Life’s been swell for Talea Lischetzki, the surfer girl turned high-fashion model, who’s spent recent days walking the runway for Chanel and Marc Jacobs, and posing for Vogue.
Talea Lischetzki wasn’t thinking about a modeling career the day she was discovered at the Mauna Lani Foodland on the Big Island back in 2010. She was just a regular girl anticipating her next surf session or making dinner plans with her mom, a resort worker in the Mauna Lani area where they live. That auspicious day at Foodland, designer Manaola Yap approached Lischetzki and asked her to be in his show at Honolulu Fashion Week. He recognized her potential from across the room.
“It was so exhilarating, my first show,” she recalls. “I loved having a moment in the spotlight. It was addicting. I dabbled in shows here and there after that. But I wanted to finish high school and go to college.”
Lischetzki attended Pepperdine University in Southern California on a partial scholarship, graduating with a degree in public relations in 2016. She continued to dip her toe in modeling, never dreaming she would soon be thrust into the heart of the international high-fashion scene — walking the runway in Paris and New York for Chanel and Marc Jacobs, also appearing in Vogue and on billboards in Manhattan, all the while working with some of the world’s top fashion photographers.
As exciting and improbable as her sudden rise in the fashion industry was, for Lischetzki, the whirlwind of the last year was also a double-edged sword. The local woman who loves to surf was feeling like a fish out of water in an industry that is also plagued with a toxic subculture that can lead to self-doubt, alienation and body shaming. Akin to walking the catwalk in stilettos, finding a healthy balance in the fast-paced world of international modeling is a constant struggle.
“Living in New York felt like living on Mars,” she admits. “It’s the opposite of where I am from. Right now, I’m in the process of figuring out how to have this career without sacrificing my mental health and well-being.”
Lischetzki inherited her exotic looks from her parents — her mother is German, Czech and Polish, and her father is African American. They met in Germany when her father was in the military.
Although her father was from Texas, her parents wanted to move to a place where ethnic diversity is the norm. They chose the Big Island as their home when Lischetzki was 4.
“All of my friends growing up were different ethnicities — Pacific Islanders, Japanese, Filipino,” she says. “They were always very proud of their ethnic heritage. I grew up in such a welcoming place. I carry that with me to this day. That being said, I didn’t really fit in because I was so tall, very thin and awkward. From third grade on, I had a bit of a hard time. I’d get made fun of for my height.
Kids can be cruel no matter where you live.”
At 5-foot-11, Lischetzki, 24, says she started dreaming about becoming a model when she was around 12 or 13. She would watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on TV, practicing runway moves in her room. She admired supermodels of the ’90s, like Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, the queen of the catwalk.
“I wanted to be a model because I saw people who looked like me who were being celebrated for being tall and actually considered beautiful,” she says. “I thought modeling would be a way for me to find where I belong.”
Lischetzki’s career took off like a rocket when a major UK magazine, Love, was looking for their next new cover star. Of the thousands of submissions via Instagram, she was chosen as a finalist. Before Lischetzki knew it, she was in London shooting with the famed Mert & Marcus photography duo for the fall/winter 2018 cover, which jump-started her career into overdrive.
She moved to New York, where her agency suggested she shave her head because they believed it would propel her career into high fashion. They were right. Almost immediately, she was walking the runway at New York Fashion Week for Marc Jacobs’ spring/summer 2019 collection.
“I was in the Marc Jacobs show, the biggest show of New York Fashion Week,” she says. “He was really nice, and it’s an experience I’ll always remember. This was my first show. I remember looking around the room and seeing all the top models. I couldn’t believe it. I was with (stylist) Katie Grand and (casting director) Anita Bitton. I did the Marc Jacobs campaign for the revival of his iconic Grunge line. My face was on billboards all around the city, and in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.”
Soon thereafter, Lischetzki went to Paris to do the Chanel show, the most prestigious show of Paris Fashion Week. Held at the Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées, the esteemed event was one of Karl Lagerfeld’s last shows before he died in February.
“I got to meet Karl Lagerfeld, which was amazing,” she adds. “The venue was super beautiful.
It is every model’s dream to do Fashion Week in Paris.”
Back in New York, Lischetzki was feeling unsettled even though she was doing editorial shoots and her career continued to move forward. As exciting as the last six months had been, the dark side of the industry had already revealed itself, causing her much anxiety. Not only was the pace demanding and the expectations high, but her skin color was suddenly in doubt and her sense of belonging was being challenged.
“Being biracial, I’m light-skinned and tan easily,” she says. “Some in the industry didn’t want me getting tan. They didn’t want me too dark. So if you’re in between, it’s kind of tough.”
Lischetzki appreciates the support she continues to receive from her management team, NOMAD, which she’s been with since 2015 after meeting them in Honolulu.
“They are such a great team of people, and one of the owners is from Hawai‘i. They want to find where I belong in the industry where I can just be myself. I am built strong and tan, and I love the sun. We are having open conversations as to where I could go next. Victoria’s Secret would be a dream, but only as myself: tan and healthy and strong and athletic and beautiful from the inside out.”
Right now, Lischetzki has returned to the Big Island for some much-needed R&R after six weeks in London doing test shoots to update her portfolio. For this graduate of Kealakehe High School, her place in the sun is at Mauna Lani, where she rides her 6-foot-8 single-fin surfboard at Peaks or Pānī‘au, as well as Ritz Right, Kohala Lighthouse, Waipi‘o Valley and Pine Trees in Kona.
“I bought a one-way ticket to Hawai‘i for now, and surfing is definitely on the agenda,” she says. “Taking a step back is very scary because you don’t want to lose the momentum, but finding the right balance in my career is the most important consideration.”