By Lauren Terrill | June 20, 2011 | People
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Plucked From Obscurity By Mario Testino
A decade ago Marisa Miller was traveling the West Coast with her family, following the beach volleyball circuit because her dad was a big fan of the sport. While she was surfing with some friends, a man with a camera approached and asked Miller if he could snap a few shots, telling her, “This is going to change your life.” That man was legendary fashion photographer Mario Testino.
“I had no idea who he was, no clue what he was talking about,” she laughs. The photos made the rounds of Testino’s industry connections, and it wasn’t long before Miller was set up with a modeling agency in New York. “I was so fortunate to start with someone like him,” she says, “because the doors just got opened by association.”
Only a year later, in 2002, Miller made her first appearance in Sports Illustrated’s celebrated Swimsuit Edition. “I didn’t have an awareness of the fashion industry or the high-fashion magazines,” she says. “But Sports Illustrated had been in my house growing up—I definitely had an awareness of what it was and how iconic the women in those issues were.”
Miller appeared in the Swimsuit Edition for each of the following six years, scoring a solo cover in 2008. “When I was in Italian Vogue, I had to tell my parents what a big deal that was,” Miller says. “But to be in Sports Illustrated, I didn’t have to say anything—they knew how big that was.”
Miller clearly has a knack for landing high-profile, fiercely competitive gigs—she next garnered a spot as a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2008. “Working for those two companies [Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret], that’s how you become a household name, which is always the leap you’re trying to make as a model—for people to be able to put a name to your face,” she says. With two of the most coveted jobs in the industry on her résumé, there’s no doubt that Miller has more than reached that point.
That’s not to say that living as an international sex symbol came easy to her. “It’s not really in my personality to be the center of attention, so that’s something I’ve had to learn to grow comfortable with,” she admits. Unexpected words from a supermodel, but then again, Miller doesn’t exude fame and fortune. “Any of my friends from home would tell you that I’m the same person they knew growing up,” she insists. “It’s really important to surround yourself with people who bring you down to earth and who are genuine and real.”
Miller is quick to recall her laid-back childhood in Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California, where she says she was “pretty removed from the entertainment industry.” Always athletic, she has been surfing for decades and never planned to stray far from the area (she currently lives in Los Angeles). But when her career took off, she was excited to see the world, if only temporarily. “In the beginning,” she says, “the best part was traveling and seeing other cultures and different ways of life.” Now married, in her early 30s and well-established as a model, Miller enjoys projects she can get genuinely excited about, tapping into different things she loves. “Being able to show my athletic side within the job is really fun.”
Poster (and Commercial) Child
Recent collaborations have allowed her to do just that. Last fall, Miller signed on as Captain Morgan’s First Mate, a spokesmodel role for which she filmed an energetic, actionpacked video complete with dramatic sword fighting (visit marisamiller.com to view). She has also been working with Harley Davidson on its ad campaigns and military appreciation month each November—and it involves more than sitting pretty. Miller got her motorcycle license about two years ago, when she was initially signing on to work with the company, and she has been riding one ever since. “I think the term ‘biker chick’ comes with some stereotypes,” she laughs, “but that’s one of the things I really like about working with Harley—we are breaking down stereotypes of what and who a biker is.”
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Though her Harley campaigns have no doubt stirred up their fair share of male appreciation, Miller likes the idea of opening up the world of motorcycles to more women, just as it was revealed to her. When she took her licensing course through a local Harley Davidson dealership, her instructor was a woman. “You know, I’m like 110 pounds. I’m small. You’d think you would need to be physically strong [to ride], but I would see these videos of women who were smaller than me, riding the same bikes that my dad rides,” she says. “I was blown away. It’s really all about technique.” And as her biker status becomes more widely known, so does her mentorship of curious female fans. “I get all of these girls telling me that their closet secret is to ride, but they don’t know how to [start]. It’s been really cool sharing my story that way,” she says.
And while she is a model first and foremost, she hasn’t ruled out acting: “The funny thing is, after I started doing the more physical stuff, I started to get a lot of phone calls and inquiries for films,” she says. “The types of calls I’m getting are pretty exciting, so I definitely want to explore the options out there. With the right project, it would be really fun.”
Next up for Miller is a collaboration with Santa Cruz-based company Surftech to launch a line of stand-up paddleboards specifically designed for women. She is also delving further into the realm of social media—she’s maintained a Facebook page (facebook.com/themarisamiller) and a blog (marisamiller.com/blog) for some time, and she just joined Twitter (@marisamiller) while at the Kentucky Derby in May. “I like communicating with fans; [Twitter is] a really good tool to connect with them.” Her fans responded immediately—Miller garnered over 20,000 followers in three days. “When Cindy Crawford followed me, I froze,” she gushes. “I’ve always looked up to her, so obviously I followed her right back!”
It’s a glamorous life, socializing with fellow celebrities and being a role model to thousands. But when she’s not “going all out,” playing with fashion on the red carpet, Miller maintains her day-to-day “uniform” of jeans and T-shirt. If she weren’t modeling, she might be working at a bakery: “I love to cook. I’m always trying new recipes,” she says. She listens to rock ’n’ roll (“except when I’m boxing, then it’s hard-core rap”) and describes herself as “genuine, sensitive, stubborn and happy.”
After going from model, to supermodel, to household name and headliner, the latter seems particularly fitting.
Photographs by Warwick Saint; Styling by Kemal Harris at The Wall Group; Hair by Marcelino using Moroccanoil at L’Atelier NYC; Makeup by Robert Greene at See Management for MAC Pro; Manicure by Myrdith Leon-McCormack using M2mdamorejon at Factory Downtown