“I’m definitely young, but sometimes I feel like I’m running out of time,” says 18-year-old Selah Marley with a sigh—but no trace of irony. In between classes like Mindfulness and Mysticism, and Bedtime Writing: The Literature of Sleep, at New York University, the college freshman has been blazing a path through the modeling industry. In the past year, she has starred in a Calvin Klein campaign and walked the runway for Yeezy and Chanel. And yet, she laments, “I always feel like I should be doing more.”
Growing up between Miami, Los Angeles, and South Orange, New Jersey (her home for many years), Marley fed off the energy of her creative family. Her father is Rohan Marley, a former football player and a son of Bob Marley, and her mother is the musician Lauryn Hill. As Selah puts it, “The idea of nine-to-five never crossed my mind.” She is, naturally, passionate about music: Last year, she cut her teeth as a producer when she posted the track “Don’t Look Back,” which riffs on Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids,” to SoundCloud, and singing and songwriting are long-term goals.
Here, Marley chats about her love of heels, walking for Chanel and juggling her creative interests.
What does your name mean?
It’s in the bible in Psalms and it will come at the end of a psalm. It kind of means a meditational pause, so to reflect on something, to think about that. I think I have that name for a reason, unfortunately and fortunately.
Overthinker, overthinker, overthinker, super analytical, try to get out of my mind sometimes.
You’re a freshman at NYU. Have you decided on a major yet?
I’m in [The] Gallatin [School of Individualized Study]. So last semester I was studying science and spirituality. That entire semester was one of my passions. I want to study all religions because I feel like everyone’s basically trying to understand spirituality so with religions comes moral codes, you have those values, you have what they want to do, that’s why you have Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam… well it’s funny because in my class we did kind of study all those religions and it just shows you, I have an essay on it, actually, but it kind of just shows you how it’s all the same thing. Like at the essence it’s all the same thing.
Is that something you’re going to continue for your four years of study?
Yeah, I think in different aspects. This semester I’m trying to take it lighter. I want to explore a lot of things. I [hope to take] a DJ class. It would be like extracurricular. I want to take a DJ class because I want to learn how to DJ because I love music. I’m selfish with music, I drive a lot and I have people in my car a lot and I’m one of those people who takes the auxiliary cord and like, but the thing is I’ll create a playlist and then we’ll all listen to it. But the cool thing is I feel like people always fall into my vibe, which is a little chiller, it’s more loungey…But at the same time I do love everything. I love all music. Because music is my biggest passion. The thing about music I love, even besides me making my own music, I really fall in love with other people’s music and I feel like it really tells a story for me just as much as me creating my own music and loving my own stuff. So [with deejaying] I would love to just synthesize that and still be able to tell a story through what other people have to say. It would be cool. Like creating a story out of other people’s stories.
What was the impetus for you to start modeling? How did you get into it?
I was in sixth grade and I was with my dad and he was visiting and staying at a hotel in Times Square. I was telling him, “Daddy, I want to model.” And he was like, “Oh really?” And I was like, “Yeah, I want to model.” It’s so funny I have an actual picture from that day. And he was like, “Alright, catwalk.” I was like, “Alright.” I’m shy, but I still did it in my little Ugg boots. I did a little catwalk, so I just said that and put it out there. Shortly thereafter, he set me up with one of his friends who used to work at an agency and he set me up with an appointment and they ended up taking headshots for me. And that’s when I really first, first started. And then I landed an editorial for Teen Vogue. I was in 7th grade. And then I got braces and that kind of put a hold on things. And then when I was a junior in high school I told my mom I wanted to start modeling again. And then we started setting up meetings with a whole bunch of different agencies.
What made you want to become a model?
I have all these mirrors in my house and in my room and I just kind of like, even though I am still working on my confidence, I do spend a lot of time looking at myself and I love making faces. I love seeing what my eyes can do, things like that, so I kind of just fell in love with myself. I want to explore. I want to take pictures of myself. I want to see that. Really I just love taking pictures of myself so I was like, I want to model. It was really that. I was always looking in the mirror and posing, so one thing led to another. Because it’s definitely not just modeling that I love, but I think it’s cool to show that side of myself. But now that I am modeling I definitely get to show other sides of myself. Just to show I’m not just a model because it can get a little superficial and physical.
The first show you walked in was Yeezy Season Four, on Roosevelt Island in crazy heat. Was that tough for you?
Not for me, actually. Because I wasn’t one of the people standing in the sun. I did the walk so I wasn’t like baking for that long. But from what I saw, it was a little rough. But I thought the set up was really cool. It actually upsets me that Kanye...It’s like his idea is always there and you can see it’s like so grand and awesome, but then it’s like some shit. I think it’s because things end up getting rushed and things end up last minute and it’s trying to do so much in so little time, people are kept waiting, things get pushed back, things take longer.
