Model Angela Martini was born in Albania and raised in Switzerland, but she's always had big New York City dreams. Since she was a kid, she was so confident that she'd become a model that she didn't even a prepare a plan B. Luckily, her hard work paid off and she's now a New York resident whose star is on the rise.
Of course, that didn't come without a career detour and a minor setback. In 2010, she was personally recruited to compete as Miss Universe Albania, a position she reluctantly accepted but took on for her home country. The year after, she became tabloid fodder when stories of an attempted relationship with Kanye West circulated.
Complex sat down with the budding supermodel to talk about her brief experience in the pageant circuit, her bikini collection Angela Martini Bikinis, and the truth behind those dating rumors.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
You broke out as Miss Universe Albania. How did you get into the pageant circuit?
Well, I never wanted to be in the pageant circuit. I was born in Albania, raised in Switzerland and I came to New York. I was already in New York and working for [modeling agency] Elite New York. The people from my country all the time were telling me, “Oh you should be Albania’s Miss Universe.” I always said, “No. I have to think about it.”
And it took me five years to think about. In that year, they had no one picked up yet and it was two weeks before Miss Universe. They hadn’t chosen yet because they were waiting for me. They put me in a corner and they were like, “We have no Miss Universe Albania and in two weeks, it’s Miss Universe.” So I said OK, flew to Albania, got the crown and went straight to Miss Universe.
Had you competed in pageants before that?
The first pageant ever in my life was Miss Universe. [Laughs.]
Are you a household name in Albania?
They knew about me already in Albania and in Switzerland and everyone was saying, “You have to! You have to!” It was really funny because when Switzerland found out, because I was raised there, they wanted me to be Miss Switzerland. [Laughs.] It was amazing to me to see two countries reaching out, even though Switzerland already had Miss Universe. And I was thinking, “What is going on?” Then I said, "I’m only doing Miss Universe for two weeks. After it’s done, I’m going back to being a model. Whoever has second can take my duties." I was only doing this for my country.
After the pageant, don’t you have to travel the country?
Yes, you do normally. But that was in my contract that I said, “No, whoever won second can do it.” Literally, after the pageant, people asked me, “What do you want now?” And I said, “I want pizza!” I had a pizza and then the next day I flew out to my modeling jobs. [Laughs.]
As someone who didn’t grow up doing pageants, what was it like briefly being inside that world?
It was fun in the beginning because, in modeling, you’re used to saying whatever you think. You don’t have to really smile all the time or be careful. I had no media training. But I had this opportunity of being in a new world and learning and I took it as an adventure.
In the two weeks [of being Miss Universe Albania], I couldn’t believe how serious it was. I think it made very strong and helped me learn about myself. And I forget that I even did it now. It was a different life.
A stereotypical image we get of pageant contestants are these really overzealous and competitive girls. What was your interaction like with them?
I’m a girl’s girl. Basically, every single girl there became my friend. I never have problems with people. Like if you bring me in front of people, everyone will be my friend. I had very good interactions with them and we were all motivating each other. We said, "We’re not fighting against each other and let’s be a team."
If you had won, would you still have done the tours?
No, I'd do it the same way I did it now because I had so much other things to do. I had other goals so I had to compromise.
I’m assuming your passion is modeling.
Well, I’m full different passions. That’s my problem. [Laughs.] I like modeling a lot and I did my own bikini line. I love to be a businesswoman as well. That’s what I needed to follow. I opened my own company and my charity.
One year ago, I had the idea of starting a bikini line. I wanted to do something different because I was shooting bikinis all the time. One year later, I’m presenting my 2013 collection at Miami Fashion Week at the W Hotel. It's my first time ever. I’m really, really excited.
Because I’m in them all the time and I thought, “Well, let’s do my own. Let’s do them how I want them.” You know how you go and buy size small or size medium for both your top and bottom? I wanted this to change. I wanted you to be able to buy a small and a medium and not have to buy both necessarily. If you like another bottom from the collection, you can just mix it. So basically I wanted to give [women] freedom. I wanted to challenge myself and I said, “Well, what’s around me?” I’m always in bikinis and lingerie, so I said, “Let’s do it!”
And my other passion is that I love helping people and I’m very good with kids. I love psychology and philosophy and human beings. I had the chance to work with Good Shepherd and get to know the girls.
I always knew I wanted to live in New York. When I came, I was home and I felt like I belonged.
What is your charity focused on?
Well, it’s Good Shepherd Services in New York, and it [focuses] on the girls that have issues with family or have no parents. They all live in this house. You visit them and you listen to them. It’s all about women who need some guidance. And I’m happy because when I go there, I become almost like one of them.
