Feb 13th, 2020, 10:35 PM

Chanel and Coffee: Inside the Life of a Chanel Model

By Leila Roker
Moira at Paris-London Bar, Image Credit: Leila Roker
What it's really like backstage at Chanel.
**Quotes translated by Adriana Alonso

For many, the idea of attending a Paris fashion week show is a far off dream. A Chanel show is even more of a reach, but for Argentinian model, Moira Berntz, it’s her daily reality. Moira Berntz sat down with me to talk about her life as a Chanel model, what advice the late Karl Lagerfeld had to offer, and what the modeling industry has taught her about life.

In a small café, tucked in a nook right across from the Madeleine church, I met Moira Berntz, who was rushing back from a secret project with Chanel. She was bundled in a black Givenchy sweater, a leather hat, and a motorcycle jacket. She asked the waiter for green tea, and after we exchanged some pleasantries, we began to discuss how she got her start in the fashion industry.  “I used to work as a waitress at a bar, and a photographer found me on Facebook, so I went to Buenos Aires and I was there for two years,” said the 24-year-old model as she sipped her tea. 

Moira explained from there, she moved to São Paulo Brazil, but it wasn’t a good fit. She moved back to Buenos Aires and signed with Next Models Management. Shortly after signing with Next, she was flown out to Europe for castings at Prada and Gucci. Moira admitted that after her 15 hours of travel she most likely didn’t look her best, which is probably why it was a no from both houses. She then went to a casting at Bottega Veneta and landed her first show in Milan, and shortly after got jobs at Dior and then Saint Laurent. From there, she booked her first Chanel show five years ago.

Moira's Tea, Image Credit: Leila Roker

Moira pointed out that it wasn’t smooth sailing at first. Being a native Spanish speaker, with limited English, she wasn’t always sure of what was being asked of her.  “I would get there and didn’t understand what they were telling me. I was always late. I didn’t understand I was working for Chanel.”, she laughed. “They suspended me twice because I was always late. And that’s how I learned. Now I’m working almost full-time with them and do every single show. It’s a brand that’s given me a lot.” She also noted that Chanel is like family to her, sharing they’ve known her since she first moved to Paris, and even helped train her for the industry. “They know me from my first season when I didn’t even have money for the metro,”.

When asked about Karl Lagerfeld Berntz said, “Karl gave me a lot of confidence.”, she smiled. “I met him and I remember they were laughing at my English because he wanted to see my hand, because of my rings, and when he said "give me your hand," I thought he wanted to say hi so I shook his hand. And he said, "okay, well, I'll say hi." And I was like "I'm sorry my English is not good.”. Mr. Lagerfeld also went on to tell her “When you’re older and I’m no longer here, I’d like you to be my godson’s girlfriend!”

The feeling of home Chanel provided was very important to Moira. The model pointed out one of the hardest parts of the modeling industry is “The solitude. Now I like it, but it was very hard for me in the beginning. I would cry and wish I could go back to Argentina. But after two years of working with a therapist, I felt more secure in my place”. Moira explained that coming from humble beginnings in Argentina, and experiencing a totally different, luxe reality in Paris was confusing. Going home and seeing the condition in which her family lives in was tough. Suddenly being thrust into the more artificial world of fashion was also a challenge for Moira. But at Chanel, she was able to find a core group of other Latin models, with whom she’s grown to be very close with.

Moira also shared a technique she uses to overcome the loneliness: staying busy. “I don’t like to have free time. So when I see things aren’t coming together that month, I sign a contract and go to Japan or Australia for a week to work… Because if my mind isn’t on modeling, I start to miss my family, friends, and life over in Argentina. If it’s still not working out, I’ll reinvent my look and cut my hair.”

Moira at Paris-London, Image Credit: Leila Roker

When asked about how modeling has changed since the rise of the digital age and influencers, Moira said not much has shifted. She did however, mention that the body positivity movement has led to less strict measurement requirements. “The guidelines for women before had to be 90, 60, 90 (cm of bust, waist, hips) and now they don't go so much for the measurements. It's more about attitude and other things.” But Moira explained models still have to watch what they eat, and they can’t stay out very late or it shows on their faces the next day, and it can affect their work. Although she admits her small figure comes naturally to her, it’s something she still needs to maintain.

Moira shared that her last five years in the fashion industry has allowed herself to grow. She used to work for a very big French fashion house as a clothing model, where they would use her for size measurements to create designs. Although at first, she enjoyed it, as the months went on, standing eight to nine hours at a time for clothing construction left a void for Moira. It left her feeling not much above a glorified hanger. 

With the help of therapy, Moira realized that it wasn’t the right environment for her. She again credited Mr. Lagerfeld for being one of her biggest sources of self-confidence saying, “I feel like [now] I can be myself or whoever I want to be. Karl made me feel that. He could transform the Grand Palais into anything from a rocket to Rome, to a metro station to a garden. And he always makes you get into that role. And I love playing with that, having those different sides of myself I can access.”

Moira went on to explain Chanel and her life’s intersections didn’t stop at Mr. Lagerfeld. This past season she walked the catwalk in the Grand Palais, dressed in a print designed with her favorite insect, a butterfly. Butterflies’ form of transformation was apparently a big inspiration for the model these past few years. “Last year was a very tough year for me. My grandmother died, work was tough, and I felt stuck. My boyfriend of six years and I broke up... A lot of losses in a lot of things. For me, that's what a butterfly is, it's... transformation. It's a caterpillar and it opens its wings and becomes a beautiful animal that can fly. And I feel identified with the butterfly.”