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Off The Record: Meet Jourdan Dunn

Off The Record: Meet Jourdan Dunn

Get your modern supermodel fix as we hit reset and chat lockdown lessons, weird habits and couture with Jourdan Dunn.

Jourdan Dunn sits on a white leather sofa in head-to-toe Prada, bright lights and lenses trained on her. There’s nothing unusual about the scene for this seasoned supermodel – except that stylist Shaquille Williams, her makeup artist and manager are all wearing masks, and the crew are standing two metres apart.

In our pandemic present, this is normal. Did the London-born model take time to pause and reset during our enforced isolation? Short answer: yes. “I definitely used the time. I saw it as a blessing to be able to pause and be still. I really focused on self-awareness . . . thinking about being aware of me and my self-worth. I actually, during this time, learnt the true meaning of self-love.”

Jourdan Dunn wears Moncler jacket
Jourdan Dunn wears Moncler jacket

Now dripping in Balmain, Saint Laurent and Off-White, the irony is that, as a kid, she never had much interest in designer gear. “I wouldn’t say I was big on fashion, but I always wanted to look nice . . . I didn’t know anything about trends or styles.” Like most teenage girls in the noughties, kudos from her crew meant more to her than labels.

Except that Dunn’s 14-year career is beyond the wildest dreams of most teenage girls. Her origin story is the stuff of fashion legend. Scouted at 15 in Hammersmith Primark, she shot to fame in 2007 and has been gracing covers and catwalks ever since.

At an age when the majority of us are contending only with curfews and who-snogged-who behind the bins at school, Dunn found herself plunged into a world of transatlantic flights, castings and backstage drama. She didn’t choose the fashion life; the fashion life chose her.

Jourdan Dunn wears Prada Nylon Mini Dress
Jourdan Dunn wears Prada Nylon Mini Dress


From the outside, it sounds like a dream come true, but the realities of working life as a model posed challenges for the teenage Dunn. “I had to grow up real, real quick, travelling by myself. I just saw it as a bit of a burden growing up. Being around adults and being away from my friends.”

When fashion felt like a chore, Dunn found inspiration in music. She grew up “a heavy hip-hop fan” and spent her teens watching “people like Missy and Busta and Jay Z and Diddy, and seeing their influence on fashion, how they were fully involved and shaped the industry.” She cites Aaliyah and 2Pac as her biggest style icons, highlighting the role of Black artists as some of the biggest tastemakers of the last four decades. “Black music has heavily influenced fashion, you can see it, from the ‘80s til now.”

The respect Dunn has for her music heroes is clearly mutual. Beyoncé, Drake and Jessie J have all tapped her for their videos. She’s living proof of the synergy between music and fashion – that the look is as much a part of the package as the sound.

Jourdan Dunn wears Saint Laurent pink blazer, leather trousers, heels and bag
Jourdan Dunn wears Saint Laurent pink blazer, leather trousers, heels and bag


In reality, music videos are just a footnote on Dunn’s CV. The Vogue, Elle and i-D cover-star has walked for Prada, Burberry, Fendi and countless more. In 2009 she stormed the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier in that custom couture pregnancy corset. But despite this list of ultra-glam accolades and culture-defining moments, you get the sense she’d rather be goofing around in her kitchen cooking ackee and salt fish with her son (give her Dunn’s Kitchen series on Instagram a viewing if you haven’t already), than rubbing shoulders (remember that?) with the fashion elite.

It was never the thrill of fame that drew Dunn to the scene. It was, she says with a giggle, money. “My first big cheque was like five grand, and I was 15 years old, and I thought I was rich. I was like ‘yo, I got money!’ It wasn’t even about people knowing who I was, I just wanted to make money.”

In spite of the cheques rolling in (she’s the first Black British model to make the Forbes model rich list), when lockdown struck, and with time to reflect, she found herself questioning her purpose.

Jourdan Dunn wears Off-White matching knit and cardigan with white shirt
Jourdan Dunn wears Off-White matching knit and cardigan with white shirt


Behind the glamorous fashion façade and enviable IG feed, she confesses that she has always struggled to acknowledge her success. Even models aren’t immune to imposter syndrome. She tells us with a grim laugh that, at one point during lockdown, she considered early retirement. Dunn was, in her own words, done. “When I got to that point, I realised that I actually need to just pause and quiet my mind.”

