On a Thursday afternoon in July, I sat down with our favorite model and interior designer extraordinaire Whitney Brown to discuss herself, her life, and her decade-long relationship with XCVI.
Whitney’s look is fresh, approachable, and very girl-next-door. At 5’10 she commands a room with a friendly accessibility. Shoulder-length sandy waves frame her smiley face and green eyes. Talkative, intelligent, funny, and thoughtful, she has both the inviting air of a friend you’d grab coffee with and a stunning, classic catwalk magnitude all the same. Whitney began modeling when she was just fifteen in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
From an early age, shares Whitney, “I was convinced I was going to be a model. I remember feeling that modeling encompassed everything I love; photography, fashion, movement…I thought ‘this is what I want to do. I mean, I really really wanted it. I loved every aspect of it.”
Creative expression ran in the family and Whitney would often doll up her sister and create a set to photograph her in. “My mom was an art teacher and I was always getting dressed up, dressing my sister up in clothes and makeup and taking pictures of her…we joke that I tortured her. I’d tell her how to pose and we’d say ‘poor Kendall!’”
With her ever-growing interest in fashion, photography, and posing, Whitney’s family soon found a modeling agency near home. At fifteen, she entered a local modeling competition, beating even a locally-known model and many contestants. “I won first place with clear braces,” she laughs, “wearing my Express pants and my clogs!”
Whitney soon began taking classes with her agency and honing her love for the craft of modeling. “My eyes completely opened to a whole world of people being themselves and making art,” she states. “The confidence gained was priceless.” She smiles, recalling her agent’s love of the singer George Michael and how hearing “Fast Loves” instantly takes her back to those runway classes.
Still, despite her budding modeling career and newfound confidence, Whitney struggled with feeling outcast among her school’s social circles, as many teenagers do. “I remember thinking ‘I don’t feel like I fit in…I was on the outskirts of the popular crowd” explains Whitney. “But with modeling I was like, ‘oh these people are my clique!’ It was my coming of age.”
Modeling granted Whitney the freedom to be who she wanted, and to explore who she might become without judgment. She was able to work with fellow creators and artists, cultivating her innate talent and learned skills in exciting new ways. “I was lucky and I worked really hard,” says Whitney. This combination–of steadfast commitment and a pinch of serendipity here and there–provided the young model with everything she needed to succeed. “I was willing to do whatever it took.”
We talk about how many different body types and looks show up in modeling today. “I love how much the industry is changing now,” she says, “but back then it was all about Gisele, Carolyn Murphy–that androgynous ‘heroin chic’.” As a model in the 90s and early 2000s, a very specific look was in fashion, and many models struggled to fit into the tiny box the industry created for them.
After leaving Louisville, Whitney signed with IMG Models and went through many changes in the face of an increasingly demanding industry. At one point, she even changed her name. “A lot of models do,” she tells me. Many models were willing to do whatever it took, and among them, Whitney faced rejection, fierce competition, and an ever-changing standard for what she should look and act like. Nevertheless, her strong conscience, confidence, and persistence allowed her to break into the business with a breadth of experience. Later on, signing with Wilhelmina in Miami finally brought Whitney a consistent understanding of what she brought to the table as a model.
“Wilhelmina harnessed who I was,” she shares. “They said ‘you’re not that high-fashion girl…you’re the girl next door; smiley and friendly…the Macy’s Girl’.”
By honing in on her niche, Whitney was able to get really booked and busy. For years, she was the brand Theory’s top fit model and showroom girl. “If you’re willing to do showroom,” she explains, “that’s your bread and butter as a model.” She says that her willingness to put in the work allowed her the most freedom. “I was freelance so I got to go on vacation and live a pretty carefree life. I feel blessed and lucky. I was doing something I was good at and enjoyed.”
Whitney created her dream life through modeling, without letting it take over her entire life. She was willing to take the “unglamorous” jobs and utilize her skills and talents to ensure that she got the most out of her career. Rather than chasing the unattainable, she took time to understand who she was as a person and how that translated to her modeling, in turn cementing herself as a go-to hire for many different brands.
Whitney recalls returning to Los Angeles in 2017 and attending a casting for XCVI, where they remembered her from nearly a decade prior. She remembers bonding with our founder, Gita, because Whitney’s grandmother held a shared German heritage and namesake that also ran in Gita’s family. “When I’m on a shoot I always try to look at it from the brand’s perspective” explains Whitney, “but when I started shooting ecomm with XCVI again, everyone was just so chill and easy to get along with…It feels like family every time.”
Whitney has worn many hats throughout the years, including photographer, model, lingerie brand owner, and more recently, interior designer and mother. “Lingerie was a great learning experience. I learned that maybe I don’t want to be my own boss.”
In 2017, Whitney and her husband left New York after deciding that they would rather raise their future children in Los Angeles. The couple began refurbishing spaces to rent out as Air BnBs, reaching out to hundreds of brands in hopes of exchanging furnishings for client outreach, product photography, and social sharing.
“My husband always says it’s a numbers game” shares Whitney. “If you reach out to twenty-five brands they’ll probably all say no, but if you reach out to fifty one will say yes.” Her husband’s business sense perfectly complemented her own creative abilities. “I realized I was good at reconfiguring spaces. My friends always asked ‘can you come help me’ and I also liked doing it for myself.”
Together, the two developed their interest in interior design, and with his knack for business and her extensive aesthetic knowledge, the business soon thrived. “I’m happier now,” shares Whitney. “It [interior design] goes back to what I was doing with my sister. It’s always been a calling.”
As a mother, Whitney now turns to both modeling and interior design for work, self-expression, and passion projects. Her many interests have converged swimmingly at this point in her life, and she’s proud of where she is now.
“I’ve lived so much,” she states, smiling. “I’ve done a lot.”
Still, Whitney isn’t done chasing her dreams and leaving her mark on the world. “My main goal, she explains, “is to really do something that’s going to leave the world a better place. If we’re not giving to the planet and to future generations, then what are we doing?” The question is ripe fruit for thought. It’s true that we’re often so busy chasing our goals that we don’t think about what comes after we’ve reached the summit. How do we give back?
How do we make our time really count?
For Whitney, the unpaved path is bright as can be. “I plan to move to Ojai,” she shares. “I would love to start an animal rescue. When people don’t like animals,” she laughs, “I’m really turned off.” Currently, she volunteers for the California Wildlife Center, donating her time to assisting with animal care and maintenance.
Among her many interests and passions, certain loves of Whitney’s rank higher. “Animals, nature, helping somebody, maybe someday getting involved in politics or working for someone who is running for what I believe in…I want to give back. I’ve been so lucky and I owe it to others.”
Whitney recalls fellow creatives inspiring and motivating her from a young age, along with the friends, family, and many business relationships that supported her along the way. Her love of other people–and animals–has become perhaps her greatest driving force. Beyond improving herself and achieving her own goals, Whitney’s respect for others, their crafts, and their lives has moved her to where she is today. Modeling encompasses only a fraction of all that she is and does. She has always nurtured her relationships with humility and intention, lending humanity and personality to an infamously difficult industry.
Whitney’s zest for life is clear as day in the smile she shares on camera and in pictures. Her diverse experiences, vibrant creative energy, and friendly yet bold charisma make her such a joy to spend time with and photograph for XCVI as the years go by.