‘Who says I can’t be who I am and pave my own way? Diversity is extremely important and brands need to listen and learn about it.’
Paris born, LA-based pin-up Jenny Rieu is making waves as a cover girl and model, from Black Pinups Magazine to Pinup Girl Clothing’s ‘Couture for Every Body’ campaign, but she is also a singer and performer with a background in opera. It was through her Cabaret Show, The Lady In Red, that her passion for vintage took hold. The multi-talented pin-up stopped by to talk about diversity, her theatrical roots, what it means to be a ‘curve model’, and some of her exciting new collaborations:
You started out as an Opera singer at just 13. What was the experience like? Are you still involved in, or drawn to opera?
I started out my career as an artist by taking on opera lessons when I was just 13 years old. I was born in Paris, but I grew up in a small town called Vélizy- Villacoublay. That’s where I took on voice lessons taught by one of my mentors, Astrig Dedeyan, for nearly 7 years. When I turned 19 I realized that I wanted to sing other styles and act more. So two years later I enrolled in the theater program at the American University of Paris and and also earned a degree in International Communications.
I am still very much drawn to opera – but I am very fond of other genres as well. I was in New York last year for work and I did a photoshoot where I impersonated Carmen. Carmen remains my all time favourite opera. The story is extremely moving to me and I relate to that character. My dream would be to play her and she is the reason why I created the character of ‘The Lady In Red’, which became my cabaret show a few years back. I’ve always been drawn to strong women, they are such a source of inspiration to me and Carmen is no exception. So opera will always have a special place in my heart, as it is the foundation of everything in my book.
Can you tell us about your cabaret show, ’The Lady In Red’? What drew you to classic songs from the 1920s to 1960s? Which songs are your personal favourites? What did you enjoy most about performing?
I created “ The Lady In Red show “ about 6 years ago when I first moved from New York to LA. I moved to New York in 2008 to study acting and theater at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. That was part of the next training that I wanted to add to my curriculum. I’ve never been a fan of attending school but I do have a lot of training under my belt and in a variety of disciplines. It’s something that benefits me to this day as it has open me up to so many other disciplines.
Upon moving to New York in 2008, I fell in love with my craft all over again and I realized that I wanted to do my own thing. I then moved to LA in 2010 right after graduating and a month later I got cast in a couple plays at the Next Stage Theater on La Brea and Sunset Boulevard.
As I was performing there, I was going on auditions and doing “ the actor thing”. I quickly felt like I needed something that was more of my creation and I guess the universe heard me. A producer spotted me and asked me if I was a singer. And I said I was. He then asked me to take part in a show he was producing and hosting at the Paul Gleason Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The show gathered a variety of talents and this is the place where I first performed The Lady In Red (circa 2010).
Above and at top of blog: Jenny Rieu photographed by Jason Kamimura Photography.
I did this performance the old fashion way with a few classics by Cole Porter, John Davenport and Louis Armstrong and my friend Michael Bogomolny who was my accompanist. At the time I had just moved from New York to L.A and I was trying to make that bridge between where I was currently living and where I came from. When I studied acting in New York I started doing a lot of research about Broadway and the history of certain artists such as Abbe Lane. I’ve always been a researcher. I’m always looking for more information about the history of an artist, a song, or even clothing.
To me picking songs from the 1920s through the 1960s was the obvious thing to do. As I somewhat totally fell in love with the nostalgia from the past and what it made me feel. I wanted to be timeless, unique and embrace all the things from the past that made me shiver. This show was really an homage to all things vintage but it was also a way to find who I was. I was in search of my femininity and my identity as a woman.
You are very visible now as a pin-up model through your work with brands like Pin Up Girl Clothing, Secrets in Lace, Bernie Dexter, The Pretty Dress Company, Glamour Bunny, Pigtails and Pirates, Curvy Kate and FullBeauty.com and more. What do you enjoy in most these brands, and mid century influenced style in general?
Becoming a pin-up model is something that happened during my personal journey as an artist.
I started out about 8 years ago in my native Paris and my vision was that I wanted to do vintage inspired photoshoots. I wasn’t part of the pin-up scene that didn’t exist in Paris back then.
Moving to LA has allowed me to fully explore the scene, and because of my show The Lady In Red and artists like Dita Von Teese, I became a pin-up model. For me being a pin-up model was more accessible than being a model. I was once told I was too fat (although a size 6 at the time) and too old to be a model.
The entertainment industry can be pretty cruel and destructive as you know. For several years I kept having these voices in my head telling me that I was too old, too fat, not attractive enough. Until the day where I decided that I had enough and I didn’t care what others thought about me. I came to the realization that I was driven, I wanted to express myself and I was going to do what I wanted to do despite what others would say or think. I got my first big modeling job as a pin-up model with Pinup Girl Clothing. I modeled for their Couture for Every Body Campaign in 2014.
