Friday 24 November 2017

Irish model January Russell Winters talks soup diets, hip measurements and running

January Russell Winters recalls with a laugh one of her many seasons modelling abroad

Model January Russell Winters
Model January Russell Winters
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

‘The agency told us just eat soup. I was like, and?”

January Russell Winters, a beautiful red head, is one of Ireland’s top models.

She’s not a personality model, known as much for who she is as the work she does, but she’s one of the few who is busy enough to not resort to a second, part-time job.

In fact, she boasts an enviable career that includes shows, editorials, commercial work and e-commerce, both in Dublin and internationally.

She has previously featured in an Armani campaign, and most recently she was the girl in An Post’s Christmas commercial and will star in the new Tourism Ireland ad.

As well as Dublin, she has worked in Paris, Milan, London, Istanbul and Madrid.

Of course, her modest personal profile might all change with the recent launch of her new blog,, although she’s not preparing to launch herself as a lifestyle guru, but rather says with a deprecating smile: “It’s casual and a bit of fun.”

“I was a bit nervous about it,” she says of the venture. “I’m not a writer or anything. This is much more personal than modelling. People can see how you’re thinking. At the beginning I was worried about just coming across as really stupid.”

In fact, January comes across as anything but.

Luckily for her, she has the perfect temperament for the oftentimes brutal world of international modelling.

She is quick to laugh, and seems in possession of a combination of quiet confidence and not taking oneself too seriously that is ideally suited to a work environment that would challenge the hardiest of self esteems.

“Paris is the absolute worst,” she says now with a shudder.

Having studied fashion design in Ireland, she won a scholarship to a college in Paris but couldn’t afford to study there, so instead spent a season in the French capital in her early twenties.

“I really wanted to live in Paris, but when I got there I just hated it.

They were at me about my weight the whole time,” she recalls.

“Measuring us every second day. At the time I was going for the shows, which is like a different breed of girls. They’re the tiny, tiny girls.”

Running as a form of exercise was frowned upon, as it would build muscle which could look bulky.

January managed to get down to the measurements they required — a hip width of 87cm — but after nearly three months she’d had enough.

“I was miserable the whole time I was there. I came back and I was really disheartened.”

Growing up, she had always wanted to be a model. “I always just thought all girls wanted to be models,” she bursts out laughing. “Be a princess or a model. My dad tried to help me out,” she continues in amusement, recalling her ambitious 12-year-old self.

“It’s so embarrassing. We went around the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre taking pictures. There was a Storm Models scout over and we sent the pictures in. I didn’t get anywhere.” She was finally signed to her current agency, Morgan the Agency, at 19.

“I went to so many agencies in Ireland, and they all said no, I think Rebecca [Morgan] must have seen something. My desperation,” she recalls with another gale of laughter.

By the bus ride home she was receiving texts about bookings with some of Ireland’s top photographers.

Since then, she has worked all over the world. “I only ever do trips for a couple of months. I have a boyfriend here. He’s Irish, he’s a photographer, Daire Legaspi.”

She laughs at the cliché of a model dating a photographer. They met through friends and have been together for three years. “In London, it depends what market you’re going for.

Sometimes they’re looking for 16-year-old girls with teeny, tiny hips. It’s so hard to compete with that. I didn’t really have too many problems with my weight over there. It was just a lot of time to be spending on your own, six castings a day.”

Model apartments can be as tough as their reputation would have you believe, she says of the accommodation agencies provide for foreign models. 

“Some apartments I’ve been in have been pretty awful. I was in one apartment where there was like six girls that spoke the same language. Not English,” which they could speak, but chose not to, she explains. “I spent five weeks in my own head having conversations.”

There’s a grounded quality to January that suggests none of the vagaries of her profession bother her that much. She paints a picture of a somewhat hippy-ish upbringing as the third of six children.

Her father was in the 1970s punk band The Swell Mob, which is how her parents, originally from Birmingham, met. The name January was meant for their first child, born in that month, but as he was a boy, it was kept until a girl finally arrived.

She and her father share a love of working out, and when at home she goes several times a week, “mainly for the steam room, if I’m honest,” but she doesn’t seem remotely phased by the dietary issues models often face, waxing lyrical about the food in Italy.

“This time when I arrived they told me not to lose any more weight,” she says of her most recent trip to Milan. “Because I’m going for more commercial work now they want me to be more kind of approachable and fit looking.”

This is because she’s deemed to be getting old, she explains, smiling in acknowledgement of an industry that considers a 26-year-old to be getting on. Like everything, though, she seems unfazed.

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