A 27-year-old from Seattle with a background in science, Jennae Quisenberry might not have been the likeliest of first-time models to land a Balenciaga exclusive – which only made her debut alongside Demna Gvasalia, the house’s new rule-breaking designer, all the more fitting.
“I was going to go to medical school and do that whole thing, but with the economy and getting laid off, it never came to fruition,” Quisenberry explained. She did, though, get a degree in Spanish and molecular biology, studying developmental neurology and mapping retina pathways before landing a stint in a malaria vaccine research lab.
“I pipetted, I killed a handful of mice,” she said, casually. “It was not a highlight of my life, really.”
So it was no matter, exactly, when they laid her off two months later. After all, science was always Quisenberry’s second choice – something she took up after she found her school’s vocal jazz program wasn’t up to standards. She's spent the five years since as the happy vocalist of a band called Erie, and while modeling will definitely disrupt their three-tours-a-year show schedule, it's hardly something she's planning on giving up soon.
“Everybody’s like, 'how are you going to do both?' but I don’t think I can not do both,” Quisenberry said. “I gotta make it work somehow.”
As it turns out, making it work is yet another thing Quisenberry is good at: She took up bartending to make ends meet while pursuing music, which is what she was doing when a modeling agent discovered her on Facebook two years ago. After plenty of smaller-scale work on the west coast, like a cover of Kinfolk, the Portland-based cult indie magazine, she gave in to their nagging to go to New York just this February, a city she’d only been to once before – to play a theater in Times Square.
In the end, though, Quisenberry couldn’t do much once there: She’d landed herself an exclusive slot with Balenciaga in Paris. So, after three weeks of castings, meetings, and test shoots, she headed home to Seattle for four days – even bartending for two of them. “I didn’t make any money, you know?” she said with a laugh. “I went in so I could cover my rent, and then I was like, off to Paris!”
Any nerves Quisenberry had about her debut were soon calmed when she got there: “Demna is so easy – he was just hanging out and super nice, no stress, no panic,” she said. Even the show day was “really peaceful”: “I remember there was a moment when Lotta [Volkova] walked by and was like, ‘I’m kind of bored!’” she said of Gvasalia’s stylist and muse.
As a musician, though, Quisenberry’s favorite part was the show’s sound-proof room, which made for great acoustics for the soundtrack – a DJ set by the show’s closing model, who goes by Clara 3000. “Her stuff was so good, and I’m getting really into bass drops,” she said with a laugh.
In one of Gvasalia’s structured suits, too, Quisenberry was definitely comfortable: “No matter how far back you put your shoulders it had that C shape, and Demna was like, ‘Just lean into it, that’s the whole point,’” she remembered, calling the construction “just brilliant.” (As for his all-white casting, Quisenberry said she didn’t really notice until she saw the boards, “and I was like hmm, I just feel lucky to be a part of [them].”)
Now back in the U.S., and signed with D1 Management, Quisenberry is planning to move from Seattle to New York soon with her boyfriend, who’s also her bandmate. In the meantime, there’ll be more campaigns, editorials, tours – she's planning to squeeze them into the "dead month" of August – and eventually, fashion week.
“It’ll be nice to actually work more,” she said of September, before adding dryly, “though obviously, there’s always the option of exclusives.”