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International Sensation Helena Sopar EXCLUSIVE for Club Fashionista Interview

By Club Fashionista

Posted about 5 years ago

Interview by Amra Beganovich

The first time I saw Helena Sopar was in the pages of American Marie Claire. I couldn't take my eyes of the beautiful editorial and this gorgeous girl; I quickly learned she was from Croatia and was not surprised when I saw the speed in which she was taking over the fashion world. Helena and I met in London while she was there for a shoot and immediately I was stricken with her ambition, intelligence, humility, and talent.

AB: What was the hardest part about leaving small-town Croatia and becoming an international top-model?

Helena Sopar gracing the cover of Marie Claire France

HS: I must admit that my journey was long and hard at times. It all started when I was 10 years old. I went to visit my cousins in New York City, and I remember phoning my mother right afterwards to tell her that I want to stay in NYC. At first, I wanted to attend school there because I always valued education and was quite studious. However, back then this was quite difficult as it was quite expensive to stay.

Since my trip to the Big Apple, I realized that I did not want to just settle in small town Croatia (Novalja, Croatia, which is where I am from). I was certain that I had to escape and embark upon my own adventure. Hence, I left Novalja and settled in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.  There, I was signed by an international modeling agency. This was when my journey began…

I first started modeling when I was only 19 years old. I remember that this was particularly a tough period for me. I was a petrified teenager.  In fact, I could only fall asleep when the lights were on, and sometimes I would just cry myself to sleep.

Also, I would call my mother in the middle of the night sobbing. Despite of my fear, I was determined to make it and pursue my dream.  The most important fact was that I loved what I was doing, and I enjoyed every moment. The first six months were the hardest because I had to get used to the idea that I was on my own. Modeling turns your life upside down when you receive that sudden phone call telling you of a last minute casting in a different city or when dealing with canceled flights and lost luggage. Despite of all the stress, I kept going because I knew with each step I was closer to my dream of becoming an international top model. As time passed, I came to understand that the rift-raft around different countries and the unexpected shoots were all part of growing-up: becoming mature and learning about myself.

I came to understand that one of the most important moments in a person’s life is when one discovers what it is he/she actually wants out of life.  Moreover, it is important to understand that the path to our goals is filled with bumps; no journey to your destination is ever perfect.  The path to my dream consisted of me accepting a life of a nomad, i.e. living out of a suitcase in many different countries.

As my career progressed, the traveling became easier as I became acquainted with many of the cities and even made friends, whom I could visit and have dinner/coffee with when not shooting.  And when I traveled to destinations where I did not know a soul, I learned to explore and discover on my own. For instances, I would visit sites, take walks or go to the movies on my own. Not to mention, in the age of the Internet, it is a lot easier to stay in touch with family and friends through Skype and other smartphone applications.

AB: How have you dealt with the critics from the fashion industry, and is it psychologically tough when the spotlight is on you? 

HS: Admittedly, it has been difficult to deal with criticism. The misconception about models is that we are naturally glamorous, well groomed and in turn confident. However, like any other human being, models have their insecurities and fears. In fact, most of the models I know, including myself, are quite shy.

During castings, a lot of judgment is involved when picking the “right” models for the shoot. The judging can be quite nerve wrecking because the opinions are directly voiced and often brutal. With that said, like anything else, overtime, you simply get used to it.  Accepting the insults and the judgment was part of the maturing process because I came to understand that this had nothing to do with my personally but was simply part of the job description. In fact, I learned to smile to the very same people who threw only ugly remarks at me. I knew in order to make it, I could not let the voices of others drown out my self-esteem and drag down my self-worth.

Helena sopar on the cover of Elle Croatia

AB: Have you witnessed some other models taking the criticism personally, and therefore self-eliminating themselves?

HS: Yes; in fact, I took the criticism very personally at first.  I would call my mother sobbing on the phone because I was just brutally insulted.

