Hanne Gaby Odiele – An Interview with


On May 20, 2016 & posted in Editor's picks, Exclusive, Interview, Model Cross-Over, Print

© Nicholas Ong, Portrait of Hanne Gaby Odiele by Nicholas Ong

Hanne Gaby Odiele is brimming with personality. She is making her name with it and unabashedly so. Once, she was asked what she thougt was her favorite part of herself, to which she replied that she was crazy.

Odiele’s career as a model is converging into another path as a stylist. She has developed a street style aesthetic that has grounded her reputation. What does she think about when she sees her body while she is styling? She is naturally pale almost to the point of being transparent. Her clothes give her color. Her clothes give her shape. Her airy charm balances the assertiveness of her style. When she pulls it off, she pulls you in.
The verbs that Odiele uses to describe people’s ordinary relationship with their clothes seem technical, placing careful stresses on them. “Something can be ugly,” she said, “but if you can pull it off, that’s inspiring. Some woman might wear a beauty Celine bag, but she doesn’t wear it; it’s not alive on some people.”


Fashion images styling by Hanne Gaby Odiele, photo by Nicholas Ong


Odiele’s illustrious career as the face of Vera Wang, Philosophy di Alberta Ferreti, and DKNY Jeans goes in direct contrast with her origins in a small village in Belgium called Kooigem. Odiele has since found her niche in a sphere that dwarfs her origins. She considers New York City as home now, and she has flourished walking on the sidewalks of the five boroughs.

Perhaps she belongs specifically to Greenwich Village and pockets of Brooklyn. Places and people with frenetic and eccentric energy draw Odiele in. “I like people who are confident when they walk,” she said. People have their own vision of themselves that often fail to be communicated properly, but is justified if it comes from somewhere authentic. “Even when they fail, they still put it on.”

Odiele has a vision herself, but it isn’t of herself. She has often taken on a larger role in shoots styling the clothes that she wears for the photo. However, it is clear to her now that she does not picture her own body in her creative enterprises. “I don’t like looking at myself when I’m styling…It’s fun to design and not be the object. But, now I’m mostly self-styling and I want to be away from that. I want it to be my creative vision instead of being the vision.”

Portrait of Hanne Gaby Odiele, photography by Ryan Yoon, The GROUND magazine, 2015


The only constant theme in Odiele’s life is her desire to change and move around. In Paris during fashion week, she once would travel by motorcycle from show to show. “My life is unpredictable. I can be working on something for three months and then all of a sudden, ‘Oh no, it’s not happening. I have to fly this way. Otherwise, I’m missing out on a huge job, you know, for maybe a future client I can work with for styling or creative directing.” Even in her natural state, she would occasionally sing brief, wordless melodies at her whim. She speaks to you with her body as if always trying to materialize her vision. However, her conversation never seems practiced. It all comes from an authentic place.

Styling was a natural extension of Odiele’s inclinations as a person. However, there is also something about street fashion that attracts her so. “I get geeked out when I see some lady on the street wearing a funky hat or if her pants are tucked into her boots. That’s what I think about and if she pulls it off, that, to me, is more inspiring. I do think people are having. I think there are amazing stylists out there.” Her work feels inspired too.


Fashion images styling by Hanne Gaby Odiele, photo by Nicholas Ong


French filmmakers in the 1950s were known to grab their cameras and actors and go out on the street as they did not have money for sets or sophisticated equipment. All they had were their actors, props, and stories. For Odiele, fashion can be treated the same way. There are no amateur fashion senses, only amateur attitudes.

Though she moves around a lot, Odiele carries her entire life around with her. This has always been her modus operandi in her personal and professional life, and why she is able to effortlessly turn accidents into opportunities. She was discovered by Tom Van Dorpe at the Nova Rock festival in Belgium and soon after, she signed with Supreme Management and debuted for Marc Jacobs, Rodarte, Ruffian, and Thakoon shows in New York. What everyone saw was not merely a face, but a look. “I think it’s cool when someone can say something or nothing just by the way they show themselves or present themselves. It can be small things like hair color, not necessarily clothing.”

Fashion images styling by Hanne Gaby Odiele, photo by Nicholas Ong


What most people do not know about Odiele is that she can be opinionated. It translates into her style. Even her casual pose is assertive, and her clothes must conform to her, not the other way around. When asked what the most important part about fashion and modeling was, she quipped, “Personality. I don’t care about clothes. I appreciate clothes…I’m more interested in history. I think clothes and fashion makes people feel a part of their time.” She understands the innumerable contingencies involved in a generation’s aesthetic and does not take it for granted. Fashion whether we like it or not, indicates the values and beliefs of a time. For Odiele, the 21st century is the century of individualism.

She cites Tokyo as a city that embodies the spirit that she aims for. “If you can imagine some weird fetish or crave or something in Japan, they would do it times a million. They have something for every audience for every single little thing. In a way, I love it. People can be open. At least, that’s how it looks for me, coming from Belgium. I don’t know how they are in their interactions.” However, she notices a peculiarity. “I feel like classic Japan, you have to be polite, you can’t say no.” A similar duality exists in Odiele. In casual moments, she is inviting a war. In her photos she challenges you, and demands that you pause and respond. And you do.


What her career would look like separating styling and modeling remains to be seen. One of her ventures in styling was a collaborative project with designer Matt Bernson. Together, they designed a series of women’s shoes. “All of the shoes are different, but I feel like every woman can find something.” One could guess that Odiele will not lose her tendencies toward street fashion. However, the point of her work is to say that the term “street fashion” is redundant. Fashion is meant for the everyday and not for catwalks and parties.

Odiele makes it a point that her modeling and styling will, from now on, be kept separate. Painters are not inspired from drawing self-portraits, but from content of their external world. “I don’t like looking at myself when I’m styling. I prefer looking at someone else. I don’t want to turn into a model stylist. They’re two separate things for me. I love my job as a model, and I love my job as a creative director. But, I want them to be separate.” While she expects a long career in modeling, she can see herself doing consulting work for creative direction or as a casting director.

Fashion images styling by Hanne Gaby Odiele, photo by Nicholas Ong


While craving for other pursuits, Odiele never takes for granted where she came from and what her experience has taught her. In 2006, she was injured in a car accident, which left her with broken legs, and prevented her from walking key fall and winter shows. After months of physical therapy, she recovered fully and responded by being featured on a magazine cover, holding crutches and standing on high heels. “I love modeling. It brought me so far. If it weren’t for modeling, I would never have been in that part of the world.”

Everywhere inspires her too. She is a person in inertia that has yet to meet a force that has stopped her. She belongs to no category of style, model, or person. Her life may contain serendipities and accidents, but the point is to have the character to react and to absorb the events and environment that she finds herself in. “I enjoy being in the shittiest town in the middle of nowhere. It inspires me.” Only boring people get bored.


Interview by Ryan Yoon and Nicholas Ong, Written by Henry He Shuen Hsiao.

Makeup by Tracy Alfajora at Art Department, Hair by Tamas Tuzes at L’Atelier, Manicure by Mary Soul at Ray Brown, Model and Styling by Hanne Gaby Odiele at IMG New York, Styling assistance by Taryn Shumway.

Special Thanks to Liz Carpenter, Aly Fried at IMG and Marcus Montenegro at Øutpost Studio.




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