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.

Why bikinis?
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.

PAGE 1 of 2