Many in the fashion industry did not like my look; comments such as “you are too skinny” or “you are too dark” were thwarted at me left and right. In the beginning, I took it to my heart: in the summer, I would stay indoors during the day to avoid the sunrays and becoming darker.  When I did go out, I would wear huge hats and all of my friends quickly learned that I could not join them at the pool for a dip on a hot summer’s day until after the sun began to set.  However, with time, I realized that my bronze skin color was a part of me: if a casting director wanted a blue eyed blond girl, he or she would never pick me, no matter how much I stayed away from the sun’s rays. I can talk about the “issue” with my skin color now because a lot of time has passed since I started modeling (I began modeling eight years ago).

I am mainly discussing this to share the difficulties I underwent with young girls who are just starting in the modeling industry. In the modeling industry, you have to grow thick skin if you want to walk out healthy and sane.

I came to understand that everyone goes through criticism, and that I was not going to be an exception. The irony over my skin “issue” was that a good friend of mine, who is also a model, was constantly sent to tanning beds because she looked too much like Casper.  Thus, I learned to embrace who I was and what I looked like.  There would always be someone who was your fan because, after all, we all have different tastes and preferences: for someone you may be the most gorgeous girl in the world and for another person, you may be completely the opposite.

AB: As a professional model, are there any beauty tips you can share with women who are constantly on the go?

HS: Yes, there are four beauty tips I would like to share:

1. Quinoa: When I first started modeling, I would eat a lot of fast food. Afterwards, I began getting sick, and I realized that I had to change something. I began reading books on health and began researching on how to maintain a nutritious/healthy diet. I quickly realized that the saying "you are what you eat" had a LOT of merit. Don't get me wrong, I too have my guilty pleasures. For example, I tend to eat a lot of chocolate. This is something that I am simply not willing to give up. On the other hand, I try to eat healthy as much as I can. When I am doing a shoot for a day or two, I always order a huge breakfast in my hotel room. For me, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I eat eggs and cereal to which I add cinnamon, honey, bananas, and other fruit. For lunch, I try to eat some protein like fish or meat. One BEAUTY TIP that I have is: eat quinoa! I like to eat it as a salad with salmon, avocado and tomatoes. Also, I like to make it with sautéed onions, peppers, and chicken. Even in the morning, I sometimes eat quinoa with a little bit of parmesan. 

2. Manuka. This is honey from New Zealand that comes from bees consuming a plant that is only available in New Zealand. You can buy it in Whole Foods in the UK or the U.S. This honey has helped me strengthen my immune system, and in general, it has improved my health. Since I have started eating Manuka honey, I have managed to get rid of my gastritis (an inflammation of the lining of the stomach). My advice is to consume one tablespoon of Manuka honey per day or one tablespoon every two hours for those who suffer from an illness. I bring this honey with me wherever I go. 

3. Water. I drink a lot of water in order to help maintain a regular sleeping pattern and biorhythm. Many people don't think I am older than 22-23, and this is because I hardly stay up late at night. I almost never go out and party late, and if I ever do, I reserve this for special occasions when I am home with my friends and family. I believe that if you maintain a healthy diet and have adequate sleep, it becomes apparent in how you look.  

4. Sports. I would recommend yoga, Pilates, boxing and all other activities that help rid us of stress. I go to the gym around 3-4 times a week. 

AB: How do you deal with constant traveling and jet-lag?

HS: There is not quick-fix to get over jet-lag. However, I do have some tips and tricks…

In the beginning, it would take some time to get used to the jet lag. I tried taking sleeping pills in order to get used to the time difference quicker. However, I would not feel well afterwards. For example, one time I had traveled in just six days from New York  City to L.A., and then from L.A. to NYC, and right afterwards into Germany. That particular week I had hardly slept the entire week. Even though my job can be quite demanding, I try and deal with this by drinking a lot of water. I have also noticed that on many of the shootings there will be healthy food available. I try and re-energize myself by eating lots of greens, fish and other protein. 

Moreover, I found that autosuggestion helps me a lot!  For instance, even when I am very tired or jet lagged, I force myself to think positively and visualize myself successfully completing a shoot. I take a bottle of water and "emergency Vitamin C," and I feel that this helps me maintain an energy level throughout the day. After my shoots, I make sure to get plenty of sleep and rest in my hotel room. 

AB: How do you pack? Any tips?

