In an industry that’s completely defined by conforming to societal beauty standards, Elena Venetia is used to being told no. The newly signed model and actress is fresh off the New York Fashion Week train, where she completely stole the show during the Christian Benner presentation at 63 Gansevoort. Towering high above editors, socialites, and flashing cameras, Venetia was a stand out. Standing at nearly six feet tall with a blonde mohawk and a jawline so sharp it could kill a man, Venetia is everything you’d expect a picturesque model to look like. That is, except for one key thing — she’s completely covered in bright, bold, and absolutely beautiful traditional tattoos.
She may be signed to an agency and have her very own billboard campaign with Equinox, shot by renowned photographer Steven Klein, but if there’s one thing Venetia wants you to know it’s that it wasn’t always this easy. “I used to get photographers all the time saying, ‘you don’t want to take your top off or get half naked?’” she recalls. “‘But you’re a tattooed chick. Aren’t you a suicide girl? You’re not a slut? What?’”
Ever since she was a little girl, Venetia’s always known her life’s purpose. “In kindergarten, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said president or model, and I guess we all know how that turned out,” she jokes. Initially inspired by the Guess models of the ‘90s, Venetia has always been drawn to the industry, never passing up an opportunity to pose for a camera or throw her name into the ring for a modeling job. But when she was 18 years old, her younger cousin was signed to Elite Model Management, one of the industry’s top agencies, while Venetia was rejected. “They told me my skin was too dark — I’m half Greek. I was told all of these things. You’re too overweight, you’re too this, you’re too that. I never subscribed to that.” Fed up with being chastised about the way she looked, Venetia decided to take matters into her own hands.
Nearly a decade and several dozen tattoos later, she found herself smack dab in the middle of the tattoo modeling industry, posing for many a calendar and liquor brand, surrounded by photographers that thought of her as more of a prop than a model. “I just kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to be a tattooed model. I want to be a model that happens to have tattoos,’” she explains. “I would see male models doing it, I would hang their pictures on my mirror, and I was like, ‘whoa, yes. That’s what I’m talking about. Finally, a heavily tattooed person in a high fashion ad. This is what I wanna see.’” Contrary to what social media might have you believe, the world isn’t always so kind to unsigned models, particularly those that are heavily tattooed. Venetia knew that without an agency she would never see her dreams to fruition.
So off she went in search of an agency that would not only accept her distinct look, but embrace it. This past July, that search ended when Venetia was signed to Surface Model Management. “Even as I was signing the contract with my agency, one of the agents there was like, ‘You can be excited now. Why aren’t you happy? We’re giving you a three-year contract.’ And I was like, ‘but look at all my tattoos.’ She says, ‘I think your tattoos are beautiful, Elena.’” About two months later Venetia received the call that she had booked the Equinox gig. Her billboards can now be seen all throughout New York, a sort of serendipitous ‘fuck you’ to the naysayers that have lined her climb to the top.
It’s taken nearly a decade to get here, hurdling over many an obstacle and blow to her ego, but Venetia is finally reveling in her success. “Up until the fucking point I had the pen to the paper, one of the people that worked at the agency was like, ‘I just...I don’t agree with this.’ I said, ‘well, everyone in this room agrees with it, and you can’t do anything about it. You can be like everybody else that told me no for the past however many years, but I’m doing this.’ And now the Equinox ad is outside her window.”
Elena Venetia has been told no time and time again, but as a bonafide model she’s doing everything in her power to change the face of the modeling industry. “The age of oversexualization is over. It gets boring,” she says.“Yeah, sex sells, but it’s oversaturated right now. You really wanna shock people, show them something real. That’s what I’m trying to do.”