Penny Pickard on her remarkable modeling career

Penny Pickard

Model Penny Pickard in Remix magazine 2016 (left). Image by Olivia Hemus. Penny on the NZ Fashion Week runway for Huffer in 2016 (right). Image by James Yang.

Model Penny Pickard has been a recognisable face in New Zealand for over twenty years. She was first discovered as a 14 year old teenager in late 1993 while out shopping with her sister by Glenn Hunt from Pavement magazine. She featured on the cover of Pavement in January 1994 and her star rose quickly with stints modelling in New York and Europe in her teens and early twenties.

Nearly 25 years on, she’s modeled for most of NZ’s leading fashion brands and has graced the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week more times than we can count. The shy ingenue Penny has grown into an elegant and articulate woman known for her professionalism as well as her beauty.

We caught up with Penny to find out more about her impressive modeling career, how fashion and modeling have evolved and what she’s excited about for the future.

FashioNZ turns 20 in August and it is 25 years this year since you were first discovered as a model, are you planning on marking the career milestone?
Thank you so much for acknowledging that. I actually hadn’t thought about it! When I hit the 20 year mark my friend Ngahuia acknowledged it by posting loads of throwback pictures on social media. Maybe I’ll just make my boyfriend take me out for dinner haha.

Your career took off very quickly as a young model and saw you modelling in New York and Milan etc. What can you remember of the experience and what would you have chosen as a career had you not become a model?
That whole time feels like another lifetime and is a bit of a blur to be honest. I remember being on lots of planes, going to millions of castings and go sees, and being really homesick, but also having lots of fun. If I hadn’t been modelling at that time I don’t know what I would have done. I left school at 15 to work as a model and didn’t go back to academic study until I was 28 to get a Bachelor of Arts degree at Auckland uni.

The world has changed a lot since the 90s, set the scene for us, what were you wearing/listening to/reading in 1998?
Ah, the 90’s! In 1998 I was wearing steel toe Doc Marten boots, Zambesi, and second hand clothes found in Papakura hospice shops and K Road, and no makeup. I was listening to Hole, Bob Dylan and was totally obsessed with David Bowie. Around 17-18 I was just starting to get interested in literature so was probably reading loads of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and Hermann Hesse – all of that subversive counter cultural stuff that teenagers love.

Penny Pickard

Penny Pickard on the cover of Pavement in 1995 (left) and Dolly in 1997 (right).

Over your career you’ve had a great deal of success and have become a recognisable face in NZ but how do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
I don’t think there is any objective standard for success. I think it’s totally subjective and you have to define it for yourself. My personal definition of success is engaging in life-long learning and self-development, and it’s not necessarily tied to external achievements or anything you can measure materially. Having said that, the women I look up to professionally are models like Beri Smither and Amber Valletta who are still modelling well into their 40’s and just working really hard and still looking AMAZING.

Conversely, how do you deal with failure and what have been some of the challenges of being a working model?
I think one of the challenges of being a working model – if you have defined yourself as a model as I did for so long – is working less as you get older. That has felt challenging for me, but it has also been an opportunity to soften and dissolve my ego, as well as expand how I define myself. Now I just feel so grateful to still be modelling at this stage of my life.

What has been the most disruptive change in fashion and modelling since you started your career and how have you evolved to manage it?
I think the biggest change is obviously the advent of social media and our age of instant information and gratification. I still remember when models would take Polaroids from photo shoots and glue them into the back page of their portfolio so we could show clients what we had been working on. Some of those shoots and campaigns wouldn’t come out until months later. Everything being online has pretty much quadrupled everyone’s work load on a photo shoot now – like front back and sides of each look, plus video footage for websites. I don’t know if I have evolved to be honest – I still don’t have a personal Instagram account which is probably tantamount to career suicide at this point. The other thing that has changed is just me getting older. I’m not 18 anymore so I have to really trust that a photographer has the technical expertise to light my face well.

The representation of women in modelling and in the media has been slowly changing over recent years to be more diverse and accepting. How do you feel about it and what has it meant to you?
I think the new trend for diversity in how women are represented is wonderful. Probably the best thing about social media is the body positivity movement. I love the marketing of brands like Lonely – it kind of reminds me of that whole idea of imperfect beauty which was inherent in grunge in the 90’s – models like Annie Morton and Kate Moss represented that so well. For me personally, hopefully it means that I can still be modelling in my 50’s and 60’s and 70’s!

Penny Pickard featuring in Fashion Quarterly in 2012. Image by Steven Chee. Penny in a Stolen Girlfriends Club campaign in 2011. Image by Derek Henderson. 

New Zealand Fashion Week is coming up soon, what is the experience like for you and how has it changed over your career?
I think that NZFW just keeps getting better. It looks so international now.

What is your favourite thing about fashion weeks and what moments stand out as highlights?
I love the excitement and buzz before a show. I especially love doing Kate Sylvester and Zambesi shows – they always feel like such a celebration.

Out of the many campaigns you’ve worked on, which ones stick in your mind as favourites and why?
I loved a campaign I did for Zambesi – I can’t remember which year or season… Greg Murrell from Ryder salon used lots of hair pieces and for some reason it reminded me of the 60’s and Andy Warhol’s factory. I really loved how it turned out.

What is the best piece of advice you received early on that you keep referring back to?
I am naturally quite an introverted person so being thrown into the deep end of modelling at 14 years of age was really overwhelming and required me to project a level of professionalism and confidence which I simply didn’t have. Advice to simply be where you are and enjoy the opportunities presented to you has held me in good stead. I remember blowing it at a go see in New York because I was in a bad mood and a casting agent reminded me how lucky I was to be in such a cool city with such amazing opportunities.

What is your advice for anyone who wants to become a model now?
Work on developing a strong sense of self-worth and don’t work for free. Balance that with gratitude and kindness. Enjoy.

Penny Pickard backstage at The Marr Factory for Zambesi. Image by Olivia Hemus.

How would you describe your personal style?
Low maintenance and slow. I like to buy investment pieces that I can imagine still wanting to wear in 10 years time.

Do you have a style rule you always obey?
Less is more.

Where can we find you when you’re not on the runway or in front of the camera?
By some magical alchemical process I have found myself working as a teacher in a Steiner kindergarten which in many ways is my dream job. When I’m not teaching or modelling I love spending time with my family and being with my boyfriend and our chihuahua.

Looking to the future, how far ahead do you plan and what makes you excited about the future?
I try to be more in the present moment rather than thinking about the future, but I do feel really optimistic and excited about the future. I just got back from a holiday in Turkey which has made me realise how many more places I still want to see, so I feel really excited about the prospect of lots more travelling in the future.

Thank you to Andrea Basile and the team at Unique Model Management for their help with this story.

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