HS: I have become a professional traveler, and I am incredibly skilled in packing and unpacking. My TIP for relaxed traveling is impeccable planning, including being an organized packer. Many times, I have had an agency call me from London at 6AM, and tell me that I need to pack in just two hours because they had already booked my flight from London to New York City. Now, I am able to pack and be ready to go in just 15 minutes (for a one month trip). 

In my suitcase you can find three garments bags in which I pack dresses, pants, shirts, and sweaters. My tip is to roll-up these there bags in order to prevent wrinkling.  Also, I place all of my shoes in the original shoe bags, and keep all my makeup in a makeup bag. Another tip is to bring light hangers, e.g., the ones for dry cleaning work really well, on which to hang your clothes. This way, I am able to unpack in any hotel in just 5 minutes. 

AB: What are some positive and negative aspects of modeling that you think are important but not evident? 

HS: People only see the final product but they hardly recognize all the time, energy, and dedication that it took to achieve this result. For example, once I traveled to Barcelona for a "location shoot," and I had to be up by 3 AM.  I was rushed for makeup and hair, which was finished in 2 hours. We had to be done by 5AM so that we could quickly eat breakfast and catch the sunrise, which is considered to be some of the best light for shooting.  I would then shoot all day and sometimes even into the evening. People often do not understand all the work that goes into producing one good photograph; they assume I only stand there while someone shoots me. 

Every time I have a shoot, I do some research. In order to be truly good in my industry, you have to understand what the client is looking for. I ask for more information on the mood that they expect, and what is expected of me. Then, I transform myself into this role. In order to be a good model, I create special energy that is visible on the picture. My job is to create something that will entice the audience to look at the final photo and purchase whatever the client is selling. For me, modeling is like acting. When I arrive on the set, I create pictures in my head: sometimes I am sad and sometimes I laugh. 

Other difficulties include bad weather and difficult setting.  For example, I once had a shoot in a bikini on a rooftop in NYC, and it was -15 C outside. My hair was wet in the cold, and I had to pretend that I was having an amazing time, and that it was really warm outside. There are many uncomfortable situations models have to deal with. What is glamorous is only on the final photo. We are all there to create some form of "art form":  the makeup artist is like a painter and the hairdresser is like a sculptor. I don't like it when people dismiss the fashion industry as something superficial, i.e., only skin deep. That is simply NOT TRUE! Without fashion, this world would look entirely different; we all would. I believe that fashion is important because it gives us an ability to express our personality through our clothing, i.e., style. 

AB: What are some of the best parts of going back home to Croatia and what are some of the worst? 

HS: The best part about going back home is having a chance to spend some quality time with my family. If I had a chance to take them with me to all of my trips, I feel like my life would be just perfect. Of course, I miss eating all the traditional Croatian dishes such as "sarma" or eating the homemade soup and crepes my mom makes. I miss the feeling I have of someone "taking care of me." I miss the warmth of my home and my country. Once in a while, I feel like I have to fly back home just to refuel and become re-inspired. My entire family gives me the strength needed to pursue my dreams. They are the most important in my life. 

On the other hand, I feel that Croatia is still quite a close-minded society. We have yet to establish opportunities for individuals desiring to express themselves in different mediums. Many times, I have noticed that in Croatia, we are not as tolerant of differences as in the U.S. and in the U.K., and that individuals expressing themselves in a non-conforming ways are not tolerated by the society.

As much as I do love coming home, I often begin to yearn traveling if I stay in Croatia too long. Even though I love my country very much, I believe that my future is in travel and exploration of different cultures and countries. The beauty of life lies in variety. 

AB: What does the future hold for Helena Sopar? 

HS: My passion is in acting, and I have already acted in several movies. My plan is to pursue an acting career in addition to modeling.  Also, I plan to strengthen my acting skills in LA and/or NYC. For me, acting is an art form that allows me to express myself and project my current feelings into a role. It is quite therapeutic. Also, I have started designing clothing as a hobby, and I hope that one day I could further work on my designs. 

Thank you very much for the time. I very much enjoyed our style and beauty chats. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and look forward to seeing more of your exciting projects. To keep-up with Helena’s worldly escapades, follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Helena Sopar's street style

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