Naima Mora: Sheer Elegance

It’s every girl’s dream come true - sashaying down the runway in designer clothes with cameras flashing and admirers screaming your name. That’s just the surface; there’s much more inside the world of being a top model.

Naima Mora’s unique style, breathtaking beauty and quiet ambition ultimately won her television’s most coveted title: “America’s Next Top Model.” The winner of Cycle 4 of the popular series has been making strides since her reality TV days ended less than one year ago. In addition to her role as a spokesmodel for Cover Girl Cosmetics, Naima is regularly working the runway and getting prime placements on magazine covers and fashion spreads. She plans to take over the stage and screen soon as well.

Behind the glitz and glamour of the modeling industry lies a down-to-earth natural beauty who appeals to skater boys and homeboys alike, and serves as an inspiration to young women across the country. At the Elle Girl and Ford Fusion’s Alice + Olivia fashion show on February 10 in New York, we learned more about Naima’s magic behind the makeup. Alternatives: So what’s life been like for you after America’s Next Top Model?

Naima: Well, now I’ve become a top model, the most meaningful thing is being a role model as well as a top model. That feels really good to be an inspiration. Life is crazy - I’m living like a celebrity, I guess, but I’m really happy.

AHHA: How is it being in the public eye after being on television - people seeing you wake up in the morning, your day-to-day habits? Do people think they know you?

Naima: I’m really popular, I don’t like to say I’m famous just yet. People think I’m really approachable, you know they’ll come up to me and hug me like, “Oh my God, Naima!” It’s funny, but it’s cool that I’m approachable and relatable to people.

AHHA: Tell us how Fashion Week 2006 has been for you. I know you’ve been all over the city. What have been some highlights?

Naima: I’m like sleepwalking right now! There were a few tent shows that I went to including Tracy Reese, Wunderkind, Heatherette, and Kimora’s release party for her book. I can’t wait to see that!

AHHA: What’s your favorite thing about Fashion Week?

Naima: The gift bags! No, I’m kidding, really. [laughs] I just love fashion and being able to sit down and see as opposed to being in it, it’s a lot different. I can see the artists or designers work collectively, rather than just a bunch of girls running around backstage. I like that the best, it’s truly inspirational. With someone like Tracy Reese, as a Black designer and a woman as well; that’s inspirational and the clothes are beautiful. Like the boys from Heatherette, it’s all about being free and living your life and it rings true in their work.

AHHA: Do you have any designing aspirations?

Naima: Me, designing? Wow. I used to cut and sew my clothes together when I was in high school. But no, I have too much respect for the artistry. I could start a clothing line with my name on it but I’m not gonna be the one designing it. I have too much appreciation for that. I think I’d rather support my acting abilities instead.

AHHA: I know you are of mixed heritage, and I’m sure people are always trying to guess what you are.

Naima: “You’re so exotic!”

AHHA: Exactly! How do you feel that helps or hinders you in the modeling industry?

Naima: Well sometimes when there’s a casting for a job, there’s a specific look that they want, blond hair, this tall, that short or brown hair - and sometimes I don’t fit into those categories. But at the same time, being a Cover Girl and being relatable to people, so many people, I think that’s the star of my career.

AHHA: How do you feel that Hip-Hop or music in general has inspired your personal style?

Naima: Well I’m a little bit more punky than anything so I do love punk rock. Not that I don’t love Hip-Hop, I do. But while I have on my Harley Davidson boots and my rolled up black beater, I’m listening to 50 Cent. [laughs]

AHHA: What would be your ideal fashion show theme music?

Naima: I would say Dvorak, classical music. I don’t think people are really noticing, I think so much more over that last year I’ve noticed how much more fashion is intellectually stimulating versus just pretty dresses going down the runway. It’s actually intellectually stimulating and I feel the same way about classical music, so I’d like to see them together more.

AHHA: Do you ever hang out with Tyra? Do you see her often?

Naima: Yeah, we’ve become good friends. She’s a role model of mine. If I need advice, I can call her and she’ll call me back, we talk a lot. It was really funny, one time Oprah had a black and white ball that I didn’t know she was going to be at. My grandmother who was one of the honorees, she was one of the legends that she was honoring, invited me and throughout this she’s like Oprah’s having us for this big weekend at her house. So I go with her and there’s this huge black and white ball and it was beautiful. But that was one event that I attended without knowing Tyra would be there.

AHHA: Who do you kick it with from the show?

Naima: Well, Bre and I did the Hot 97 show last week, and I got the call and I didn’t know she was gonna be there. Me and Jayla hang out a lot, Keenyah sometimes too. It’s fun, we have play dates.