They changed the lives of so many women worldwide including mine. The campaign I did two years ago for them has now become one of their house brands and I couldn’t be more proud. Laura Byrnes is the first person that inspired me through her photos of modern day pin-ups such as Gia Genevieve and Doris Mayday to become a pin-up model. I wanted to be like the girls in her photos. Following this job which I consider my breakthrough job as a model, I took it upon myself to organise collaborations with other brands and independent designers. At the time I just wanted a chance to keep expressing myself and pin-up modeling became my only way to do that.
Currently I work as the Social Media Strategist and Brand Ambassador for the UK based clothing brand The Pretty Dress. I started working with them last summer when I pitched them a diversity campaign with two other bloggers, my friend Angélique Noire and myself. My goal was to collaborate with fellow pin-up models and start establishing a work relationship with a brand I really loved. What I enjoy the most about The Pretty Dress is the quality of their designs. The execution and accuracy of their designs is simply exquisite.
I’m excited to announce that because of my work within the company and pitching to them that they need to include bigger sizes and smaller sizes, they will add to their range. Customers will now be able to buy dresses from a US size 2 through a US size 4X. Working with The Pretty Dress has been extremely fulfilling to me as I get to connect with a number of women from all over the world and I get to be part of a change in the restricted fashion world. Before I pitched the summer campaign from last year they had never worked with black models before. And I am proud to be one of their curve models.
Aside from that I am also one of the brand ambassadors for FullBeauty.com, another step forward for me. I wanted to cross over from pin-up modeling into curve modeling and this collaboration is giving me a shot at that. Working with FullBeauty.com is a bit different from my previous collaborations as they carry a variety of brands ranging from Lingerie/swimwear to clothing brands. But I am extremely excited to shoot more looks for them and show my creativity. I feel like these type of brands don’t really do campaigns with pin-up models, so it’s really neat to show them what I can do as a model and creative director.
Ideally I would like to continue building up my own brand which is essentially about embracing my curves but incorporating a vintage aesthetic with a certain edgy side. A lot of a plus size brands have a different approach to fashion than the aesthetic I see myself in. I dream of someday creating my own clothing brand and design pieces that will be inclusive of many different body types but I also want to include the pin-up aesthetic that I love so much.
Above: Photograph of Jenny Rieu by Coco Haus.
Can you tell us a little about the term ‘curve model’?
When I started modeling I kept stumbling upon the fact that if a model was under a size 14 she wasn’t really considered plus size. There is a lot of rejection towards women that call themselves plus size but are under a size 16. I am myself between a size 12 and 14 depending on the brands I wear. After scrolling down through Instagram I started seeing that a few agencies used that term and shortly after I started collaborating with two lingerie brands that had that term as part of their name. I felt I related to the term and I liked how open it was, so I started marketing myself as a Curve Model. I know that no matter what, chances are I will be curvy. I don’t dislike the term plus size, I just think that ‘Curve Model’ resonates more with me and my mindset. There is a certain flexibility in that term.
I would add that it took me a while to embrace my body and my curves. Being a part of the pin-up scene in LA for the past 6 years has helped me tremendously in doing so, as all sizes are accepted. I feel like there is a lot of positivity in term ‘Curve Model’. So I just went with it and I proudly use it to describe what I do. Ideally I would love to just be able to be, but the industry we live in is all about labels so I had to find one that works with who I am and the self acceptance message I have.
Body positivity is one primary focus at Victory Lamour. What are your thoughts on the body positive and diversity movements within retro and pin-up? Do you feel that modern pin-up, and the retro and vintage movement present more body-shape diverse and racially diverse models than the mainstream fashion industry? If so, can you tell us why more diversity is important?
The body positive and diversity movement is very much present within the retro and pin-up community, and that’s really awesome. I do feel that the modern pin-up and vintage movement offers a wide variety of body types and representation of models with different ethnicities. It’s probably more prominent than what the mainstream fashion industry seems to offer. This is one of the elements that made me fall in love with the pin-up scene in the first place.
At the end of the day we are all individuals and our ethnicity/body shape shouldn’t determine the type opportunities we should get. I know that I am a voluptuous black woman but I never let that stop me from pursuing what I want and I owe that confidence to my journey as a pin-up model. I used to think that I was too late for me to make my dreams come true. But really, says who? Who says I can’t be who I am and pave my own way?
Ultimately, it’s all a very personal journey and in the end it’s about knowing that everyone has a right to be unique and be themselves. Why do we all have to be sample sizes? Our society has so many different types and personalities who are all waiting to shine in their own way. So yes, diversity is extremely important and brands need to listen and learn about it.
Above: Jenny Rieu photographed by Jason Kamimura Photography.