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Thursday, July 1, 2010



From Face of Africa ten years ago, Oluchi Onweagba Orlandi has come a long way. She’s on top of her game as an international super model based in New York. Very married to a designer, the mother still finds ways to remain relevant...

Would you say marriage and child bearing has in anyway slowed you down?
No! It has only added to me, completed me and strengthened me. Absolutely no! It has not slowed me down. I think as women, we are made to have children, and if you do it in such a way that you embrace life, it is an awesome thing. I would not want it any other way.
So you are the happiest woman in the world?
Yes, absolutely.
Obviously, you are one very lucky lady, everything you touch seem to turn to gold. What prepared you for all this?
I guess it is the power of the universe, the power of the unknown. My attitude towards life is to hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil and the strong inner self believe, in everything I do.
What's up with your agency, O Model Africa?
It is doing very well. But, I would not say it has been easy, though I have had ten years experience in fashion modeling. What I am trying to do is make a difference especially on this continent, Africa. My beloved Africa is my driving force. But you must also realize it is not easy especially with coming back from the Western world where everything is so developed, so structured. This can make things a bit difficult. The agency is one of the many things I want to do, and it is here to stay and hopefully, it would expand to other parts of Africa soon.
Would the launch of the agency be an avenue to give back to the platform and society that has helped to make you what you are today?
Absolutely, But you must also realize it is a big investment because I have put in a lot of money into opening the agency. But it is primarily to give back. So, I could not just turn my back on Nigeria or Africa and say yes, I live in New York now and that's it. There is so much to be done, I want adults in schools, to be inspired to make it, I can become something, I would not lose hope.
For someone who by the grace of God has reached the pinnacle of the modeling world, what does it take for an aspiring model, who wants to follow your footstep to get to this same height?
I would want to advise young adults that are aspiring to be models, not to follow other people's footsteps, but should be inspired. They should chart their own paths, make their own rules, and create their own dreams. I believe no one can follow another person's steps, but one can be inspired by others. Following another's footsteps means you are not living your own life to the fullest, everyone's step is unique to him.
Who are those that inspired you?
When I started at age 17, the first person to have inspired me was Iman. She was the first successful black model from Africa. Then there was Alec Wek and of course, Naomi Campbell though she is Jamaican of British heritage not African. And of course, Tyra Banks. And honestly, one of the reasons for my success today is because I learnt from them, they inspired me and not that I was following their footsteps. I looked at them, and felt that they were powerful women, and they had gotten to these positions, not because of luck or beautiful but because they worked really hard to get there.
Is it also very true that the world of modeling is cut throat, you are up today and down and out tomorrow?
Absolutely, I would want to think that is the way life is. Whatever your field or industry is, for you to stay on top, even if you are a manager of a corporation and you are ineffective or not efficient enough you would be replaced, so it is the same process in every aspect of life. It goes up and down. It has been ten years for me in the industry, but I still have to run back to New York as I have a shoot on Tuesday for American Vogue. I shot with them about a year ago, and now they want me back.
Some would say the height of an international modeling career, is to appear on the cover of either British or American Vogue, have you had your share of the covers too?
Absolutely, As we speak right now, I have a cover out there in the United Kingdom, it's a British pop magazine, a very trendy one. It came out in September. In my ten-year career as a model, I think that is the major one. Of course, American Vogue is like 'The Brand', to work for in terms of modeling and fashion. For models and designers, it's like shooting for the Oscars as a movie director or an actor.
What was it like being a part of the Victoria's Secret campaign? Some say it’s one of those jobs that help to blow up a model's career to the stratosphere.
I remember the first one I did for them, I believe that whatever you want in life, you can get it, if you put your mind to it. I remember having a catalogue from Victoria's Secret in 1998, and Tyra Banks was the only black skinned lady featured no other one. And I said to myself I would love to do this some day. I didn't subscribe to it then, because I had just moved to the States, and it was a culture shock, but I just liked it. I connected the company right away. And three to four years after I got to the States, I did the V.S campaign, and I have done it over and over and over again. I think I have been working with them for about six to seven years. I don't think there has been another African hired by that company, if I am not mistaken. The amazing thing about it all is how the American culture turns a little thing into something so big, that even if you don't believe it, you would worship it. From Just an underwear company, that turned to a mega million dollar company. And it is powerful, it helps the economy to grow, people get jobs from it. They have a show coming up in Miami, Florida in November.
Would the stories of cat fights amongst models be true, Naomi vs Tyra Banks, etc?
I would say to some extent, some of the stories are true. But it is also a generational thing. They are from a different era. Models from my own era, I try to advise them that it is not just about them, it is about all of us, togetherness. Together we all stand, divided we all fall. I believe that the more models we have the better. Today, there are about 500 models in Nigeria and I feel great, because it empowers young adults to think differently of themselves, to embrace themselves a lot more. I remember how I used to feel, oh my God, I am so skinny, I am so tall. But modeling gave me the opportunity to look at myself from a different light.
How do you cope with being a doting mom, dedicated wife and an international super model with grueling schedule?