So how did you become a model?
You know how other girls always say, “I never knew I would be a model”? I always knew this would be my life. There was no surprises. I started in my early life when I was in Switzerland. People stopped me on the street and then they put me in competition for Elite Model Look, which I came in third place. My ego was so hurt. I could not believe it. I was sore. [Laughs.]
The photographer Fadil Berisha discovered me and from then on, he helped me. He was actually the one who brought me into the pageant world as well.
When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York in 2007. I always knew I wanted to live in New York. When I came, I was home and I felt like I belonged. I have an extended family now and I love it.
Knowing the European sensibilities and having experience in New York, what’s the difference you’ve noticed between Europe and America?
Well, I never understood Europe. [Laughs.] I always understood America much better. I love everything about America.
What’s your favorite American quality?
I like it! They’re crazy and they’re open. In Europe, they’re way more closed up and very judgmental. In America, if you tell them you have an idea, people aren’t like, “Oh you’re crazy!” In America, it’s like, “OK! Let’s do it! Why not?” In Europe, it’s like, “Let me think about it. This is not realistic.” I love American culture—how much fun they have, how they turn everything into entertainment, how they’re all dreamers and fearless. I love America! And I love American food. [Laughs.]
Do you ever get cart food in New York?
No, not really but I love American pizza, fries and donuts. I love that you can have big meals and ice cream. [Laughs.]
I know you’ve been working on several campaigns. Which have you been working on?
Well, lately, I’ve been working on several magazines that are going to come out. I took a six month break to work on my bikinis. I have now a whole team of people, at least 30 or 40 people, who helped me make this goal happen within a year. But before that I worked with Guess?, Bare Necessities, Nautica and I did runway for Pamela Rolland. Now, I’m back in modeling and I’m really excited. And now, I have to balance both of them because before I had to shut down one.
How did you want to be known in the U.S.? Do you want to be a household name?
Yeah, of course. That’s the goal. I want to break out as Angela Martini, a hardworking, smart model. Nothing comes without discipline and if you don’t have a good team, forget about it. It’s all about having your team and not losing yourself.
Basically what I want for myself in the year is that I want to be the best lingerie model. I want to embrace that and, at the same time, I want to be the best lingerie designer. I want to embrace the business part and the modeling part. My dream is really to make people feel good and inspire them. Whenever they talk to me or when they see me, I want them to be like, “OK, I want to do that.”
A few months ago, rumors of you going to extreme lengths and attempting to force yourself into a relationship with Kanye West came up. Is there anything you want to clarify when it comes to that?
Believe it or not, my life is really like a movie. I had some crazy people around that time in my life and I thought they were my friends. When I found out that they weren’t really my friends, I kicked them out of my life. So to get back at me, or whatever they were trying to do, they started making stories up to sell to Page Six so that two weeks later, they are the star. But this is a hundred percent not true. If you know me, and you know my personality after five minutes, this is definitely not true.
I laugh about it because I used to watch movies before about girls in high school doing things like this to each other and now I’m like, “Wow this is actually happening to me.”
Being a young model in New York and having access to the nightlife events especially, do you ever have any have any famous people actually coming up to you and hitting on you?
All of them. [Laughs.] Of course, you have this even when you’re not in New York, but it’s a matter of how you deal with that. It doesn’t mean that everyone who wants to date you, you’re going to date back. There are a lot of rumors all the time, but I think only ten percent is right. The rest was so wrong. Most of the guys I’m linked to are all just good friends.
What is it like being in the modeling world? Is it as catty as it seems?
Well, you can choose whoever you want to be around. You have to watch the people in your circle and the people you let into your life. Last year, I had that bad experience but now they’re out of my life and I haven’t had one since. It’s about having your own team and listening to your own instincts. But it’s not really catty. It’s up to you whether or not you give them that energy.
Who are some of your biggest supporters in the fashion industry?
Fadil Berisha is very supportive photographer and I have a lot of other photographer friends that are very supportive. Casting directors become friends. But it’s my team—my manager, my publicist, my brand manager—it’s the people around me that support me. And they’re all my friends. No one that I work with isn’t a friend. We grow together. Since I was little, I wanted to a create a team to work with and to grow with whom I can trust one-hundred percent. I’m in the spotlight, but I’m no one without them.
These days, a lot of models are crossing over into acting. Is that something you’re planning as well?
Not really. If it happens that someone gives me a role that I like and I want to do and that I think really fits for me, then fine. But that’s the point that I don’t want. I don’t want to give people what they expect. Now it’s like acting is the next step you’re supposed to take. Who said so? I want to do something different. I always want to write my own story, why follow anyone else’s?