Interview by Jana Letonja

Arina Maksimova is making a name for herself in the fashion industry. At just 158 cm, she is the most famous petite model and is changing the industry with breaking down its stereotypes.

Arina, at just 158 cm you are changing the fashion industry. What inspired you to become a model, even though your height is something that is not up to the fashion industry’s standards?

I always had a feeling I have a social mission to bring to the industry. The idea of making modeling healthier and more progressive is still my biggest inspiration.

I was a teenager when I started and it was my contrarian choice. Why can’t I do something that is against all odds. Nobody in the industry believed that I had any chance and that was the truth. To be fair, my family was wholly supportive. Knowing nothing about modeling definitely helped. My main drive was to do something that I knew no one else is doing in the world. It is a very unique feeling when being in your teen era you get to experience making a first step on the moon. And it still feels this way. 

How hard and challenging was it to make a name for yourself and ultimately become the most famous petite model?

When I first approached modeling agencies at the age of 14, the agents were literally laughing at me. They tried to explain to me that modeling is like basketball and I will become a star at neither. Modeling is notorious for the number of rejections a potential model gets to actually land a job. In my case, 9 out of 10 times I could not even reach the casting stage. To get my first modeling contract, I had to convince the agency to take me to China. The arguments I made got to the point where I was telling them that I am so small that I don’t need a lot of food and they should risk brining me along.

But on a more serious note, in the eyes of 98 % of casting directors I was an easy “no”. However, for the 2 % who got inspired by the idea of opening a new frontier in fashion, the connection we built led to bold projects, which became the foundation for Petite wave popularization. 

What would you describe as your biggest benefits in the industry, with being so petite?

I believe it’s the way I have to manage my career. I don’t attend castings like other models, not because I’m so special, but because I simply don’t have access to them. That means in order to get a job, each time I have to look for the most unconventional ways to contact professionals from the industry and make them interested in my ideas.

My working process looks very different from the typical one. 2/3 of the time I’m not on shoots, but trying to reach out to people, organize each meeting since I believe nothing can replace face-to-face conversations, and find the right approach to everyone who I’m willing to work with. I spend hours daily making different kind of sheets with all data I have to manage. This is a nerdy side, which no one except me sees and knows about, but this part is the most important one. As the result, so many amazing projects with a social weight were made. It helps me to grow not only in a professional way, but first of all as a person. Challenging yourself and the industry is the best way to constantly develop your personality.

What is your view on breaking down fashion’s stereotypes around the world? How do fashion stereotypes differ around the world?

US market is the most progressive one for sure. They actually do promote diversity, but unfortunately plus size and variety of skin color is where it usually stops. However, I personally believe they are on the right way to the healthiest modeling environment in the world. I always say that I consider NY as a place where I started telling the world about Petite Wave, but first of all that was a place where world showed me that it wants to hear about it. 

European market is still relatively conservative and watching the latest fashion shows you can notice the tendency how shapes from 2000s are coming back. I’m talking about extremely skinny bodies and mostly white models. It’s more difficult to ruin old standards. 

Asia is an absolutely different world, it is so unique that we can’t even compare it with anything, I believe they don’t really care about global trends, do what they like and if you match with their vision, they can take you to make a runway show.

What are some of the other issues in the fashion world you think the industry should work on and improve?

As a person who literally sent thousands of unanswered e-mails to get someone to even consider me, I think the biggest issue in the industry is talent discovery. If you don’t know someone in the industry, as was my case, it is an uphill battle. I feel like there is little motivation to democratize the talent discovery process, particularly at brands. No matter how talented the potential model is, it is easier to get hit by a lightning than to get a brand to consider you. 

From an individual’s perspective, I completely understand why the brands prefer nepo babies to new faces. If I am a casting individual bringing potential models to my superior and I bring someone who is non-standard or unknown, I am taking a personal risk. And this is all the way through a chain of command. Hence, I believe the main area of improvement should be the transparency of the casting process. 

What do you love the most about fashion?

The way you can express yourself. No matter what kind of artist you are, you can always find a right place to perform. And even if the place doesn’t exist for your particular purposes, you can always create it. Fashion also has a huge influence on the society, so you can always work on making the world better by promoting the right ideas. 

Model: Arina Maksimova @arina.maksPhotographer: Vladyslav Chabanenko @4abikStylist: Alexandre Yague @alexandre_yagueMake-up & hair: Anastasiia Tymoshchuk @tymotynasty
Styling assistant: Oriane Zani @oriane.zn
Editor: Timi Letonja @timiletonja
Cover design: Arthur Roeloffzen @arthurroeloffzen
Interview: Jana Letonja