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‘This was my lifelong dream’: Ella Snyder’s fashion star is ascending

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The up-and-coming model talks Tabi boots, Bella Hadid, and projectile vomiting in the Charles de Gaulle smoking lounge

Ella Snyder is speaking from a friend’s pull-out couch in New York. With her candy red hair tucked behind her ears into an “off-duty” middle parting, the up-and-coming model has chucked on a thrifted Coca Cola t-shirt, its shrunken sleeves exposing the neat outline of a Tabi boot tattoo. She’s regaling all the stories from her first fashion season in Europe, anecdotes full of chance encounters with lovestruck strangers, so saccharine, and at times slapstick, that it would rival even the cheesiest of Emily in Paris plot lines. 

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But then again, perhaps that’s just what happens when you’re 22 and on the cusp of stardom. “I’m still waiting for that big moment and I feel like I’m about to have it,” she says, knees clutched to her chest. Though the Boston native has grown up with a YouTube audience of over 100,000 subscribers, and was the feature of a controversial 2017 BBC documentary, “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?,” all eyes turned towards Snyder this June when she starred in Glenn Martens’ blockbuster debut at Diesel. Braced in a pair of jean-boots and a twisted, half-buttoned vest top, the model sped through the streets of Milan, past Martens’ 80-piece collection, and into a dreamlike incarnation of Run Lola Run.

Those denim boots eventually filled with blood after 18 hours on set, but it was a “magical” experience that Snyder likens to pacing between Givenchy, Celine, Off-White, and just about every other go-see in Milan and Paris. “It’s finally coming together, and all of my manifesting is paying off,” she says. After all, finding her feet on the runway has been a lifelong effort for Snyder. From uncovering the gender euphoria burrowed within dressing up boxes, to watching every episode of America’s Next Top Model, to studying photography at Parsons. Ella Snyder is living her dream and she can’t quite believe it. Here, we talk Tabi boots, finding an idol in Bella Hadid, and projectile vomiting in the Charles de Gaulle smoking lounge.

Hey Ella! You’ve just landed from Lollapalooza. How are you feeling?

Ella Snyder: So, ugh – this last week has actually been so insane. I went straight from Paris, where I was shooting a Mugler story, to Chicago, to Lollapalooza, which was really stressful and anxiety inducing. I realised that my body is probably reaching its limit with being at such a fast pace every single day. It’s just go, go, go, go, go!

No sleep! Bus, club, another club, another club, plane, next place…

Ella Snyder: No but that is literally what my life has become this past month! And like, the amount of COVID tests I’ve taken between Paris, Chicago, and now being in New York have been insane. I’m counting my lucky stars because I’ve really been testing the limits of this vaccine. My life is just very all over the place right now and let’s just say the red hair definitely matches the energy of everything else going on. I met this woman in a little wine bar in Paris and I was telling her about my life and she just couldn’t get over how ‘rock and roll’ it was. And ever since we had that conversation, I’ve really adopted that term. So I’m like, well, I’m in my rock and roll era! But yeah, I fly back to LA tomorrow where hopefully I can rest for a bit until the next season starts and I’m on planes every week.

“I met this woman in a little wine bar in Paris and I was telling her about my life and she just couldn’t get over how ‘rock and roll’ it was. And ever since we had that conversation, I’ve really adopted that term. So I’m like, well, I’m in my rock and roll era!” – Ella Snyder

You’re from Boston originally, though? Did you like growing up there?

Ella Snyder: Yeah, I lived there my whole life in this neighbourhood called Dorchester and for the most part I was a very happy kid, I’m an only child and I have really supportive parents. I don’t know. Like, as a trans person, growing up in Boston was not the most welcoming or friendly space. There are huge Irish Catholic and Italian Catholic communities in Boston and the majority of people go to schools which uphold traditional family values. So that was a little bit rough. But I went to an inner city public school and was surrounded by diversity and different cultural values. So it was mixed. I was definitely bullied a lot and I faced adversity for being trans but I’m grateful for the support I had within my friendship groups and family. That made things a lot easier for me. 

How did you end up in Paris, then?

Ella Snyder: I was doing a little bit of modelling here and there in Boston already. I went to the only public arts high school and I’d do my own little editorial fashion shoots. It was all very DIY. But my pictures caught the attention of a modelling agency who wanted me to photograph some of their models. Anyway, I ended up leaving that meeting with my own modelling contract. Then, I moved to New York when I was 18 to study photography at Parsons, and that was when I got fully enveloped in fashion and modelling. It didn’t really take off, though, until I got shortlisted for the Dazed 100. And that’s when things really started coming together.

And before you know it you’re the star of Glenn Marten’s debut at Diesel. What was that experience like? 

Ella Snyder: Seeing Glenn’s drive, creativity, and the way he moves around clothes is just infectious. He’s someone you’d want to be best friends with. Even though I admired his work at Y/Project before, he’s very quickly become one of my favourite designers. It was just the craziest whirlwind. It was insane. It was five days of shooting in Milan for 18 hours a day. 

You’re saying you’d spend 18 hours running in those jean-boots?

Ella Snyder: Oh my goodness. We were shooting outside and it was probably like 105 degrees in Milan so assistants would come over with umbrellas, fans, and water in between takes to make sure nobody passed out. It was so painful running in those boots all day. By the time we wrapped my socks were covered in blood. But anything for fashion. And anything for the shot. The pain is worth it! It’s what you have to do for it to be this good. 

How did it feel to suddenly have so many eyeballs on you?

Ella Snyder: It was mind boggling. The Diesel film was on a billboard in Times Square, on the building where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. It was life changing and it’s all just snowballed since then. It’s truly magical. I think I spent so long manifesting that into my life that now I’m just like inside it, and I’m doing it. Fashion season was so rewarding. I went straight to Paris from Milan and was just running around the city for three weeks. Not all my castings worked out, though – I didn’t book a single couture show but I left Paris with a hundred new best friends. 

