SHE’S too young to even legally order a glass of champagne to toast her amazing success.
But that hasn’t stopped 17-year-old Aleyna FitzGerald from pursuing an international modelling career with full force.
Last year’s winner of the hugely successful Australia’s Next Top Model franchise has been strutting runways across the world since being crowned the show’s winner by just half a point last November.
And she could just be the most successful Australia’s Next Top Model contestant yet.
The stunning teen, who quit school and her part-time job as a receptionist at a forklift factory in country NSW to chase her dream, has come a long way since she first appeared on the reality series.
She’s worked for major designers such as Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino.
And in July she replaced Kendall Jenner (who she’d love to meet one day) as the face of top fashion house Balmain’s fall/winter 2017 ad campaign.
This week (from September 7) she walked the catwalk at New York fashion week for the world’s biggest brands.
“It’s been a crazy year for me,” FitzGerald tells BW during a rare trip back to Sydney to spend time with her family and promote her association with Forever New’s Ever After collection.
“I’ve gone international. I’ve been to Paris, New York and all around the world wherever work takes me. It’s just so exciting.”
FitzGerald, who travels the world on her own (in economy), and often bunks in at hotel rooms with other models, says it isn’t all glitz and glamour in the fashion industry and to make it requires hard work and perseverance.
“If you really want to do it you will find the enjoyment out of it. I really enjoy doing it, but it is a lot of hard work.”
FaceTime and regular phone calls and texts back home help her get through the isolation of being away.
“It is emotional; it’s scary being away from home and on the other side of the world without my parents and my family to support me,” she says.
“I didn’t think it would be so difficult because you see the glamour, you see all the fun. All of those things are there and there is a lot of that but it is hard emotionally because you are 17 and away from the people you love the most.”
But FitzGerald wouldn’t change a thing and feels “so privileged” to be living her dream.
“I pinch myself every day doing this.”
FitzGerald says she’s had the pleasure to meet other Next Top Model winners from other international versions of the show — fifteen other countries produce their own version including Brazil, Italy, Russia, Hong Kong and the UK — and is proud to be part of such an esteemed brand.
And Australia’s winners and contestants from the franchise — created by Tyra Banks and first aired in 2003 in US as America’s Next Top Model — seem to get the biggest praise in the fashion world, according to FitzGerald.
“Australia gets such a great wrap … anyone that I’ve said to that I was on the show, they are really excited,” she says.
“They know its great quality, they’ve seen the girls that have come through and they are genuinely really excited about it because it is it’s such an interesting thing to have on your resume as something you’ve done. It is so cool and internationally recognised.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Australia’s Next Top Model judge and fashion designer Alex Perry, who says he knew FitzGerald would win the series and go on to do great things in the modelling world from the moment she first auditioned.
“We (the other judges former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins and model and actor Megan Gale) just looked at her and thought ‘oh god that’s her’,” Perry, who still regularly texts FitzGerald and books her for shoots, tells BW.
“But you’ve got to give the other girls a go. There were other girls that were amazing in that series as well.”
Perry says he still thinks Alice Burdeu was the quickest success story following the wrapping of her series in 2007 but that FitzGerald will go on to surpass Burdeu in longevity of success.
“Alice left here a couple of months after Top Model wrapped and she did 37 shows in her first season of New York, Paris and London fashion weeks. She was modelling for Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen — just extraordinary stuff.
“But Aleyna will do that. Watch this next (fashion) season. She will blow up out of all proportions and then she will take over and Aleyna will still be there in five year’s time.”
Perry says Australian winners of the series have a magic factor on the world stage due to the purity of the Australian iteration of the franchise.
“I think if you look at the US version there are a lot of theatrics involved in it. I think a lot of girls want to go on the (US) show to be on television and to become famous because they are really good on TV but we are not looking at that,” he says.
“If you are trying to get the ones that are going to make great television you’re not going to get a great model and I have always been pretty steadfast on that.
“I’m super proud of Aleyna. She has such a great work ethic and the schedule is brutal over there. Plus she is a really sweet personality. Not the kind of personality that is going to make drama for the sake of good TV,” Perry says.
FitzGerald says she really had a great experience on Next Top Model and, while competitive, there was no undermining or bullying among the girls in the house.
“I think it is a competitive environment but at the end of the day we are all a group of girls in it together. You’ve got to be yourself and I think all those girls were really quite lovely. It’s very stressful but I think everyone was really nice.”
“(Fellow contestant) Jordan and I are genuinely really close friends. My mum and her mum went out for coffee the other day. We are all in the same boat.”
FitzGerald doesn’t regret leaving school to pursue her career after Australia’s Next Top Model wrapped but feels for her friends sitting their final exams in Year 12 this year.
“Doing this is definitely completely different from school,” she says.
“(Leaving school) was best decision for me. It just wasn’t for me and I am just so happy doing what I’m doing now.”
And FitzGerald says her next move is having her sights set on becoming the next Victoria’s Secret Angel.
“I think one day that’s definitely something that I would love to do. I think every girl wants to do that. It’s massive, it’s such a big modelling gig.”
But despite earning her own money and being worlds apart from her peers back home, FitzGerald’s hugely successful schedule has meant she hasn’t even had time to splurge on any major purchases to reward all her hard work.
“I actually bought a pair of Prada sunglasses yesterday. So that’s probably my only splurge. That was a big one.”
WHERE ARE AUSTRALIA’S NEXT TOP MODEL WINNERS NOW?
Gemma Sanderson, Season One
Now 33 and still modelling. Credits include ASOS, David Jones and Myer.
Eboni Stocks, Season Two
Modelling career flopped. Now reportedly works as a business development manager.
Alice Burdeu, Season Three
Still in-demand as an international model. Shot covers for Vogue Australia and walked runway shows for Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen.
Demelza Reveley, Season Four
After a short modelling career no longer models and works as a beauty and fashion illustrator in Melbourne.
Tahnee Atkinson, Season Five
Signed to IMG Models and still actively modelling. Shot covers for Harper’s BAZAAR, Cosmo and Sports Illustrated. Campaigns for Bras N Things.
Amanda Ware, Season Six
Was part of the franchise’s most embarrassing moment when Sarah Murdoch named the wrong winner on live TV. Still models and has management in London, Los Angeles and Australia.
Montana Cox, Season Seven
Signed to IMG Models and has walked the runway for Dior and shot covers for Vogue Australia, Marie Claire among others.
Melissa Juratowitch, Season Eight
Signed to a small agency called Pride Models. Focuses on artsy work.
Brittany Beattie, Season Nine
Modelled for Swarovski, Witchery and Elle Australia, among others. Recently done low-key campaigns for friends but reportedly moved on from professional modelling and even had a stint back as a bobcat driver.