She put the work in and is now in a better place. “I’m learning to actually celebrate myself . . . Everything I’ve done, walking for Prada, my Vogue covers, all of those milestones I now can be like, yeh I did that, and no one can’t take that away from me . . . They’re big moments, and I’m proud of myself for them, for sure.”

Back with renewed motivation and a fierce sense of self, Dunn is on a mission. In an industry infamous for pitting models against each other, she’s determined to use her voice to champion her peers and other young Black models coming up through the ranks. “What I’m seeing, which is so beautiful – girls are really supporting each other, and it’s so refreshing . . . This is not easy, but it makes it easier when we support each other.” She says, “because if I’m winning, why can’t everybody else win?”

Jourdan Dunn wearing Balmain black coat and carrying Balmain B Bag
Jourdan Dunn wearing Balmain black coat and carrying Balmain B Bag

Fashion is an industry with many sides, but ultimately, it’s about having fun. Dunn loved to dress up as a kid. Now, she gets paid to do it. In anyone’s book, that’s winning. What’s the best thing about her job? “Coming onto set, and becoming, bringing a story to life. Seeing the storyboard, and then sitting in hair and makeup and going through the looks, and then being in wardrobe. Then getting on set and bringing that character to life and bringing that story to life.” 

A frontwoman for Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain army, alongside fellow fashion heavyweights Bella Hadid and Cara Delevigne, Dunn is no stranger to bringing fantasies to life. Now, she’s looking beyond the allied worlds of music and fashion to acting and has taken up classes online. “It’s just been a new challenge which I needed for myself, to push myself and come out of my comfort zone.” While this autumn sees her star, as a version of herself, in E4’s new comedy series Maxxx.

Aside from supporting her fellow models and pursuing a life-long dream to act, what does the future hold for Dunn? Love is in the air. She’s planning her wedding and looking forward to a silk PJ-clad Christmas with her family. “I’m ready to close this chapter, look back and be like ‘I’ve learned a lot, and can see the blessings in the mess, for sure.’ But I’m ready for celebrations.

Alongside a clothes rail packed with Prada, Saint Laurent, Off-White and Balmain, we hit play on Dunn’s unfiltered story of nip-slips, lockdown survival, and Wray and nephew on a Sunday morning.




QUICKFIRE ROUND:

How would your friends describe you?

Kind, funny and a foodie.

What makes you happy?

My son.

What’s your signature dish?

I would say, a prawn curry. But the other day, I made a banging lobster linguine, everyone was rating it. 

Favourite show you ever walked?

It’s gunna have to be the Jean Paul Gaultier show when I was 8 months pregnant. 

Worst fashion trend you’ve ever attempted?

I don’t think it was bad, but my agency at the time was like ‘what the hell is this?’ I had these like long, yellow, thigh Converse boots. I thought I looked sick, but they thought I looked crazy. 

The thing you missed most in lockdown?

My friends. Girl time! Girl time is so important. I can’t wait to go on a girls’ trip.

Your guiltiest pleasure?

Having Wray and nephew and orange juice on a Sunday morning, but I don’t think that’s guilty, I think that’s just pure bliss, and everyone needs to get into that. I don’t really have any guilty pleasures. 

Your weirdest habit?

I just like to poke things, like food. Like you see in the supermarket, I think it’s from when I was younger, and I just used to have to like, yeh.

Your worst wardrobe malfunction?

Probably anytime that a titty is showing. I don’t mind a titty showing, but my mum does, she’s always saying ‘Jourdan, why is those tits of yours always out?’ And my son probably always has something to say.

 

Photography: Christina Ebenezer, Interview: Florence Trott, Fashion: Shaquille R Williams, Fashion Assistant: Gemma Baguley, Hair: Issac Poleon, Makeup: Alex Babsky, Art Direction: Gini May, Set Design: Bryony Edwards, Production: Carley Bishop