30 Apr My #realfreelancelife True Story: Laura Cianciolo
There was nothing else I wanted to do. I wanted to dive right in, and I didn’t want a safety net.
I met Laura Cianciolo a little over a year ago through a business I had at the time called Mock Party (now called S O C I A L S by Manman). Like every fangirl, I was enthralled with her backstory on America’s Next Top Model. asked her a million questions about the behind-the-scenes of the show and probably bored her to tears with the same-old questions everyone asks her. She stuck with me through it and is now one of my quarantine buddies and best friends. Like all great gal pals, we encourage each other’s wild side and get into a lot of trouble together! 😉
A go-getter her entire life, Laura’s constantly diversifying and trying new things…plus she’s super talented at everything she tries. Anytime I ask for her assistance for MANMAN Studios projects, she either already knows how to do it or figures it out like a pro. She’s a strong, fierce female entrepreneur who has traveled the world, been hunted by paparazzi, been dished about on gossip blogs, and still cherishes her roots as a Kentucky country girl. Keep reading to find out just why everyone who meets her loves her so much.
We sat down at Urbana Cafe a few weeks ago to chat about what it was like to be on America’s Next Top Model, what she’s pursuing now and how Covid changed her perspective on what passions to pursue.
Mandy: Hey girl! Of course, I know a lot of this now but let’s start at the beginning for everyone else’s sake. A lot of people know you from America’s Next Top Model, you were runner-up on season 13, voted Fan Favorite, and appeared on the All-Stars season. So tell us…how did you get into modeling and how did you end up on ANTM?
Laura: Like a lot of girls my age, I grew up watching Top Model. I also loved art and was obsessed with fashion magazines. My mom had modeled before, and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
So while in high school, I worked at Applebee’s and saved a bunch of money. As soon as I turned 18, my mom and I drove to New York City. I was young, I was like, “I’m doing this! I’m getting out of this town and I’m going to go be a model.” So we just drove to NYC, and all the agencies were like, “You’re too short.”
M: So you just drove all the way to NY to try out for a modeling agency? Why didn’t you try something closer?
L: To be honest, any modeling agencies you sign with around here, you’re just forever going to be barely getting any jobs. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do, and I was very serious about it. I also wanted to live in a bigger city, I wanted to be surrounded with art, and I didn’t care if I had to be a waitress and a model. I just wanted to dive right in, I didn’t want a safety net.
So I went to NY, and they said no. But I was very determined. I heard that Top Model was doing a petite season of the show for models under 5’7”, so I drove to Chicago for the tryouts. There were two days of tryouts, and I made it! Soon after, they flew us to LA and we filmed the show.
M: Wow that’s insane! You were so determined and driven at such a young age! It definately paid off! What was it like after the show started?
L: It was a whirlwind. While we were filming, the paparazzi would follow us around and try to figure out who was going home or who won. If they could figure it out before they announced it on the show, it would be a really big headline and ruin the show. It’s a big thing they try to figure out every year, and sometimes in places like underground threads and fan blogs and stuff, they get pretty close.
On All-Stars, paparazzi was a huge problem, to the point where they made us wrap head to toe in scarves in public when we went to do a challenge or something. It was crazy! We’d go to private beaches, and they’d still find a way to get there.
I think a lot of times when Top Models decide that modeling’s not for them, it’s because they get a taste of that and it’s too intense. It’s really all thrown at us overnight. People say that success or fame doesn’t happen overnight, but it did for us. One day we’re nobody and then the CW announces who we are and we’re known all over the world. And it’s very intense.
We hadn’t even talked to the cameras yet before people were judging us online and talking about “she looks boring” or “she has a big nose” and we hadn’t even said two words yet.
M: Omg, yeah that must be really hard, you guys were so young!
L: Yeah, my first cycle, there was a girl who was still in high school. She had to get her teachers to send her homework and stuff. So right before judging or something, she’d be doing her math homework. For me, it was literally the summer after I graduated high school.
M: Did the show launch your modeling career or what happened afterwards?
L: Yeah, overnight people wanted to book me and I didn’t even have an agent yet. I got offered a Ford contract in Miami and I won Fan Favorite on the Tyra Banks Show. So I had to make a choice between Miami and New York. I picked NY because my prize for fan favorite was an apartment in NYC for six months and that’s where I always wanted to go.