“It was life changing and it’s all just snowballed since then. It’s truly magical. I think I spent so long manifesting that into my life that now I’m just like inside it, and I’m doing it. Fashion season was so rewarding.” – Ella Snyder

Was it difficult to normalise those rejections?

Ella Snyder: In this industry you have to keep going. It has to be fine. That’s the biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from my experience in Europe. It’s honestly a much healthier mentality to have, holding confidence within yourself and knowing you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m still waiting for that big moment, anyway, and I feel like I’m about to have it. 

Speaking of your time in Paris, I saw on Twitter that you projectile vomited through your face mask. Really sorry that happened to you. 

Ella Snyder: Oh no! Oh my god. Okay let’s talk about it. I’m not a huge party girl, I’m actually more of a homebody, but I had been out the night before at Le Carmen in Pigalle, which became my favourite spot in Paris. I don’t even remember drinking or dancing that much. Like, it was a very casual night out and I got myself home early. But I was in Charles de Gaulle airport the next morning, just talking to this guy outside the smoking lounge, and out of nowhere I was overcome with nausea. And before I could even pause our conversation, it just came out. And I had my mask on so it just started pouring down. Out the sides. All over my outfit. Then they start calling for the flight to start boarding. Oh my god. Luckily, this guy got me a new mask and a bag to put my clothes in. Luckily. 

Wow. Did you at least get to have your cig? 

Ella Snyder: No! I had one just before, though, so I think that’s what it was. I had smoked myself sick. 

Tell me about the Tabi boot tattoo on your arm? 

Ella Snyder: I honestly want to get it removed. But yeah, this is my Tabi tattoo. I got it because I love Margiela – he’s the one designer that got me interested in fashion in the first place and I love everything the shoe stands for. You know, that something so ugly can be so beautiful. I was at a house party in LA and it was like three in the morning, which is not a good time to be getting a tattoo, but the host had invited these tattoo artists to do house calls and I definitely felt the effects of peer pressure.

Other than Margiela, are there any other designers, living or dead, that you’d love to work with?

Ella Snyder: It would be a dream to work with Margiela, Alexander McQueen, or Vivienne Westwood. Those fashion houses were so monumental in my childhood and my interest in fashion now. Specifically Alexander McQueen, who I’m so sad I’ll never get to meet, his runways were so out of this world. The 2010 show with the armadillo shoes – that was mind blowing. And then seeing Lady Gaga wear them in her “Bad Romance” video was just the icing on the cake. Legendary. Or that show with the spray painting, robotic arm. Jaw dropping. 

Miuccia Prada is a fashion icon of mine, too. And Hedi Slimane, that’s another dream designer to work with. The possibility has come up so many times now and not come to fruition. Like, I’ve gone to Celine castings twice now and they’re always like ‘oh Hedi wants to see you in Saint Tropez in two days’ but nothing has happened yet. I could be a Celine girl! Let’s work together!

“I’ve gone to Celine castings twice now and they’re always like ‘oh Hedi wants to see you in Saint Tropez in two days’ but nothing has happened yet. I could be a Celine girl! Let’s work together!” – Ella Snyder

Do you remember where your interest in fashion came from?

Ella Snyder: It goes all the way back to my childhood and being a little trans kid. There’s so much self awareness and self love involved with getting dressed but a lot of that was repressed when I was younger because I couldn’t just put on a princess dress and go to school, I would have to wear boy’s clothes. All I wanted to do was play dress up. I had a whole separate wardrobe of girls clothes and they brought me so much euphoria and so much joy. That’s definitely, like, where my initial love for fashion and clothing came from – those days of playing dress up. 

How did that develop over time? Did you have any style icons?

Ella Snyder: Being affirmed in my femininity was reliant on clothes and as I’ve found those affirmations within myself, it’s become this all encompassing love for fashion. I truly loved The Cheetah Girls growing up – tracksuits, animal print, turquoise, hot pink, orange. They were my first fashion icons and I did absolutely everything to emulate that vibe. Then there was Tavi Gevinson back in her fashion blogger days, and Lady Gaga. I really looked at those two when I was first transitioning. Now I put on whatever piece of clothing I want. I’ve stopped thinking about everything as a future Instagram picture. Just be present, live your best life, and have a good time. And like, that will translate better than whatever image is in your head. 

And what about now? Is there anyone you really look up to in the industry?

Ella Snyder: Always Bella Hadid. She’s great at her job, her walk is incredible, and I hear she’s literally an angel to worth with. That’s why she’s carved out a space in the modelling industry. So honestly, I take notes on how she is and how she moves through the world because there’s a lot to learn from her. Noah Carlos also has one of the best walks I’ve ever seen, too. Paloma Elsesser bodies every shoot that she does – I met her backstage at Eckhaus Latta two years ago and she is a delight to work with. When you’re at that level, it is really important to make space for other people like yourself in the industry. That’s what I’m trying to do with the trans community, and so seeing her do that is really inspiring. Other than that, I’m watching and cheering on every single person on the models.com trans trailblazers list. 

And you’re on that list, too. So really, it’s destiny fulfilled. What comes next?

Ella Snyder: I’m really hoping to finish my photo book, which documents trans and non-binary people, before 2021 is over – I’m hoping to have it out in 2022. I’m also still waiting to get my hands on the Bottega Veneta puddle boots, the ankle and the knee high versions. Other than that I’d like a really stellar ready-to-wear season in September. This was my lifelong dream. And like, I’ve been working this whole time to make it happen. And I’m finally starting to watch it happen.