From Lagerfeld to Butterflies: An Inside Look at the Life of a Chanel Model
Updated: Mar 2
*Quotes were translated by Adriana Alonso
So many girls dream of the day when they can purchase their first Chanel bag, or attend their first Paris fashion week show. For fashion lovers, even catching a glimpse of the glitz and glamour of a Chanel couture show is a distant dream. 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 the late Karl Lagerfeld told her and what the modeling industry has taught her about life.
In a small café, Paris-London, right across from Madeleine’s church, I met Moira Berntz, who was rushing back from a secret project with Chanel on a cold January day. She was bundled in a black Givenchy sweater, a leather hat, and a moto jacket. She ordered a green tea, and after some pleasantries, we began to talk about 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, sipping her green tea. Moira explained from there, she moved to São Paulo Brazil, but it also didn’t seem like a good fit. She went back to Buenos Aires and then signed with Next Models.
Shortly after signing with Next, she was flown out to Europe for castings at Prada and Gucci, but after the 15 hours of travel, the model admitted she most likely didn’t look her best, and it was a no from both houses. She went to a casting for Bottega Veneta, and landed her first show in Milan, and shortly after got a runway job at Dior and then Saint Laurent. From there, she got her foot in the door. Her first Chanel show was five years ago.
Moira explained that not everything went so smoothly for her first shows. Being a native Spanish speaker, with limited English she didn’t always understand 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 went on to say that Chanel is like family to her. They’ve known her since she first moved to Paris, and 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, “Karl gave me a lot of confidence.”, Moira smiled. She shared an anecdote, “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 warmth of Chanel was very important to Moira, the model pointed out the hardest thing in 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, going home and seeing the condition her family lives in was tough to come to terms with. Suddenly being thrust into a more artificial world of fashion was also hard to come to grips with for Moira. But at Chanel, she was able to find a core group of other Latin models, who she’s grown to be very close with.
Moira also shared that another solution to overcoming a bad case of loneliness is 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.”
When asked about how the modeling world 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.
As for advice to young catwalk hopefuls, looking to break into the industry someday, Moira answered, “A 'no' means nothing. It's just a simple 'no.' You have to have consistency and confidence. Be at peace with yourself. That shows a lot when you go to a casting. If you get there and say "Here I am!" and you walk and you're yourself, it’ll be a yes. If you get there and look insecure, maybe they'll take you because you're pretty but it won’t be for your energy.” Moira also pointed out that some people think they can get work by just hanging in certain circles, which isn’t the case. “Some models say "Oh let's go to that club because employed models are there and if I'm with them maybe I'll get a show." And that's a lie. If the casting director didn't like you he's not going to put you in the show.”
Moira also said her last five years in the fashion industry has allowed herself to grow. She used to work for one very big French fashion house as a clothing model, where they would use her for size measurements to create designs. Although at first, she liked it, standing eight to nine hours at a time for clothing construction left her feeling not much above a glorified hanger. With the help of therapy, Moira realized that 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, is... 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.”