Meet Susan Hersh

Location: Fort Lee, NJ
Age: 49
Marital Status: Single
Education: 4 years at F.I.T. for Fashion Buying and Merchandising

FOF Susan Hersh’s life pursuit—professional modeling—pursued her.

“I wasn’t really thinking of it as a career,” says Susan, who idolized supermodel Twiggy as a teen and worked in fashion under designers Calvin Klein and Norma Kamali in her early career. “But, fashion is part of my DNA,” says Susan. Then, on two separate occasions, in her 30s, Susan was “discovered” by modeling scouts—once, while she was sitting in a California coffee shop, and then, years later by a NYC rep working on an Avon campaign.

“He asked me if I’d been modeling,” says Susan about being discovered for the second time. “No I haven’t, but I am starting to think, maybe it’s my calling. It just keeps coming back to me.” A few days later, at the age of forty, Susan signed a contract with Ford, one of the leading modeling agencies in the world. Since then, you may have seen Susan’s face grace issues of O Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and Macy’s, Sephora, Nordstrom and Target ads. She was also the “face” of Silver Expressions for Pantene and walked the runway for Barney’s. With her signature silver locks (“I stopped dying my hair a the age of 28”) and her youthful skin—she’s been cast as everything from a grandmother to a young urban professional. “I’ve had a pretty good run,” she says.

Where did you grow up?

Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

What were you like as a child?

I was always very artistic and I always knew I wanted to go into fashion or be a model. My sister and I would always look at fashion magazines. Twiggy was my icon. In first grade, I had a lunch box with her picture on it. She had white go-go boots and a short hair cut, I’ll always remember it.

What did your parents do?

My father was a CPA and my mother wrote a weekly food column for the Bergen News. She also held various positions at Ort & Hadassah charities.

Do you have any sisters or brothers?

I have one sister, Maureen.

Where did you go to college?

Fashion Institute of Technology where I majored in fashion buying and merchandising.

What was your first job?

I started my career while attending night school. My first job was personal receptionist for Calvin Klein in the 1980s! It was the height of his career and brand. He was very quiet but he was my biggest style inspiration. Working with him, was my first exposure into the fashion world. I left Calvin Klein and went to work for Jones Apparel Group and Norma Kamali while I was still at FIT. She was always big on creating casual clothing—sweatpants and sweatshirts. I’d wear head-to-toe Norma Kamali at the time. I remember my boyfriend would pick me up from work and say, “Oh lord, Susan!” My clothing was really crazy at the time!

Did you live in New York City while you worked in the fashion industry?

I did not. I always lived in New Jersey and commuted to the city. I liked having my car and getting away from the hustle and bustle. I’ve almost always worked in the city with the exception of a period in my life when I relocated to Florida.

How come you moved to Florida?

At age 30, I got a job as a buyer and store manager for a retail store called Le Tennique on Long Boat Key in Florida. I also got married at that time but later divorced. I didn’t love living in Florida, although I stayed for four years, but I really missed New York City.

So did you move back to New York?

Actually no. I ended up moving to Mill Valley, California. I intended to study and sell wine. I thought wine sales would be really romantic and was ready to start selling at the top restaurants. I quickly found out that it doesn’t work that way. When you start, you are usually selling in a really undesirable location to a supermarket and then have to build up from there. There was also a lot of nepotism in the business. It’s dominated by men and there is a lot of alcoholism. After being out there for about a year and a half, I then moved back to New Jersey.

Sometimes you have to try different things to realize what your true passions are…

Completely true. The experience made me realize fashion is really part of my make up. When I came back to New York, I worked for a label called Mondi of America which eventually went bankrupt. From there, through a headhunter I got a job with Gottex swimwear as the U.S. sales manager. I ended up staying with them for ten years until this past October.

When did you break in to modeling?

While I was at Gottex I started modeling and have continued for the past eight years.

How did you break into the modeling business so late in life?

It’s one of those things that just kept coming to me. When I lived in California, I was at a coffee shop in Mill Valley and I was scouted out by two women working on the Smith and Hawken catalogs. So, I modeled for a couple of their catalogs. A guy I was dating at the time said, ‘Susan, you can model full time.’ I said, ‘I’m too old to model. I’m 36 years old.’ Anyway, I went back to the East Coast, and was scouted again by a boutique advertising agency called Wieden and Kennedy who was working on a campaign for Avon. I ended up casting for it and getting the job. I was 38 at at the time, but still, I didn’t think anything of it.

