This month’s Super Styler is our very own sassy and snap-happy supermodel, Sabrina Sikora! We know how to pick ‘em, and Sabrina’s story is as equally fascinating as she is fashionable. From small town Georgia to the bright lights of NY and HK, Sabrina has worked with some of fashion’s most famous faces and brands. After being directed by Tom Ford, gracing the pages of Vogue and strutting on the runway, Sabrina has gone from being in front of the camera to behind the lens, becoming one of the best photographers in town. Find out more about her below… you’ll see she’s just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside!
Tell us about where you’re from and how you made it over to Hong Kong!
Originally hailing from Macon, Georgia in the USA, most would say I’m a long way from home. I made my way to HK from New York in 2007 with my then-bf-now-husband for a quick two-year stint that just keeps going and going (fine by me!). Growing up, I participated in pageants and cheerleading and was as proper a Southern Belle as I knew how to be. I love to bake, acquired a vintage silver collection, revel in the long lost art of table setting and napkin folding, and I will monogram anything that will hold still long enough. I guess those qualities were somewhat appealing to that Yankee boy I met, because we have been roaming around this world together for ten plus years!
How did you get into modelling and the fashion world?
When you are 13 years old, 5’9”, a size 0/2, with size 11 (42) feet, you are kind of built for a few career options – volleyball, basketball or modelling. I have absolutely zero sports skills (beyond cheerleading, of course) so I went down the modelling route. The job allowed me to travel beyond the borders of my native Georgia, while also introducing me to a host of international characters and occupations that I might never have known otherwise. Starting at age 16, I traveled to New York, Milan, Paris, and Shanghai and then finally moved to NY aka “the city” a month after turning 19. By that point, I was pushing 6’ tall and wearing a clothing size 2/4, so I was perfect to hit up all the castings that my agency had to offer.
Over the years, I have lived in one-bedroom, one-bathroom model apartments with seven other girls as well as impromptu couch surfing sessions as needed for bookings. The draw of seeing myself in a magazine and the rush from a runway show was just too appealing to let anything stop me, so I kept pounding the pavement day after day getting turned down by this client and that. Some days, clients would love me and then it would make the whole process worthwhile again. It was a roller coaster of a ride but an experience that made me very street smartand also very easygoing as you never know what experiences will lead you to that next great thing, so you just roll with the punches and have fun along the way. Now, I am fortunate enough to only work through direct bookings so I don’t have to do the casting beat anymore.
What are some of the highlights of your career as a model that really stand out?
There are a few highlight reels that play in my head when I think back over the years. One would be the shoot where I was Carolyn Murphy’s lip double and Tom Ford was directing me. She was incredibly friendly and he is, well, walking perfection. I rolled in satin sheets crushing an Estee Lauder Amber Nude lipstick in my teeth while Mr. Ford instructed me along the way. I tried my best to capture the mood and feel that they were looking for.
Another top day was the day I shot my first cover at age 17 in Milan. We were high in the mountains with a helicopter to hang from as our “prop”. I was wearing a white, grey, and fuchsia Versace fur and was told that the model with the nicest hands would get the cover. The models were told to hold out our little mitts and then I was declared the winner. I snuck off to a bedroom of the cabin that served as a dressing room and called my mom. Through static and tears I told her the good news… That was a very good day!
Being chosen for the NBC/Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search was also an incredible experience. I was selected as one of 12 girls to live in a house in LA and to compete in a variety of sports and modelling challenges, and the winner would appear in the coveted pages of the SI swimsuit issue. Unfortunately, I was given the boot and the reason given was that I was “too nice”. Out of all the reasons to get cut from a show, I think that is by far the best. I did manage to win one of those sports challenges, so I left the show with a new diamond necklace along with a bit of press which did a lot for my career back in NY.
There are a lot of other great moments like when I landed my first campaign, when I saw myself in the pages ofVogue and Bazaar, and those highs from strutting it hardcore down a monster runway for a big designer. These moments made all those days of being told you are “too this” or “too that” (fat/skinny, tall/short, old/young, tan/pale… insert anything here) to be worth it.
Any tips or words of wisdom for aspiring models?