So I lived in NYC for a time with my best friend, we got to explore the city and it was really fun. I probably should have been more serious about modeling while I was there, but I was more serious about seeing the whole city, all the culture and all things art and food.
I had an agent and I did a few modeling jobs, but when the six months was up, NYC was too expensive for me. My studio apartment was $3000 a month, it was tiny and didn’t have laundry. There’s no way I could make that. There’s just so many girls who are a foot taller than me, and I’m in heels and they’re not. Plus coming from a small town, $3000 was a lot to me back then, like unbelievable.
I wanted to try LA because they do more commercials and stuff and book shorter models. So even though I loved NY so much, I knew that’s what I needed to do if I was going to pay my own rent and do it just with modeling.
So I moved to LA and I hated it. I was booking really big jobs, but I just hated it. The people are just really fake. So I moved around—to Florida, Denver, Mexico, and finally back to Kentucky. I was traveling so much that I finally wised up and decided that if I made Kentucky my home base and then just traveled everywhere, it would be cheaper to live. I could go visit those cities with the money I was saving by living in Kentucky.
M: Oh I totally get that, that’s the same thing I always say about living in Cincy. We’re lucky here, we have all the things a big city has to offer but the cost of living and ability to drive somewhere in 15-30 min is SO NICE.
So you moved back to Kentucky, and then what?
L: Yeah, well by then, I was starting to lose my passion for modeling. It was just really exhausting. And the older you get, the more you find body image issues and notice the things fashion does to young girls and stuff. It’s just bullshit. It was hard to keep finding passion for a career that’s really wicked towards women and basically has them brainwashed into thinking they need all these things to feel beautiful.
It really starts to weigh on you heavily, and I also knew that eventually I was going to age out. I found myself going to jobs and not caring. Jobs would fall into my lap and all I had to do was push “send” on my resume and I would have booked it. I couldn’t even muster up to do that. So I knew I had to do something different.
It was around that time that I started a business, Kentucky Darling Meats, with my dad. I was missing my roots and where I came from, so I thought that to balance out modeling, I would have this agriculture business with my dad selling meat off of our farm. I also started photography school, and I got pregnant with Willow around the same time.
M: Was shooting for Kentucky Darling Meats your first try at photography?
L: Yeah, when I traveled, I carried my camera around with me, but I didn’t know anything about camera settings or anything like that. And then I started shooting all the stuff for Kentucky Darling, because we had no budget, it was all coming out of our personal pockets.
And I gave myself a challenge to photograph something every single day for 6 months. No matter what. Even if it was just for 10 minutes, that was my task I gave myself for the day. I wanted my work to speak for itself, and I also didn’t want people to just hire me because I was on ANTM. It was important to me that I felt confident in my work.
Eventually people started commenting on our photos on Instagram and hiring me from our Kentucky Darling account (which wasn’t connected to laura_allstar), and I was like okay, I feel comfortable doing this now.
So then I was getting photography jobs left and right and modeling and it was getting hard to do Kentucky Darling because the ball was moving so fast with my photography. Plus I was feeling passionate for modeling again. And then Covid hit.
M: Oh man! ? How did that impact your work?
L: Before Covid, I already knew that I needed to think about when I was going to have time for my daughter, Willow, and my husband because I was booked from March to August every single weekend. Not one weekend wasn’t booked, and for the most part, all my weeks were filled too.
When Covid hit, in three days, every single one of my jobs from March to August were cancelled. My phone was blowing up, one after another. It was so surreal. But what could I do? At that time, my modeling was all traveling. I was going to Paris, LA, New York, etc. And all that…goodbye! I didn’t have a clue when it was going to open back up, and actually I still don’t know about Europe and NY. They’re pretty much off the books for a good long time, until they can recover and reopen.
Then Mandy, you asked me if I knew anyone that was good with plants, and I was like, “Yeah, me, what do you need?” I started taking care of @the1890brickyhouse plants, and they were flourishing so you posted about them. And people started hiring me for that! I got more and more clients. So now, I’m a photographer / model / plant caretaker / girl with a meat business, haha.
M: Is there anything you learned about body image that you’d like to share with other women from your modeling experience?
