Veronica Webb has the secret to supermodel success

“Empathy. People want to see empathy in a model’s eyes.”

Veronica Webb, the Legendary Supermodel, is in bed, having just woken up. It’s early morning in New York, where she lives with her husband and children. She’s talking to me about her career, keen to start work before the distractions of family life kick in. I’m across the world in Sydney, Australia, where I live with my two bulldogs. It’s midnight here, and the bulldogs and I are huddled on the sofa in my office, one of us interviewing a Legendary Supermodel over FaceTime. I’m nervous, so I’ve just told Veronica about my father, who grew up half an hour away from her hometown of Detroit. Like Veronica (and Charlene Dash, Billie Blair and Donyale Luna before her), my dad was a black kid who saw modeling as an opportunity to get the hell out of Michigan. That’s why Veronica is now telling me about empathy, because unlike my dad—whose modeling career was mediocre, at best—she was able to analyze what makes a good model, to identify why people kept booking her, and harness it all into a career spanning over three decades. The secret is empathy, everybody. That and a love of fashion itself.

Photographer – Martina Keenan for Models.com
Hair – Andrea Wilson | Makeup – Marc Cornwall
Clothing by Nomia and Linder.

Veronica’s passion for the fashion industry has never been a secret. Before model street style was a thing, countless articles ran about her love of clothes. In an American Vogue feature, Veronica described her look as “part James Bond, part James Brown,” and Calvin Klein once enthused, ”She’s funny and exciting and she has a great sense of style.’’ All of this is to be expected of a woman who spent two years of her early career living with designer Azzedine Alaia. He and Veronica had connected at a casting, when Alaia, mistakenly assuming the new model was a fellow Tunisian, tried to converse with her in French. Veronica, in Paris for the first time, didn’t speak a word of the language. But something passed between them, a connection so profound Alaia and his partner Christophe von Weyhe began to refer to Veronica as their daughter. To this day she considers the couple to be her “adopted parents”. And while the experience in Paris helped hone and evolve her sense of style, Veronica’s love of clothing and appreciation for the creative arts is something she attributes to her mother, Marion.

Marion Webb served as a nurse at Pearl Harbour during World War II, and during Veronica’s childhood worked long, tough hours in the emergency ward at Detroit General Hospital. Veronica was born in 1967, a few months before the Detroit Riots, which left Motown with the stigma of being poor, black, and crime-riddled. Once known as the birthplace of America’s middle class, Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s was in the throes of white flight. Car manufacturing, once the lifeblood of the city, was in decline. The voter base had fled to the ‘burbs and the money followed. Working families like the Webbs were left in a town that was chronically underfunded. They lived modestly, all income going towards the education of Veronica and her two older sisters. At home, Marion dedicated herself to her children. Everything they had they made themselves—from entire outfits to all home furnishings. Marion instilled in her children the value of resourcefulness but also an appreciation for items that were well made. “She could make anything and do it impeccably with incredible detail,” recalls Veronica. “She was very creative.” That’s perhaps why Marion, despite not having much interest in fashion herself—Veronica says her mother preferred to dress simply and sensibly—understood when Veronica decided to leave academia to pursue modeling instead.