.

Well not right away, but girls are always talking about how they are so stressed out about this and that and then I then I come along, super busy and loving it, and they are like, “How are you so happy?

I think it is about taking advantage of and being thankful for the opportunities you are given. These girls are so willing to hear what you have to say and are seeking truth. Many of them are young and impressionable because they are only 16. When you are 16 and you are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and being flown to all these amazing cities every two days, you are searching for some kind of constant in life. When you are so young and given so much, it’s easy to just lose your head a bit when you have nothing grounding you.

And personally, it sounds like what grounds you is your Faith.

Yes, and so when opportunities like this arise, it really is a great opportunity to introduce them [to her constant]. I think if you have opportunity to be humble, gracious, loving, and kind when your hair gets burned or when you’re being poked and prodded etc., people notice that there is something different about you. It’s the response I get from people wanting to know more that reminds me how important it is to stay grounded – because it’s different.

You’re like a gem – a rare thing to behold…

[Bashfully] well those things set you apart in this industry, and that is what I am out to do, to be set apart in a world where everybody is 5’10 and thin.




On a much lighter note, what do you love most about modeling and the industry itself?

(A huge smile comes across her face…) Traavvelll. It is so much fun. There are just so many neat opportunities to work with really fantastic people, like working with Mary Kate and Ashley, Rachel Zoe. I just get to meet some of the most wonderful humans. I worked very closely with Victoria Beckham when I was in London and got to know her and her family really well. I get to be put into positions where I get to influence influential people and that is what I really love.

But on a more selfish note, I also get lots of cool things and I get to go to lots of cool places – it can be cushy sometimes…

What would say is probably the toughest part?

Saying no.

Saying no?

Saying No. That been really hard especially when there is a lot demanded of you. On another note, a lot of people forget that you are human. Honestly, as a model, you are considered a mannequin. People poke, prod, give no water, no food. Things like that where you have to remind them, “can I use the restroom,” “I am hungry/thirsty” and then they are like “Oh. Yeah. Of course.” [as if they forgot the mannequin could speak]. It can feel dehumanizing at times.

But going back to saying no…

Last December, Porsche Designs really wanted me to do their show, which would have been huge. I went to the fitting the morning before the show and they only had one look left. They said “put this on” and the piece fit me perfectly. However, it was completely see-through with nothing except really loose mesh on the top. I asked if there was any way I could switch looks with another girl, and they gave me a firm “no”. That was my look. I said “I can’t wear this”, to which they replied, “We’d really like to use you but if you can’t wear this then you can’t be in our show”. I said “I can’t.” [disappointedly] and had to walk away from that show – which was extremely hard to do.

Vogue Russia also wanted to do a shoot with me, but it was completely topless so I said I wouldn’t do it.

Why are you so set on turning down these types of jobs?

Oh for many reasons! Number one, my faith. But there are other reasons as well. If I do really well as model, I am done when I am 28. Even if I just kill it [from a career standpoint] I am still done at 28 and that Is only a fraction of my life. I don’t want to ruin whatever I want to do in the future, with what I have done in the past.

If I want to be a teacher, or President of the United States, then I can’t have people googling me and finding those kind of photos. Especially my future kids. I am just preparing for what I don’t know what I want to do yet. I’ve been really thinking that I don’t want this to be a time of my life where I am only pursuing momentary success. And I believe the Lord has faithfully opened many other doors as a result.

Wow, that’s very wise.




How would you classify your style? (aka what can we find you in when you are not in amazing couture outfits..)

I honestly would have no style if I was forced to wear some of the things I do. People put things on me and they are like “this looks good on you” and I am like, “oh my gosh you’re right”. But I would have never picked some of those things out for myself. So I just take mental pictures and try and recreate that same outfit (with reasonably priced items of course). I have actually never bought anything at full retail value except for one hat but other than that, everything else I’ve bought has been on sale or second hand.

I do have a lot of designer’s things in my closet because a lot of times during fashion week, I get paid “in trade”, which basically means they pay me in clothes. That is the only reason why I have anything designer in my closest. Otherwise, I don’t even buy H&M at full retail value.

But no matter what, I still try and stay relevant as a model because your style matters. If I am just hanging out at home, I am just in jeans and a t-shirt or all black.


What do you do to keep in shape?

Stretching, mindful eating, lots of Pilates and not killing myself.

Is staying in shape pretty natural for you or do you have to work at it?