What was it like walking your first runway?
It was so dope. It was crazy for me. I saw Yeezy, the beginning of senior year I went to see the show, so I was like, Damn, what if I get to do it? It never crossed my mind that I would ever be walking for Yeezy. And then literally next year, I’m walking. It was really huge and eye opening. It’s my reality so for me, I’m walking down. But at the same time, it’s like, Wow, I’m looking at Kim Kardashian, I’m looking at A$AP [Rocky], I’m looking at all these people looking at me and it’s like, Dang. And then it’s also cool because I was literally the shortest person or one of, I’m 5’3… I got to represent the shorties.
Were you nervous?
I was definitely a little bit nervous, especially about my walk, but I feel like I’ve been walking in heels for so long now, I was really thinking about how to strut. I was really focusing on the strut. Yo, it’s crazy, I’ve been walking in heels since I was 12. So when I put on heels now, it’s like, I’m a super woman in heels. I can run in heels. I can jump in heels. I’m one of those people who can be in heels all day and I’m fine.
How did that happen?
You know what? I do have a longer second toe, it does help, but I don’t know how that happened. I’ve really been wearing heels for a long time. Because I started when I did those test shoots and stuff. And my mom has the biggest wardrobe so I would always wear her heels and I always had access to the dopest heels. Any chance I would wear heels. And I always thought I was grown.
At the end of last year, you walked in the Chanel pre-fall show. That’s every model’s dream! What was that like?
I got an email. I screamed for like a solid five minutes. And I showed my roommate and was like, Duuuddde. What are you serious? They flew me out to the Ritz Paris. That was awesome. My room was awesome. The whole thing was awesome. And I really was dressing up those days, too, because I was like, I’m in Paris, I need to look fly. First we landed and went to the fitting and they tried on makeup and clothes and stuff. Karl [Lagerfeld] was at the fitting. Even now, you mention my name and he won’t know me. After the fitting I had to show him [the look] so I put on the outfit, it was like these sparkly leggings and this twill jacket and skirt and they just showed me to him and I was like, “Hi, I’m Selah.” I’m really shy and I guess I’m too nice. And then I took my picture. That night one of the people at NEXT Paris was like, “Selah has to show more of her personality.” I was like, “Okay, oh shit, alright.” So the next day, and I was like, “Hello, there, I’m Selah, nice to meet you, you want personality, here I am.” I was all in their face. I was just being extra outspoken. And then the next day they were like, “Oh I love her.” And I was like, “Oh, thanks.” That was cool. Walking: there were basically three shows that day. And there were two walks so we kind of went past each other. And they wanted to make it more fun so it was a party scene, so some people were dancing and just trying to make it as lively as possible. It’s funny, because I literally could not stop smiling, but I did not realize how huge my smile was. If you find pictures, you’ll see [I’m] super grinning, it’s funny.
You have so many creative interests. From an early age were you always into something creative?
It’s crazy because I feel like I use my right and left brain equally. I’ve always been good at school, like that logical side of myself; but I’ve also always been really creative, like a feeler. Like I love, love, love writing, that’s it for me.
Music. When I write songs it’s a little more intimidating because I’m like, Okay, you have to write a song, it has to rhyme. But I really first started writing when I was 15 and I just started writing poems but I made it easier on myself because it was free verse, so I wasn’t concerned about it rhyming. You know it’s crazy when I’m writing sometimes I feel like I’m being channeled? Like I feel like I lose control of the pen and I’m just really writing. So I’ve always been really creative. I guess because my mom had a studio in our house and I would go there and she was always making music and she was always doing something creative on tour, doing something. So it definitely really inspired me. I’ve always been, alright, I want to be a writer, I want to be an artist, I want to be a this. I want to be a that. I’ve always been outside of the box, which is really cool. I’m always really grateful for that but at the same time, you have to have a sense of purpose. Because with so much freedom, you don’t know what you want to do sometimes. And for me, I was battling with what do I want to do? Who am I? What am I here for? And then the other day, I told this to my mom and she was like, “Well, you kind of grew up outside the lines, so it’s like when you have so much freedom it’s hard to know what you want to do because you can do anything.” So now I’m really deciding, rather than tying myself down to one thing, it’s touching a bunch of things. Really, I want to be a creative director, I want to create in all aspects of the term. So whatever that means, however that manifests, I don’t know, but right now, anything: so photography, music, production, fashion, modeling. [I’m] trying to start executing my ideas more. Because I have a lot of ideas, but I give up easily, that’s my problem. Hone in on something and take it to the finish line.
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