There will be a lot of no’s, but hopefully there will also be a lot of yes’s. The trick is to stick it out through the rough days and to stay healthy and grounded so that when those yes’s start to come you are happy, fit, and ready. You may not be right for one client, but you are someone else’s perfection. It is just a matter of getting out there and seeing as many clients as possible, testing as much as possible to build your book, and being friendly or at least genuine and authentic to all you meet (the industry is small!). You have to view yourself as a product and not take things personally. Do a casting and then put it out of your mind. As long as you are the best version of yourself that you can be, then that is all you can give. If a client wants more than that at least you know you were at your best and gave it your all.
You’re not just a model, you’re also an amazing photographer (that we couldn’t do without!), blogger and new mama, how do you balance everything?
Being a mom is job number one and one that I kind of feel like I might be getting the hang of after four months. The photography and blogging are both wonderful because I can more or less set my hours. I only schedule a certain number of shoots per week that way I can stay on top of the editing and retouching.
The fashion events for blogging are typically in the afternoon, so I hang out with the cutie until around 11am then shoot, retouch, or write. Next, I slip off to a few events and am back at home in the early evening to hang out with my sweet boy again. Everyday is different which I love, though I did need to set up a routine for my kiddo as little ones love structure far more than I do.
I choose one night a week, typically Wednesday or Thursday, to hit up the evening events and I’m also sure toschedule in a date night with my husband. It’s so important to have that time together to keep the marriage strong. Family is my first focus as that is what I feel is most important in life. I’m so happy to be able to have a job that I love and that allows me to spend so much time with them while being creative and getting to hang around so many inspiring individuals. This city is chalk full of talent and being able to shoot and blog about it is wonderful!
What do you do to relax/chill out when you’re not running around town at fashion events/shoots/taking care of your little one?
Well, pre-baby I loved to sit in an open-air café and sip wine or iced chocolate while thumbing through fashion mags, Instagram, Pinterest, or scrolling Blog-lovin’ for hours on end. Even better if said café served chocolate chip cookies! On the flip side of that, yoga is also my fave fitness activity and a great way to decompress. Now, free time is a mythical creature and I have been very lazy about scheduling in “me time”. I love hanging out with my husband and son so when the work is put away and the computer is closed, I would rather eat and relax with them or go to whatever pop up exhibit, creative collab, or art show may be going on. Follow that up with a delicious and not-so-healthy lunch and I’m in heaven. When my child is clean and fed, I can take on the world! Truthfully, my work is fun for me so I’m often found editing images at all hours pre- and post-baby.
What sparked your interest in photography and what are some of your most memorable shoots?
I have grown up on sets and amongst the clothing racks of runway shows, but the photography started by chance when young girls started coming to me asking how to become a model. I told them to submit simple photos to agencies but most girls only had school pictures or very over styled pageant pics (remember, I’m from the South!). With a point and shoot in hand, the girls came to my house after school or on weekends and I snapped basic shots that showed their face and shape. I soon grew tired with just shooting these simple snaps so after those were out of the way, we would raid my vintage collection and costume jewellery and have some fun.
My camera grew in size and buttons as did my knowledge of how to work it. Angles and “posing” (I hate that word as modelling is movement, not posing) came naturally to me, so I could see the shot quite easily. I just needed to master the technical aspects of how to work the camera to capture the shot. I was still modelling at this time, so I had the added benefit of being able to learn from some of the top photographers by seeing them in action from my post in front of the lens! After a few classes, many hours of YouTube lessons, and loads of test shoots, I felt confident to put a price on the service. Model hopefuls came to me, not only to be photographed, but to learn how to move on film and also to ask as many questions about the business as possible so they would be better prepared for the castings and bookings to come.
Soon, not only newbie models but families and business professionals were in front of my lens, entrusting me to help them to move to look their best on film. That is what I enjoy most – shooting with someone who is rarely photographed and watching the light spread across their face when they see the raw images on the back of the camera. Few people know just how beautiful they really are. I hope to capture that and show it back to them.
As far as memorable shoots go there have been a few. Often a gorgeous image is the result but sometimes it is a long road to get there. There have been armed guards roaming around the studio protecting millions of dollars in jewels. There’ve been many a shoot that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. There have been tumbles off stilettos (model), bruises from the gear (me), and nipple slips (model), and one time the whole crew got strep throat from one model who showed up sick. Once upon a shoot, a model got bit by a horse and another time the model got covered in chiggers (it’s a Georgia thing). No matter if we are outrunning a storm or shooting swimwear in bone-chilling temps, we always manage to get through it and get something that we are all proud to show!