L: No matter how beautiful someone is, they still hate their body. They still complain about something—whether they’re too skinny, people over-sexualize them, or whatever it is. In some ways it’s changing today with average people, but for models, we’re booking jobs off of our bodies and faces. None of us are ever truly happy.
I know for a fact that Victoria’s Secret models do not like themselves either. Some of them have talked about it openly, some girls in my agency that are beautiful, with rock-hard abs and an hourglass figure—they still don’t like themselves. We’re our harshest critics, we see our bad hair days, our bad skin days, more than anyone else.
M: Plus what we see in media is SO overly retouched…not to mention all the work it took to prep them for the shoot to begin with…
L: Yeah exactly, like if you’re going to the Golden Globe Awards, you’re going to have a spa day in hair and makeup, with hours of beauty being put on you. And that kind of reinforces the idea that we’re not beautiful naturally because you have to spend all day getting ready. You feel good about yourself at the event and then you go home and wash it all off and then you look at yourself and you see that you are actually so far from that image of beauty, and that feels worse.
M: Yeah I can see how that would start to weigh on your self-esteem. What would you say is one of the main things you want to teach your daughter about being a strong entrepreneur or woman?
L: I hope to teach her to take criticism well because I think if you can take criticism well, people are more likely to give it to you and then you can grow from that. People don’t always know how to tell you what they want, so there’s going to be a lot of trial and error and trying new things. I think that people are more likely to work with someone they feel comfortable giving critiques to over and over and not just settling on something because they don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. I feel like it’ll make you a stronger artist and entrepreneur.
I also want to do the whole body image thing differently with her. I want Willow to see that you don’t have to be mean to be in fashion. Especially when I first started, it was cool to be mean. Being young I saw a lot of those people being leaders and stuff and people doing whatever that person wanted even though it was toxic and not good for them. And it’s because they thought that’s what they had to put up with. I want to show Willow that I’m willing to risk a job not to work with someone that is not kind to other people. A lot of people are nice to me because I was on America’s Next Top Model, but if you’re not nice to other people, I don’t want to work with you.
There’s no person in fashion that can control your whole career. You might lose one job, but it’s not going to be all your jobs for the rest of your life.
M: Aww, Willow is so lucky to have you as her mom! You’re the best! What do you see as the main things that you want to do in the future?
L: I’m definitely someone that has learned that you can’t plan it. Trends in fashion move so fast that you can’t really rely on those because who knows? It’s like a wave, it’ll go down but then it will always come back up. I’ve modeled for so long, I know it will come back and I don’t take it personal and kind of just go with things.
I have learned to kind of ride freely and accept what is coming and just go with it because in this industry you kind of have to. But at the same time also doing the total opposite and laying your own path. I feel like I’ve done a good job of that. Mostly I just want to be surrounded by art and fashion in a really healthy way so that I can enjoy it with my daughter and it not be toxic.
In addition to the modeling/photography/plant-whispering I’m doing now, I have a few super-fun projects in the works! I recently launched my own YouTube channel, Laura, where people can live vicariously through me with new fashion-forward videos on travel, cuisine and fashion. I’m also co-hosting The Collective Fashion Show with Amy Bond, fashion designer and Project Runway alum, and Ty Hunter, celebrity stylist for Beyoncé and Billie Porter. The show is in Cincinnati this year and will bring together 15 designers from Project Runway, Making the Cut and Next in Fashion. Tickets are available now for the live streams and to see the finale in person!
M: Awesome! Ok, a few rapid-fire questions for you. First up: What is your life mantra?
L: Easy peasy.
M: Who’s your favorite singer right now?
L: Orville Peck.
M: What’s your favorite TV show you’re watching right now?
L: Binging with Babish.
M: What’s your favorite emoji?
L: The sassy girl one.
M: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
L: Iceland, India and Italy.
M: What’s your worst habit?
L: Talking too much.
Yeah, haha, we could both talk all day! It’s so fun to get this peek into what it’s really like in the fashion industry and how you’ve been able to create a career for yourself that is diverse and interesting and so YOU! I can’t wait to see what you do next.
To follow along with Laura’s creative pursuits, check out:
And watch @socialsbymanman on Instagram for a giveaway from Laura!
Photography by @manmanstudios.