How Walking The Victoria’s Secret Catwalk Changed My Life

Photo: Francois G. Durand/Getty Images.
Growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, I never imagined I would live in New York, and travel to Paris and London with the most beautiful women in the world (like the Victoria’s Secret Angels) on private planes. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But before this dream came true, my life in Brazil wasn’t easy. My family had very little money; while pursuing my degree in business administration at Anhanguera Educacional, I was working at a local pharmacy making minimum wage at $300 a month as a way to supplement their income. At times, it felt like I’d been dealt an entire deck of the wrong cards. And anytime I got a break, I’d spend it dreaming of ways to escape. My particular pharmacy happened to be a local stop for a few model scouts and agents (weird, I know), and when I began working there, many of them would approach me with their business cards. But I was skeptical of what they were offering, because I'd heard of dangerous people posing as agents and taking advantage of women. It wasn’t until my father assured me it was legitimate and encouraged me to call one of the scouts that I finally considered it. I saw eight agencies in Brazil and was turned away by two of them. I signed with my first agency six months later, when Jason Valenta from NEXT Model Management visited Brazil and invited me to come to New York for Fashion Week castings. Despite my fears, I took my first trip with my Brazilian booker knowing not a word of English besides “hello” and “goodbye.” Jason set up seven days of castings, during which I saw designers like Calvin Klein and Rachel Zoe. Most people might not know this, but as a new face, earning money comes second to exposure. When you first arrive on the scene, you have to meet everyone — makeup artists, hairstylists, photographers, stylists. Then there’s perfecting your walk, which is a task in itself, and you have to learn to pose and be comfortable in front of a camera. It took me a full year to really get all of that under my belt. And behind the scenes of that first year, my agency was giving me money for food and MetroCards. It advanced my plane tickets, my rent at a “model apartment,” and other personal expenses — and once I finally began booking real, paying jobs, all my money went toward paying back the agency.

Most people might not know this, but as a new face, earning money comes second to exposure.

Photo: Courtesy of Daniela Braga.
Braga during her early modeling days.
I picked up little bits of English during my castings, but I had some awkward moments. When I went to Paris for the first time, for example, I still spoke no English. So imagine trying to speak French! Eventually, I met with Riccardo Tisci from Givenchy. He asked me how old I was, and I answered, "I am fine." He then asked where I was from, and I said, "Portuguese.” Luckily, the language barrier didn't get too much in the way of my career — in fall 2012, I walked the shows in Milan, London, and Paris, and ended up being selected by Riccardo as an exclusive for Givenchy for two years. That was also the year I participated in my first casting for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. I returned to Brazil just after my audition to see my family. While there, I got the exciting news that I’d been called back for a second look. All I wanted was to be a part of the show, and I knew this would be my next big break. In the modeling world, booking Victoria's Secret means not only massive exposure in your career, but it's a milestone that quantifies all of your hard work leading up to that achievement. Becoming an Angel, in many ways, means you're set for life. But disaster struck (literally), and Hurricane Sandy hit New York. When that happened, I was grounded in South America and missed my callback, which was the last step before being booked. To say I was brokenhearted is an understatement. A year later, I was given another chance. After already being vetted the year before, I went straight to the callback round of castings, which gave me one last chance to impress the producers. When I arrived, I was so overwhelmed by the number of people on set that I froze. I could feel fear taking over — I couldn’t smile or talk with any energy or warmth, like I knew how to do in castings like this. I felt paralyzed. Later that day, my agent called me to break the news that the Victoria's Secret team thought I was too nervous. I was devastated. But there’s no success without rejection, so I decided to treat it as an opportunity. And actually, that news was all it took to push my nerves aside. I knew then that if I had the chance again, I would walk in and use my personality to take over the room, and I approached every casting going forward with tenacity and confidence. It's something I bring to everything I do in my life. Knowing what I had left in Brazil — the comfort of home, family, and my culture — I had to slay this.

I was devastated. But there’s no success without rejection, so I decided to treat it as an opportunity.

In 2014, I went into the casting relaxed and more self-assured. It just felt right: I was myself and in the moment, even samba-dancing on request. I remember being a few minutes from the airport on my way to Brazil when my agent called me and told me to turn around because I had been cast in the show. I guess that’s why they say third time’s the charm. When I got to the show, I cried. My dream had come true. Today, with 12 magazine covers under my belt, the blessing of working with major editors like Carine Roitfeld, and many campaigns later, I’m now in a position where I can significantly help my family — my sisters and my parents. It's been surreal to be able to buy them a new house, for example, and I was able to bring all of the best items (clothes, diapers, necessities) for my niece when she was born. I know not everyone gets to do this, so I make sure not to take anything for granted.
Photo: Courtesy of Daniela Braga.
Braga with her sister and mother.
Being cast this year to walk in Paris came at a pivotal time, as American politicians focused on highlighting differences and stoking fears, especially when it came to immigration. I reflected on my time in this country — often appreciating all of the opportunities afforded to me, as a Brazilian living in New York, by my agency, by designers around the world, and by the fashion industry as a whole. This year will be my third time walking in the show, and I have such a great appreciation for the core team (Ed Razek, Monica Mitro, Sophia Neophitou, and John Pfeiffer) for believing in my ability to convey the confidence and sexiness that represent the Victoria's Secret brand. Speaking of what's considered "sexy," I'm aware of the lack of body diversity when it comes to the fashion industry. Especially in the lingerie world. But I'm glad that's changing. At home, I was considered too thin, and it's very easy (especially in this industry) to look at your body in warped ways because of the way people scrutinize you. But Victoria's Secret is changing that; I love that every year, there are more types of looks on the runway (shoutout to my pal Maria Borges, who rocked the hell out of the show [with her natural hair]). Still, we have to be careful not to make other young women believe that beauty or sexuality comes in only one package, even as a model in a business that tends to cast only one look. It's been a long journey, but somehow it still feels like the beginning. I know that as the lights shine, the cameras roll, and I step onto the runway once again, I will still have butterflies in my stomach. And I’m not sure those things will ever go away, or that I want them to. After all, I’m blessed to be living the American dream. Had I stayed in Brazil, I would never have been afforded the opportunity to earn an income doing work that I love. And I hope every immigrant gets the chance I did. That very idea is what brought me to New York without my family, not knowing the language — and ultimately, it’s what gets me out of bed every single day.

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