Runway coach Mandy Dyonne Lieveld graduated from the Amsterdam Hogeschool voor de Kunsten as a dancer, instructor and choreographer. She's coached for modelling agencies in New York and the Netherlands and collaborated with models who work with Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Gucci and Chanel. Lieveld just moved to New York this month, where she plans to combine her passion for posture, choreography and psychology. Fashionweek.nl caught up with her just before her big move.
Is New York a dream come true for you?
"Definitely. I've worked on projects there before, but in August I'm moving to New York for three years. I'll be closer to the heart of everything there, and there's a lot more work for me. There are a lot more modelling agencies. And Americans are more open to the idea of coaching. I do a lot more private coaching for models there. I'll give a training somewhere on the Upper East Side, for example, and then I'll be flown down to Houston because a mother wants to give her daughter some training. That just doesn't happen in the Netherlands."
Lieveld: "Americans are more open to the idea of coaching." © Jaiwe Nuij
How did you end up in New York?
"I studied psychology, and after that I already started working for Elite in the Netherlands. I wanted to get a taste of New York, and they had contacts there. But I also called people myself to set up appointments. Nine out of ten times, I got a no, so I really had to set my modesty to the side. But when you hear a yes on your tenth try, it's a huge kick. It gives you the motivation to keep going."
How is New York different from the Netherlands?
"The city gives off so much energy. You've also got to be there to work. There's no lollygagging around, because it's an expensive city. You notice that everyone's hustling and people are open to collaboration. There's so much energy and so many possibilities. It's much calmer in the Netherlands. It's more everyone knows each other, which is also fine, but I like this energy better."
What projects are you working on right now?
"I did Holland's Next Top Model this year, and that will be on TV this September. Right now, I'm busy preparing for New York, working on a database. I've already got five contracts with modelling agencies, so I'll be training them for Fashion Week. It's really great, but also intense, because I'm doing everything myself. Sometimes I only get a few days notice if they need me, and my days can be from 9:00 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening, giving trainings at three different modelling agencies spread out across New York. After that, I'm wiped out in the evenings. But at the same time, I get a huge kick out of it."
Lieveld: "I train models in New York for Fashion Week. It's an amazing – but intense – time." © Jaiwe Nuij
Did you always know you wanted to be a choreographer?
"Well, when I was 12 or so, I went to an open day in Amsterdam, and I knew right then that this was it. I'd been dancing since I was five, and it felt great. Later I knew that I wanted to do something more specifically with teaching and choreography. When I was 16, I was already giving lessons to little kids. It all happened quite naturally."
And you studied psychology, as well. Was that a conscious choice?
"Yes. I got a muscle disease in my second year at dance academy. At a certain point, it got to where I couldn't lift my arms enough to wash my hair. After a year trying different medications, I had to have surgery. After that, everything was fine. But the disease really got me thinking about my profession. What if there comes a time when I can't dance any longer? I had to have a plan B, so I studied psychology. I was always curious about people and how the brain worked, and it comes in handy in my work. How do you teach someone something? How do you get something across? It's very interesting."
You work with young models a lot. What's that like?
"The young models make the work interesting for me. These girls are suddenly thrust into a world where they’ve got to immediately become adults. As a model, you're often travelling alone and working a lot, and you're just 16 years old. I give them guidance and insight so that they're better prepared for what's coming. At the end of the day, they have to do it themselves, of course. But it's a world that's full of opinions about you. I don't think there's another job that's like it, where you have to present yourself as a product as much. If a label says they don’t want to work with you because your ears are too big, you can't take it personally."
What advice do you give to beginning models?
"Don’t compare yourself to someone else. You're unique, so expound on that. And take your work seriously, but not too seriously. Modelling is often temporary, so I try to impress on them that they should enjoy the work and the travel."
Lieveld: "Working with young models makes my work interesting." © Jaiwe Nuij
Which models would you still like to work with?
"Karlie Kloss. I don't know her personally, but I think she walks beautifully. And she has a unique perspective on the modelling world, she's stayed really down-to-earth. I'd like to coach Molly Blair. She has a really different face and a different walk that I think could be a bit less slouchy."
Which collaborations do you look back on with pride?
"In New York, I coached models for New York Model Management. During that training, one of the models, Selena Forest, started to cry because she felt unsure of herself. She was lonely and asked if I wanted to have lunch with her. That was touching. For a 16-year-old girl, it's a really hard world. We went to lunch together and it was fine. The next season, she was working for big labels like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. I'm proud of that. Obviously I was only a small piece of that puzzle, but I thought that was really special."
What's the best thing about your job? When someone is successful?
"No, not that per se. But more when someone can achieve success for themselves. It fantastic to see someone feel more confident because of my help. When I see personal growth in someone, that's what I get the most satisfaction from. And on a TV programme like Holland's Next Top Model, where everything is about the show, I want things to revolve around the models. For me, it's not about the programme, it's about the people themselves and the fact that I can contribute something to them."
Lieveld: "I'd still like to work in Miami and Los Angeles." © Jaiwe Nuij
Do you think that's why people want to work with you?
"I think it's down to three factors. Firstly, because I have experience as a model myself. Secondly, because I'm very conscious of posture, I've studied it. And lastly because I studied psychology."
What are your plans for the future?
"Miami and Los Angeles are on my wish list. I'd like to work there, and there are a lot of modelling agencies there as well. In Miami, you've got Swim Week and Los Angeles has the major entertainment business, so you can train actors there, as well. But there are also a lot of other agencies in New York that I'd like to work with, so hopefully I can make that crossover. I'd also like my own studio and practice in New York."