Mandy Lieveld on Being a “Runway Coach” and Her Biggest Success Stories

Image courtesy of Mandy Dyonne Lieveld

If you’re interested in modeling or perhaps already in the game, then “Runway Coach” extraordinaire Mandy Dyonne Lieveld is likely on your radar. While the Netherlands-born, New York-based modeling expert didn’t necessarily dub herself an “extraordinaire,” her accolades certainly make it seem like a safe description. There’s the fact that she optimized her six-foot-one stature early on in life when she first started modeling as a youth, which was followed by a dedicated dancing career where she learned a lot about posture (before an illness shifted her trajectory). This turn of events led Mandy to pursue her master’s in psychology, and she would eventually merge all of these disciplines together in order to launch her Model Boot Camp. “If you take a look at a professional basketball player who trains for years, the models, what they’re doing, it’s really almost on an Olympic level [like that],” Lieveld says on starting the camp. “They go to all these well-known designers, all these beautiful shows. So that was always in the back of my mind.”

Since kicking off her business in Holland, the modeling coach has expanded to work in cities including London, Los Angeles and New York, working with some of the world’s biggest agencies and brands like IMG, NEXT Models, Elite, Bottega Veneta, Calvin Klein and more. To date, Lieveld has coached nearly 500 models and worked on about half as many fashion shows, counting trainees—and now rising industry stars—Ugbad and Cara Taylor among her success stories. Below, she dishes more with contributing writer Nia Groce on her experiences with top names, what being a “runway coach” means in her own words, and advice for aspiring models.

Interview by Nia Groce | Edited by Irene Ojo-Felix

What does being a “runway coach” mean in your words and has your idea of that changed over the years?
A runway coach is somebody who would really get the best out of you. Of course, it’s about the walk, but I would almost say 75% is confidence, being yourself. I work with a lot of casting directors and I always ask them, “what do you think is important for a model’s walk?” And Piergiorgio, who is a very big casting director has said, “there are so many beautiful models, but eventually, it’s all about the confidence.” That really sticks with me, and that’s what I’m trying to teach them as well. I tell them not to take it personally in this industry. Because it is an industry where it’s just finding the right fit for that brand and for that show at that moment. I don’t know any model who has not been rejected. Rejection is a part of modeling, but we’re not posting that on Instagram.

Is being a runway coach different to you now than what it may have been when you were a model?
The thing that I see the most is that you want to present the best of you, so you put a lot of pressure on yourself. I don’t think things have changed in that sense. Maybe there is more space for the mental parts. Especially when they’re so young, although that has changed now. For some of the shows, you [now] have to be 18.

What’s the model going to experience when she signs up and joins your Boot Camp?
There are two different types of courses. Courses available only to agencies and classes to anyone who wants to learn. I will ask [models], “what are your main focus points?” Then we start with the walk because almost everything is already in that walk. A lot of people are very afraid of presenting themselves because their number one fear is [public] speaking. So now it’s like speaking without sound, walking in front of a lot of people, which is very nerve-wracking.

I always have their “before” video, then I’m going through every walk, posture, facial expressions, what to do with your arms, how to feel balanced on heels or more in control, how to pose on the runway, and what you can think [about]. Because sometimes we’re overthinking. I’m going step by step. Eventually, I record the “after” walk. Then we sit down, and I talk about the industry. What to do, what not to do, never paying for an agency. How do you know it’s a scam? I have videos of agencies, I have a video of a Victoria’s Secret model that I coach, showing them what tips they are giving. It’s funny because I always say to them, ‘look at,’ just to keep yourself updated. Eventually, I take digitals so they can send that to agencies.

How do you incorporate psychology into your model coaching? And what’s the most significant piece of advice that you give models as it pertains to being confident?
I think the most important thing is “don’t take it personal.” See it really as your model self. Whatever will happen, because sometimes there is just no reason that you didn’t get that campaign or that agency. Don’t let it get to you, and just continue. There will be an agency that says yes, or there will be a campaign waiting patiently for you. If you are already with an agency, what I always say is, that they already believe in you, and now it’s up to you to believe in yourself.

Do you ever adjust your coaching based on the market that the model might be wanting to get into if they have a preference? If they want to break into New York, Paris or other markets, for example.
There’s a lot that overlaps, right? Again, [it’s all about] the confidence but in LA, there’s a lot of campaigns, so we’re talking a little bit more about the commercial side, [for] posing. In Miami, where there was just a swim week, it was much more smiling, bikinis, and hip movements. In New York, everything is there, but…how would I describe my New York method? Fun, but more “New York tough.” Then in Paris, the walk is very important. There I have a lot of girls that I prepare for shows, so it is very necessary to get the walk. I call it CNS. Confident, natural, and strong.

Who are some of your biggest success stories in terms of clients?
Still, it is Cara Taylor. She was just a small town girl from Holmesville, Alabama. She was very young when she came to New York. When she was 15 and didn’t know anything, we worked on her walk for three weeks. She was so sweet. She went to all these castings, but she didn’t complain and her first show was Alexander Wang. Then she opened Fendi, she opened Chanel, Givenchy, Prada, all the shows. I don’t even think she knew what YSL was. She really has a place in my heart and she’s so real and herself.

Then Ugbad, she just did the cover of French Vogue. She also has a special story, how she came from a refugee camp in Somalia and then they went to a smaller town in the US. Then she got scouted by an agency in Washington State and from there, it went very quickly. Two weeks later, she came to New York. We were coaching because she couldn’t walk on heels. She was a beauty that was so willing, but so relaxed.

Any dream clients you would love to work with?
I wish I could have met Karl Lagerfeld. He sounded so funny. I really like Jacquemus. His shows are always in a beautiful environment. I follow him and his little dog. Also, Olivier [Rousteing]. He has a soft side. Sometimes I think he goes a little bit with the popular side [of fashion trends], but [Balmain] has to, of course. So, I’m curious about him. How he really is.

What advice do you have for aspiring models?
What’s most important is to really believe in yourself. Even if you have a lot of rejections, or if you doubt yourself, just know there is an agency for you. The other one is—yeah, it sounds really cheesy—but don’t give up. Everyone has their own path. Don’t compare yourself with others… If you are loud and outspoken, just be that loud and outspoken person. If you are more cool, calm, and collected, just be you.

Image courtesy of Mandy Dyonne Lieveld

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