You’ve been in Hong Kong for a while now, what do you love about it most? Is there anything you really miss about the U.S?
Simply put, I love Hong Kong. I love that you get all the aspects of a major city but you can still run into your friends at the grocery store. Everyone seems to know everyone. I grew up with that in Macon, so it is nice to have that again after feeling so anonymous in New York. I feel that the creatives in Hong Kong are very supportive of one another and are constantly building each other up. Almost all of my business is word of mouth.
I love how quickly things change here. While the pace of life stays humming, new friends, new restaurants, new shops, new travels are just a breath away. It keeps life exciting and I have been amazed at just how fast the years slip by. I hear it is even truer once kids are in the mix…
Failsafe beauty spots for hair, nails, facials and general beauty?
I’m pretty bad when it comes to a scheduled beauty routine. Typically, I’ll finally catch a glimpse of myself in good light or once a shoot is confirmed and pick up the phone to book in everywhere at once, blasting the system from top to toe in one mad rush beauty day.
My paws are prettied at Indulgence and Meegan takes care of my rare facials there. I entrust my hair to Shayne atSalon Chandler! He saved me when another salon gave me a bonafide mullet the year I got married… My better half’s response when I came home with said mullet was “at least you are young and in an industry where mullets are cool”.
Otherwise, at home measures are taken as needed. I like to use a raw tomato over my face once a month or so to remove the dead skin. I also swear by dry brushing to keep my body smooth. Each year in Asia leaves me paler than the year prior, which seems to agree with my skin as the wrinkles have stayed at bay. I love Burt’s Bees for face products and Kiehl’s for body and hair. For on the spot manis, I use Insta-dri by Sally Hansen and also love the peel and stick nail polishes as they don’t need to dry. Without fail, my son will cry as soon as I paint my last nail so this allows me to tend to him as needed with no fear of a smudged or chipped mani.
Fave places for food and drinks in HK?
You can find me at Agnes B. café on Gough Street at least once a week for an iced ginger tea or an iced chocolate. I also love scooping up a sack of bread at Po’s Atelier and sitting in the park across from it to devour it all. The bolstock and the one with the corn are incredible! For lunches I’m often at Life, Oolaa, or 85South. Other delicious eats include Tokyo Joe, Posto Pubblico, Crystal Jade, Myung Ga, and Cipriani. It has been a long time since I have been able to go out for drinks, so my list may be far too dated to do anyone any good. Once I can have cocktails again then I will hit up Sassy for all the on point recommendations!
Your sense of style (and your jewellery collection!) is the envy of many a HK girl, what are your go-to stores in HK? Any secret spots you can let us in on?
Costume jewellery is my weakness, especially if the item in question is very large and gold. I never leave Caty Jewellery empty-handed and I’m often there to pick up gifts for friends as well. Select 18 has some really unusual finds and great sunglasses. I salivate over many a piece at The9thMuse with Lulu Frost, ManiaMania and Lionette being my favourite brands they stock. Polkadot Boutique is great to find shiny bits and bobs to add to your arm party and I always hit up the On Pedder Warehouse sales – I’ve found some real showstoppers there. Otherwise, eBay is a treasure trove of vintage finds and is just a click away! I do have a one-in-two-out rule effective in my closet so things don’t get out of hand. I try to sell the pieces on Hardly Worn It on Facebook. If it won’t sell, then I host a swap with friends and/or donate the items to charity.
We know you’re a vintage queen, where are your favourite places to get some vintage steals and deals?
Sorry Hong Kong, but I typically do my best vintage shopping in the States, especially when I am home in Georgia. I’ve found Burberry coats for US$10 and Bob Mackie and St. John blazers for US$5 each! I drool over the designer vintage scene in Tokyo and am itching to go back and get my hands on the Chanel jewels I saw in the windows. Bonus is they were a fraction of the price that I have seen in NY or HK!
In Hong Kong, I love Me&Gee for dresses and scarf print tops. OnceStyle has gorgeous lust-worthy finds as does Reverie. Reverie also does repro’s of vintage pieces so that you can get the look for less and in multiple sizes. For jewellery, Select 18 and Somewhere in Time are both worth stopping in and digging around. I did a massive vintage post for Sassy and had no idea there were so many shops in town (check it out here)! Again, eBay is a good go-to for picking up classic designer leather bags with a bit of patina.
What are your wardrobe staples/essentials?