I used to think I had to run a lot to stay in shape. When I was 17 to 19 I used to run 6 miles a day four times a week. It became a somewhat unhealthy obsession of mine. But then I hurt both my knees and an ankle which made me re-evaluate how hard I was pushing myself. I had to stop running. I haven’t run in 5 or 6 months. I think this was the Lords way of telling me that he would take care of me if I started taking care of myself. Since then, I’ve just been eating well and doing a lot of Pilates – I absolutely love it.


What show has been your favorite to model in and why?

Oh my goodness. There are so many! Um…I always, always, love doing Oscar de La Renta. He is my absolute favorite.

His designs are just absolutely classic, beautiful, feminine and timeless. They are from the 60’s but they are so relevant and I just love that. You’ll see his style over the past 40 years, not change, but it is still so beautiful.

What is your favorite collection you’ve been apart of this season?

Jonathan Simkhai’s stuff was unreal. This was his first season to properly show and his designs were just unbelievable, really intricate, lovely, lace, hand sewn. While it maybe not the best looking collection, it was the most intricate, well thought out, detailed collection I have ever been apart of. You can tell that he just really loved what he did by his craftsmanship.

New York or Paris Fashion Week?

New York. It’s just easier; my phone works here, my currency works here, and I can actually speak to people. In Paris it’s a little more difficult. But Lord knows I LOVE Paris. There is something about being totally immersed in another culture that is so thrilling as well.

And Paris is also the epicenter of the arts – where it all began…

…which is funny because Paris is so relevant and modern, but at the same time, it is still so ancient. The juxtaposition of the two is fascinating. You can still see a Rembrandt or a piece by Michelangelo created in the 12th century. It is still there. It’s amazing. Meanwhile, there is still so much “new” happening there when it comes to the fashion industry.

I’ve only done one season in Paris. I walked for Angus Bean, Vanessa Bruno, Jerome and did a Louis Vuitton campaign while I was there which was so much fun.

I am praying for a good Fashion Week season this year because this has been my best casting week yet. I am actually am going to London next week and am hoping to keep this momentum going right off the tail end of New York Fashion Week.


Dream Modeling job?

Campaign for Prada, Louis Vuitton, Valentino

If there was anyone you could meet in this industry, who would it be?

Karlie Kloss (@karliekloss). I am obsessed with her. She is just another well-grounded girl that I would really like to meet. She has a lot of dignity.

Who has influenced you the most?

Definitely my mom. I know she was worried when I moved to Paris at 17, but she just really gave me a long rope and really trusted me. That was the best thing she could have done for me. If she would have been constantly worried about me, I probably would have gotten scared and I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half the things I was able to accomplish at a young age. She just really believed in me and empowered me. And of course she was always there for me when I messed up.

I can totally relate to you on this aspect. My parents trusted me with a lot at a young age even though I didn’t know why. I am sure your mom knew your heart, which made it easier.

She really encouraged me to get out there and spread my wings. Start my life early. We are two birds of a feather and get along really well – she is my best friend.

What would you be doing if you weren’t modeling?

Acting, I would love to be in feature films. But if not acting, then probably using my Marketing or Finance degree somehow (which she obtained from Liberty University online).

Advice you would give to girls in the industry (and ladies in their 20’s)

Modeling is short period of your life. You cannot put all your hopes and dreams in this small phase because it is also so fickle. For example, when I broke my ankle, I couldn’t model during that time. You always have to have some sort of game plan of what you want to do next or later. Also, you need to get out of that headspace and have solid foundation and knowledge of who you are – a source of identity outside of work.


Having an identity outside of our work is good advice for all of us to hear (whether we are a model or not). As women who desire to be movers and shakers, it is easy to gain our sense of identity from what we do. The message that Rachel is trying to convey, however, is that it is about how we do what we do, and the lives of people we touch that matter most and have the greatest impact.

We all have dreams and aspirations of many kinds and I hope this interview encouraged you to take chances, dream big, and realize the importance of knowing who you are. Rachel isn’t just a model, she is faithful, joyful, resilient, and relational. She isn’t just beautiful, she is also kind. Now you know Rachel, the girl behind the model.

Rachel - from instagram Rachel - Johnathan simkhai Rachel - Giulietta 2 Rachel - Giulietta Rachel - Mara Hoffman 2

To keep up with Rachel and experience her Paris Fashion Week adventures, follow her on Instagram: @rachelfinninger

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