On the season finale of The Face 21-year-old aspiring model Devyn Abdullah won a contract to be the face of cosmetics giant Ulta. She sat down with her on-air coach, supermodel Karolina Kurkova, to talk about the fighting on their rival team led by Naomi Campbell, the very limited opportunities for models of color on fashion week runways, and more. Also, scroll down to see a video of how Abdullah’s family reacted when they found out she won.
You won a few months ago but weren’t able to tell anybody. Now that the secret’s out, how are you feeling?
Devyn Abdullah: I feel amazing. I’m really excited about everything that’s going to be happening with Ulta and finally being done with The Face. It’s all about the future and keeping straight on the right path.
Why did you win?
DA: I’ve learned on every challenge. You have to learn, especially in this competition. It’s more than just being a model — you have to be a public figure, you have to be three dimensional, you have to know how to talk, how to present to people, how to be personal and I feel like I knew that I wasn’t perfect, I knew that there were some things that I needed to change, but I was willing to change it.
What did you have to change specifically?
DA: When I came into the competition I was the rocker girl, the Bronx New Yorker — my hair was sticking up, I was edgy and fierce, but I had to learn that I needed to tone it down. We did a challenge for Marshall’s and I had to be the cutesy girl. It wasn’t what I preferred, but modeling is about taking on a role and giving the client what the client needs.
Karolina Kurkova: The client is able to say, today we want to create something like this, and you have to embark on different roles and looks when it’s not what you want.
Like, everyone on the show wanted to be “the sexy one.”
KK: Yeah, of course. But you also kind of had to know how to be not glamorous and masculine and natural.
So in the real modeling world is it the same? The girls also all want to be the sexy one?
KK: I mean, of course.
DA: I think every woman has an inner sexy that they want to embrace. Every woman wants to be sexy. It’s like the most feminine thing that you can be.
KK: Some women they like to be sophisticated and elegant, some girls like to be more funky — it depends. But as a model you have to be able to embrace all of it, you have to be able to do all of it. That’s a true supermodel. A true supermodel is not a woman who just has one look.
DA: It’s many different shades of women.
This past fashion week the runways were nearly 90% white. How did you feel about that?
DA: It’s actually something that me and Naomi spoke about. It’s not just a problem with black models, it is a problem with Chinese, Asian — all models of color.
KK: But I have to disagree with you [Amy], I feel like there are girls on the runway who are very international. Like, you have Eastern Europeans, you have Americans, you have Jourdan [Dunn]. You have Joan Smalls. You have Chinese girls.
But there were more white models in previous seasons, so we saw a regression in terms of diversity.
DA: I feel like the fashion industry is going to evolve in its own way. There’s going to be a prime moment where a certain look is going to be good for that season and then it’s going to switch back. It’s just basically all about fashion and whatever the clients want.
KK: It’s really the casting directors and designers — they’re the ones who are choosing the [cast]. It’s nothing to do with us.
DA: It is a downfall and of course we all think the world shouldn’t be that way, but realistically it is, and it’s just something that everyone has to deal with.
Did Naomi say anything to you specifically about how to manage it?
DA: Loving yourself is the best thing that you can do it doesn’t matter what skin tone, what race you are, what’s your background — if you love yourself people are going to see that and they’re going to love you too.
KK: And have thick skin.
DA: I already have thick skin. I’m from the Bronx.
Team Naomi was not the most harmonious group. Did their fighting throw off your game at all?
KK: I didn’t see as much as probably you guys because you lived in the same place [and] witnessed it more.
DA: I feel like any drama — whether it’s drama between coaches or drama between the contestants on the show — it’s going to be somewhat distracting. It corrupts the atmosphere. But I feel like regardless, everybody was there for a reason, everybody wanted to win The Face, both the coaches and the contestants, and when you have a group of people wanting one thing, there’s ultimately going to be drama.
KK: But also, putting a lot of different personalities in one place, it’s always — not everybody’s going to get along. It’s just like natural law, it’s like chemistry — certain particles just don’t go well together. Some people like each other some people don’t. But some people are able to be like, okay I may not be your biggest fan but I’ll rise above it, I’ll be polite, work through it. But some people just like to get into it.
Karolina, Naomi called you an idiot to your face on the show. How did you feel about that?
KK: I just didn’t expect it coming out of that [elimination] room. It is very intense — this girl’s in front of you, and you kind of have to tell them you’re going to go home and you’re kind of crushing their dreams. Of course it doesn’t make you feel good. That’s the part of the show that is not the most fun, but that’s part of it because not everybody can be a winner. So every time I walked out, I just didn’t know what to expect and it always would throw me off when she would make her comments or whatever it was. Sometimes I didn’t even understand it — like, why? This is what we have to do anyway. I think I made fair decisions all the time, and that’s what you should look at. I really thought about it, and someone’s got to go home.
DA: I definitely look up to her as a coach. No matter the competition between the coaches, she made the focus of the show who can represent Ulta the best, who can fulfill this title, who can do this the best way — not my team winning. She always wanted to play fair and make sure this is going to change someone’s life — it wasn’t just about Karolina.
KK: Yeah it was not about me. Like, I didn’t come to this competition like, oh I’ve got to win. I wanted these girls to have a great time and I really helped them in whatever way I can.