What happens when you combine one part tomboy with one part girl-next-door and one part breathtaking beauty? You get the recipe that has led Nicole Muirbrook to the heights of the modeling world where she savors her success with a nice, fat cigar.
By Joe Bosso
She thinks nothing
of going out drinking with the boys. She snowboards like a champ. She hikes — the more tortuous the terrain, the better. She’ll kick your butt at the pistol range. Hand her a shotgun and she’s likely to come back with an elk or moose strapped to the hood of her Jeep. She loves football (the Patriots) and baseball (go Red Sox!). High-stakes poker? Cut the cards and watch your money disappear. And yes, she adores premium cigars.
Photos by John Russo / Brooks Institute
By now you’re undoubtedly asking yourself, “Just who the heck is this girl?” She’s Nicole Muirbrook, perfect proof that when God gives out breathtaking beauty, he doesn’t care much whom he gives it to, for this self-described “man trapped in a woman’s body” also happens to be one of the world’s top fashion models. “I find it so ironic and funny that I’m a model,” she says with the kind of self-deprecating candor that makes her domination of the profession all the more mystifying — and satisfying. “It’s nothing I asked for, although I’ve worked hard to get to where I am in the business. It’s just the way I am, though: give me a goal and I’m going to nail it.”
A natural in front of a camera, Muirbrook is 23 and coltish, with shiny black hair, a fine-boned face and a smoky complexion, full, out-turned lips, and smoldering green eyes that are by turns playful and severe, sexy and aloof. At times, her piercing stare seems to burrow into your soul; other times, she looks right through you — miles away, in fact. Despite what she repeatedly calls her “tomboyish appeal,” her countenance is distinctly and unquestionably feminine. Her limbs are long and her center of gravity is constantly in flux. She radiates an oddly ameliorating glow, casting a mesmeric control over any man who casts his gaze her way. Compliment her and she swats your words away like a fly. “I’m nothing special,” she says, and you can’t help but believe that she means it. “There’s tons of girls better looking than me. I was just in the right time at the right place.”
That right time and place was her hometown of Salt Lake City, where Muirbrook, then all of 12, was spotted shopping with her mother by a scout from the Next Models. “It was shocking at first,” Muirbrook says. “This scout just came over and introduced himself — I guess that’s what they do, hang around looking for girls — and said, you know, the usual things: I was watching your daughter, I think she’s really got something, blah, blah, blah. It sounds really creepy, I know, but my mother spent a lot of time talking with him to make sure everything was kosher. Before you knew it, I was flying to Los Angeles to meet with everyone with the agency. It was pretty heady stuff.”
And weird, too. The tomboy who loved nothing more than “playing in the dirt with the boys from the neighborhood,” was soon dividing her time between Salt Lake City and L.A., where she modeled for dozens of magazines during her first year in the business. “I did all the kiddie fashion mags — YM, Seventeen, things like that. It was strange. You have to understand, I was never one of those girls that dreamed of being a model. I didn’t have pictures of Cindy Crawford hanging over my bed. I didn’t watch Miss America and think, God, I want to be her. I barely knew how to put on lipstick! So to be spending all day getting fussed over, having people do my hair and makeup, waiting around for people to adjust lights and all that — it was just not my scene at all.”
Nevertheless, Muirbrook was a hit with advertisers and magazine editors, and by 13 she was being whisked away to Milan (along with her parents) where she was plunged into the elite fraternity of haute couture. In many ways, it was like being thrown to the wolves. “I saw so much during my time in Milan. All the parties, all the girls, all the guys checking out the girls; and the casting sessions — my God, I mean, we’re talking 500 gorgeous girls at one time, totally unreal. Thank God I had my parents with me.”
Four months in Milan was like a hypodermic of Bright Lights, Big City to Muirbrook’s adolescent system. Everywhere she looked, temptation and cautionary tales abounded. “There were a lot of older girls, maybe 16 and 17, who were away from their parents for the first time. They all seemed so worldly. On the other hand, they were completely out of control. Drugs, going out with random guys, drinking all day and all night. One girl went missing for a while — these girls were crazy! It was pretty nutty stuff for a 13-year-old to be seeing. But I think it was good to be exposed to the underbelly with my parents. Each night we were able to talk about things. Having them around definitely helped me to keep my head on my shoulders.”
Milan proved to be the city in which Muirbrook served her toughest apprenticeship, but to all who worked with her, it was readily apparent that something was different. Whereas heroin chic had infiltrated the vast majority of the girls — the curlicue posture, the DUI swagger, the glazed eyeballs — there was an alertness in Muirbrook’s stance that suggested not only a fresh form of vitality, but a person of marked individuality.
Muirbrook kept her grades up while she modeled. “I was always a smart kid,” she says, “not necessarily a bookworm, but I wasn’t about to flunk out of school just because all of this kooky stuff was happening around me.” As she transformed into a young woman, however, she found it sometimes necessary to look like a bookworm, devising a camouflage system whenever she left her apartment for casting sessions. “The guys in Milan can be very vocal when girls walk by. I wouldn’t go out of the house looking all pretty. Instead, I pulled a baseball cap way down low, and I put on funky glasses; I’d keep my head down and try not to make eye contact with anybody. Meanwhile, all the other girls would prance around the streets with that whole ‘worship me!’ vibe. That’s why a lot of them got into trouble and stopped working. They got burned out, used up...all the clichés.”
Between the ages of 13 and 16, Muirbrook’s career kicked into high gear, and her passport received a lot of ink. New Zealand, London, Scotland — the cities started to become a blur. London intrigued her, and for a short while she contemplated staying, but better weather — and better-paying jobs — in the States beckoned. For two years she called Miami home, and while there she became the go-to girl for Kohl’s, Goodies, Robinsons-May, Mervyns, Nordstrom, and Target.
By all accounts, Muirbrook had it made. At 18, while her friends back home in Salt Lake City were working the drive-thru at Wendy’s, she was banking fat paychecks and picking and choosing her gigs. She was dividing her time between Miami and L.A., “basically living the life you see in People magazine. And then it hit me: I was lonely. Being away from my family and old friends was pretty hard. Traveling so much is no way to form steady relationships. The truth is, this business is so cutthroat, and everybody’s just looking out for their next score, their next break. There was very little loyalty amongst the models, I found. The whole scene is like a hyper-exaggerated version of high school, and all the girls were trying to be homecoming queen or something.”
Dating posed a problem. The girl who could quiet a room just by entering it was startled to discover that “nobody wanted to talk to me. I know that sounds so crazy, but it’s the truth: If you’re good-looking and you’re a model, you only get approached by icky guys — been there, done that. But regular, normal guys, they’re scared of you; they think you’re from some other planet. What they don’t realize is, you’re dying for them to come over and talk to you.”
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SMOKE - Spring, 2007
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