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Photographer: Michael Schwartz Model: Nadja BenderStyling: Keegan Singh Hair: Rolando Beauchamp Make up: Hung Vanngo
The dark yet glamorous beauty of Nadja Bender is not one without accomplishments. With runway jaunts and ad appearances for Chanel, Gucci, & Fendi, and regular editorial presence with Vogue Japan, Italia, Paris, and America this Danish graduate has seen her career skyrocket from relative newcomer to Top 50. Her presence is as big as her personality with enough quips to keep you guessing, yet she still manages to surprise with her future ambitions and sweet demeanor. Photographed in all her alluring glory by Michael Schwartz, the travel junkie sat down with us to talk about her fairytale start, how her family keeps her grounded, and working with fashion’s Kaiser.
How was your fashion show season? Which show was your favorite?
This season I really liked the Moschino show. It was crazy, the music is always really good, and you get to do what you want. The energy backstage is super nice – all the girls are standing backstage dancing and jumping around. Jeremy is always like, “Do whatever you like! Just go!”
He seems like such a free spirit!
He is! It’s like a party. Almost how I would feel a show would be like in the 90s. It brings the fun back to fashion. If a girl’s not ready to walk, they’ll just take the next one. No stress.
What was it like walking in Karl’s La Brasserie Gabrielle for Chanel?
It was so much fun this time! All the girls were like “We can really eat this? Is it possible to get a cappuccino?”
He’s known for those crazy, elaborate sets! It was almost like everybody was an actress and really stayed in character.
He loves doing that. This is where everybody got to play a different part. If you want to stop and talk to some of the girls or interact with the audience, you were allowed to do that.
How did you get your start?
I got scouted from my old, downstairs neighbor who knows my booker in Denmark. He wrote to my agent “This girl just moved upstairs and you need to check her out.” My agent was in the mind frame “How am I supposed to do that?” and my neighbor said “Check her out on Facebook!”
So, she checked out my page and wrote to me. I was hesitant because I knew Caroline (Brasch Nielsen) since she was a baby almost and thought I was too old, I was 21 at the time! Everyone starts when they’re 14 or whatever. But my agent was like you should come over and we can just talk. Basically, she expressed to me “if you want to try then you should.” I was in university and thought “well it could be fun” and maybe a month or so after I had to drop out because I didn’t have time. My schedule was so fast! But it’s a good thing about doing shows that the older you get, the easier it gets.
You know the game. You know the people and what to do. I remember my first season in New York, and I was a mess. I didn’t know anybody or where anything was. Completely confused and running around like a little chicken! It was a lot.
You’re one of the first to make it from the Hot List (which debuted in 2012) to the top 50 list on How have you propelled yourself to the next level? What is the top reason you think you’ve become successful?
People ask me a lot about that but I don’t know. I still think of myself as the same person before I started. I think it’s just being yourself and not getting sucked into all the craziness. Because it does get crazy – I think you’re traveling 320 days a year, you don’t have time for anything, I don’t really see my family that much. But if you stay grounded and remember where you’re from it really helps out a bit.
What have been some of your favorite experiences so far?
I remember my first campaign shoot when we shot with Mert & Marcus for Gucci, I was so nervous. We were shooting with Karmen (Pedaru) and my agent had to tell me who she was, I had no idea who anyone was. I was freaking out “What am I going to do? What am I going to say?” but it was so much fun and people were so sweet. We shot for like 10 days so it was kind of a holiday. They rented like a huge castle outside Vienna. I definitely thought, “I can get used to this!”
I was lucky to shoot the Chanel campaign on my birthday. I hadn’t shot with Karl (Lagerfeld) before that one and I was embarrassed to say it was on my birthday and make it a big deal. I didn’t want to tell anyone! I mentioned it to Ashleigh (Good) and she was like “Oh my God it’s your birthday?!” and told everyone. (laughs)
That sounds like such a cool experience! How is Karl as a photographer?
He knows exactly what he wants. He’s very direct.
Which person do you admire the most?
Really, Karl because I’ve never met someone with a work ethic like him. He works 24/7. You can ask him anything and he’ll know the answer. He’s fun and relaxed and I love how he has the Scandinavian humor where you can be a little bit sarcastic.
Do you kind of use him as an idea about what you want to do after modeling?
The thing is I’m not really a creative person. I was thinking about maybe going back to school after I’m finished.
What were you interested in school? You talked about going before and having to leave before you finished due to your schedule?
I used to study nanotechnology. It’s mostly chemistry, math, physics, biology, but on a molecular basis. Its range goes from the environment to medicine.
When and where were you happiest?
It’s definitely during August when I have time off! (laughs) It depends – I really love New York but I also love Copenhagen and I go home when I have time. But it’s also nice to have holidays where I have a month off and I don’t have to check my phone, my email. I mostly go home to see parents and grandparents and then I travel and do whatever I want.
It seems like if you’re traveling so much you wouldn’t want to move anywhere!
It depends because you’re also so used to it since it’s the nature of the job.
Describe your style. Are there any designers that you really like to wear?
It depends a lot. I normally always describe it as black, boyish but it changes a lot because in the Summer I’m always thinking I want to wear dresses. It’s relaxed and I hate wearing things that are too tight. I love the stuff that Olivier does for Balmain. I have so much of his stuff and it’s feminine without being too frilly.