This is a tricky one for me as I am not a “capsule wardrobe” person though I tried it for the 15/30 post I did a while back (great for creating the perfect carry on!). My must-haves include a pair of black skinny cigarette pants, a pencil skirt, a well-fitted blazer, button down silk blouses, long flowy printed vintage dresses, and pretty much anything with sequins or leopard print. Dresses and skirts and ultra long flowy pants are personal favourites. Top it off with lots and lots of jewellery and a pair of heels and I’m set. I tend to overdress for events but I would rather be overdressed than the most casual of the bunch! I had this happen at age 12 when I showed up in shorts and a tank to a brunch and felt so self-conscious that I vowed to never let it happen again!
I love clothing that stands out. At 6’ tall I gave up blending in a long time ago! What started as getting Best Dressed in High School also had me almost getting sent home for heels that were too pointy and too high- who knew stilettos were a safety hazard?! That transitioned to my NY agency sending me home to wear something “more flattering” when I showed up to a casting in a vintage striped dress which resembled an old nurses uniform. I tried to tone it down and just put the crazy stuff on the models that I was styling for shoots, but then I realised that I had all this fabulous stuff that wasn’t getting worn and I wasn’t getting any younger. Why not deck yourself out and enjoy it all now? Why should I wait till I’m in my 70’s to wear mink stoles and crazy hats!? You only live once! Dress for it!
Along with all these bright bold pieces, I also need clothing that I can lie down in dirty parking lots to get a shot, so half of my wardrobe is over the top printed craziness and the other is dark beat up old jeans and black tunics to shoot in. Sometimes people don’t recognise me when I turn up to a shoot as I have a bare face and a bun and am wearing all black. I have actually been asked if I was “that model girl’s sister”. Ouch!
What trends are you spotting at the moment and what’s number one on your must-have list?
On my spring/summer shopping list, vintage boyfriend jeans and/or overalls, and a sleeveless trench from Club Monaco appear. I recently checked backpack and drawstring bucket bag off my list. Another recent addiction is chunky jewellery with animal heads on it (i.e. vintage Kenneth Jay Lane)!
The boyfriend jeans I found at Goodwill for US$3 and they are the most comfortable things in the world! I can fit my whole huge hands in the pockets! Pair these with a Chanel-inspired jacket and some fab heels and I’m set for just about any HK outing. Overalls are a tricky one but I think the same styling tricks would work here too and provide me with plenty of pockets for teething rings and other baby accoutrement.
With my newfound mama role, I am realising that some pieces are best not worn around an infant (sequins are scratchy and lace is just begging to be pulled apart). I’ve raided the racks for dark prints (camo for drool and spit up) and dressy pants so I can bend over to put him in a stroller without giving the city a show.
Any essential styling tips and tricks?
When in doubt, wear a great black pencil skirt, a silky button down, red lips and one incredible piece of jewellery. I also default to dresses that style well from day to night, as all you have to do is add accessories and change the shoe and bag.
As for styling tips and tricks, I hate to iron so I steam everything. Toupee tape is your friend. You can use it to hold a hem up, stick a shirt to you if it is a bit low cut, hold a lapel in place and/or stick a belt to itself so you don’t get that weird floppy bit that sticks out on the end. I roll a lot of sleeves due to my long arms not fitting most shirts but love how relaxed it looks. Jeans just look better with a cuff to me. Belts are my go to for making me feel leaner in an instant. The bigger the belt buckle the smaller the waist appears to me!
What do you love about fashion and what you do?
I could write a novel about what I love about fashion, but I guess my favourite part is it allows you to express yourself in an instant. If I am feeling blah, I grab something bold to bring me back to life. Feeling chic? I opt for an all black number, a clean pinned back bun, and a deep red lip. Feeling girly and sweet? I’ll toss on a vintage floral maxi with a beat up bag and comfy Tom’s.
Clothing can reflect how you feel about yourself or even put you in a better mood than when you started getting dressed (this was so true when I was battling the morning sickness beast). Your moods can change right along with your outfits and vice versa.
Fashion should be fun and reflect who you are at that moment. There is always something to look forward to with fashion as it is never finished – it only evolves. That is also why I love photography. Though individual bookings may start and end, my work grows and changes with time. My whole world around is documented and at any point in time I can look back and see where I’ve come from, and hopefully gain direction in where I am going.
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Check out this article and more over at Sassy Hong Kong!