21st century women are warriors, in our various fields and if you are blessed with the opportunity to combine the three roles (raising the kids), being married and working full time, I think it is a blessing. I, for one, I am a big believer in making sure you get help. Get someone to help you, someone reliable, someone you can trust, a nanny, don't deprive yourself of rest. And I have an amazing nanny that is like a second mom to my son. I didn't want to be changing nannies all the time. So, when I am home away from home, like now, I know Ugo is in good hands. My mom comes around; I have sisters and brothers to help out.
Would you say at about 30, and ten or twelve years out of it as experience in the grueling world of modeling, you have seen it all?
I would not say I have seen it all. But I would say I have been there and done that. I have seen so much, I have been to so many places. There is always so much to be done in this world; this world is full of abundance.
Have you contemplated life after retirement?
I have had moments where I felt like, you know, what is it that I have not done, that I want to do and when this comes, ideas also come. And that's when vision comes and you slowly work at it. There is always something more to do.
Who would you consider the most difficult designers you have worked for?
Difficult? I won't say difficult, but I have had few experiences that were near that. You have to understand that designers are under immense pressure, especially when they are to showcase their stuffs. They are also scared of being criticized, so one just tries to bear with them and understand they all go through stress.
Who do you consider the most successful super model of all time?
There are a few women who speak to me, and there are others I do not know that I look at. And I am quite impressed with one of them; she is an amazing woman, about 35 years old and married with four kids. She looks as beautiful as ever, and she still combines her career with her personal life and when you meet her she is so real and so down to earth. She is one of my most favorite women in fashion. And of course I have women outside of fashion I have always spoken of Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, she started Leap Africa. She's maybe just two years older than I am. But every time I read about her she inspires me, and she is not in fashion, there are a lot of them I do not know, but they make a honest difference in lives.
Would you truthfully change your life for anything?
No, I would not want to change my life. But I would constantly want to re-modify or perfect my life, even though perfection doesn't exist. I wake up thinking what more can I do to love myself more.
Do you think there are really any misconceptions about models?
I think the general misconception is that models are dumb, that they are not smart or intelligent. But that has changed, because there are so many who now do a combination of studies and modeling. I have always done that, I have just a semester remaining before I graduate for my bachelor's degree in Leadership and Management in Business at the New York State University.
So, what's new with Oluchi Onweagba Orlandi?
I have a work out video in the works, we have just finished filming and the DVD is going to be launched in January, 2009. It’s called O3 Pro-Fitness; it is in collaboration with my personal trainer, a certified fitness instructor, Rafael Ulloa. I had gone over my normal size after giving birth to my son, so I needed to get back to size and also be fit. Basically, it is a challenge for one's mind, body and spirit. According to the World Health Organization survey results in Nigeria, 45.8 per cent of women aged 15-49 are overweight or obese. 43.4 per cent of women over the age of 15 suffer from high blood pressure, while 45.4 per cent of males over the age of 15 suffer from high blood pressure. To reduce this statistics, experts recommend that at least 30 minutes of exercise be done most days of the week. As this offers many important health benefits including reducing the risk of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
So, O3 Pro-Fitness program is to help stay healthy and fit. The O3 stands for my names Oluchi Onweagba Orlandi. The focus of the DVD is total health and it's a full length 45 minutes total body workout as well as a 10-minute work out for those with very busy schedules.
Where did inspiration for the workout video come from?
Just after moving to the United States in 1998, I remember living in the modeling apartment at an early age and we had the very famous model, Cindy Crawford's sell out workout video in the apartment that we all had to exercise to. It has been a decade since, and constant workout to keep in shape has been an integral part of my successes. Exercises have a way of helping one to maintain a good balance. So this work out video is my own way of helping to start a culture of exercising, it is a do-it-yourself thing, especially for those who cannot afford to get a personal trainer or even join a gym. With the workout video you have your own personal trainer at home or even at the office during your free period. I had a family member who died of high blood pressure, due to stress and pressure, so I know that being fit is very important. I know that dancing is a form of exercise, also. But there is nothing like proper, structured cardio training by a trainer, whose training is in human body functions.
But dieting can do the same thing, don't you think?
I am against dieting, because I need to eat and I eat anything I want. I probably eat more than a lot of people, I love ogbono soup. Exercise is the best method, it helps the skin to glow, and the hair would bounce more. I think it is time to tell women that if they take good care of their bodies, they would get a good return from it too.
Have you ever had any problem with your weight before, and we have heard of models that have had problems and had to do anything to maintain weight?
I have never had any problems with my weight. Honestly, I believe that those are models that are desperate and want it so badly. But most of the models that have had extremely successful careers have been naturally skinny. It is a natural thing, if you are not naturally skinny and you want it so bad, that's when they go to the extreme and abuse their bodies.
What was your body weight like after giving birth?
I think I was like 35 to 40 pounds heavier. My mother came to help and she told me that in her whole life if they had told her I would get this big she would not believe it. So, that's why I considered fitness and I did it everyday. I went from a jeans size of between 2 to 4, to wearing a size between 10 and 12. But I am now back to wearing size 2 to 4.
What's next?
We are starting the African version of America's Next Top Model in Nigeria very soon, to be called Africa's Next Top Model. Same format as the others in Germany and America, hosted by Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks, but I would be the host of this one.
Interview conducted by ABIOLA OLATUNDE ALOBA,But all pictures used downloaded from in.com sourced from various photoshoots

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