When did you think of it as a viable career option?

Well, I continued working at Gottex and did some modeling on the side. Anyway, I met Julius Poole, casting director for the Avon shoot I did previously, coming home to New York. He had a connection at Ford Modeling Agency. So I went in with my Smith and Hawken catalogs because that’s all I had. And that was it… they gave me a contract and I started modeling professionally at 40.

What is the industry like for FOF models?

Being a model after forty is very different than being an eighteen-year-old model walking down the runways. Although, I have had the honor of doing runway shows even in my forties. I’ve also been cast as an urban professional for a Target campaign, which is exactly who I identify with. But, typically that’s not the case. They’re often casting women in the 40-plus market as anything from a mother to a grandmother. I remember once showing up to a shoot and the art director said to the hair stylist, “you need to make her look older.” I have silver hair, and in this society that means old, granny. My silver hair is my trademark. I haven’t colored my hair since I was 28.

You don’t do anything to enhance your hair?

No. I don’t use even use the special purple shampoo for silver hair.

What color was it when you were younger?

Honey brown with blond highlights from the sun.

What shampoo do you use?

I use hydrating shampoos by Rusk and Bumble and Bumble. I like shampoos that have a hydrating element to it to keep my hair a little more tame and less wiry.

What conditioner do you use?

Liquid Keratin Infusing Deep De-Frizz Conditioner. I use this product when I have a photo shoot or casting call because it leaves my hair soft, adds hydration and makes it easy for me to blow dry straight. It’s expensive, therefore I do not use it daily, but when I do, my hair reacts immediately. It contains keratin protein that helps keep hair strong and pliable.

Are there certain categories of products that they pigeonhole women models over 40 into?

Beauty campaigns are challenging to get when you are in the 40+ market since celebrities have sort of taken over that category. However, I have been fortunate enough to be in Robert Jones beauty book as well as Bobbi Brown’s beauty book.

Is modeling full time for you now? Or is there something else you are also working on?

In addition to modeling, for the past year and a half I’ve been shooting a series of lifestyle videos for a show concept I’m working on called Meet the Experts.

What are your favorite beauty products?

I use a gamut of makeup. Right now I’m using Bobbi Brown foundation but I’ve also used Laura Mercier, and MAC products. The Bobbi Brown foundation gives my face a dewy texture and perfectly matches my skin color. I keep it very simple because I’m allergic to a lot of products.

What is your favorite face cream?

For daytime I use a Ultimate Day Moisturizer by Kinerase. At night, I use Kinerase’s Ultimate Night Moisturizer. Under my eyes, I use Kiehl’s Cryste Marine Firming Eye Treatment.

How would you describe your style?

My style is extremely eclectic and I’m not afraid of being sexy. I wear things in good taste but I don’t mind if my arms or bra straps are showing. I also mix high and low range items, so maybe I’ll wear a Dolce & Gabbana top with a pair of non-designer leggings.

Is there anything you absolutely won’t wear?

I don’t like things that are too feminine. If I wear feminine prints they are often more abstract like a Cavalli print where flowers a re mixed with pearls so it’s a little less contrived.

Where do you shop?

Bergdorf Goodman in New York. I also like to shop when I travel to South Beach, Dallas or California. Melrose Avenue in California has some great stores.

Do you have a signature piece?

I have a lot of beautiful pareos from my career at Gottex. Sometimes I wear them as a shawl or on the beach. They last for years.

Do you have a favorite wine?

I like big, hearty, balanced red wines—Zinfandels, Cabernets and Malbecs.

Favorite restaurants?

I have a few. Nobu on 57th St. in Manhattan. The bar menu has great appetizers and interesting cocktails. I also like Cafe Cluny which has consistently good food. The entrees are not drowning in sauces so you can appreciate the natural flavor of the meat. Brasserie Beaumarchais has modern French cuisine and decadent desserts.

Do you have any passion projects or hobbies?

I am an avid cyclist. I try to ride about 100 miles per weekend. I also have a passion for cooking and entertaining and I love the arts. I just saw the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met which was wonderful and I belong to the NY SAG film society, so I see new movies almost every other week.

How do you rejuvenate?

Relaxing and watching TV. I hardly get a chance to watch TV, so it’s a treat. It makes me fall asleep.

Advice for women over 50?

We cannot chase beauty our entire lives. You can have your eyes done and a facelift and everything else and still not feel satisfied. At this age, it’s time to come to terms with the fact you are aging and may have flaws.

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