Over the weekend a successful young fashion model touched off a minor media circus by killing herself. Almost immediately, details of the beautiful life cut tragically short swooped in to fill blanks; the apocryphal tale of her "discovery" by benevolent industry scouts; her melancholy poems; how she'd been watching "Ghost" the night before. It was mostly bullshit. But there is something about great beauty that inoculates us to the more mundane realities of life, which was that Ruslana Korshunova was an immigrant from a desperately poor country who came to New York at a scarily young age to make money to send back to her parents. In that way she was no different from the tens of thousands of kids from former socialist states whose parents send them thousands of miles to work in restaurants and gas stations. It's generally more legal, and the living conditions a little nicer, but as our anonymous model columnist Tatiana has discussed before in this space, the people governing a model's fate are no less predatory and self-interested, and the experience is only slightly less anonymous. Herewith, Tatiana's initial thoughts on the suicide of a pretty girl from Almaty:
At around 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, a 20-year-old model named Ruslana Korshunova jumped from the balcony of her ninth floor apartment in New York's financial district. A Kazakhstani of Russian heritage, she had modeled since the age of 15; top London agency Models 1's Debbie Jones tells a great story about her discovery and tracking-down of Korshunova after seeing her pictured at German club in an in-flight magazine. (I suspect Jones is spinning a typical fashion creation myth: Korshunova told UK Elle magazine that when she was 15, she submitted her own photos to the Moscow agency iCasting, a version somewhat shorter on romance and international intrigue but vastly more believable.)
Korshunova followed the usual career path of an Eastern European model — working abroad from a young age to send money back to her parents, who remained in Kazakhstan — albeit with considerably more success than is common. A slight 5'7.5" with braces and Rapunzel-esque hip-length hair, Korshunova nonetheless shot out of the normal model demi-monde of sometimes sweet, sometimes snide, always obsessive commentary on TheFashionSpot.com. She wowed casting agents and booked a slew of clients during her five years in the business. Korshunova worked for Marc Jacobs, Blumarine, Vera Wang,
Paul Smith, DKNY and Moschino; she booked a cosmetics campaign for Clarins and starred in a Nina Ricci perfume ad. She shot with Mario Sorrenti, Patrick Demarchelier, and Paolo Roversi. She had covers for European editions of Vogue and Elle, she had pictures inside American, Japanese, and Italian Vogue. Korshunova, it appeared, had grabbed fashion's brass ring.
She had achieved the kind of career that must have been reasonably consistent, and decently-paid, though of course pursued in total anonymity — even her doorman told the New York Daily News he didn't know the girl he saw return home at 5 a.m. on Saturday was a successful international model.
No doubt this is a story made more interesting in the eyes of some by the allure of Korshunova's profession. Journalists have already taken to calling Korshunova "the beauty," "the lithe looker," "the 5'8" head-turner," "the green-eyed blonde beauty," playing the fashion industry's own exoticizing, objectifying game. On Fox news - where else? — Geraldo Rivera showed "the last images" Korshunova. The camera lingered over her dead body — pale, bloodied, and partly covered by a sheet — while Rivera in a voice-over called Korshunova's ex-boyfriend's description of the model as "a good person" a "kind of a lame quote." I am not linking here on purpose.
It is as a woman, not a mannequin, that I'm sure Korshunova's loved ones will remember her. And irrespective of her field, one has to wonder at the process by which a girl decides to kill herself four days before her 21st birthday.
I did not know Ruslana Korshunova, but I do know something of depersonalization and loneliness of this profession, and its occasional outright miseries (Korshunova also told UK Elle, of her worst professional experience, "We were in the Alps shooting, high
up in the snow, and I was wearing a tiny dress. We were so very cold and it was snowing so hard — we couldn't see a thing. I thought I would not live to see another day.") The Daily News reports that Korshunova wrote long messages in English and Russian on a social networking site; the messages make frequent mention of things like love, desire, dreams, and rainbows; they
read as the missives of a very young girl who has discovered that romance often fails to live up to its promise. Korshunova quoted inspirational Internet poetry about the importance of forgiving quickly, kissing slowly, loving truly, and laughing uncontrollably, which the Daily News apparently mistook for her original work. In March, she wrote, "I'm so lost. Will I ever find myself?" In her most recent post, on May 30, she mused angrily that "Love does not take away from one in order to give to another."
Korshunova spent her last night watching Ghost with her ex-boyfriend, 24-year-old Ukrainian immigrant Artem Perchenok.
Many models would have envied Korshunova's career; many women would have envied her beauty. But clearly, leaving home at 15 to travel the world under the often-lax in loco parentis care of a series of agencies, even when it culminates in a nice Craig McDean editorial and a Dior Beauté campaign or three, can take a devastating toll.