Is there anything you’d like to do in the future? Someone you’d like to work with or something you’d like to accomplish?
I’ve met with Steven Meisel and he’s super nice but I’ve never shot with him. So maybe one day if the opportunity comes it would be very nice. I also really like the stuff that Steven Klein does.

Outside the world of modeling I would really like to finish my Master’s. I promised my dad that I would but at some point it’s going to happen. It might have taken 10 years but I still did it!

What advice would you pass along to those starting out in the business?
Just be yourself but don’t over do it. There are so many girls right not so you have a tendency to think that you have to do more than just be a model. Which I think comes across as trying to be something you’re not.

It’s a job and it takes a lot of effort and it’s ok to be like this is crazy or insane and just enjoy it. You just have to keep your feet on the ground.

You’re incredibly grounded! How have you maintained that mentality?
I think it’s because I started when I was older. I experienced a lot of things before, moved from home before I ever got started. It was crazy when I started of course but I had my family and friends that said “Well, it’s good for you but just remember you never know if next year it’ll be the same.” You have to know that you’re blessed and in this business you never know how long it’s going to keep up so just enjoy it and try and keep it mellow.

I see you have tattoos! I remember when people used to cover them up all the time.
They still do! I started years ago and then you get 1, then 2, then 3, and it kind of gets crazy. I have 12 now but I keep the most of them small. I have a lot of sayings and all my friends and family did the handwriting of most of them. It’s kind of a reminder of them. I think you have to separate yourself from all the other girls.

I don’t get them covered that often but when you do it’s fine. During fashion week, Catherine (McNeil) and I normally stand there, arms wide open, like “Are you ready? OK let’s go!” I just got one 2 days ago. I bought a piece of art in Japan and thought it was really pretty so I just got it.

You mentioned Japan, are there any places that you would love to visit?
I have a secret spot in Indonesia and I won’t tell the place because then everyone is going to go! I want to go for a month and rent a boat. I’ve never been but my Dad got me a book of places to visit before you die and it was on the list. Ever since I was 10 years old, that book has been sitting on my bookshelf with that page bookmarked.

What models do you like to hang out with?
Julia Frauche, Kaitlin Aas, Julia Nobis, Caroline Brasch Nielsen since I’ve known her since we were babies. It’s also nice to hang around friends outside the industry though as we all have a tendency to talk a lot about work. Sometimes you want to talk about everything else.

What has been one of your favorite covers you’ve done?
I really liked the Twin Magazine shoot I just did with Nick Dorey. I thought it was very beautiful because it was natural and very personal for me with is not something you normally get to do. We shot it in Paris and I had just worked a night shoot in Milan, flew in the morning, and went straight to work. I was half-sick but it was such a cool shoot.

Do you always encompass a character when you go on set?
A lot of what I shoot is very sexy and I have a side of that even though I don’t dress like that. You have to encompass the character no matter the setting. Sometimes you’re in freezing cold water and you have to think, “I’m pretending I’m in the Bahamas.”

Would you ever want to get into acting? 
No! I’m have a hard time remembering what I’m supposed to be doing in videos so I couldn’t imagine how I’d be with actual lines. There’s too much stuff in my head!