The Model Mayhem interview: Ulorin Vex
Ulorin Vex is an internationally published professional model. Her extensive list of credits include dozens of magazine features and covers, ad campaigns, billboards, and covers all genres from fashion to fetish and art nudes.
Her bright orange hair is instantly recognizable and she’s also know for her dynamic and exaggerated posing. We recently spent the day with Ulorin at her Los Angeles studio and got to see her action.
MM Edu: Where did you get the name Ulorin Vex and does it have any significance?
Ulorin Vex: I get asked that a lot and unfortunately there is no exciting story behind my name; I just made it up one day. I think it was my old Yahoo account name when I first got internet access. I should create an interesting story.
MM Edu: You’re from the UK, Newcastle to be precise, and then you moved to London and then to LA. What brought you here and when did you move?
Ulorin: I visited LA for the first time in early 2007. Actually, the American designer whose clothing I was modeling today used to work in London and we became good friends when she was still based there. When she moved back to LA she told me I could come and visit her whenever I had time and stay at her apartment in Hollywood. I’ve always loved travelling, and I thought it was a good opportunity to visit the USA, so I came to visit her in LA in February of 2007. I did a couple of shoots on that trip just for fun. I was excited by the fact there were a lot of talented people here to work with, especially in the area of latex fashion that I was specializing in at that time. I came back later that year just to hang out because I enjoyed it so much.
The story of how I ended up moving here permanently kind of follows on from that. After my first couple of trips, I was flown back to LA again for a latex fashion photography workshop run by Allan Amato, one of the LA based photographers I worked with briefly in 2007. We got on really well during that trip and kept in touch online for a whole year until Allan came to London for a holiday in early 2009. To cut a very long story short, we got on so well we started dating and went backpacking around Europe together for a year before Allan had to go back to the US and we started travelling back and forth to visit each other. Many long distance flights and a couple of years later we are married and I moved here permanently. Although I still travel back to London pretty often for work.
MM Edu: So, were you a traveling model for that year in Europe?
Ulorin: That was kind of mixture of fun and traveling. But I’ve always been a traveling model, primarily around Europe, and I guess my trips to and from LA, but that was sometimes for work and other times to see friends. I always like to book at least 1 or 2 shoots when I’m travelling to somewhere, even just on holiday. I can’t help it!
MM Edu: Of all the places you’ve been, which stand out most?
Ulorin: I’ve been so many places it’s hard to say, but Hong Kong was really fun. I went to Hong Kong for work and it was my first time in Asia. It was pretty different but somehow the same because they have a lot of British things there from when they were a British Colony. They even have the big red London buses in Hong Kong!
Allan and I also spent a couple months in Italy, and we lived on a farm which was pretty cool, but I didn’t really do any shoots then, it was just for fun.
MM Edu: One of the most striking things about you is your bright orange hair. How long has it been that color?
Ulorin: I have had orange hair since the end of 2007. Before that I had bright red hair, and that was pretty eye catching too. It’s funny because just before I started modeling I was in my goth teenage phase and I had jet black hair. But I developed an allergy to the black hair dye and had to bleach it out and the only color I could do was red. It was the only thing that worked after bleaching the black hair, but I ended up really liking the bright red color. It was red for my first couple of years as a model, but as I saw more and more models with a similar color I wanted to do something different (not to mention I was starting to get bored with it anyway).
I can’t quite remember what prompted orange. I’m sure there was some inspiration from Leeloo in The Fifth Element, and also I had never seen anyone else do that color before. A few people told me I wouldn’t get any work with orange hair but it went the other way. I started doing a lot more hairdressing work after I was cast for a TIGI bedhead ad campaign. They had been looking for an edgy model for their new color products and they made the orange even brighter and more vibrant. Since then it’s always been some kind of orange or copper. It’s useful too because I do a lot of fine art nude modeling and it’s really easy to tone down orange to look like a natural red. It’s a good balance between my crazy latex shoots, when I want it to look bold, versus more natural for nudes.
MM Edu: You touched on a couple of the genres your modeling covers but your portfolio is very diverse. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?
Ulorin: I really don’t. I like doing so many different things. I get bored if I do just one style for too long. I think my favorite thing about modeling is that I do so many different things and I’m not just known for one particular genre. I guess some people think it’s better to specialize in one area, but I like being able to do all sorts of things.
MM Edu: You have an almost futuristic look and that’s apparent in many of your shoots too. Was that a conscious decision on your part or did your look evolve over time?
Ulorin: I think it just evolved, I mean I don’t look like a typical any kind of model–I’m a bit too weird looking for normal stuff but I’m not quite crazy enough looking for pure character work–so I kind of fit somewhere in the middle. I’m pretty good at changing the way I look with makeup and hair; I guess I’m one of those people that can look completely different with the styling, which is good because I like doing all the different things.
MM Edu: You also have a degree in natural sciences. Tell us about your background in that field and how that influences you now.
Ulorin: I originally went to university to study Biology, and then switched to Natural Sciences so I could do a slightly broader range of stuff. It was just my best subject in school apart from art. But my schooling was based on those that said you can’t have a career doing art, so I just went into Biology. I really enjoyed it but I sometimes wish I’d done an Art Degree now because I do a lot of illustration work as well. My biology background influences my art a lot, but I think that’s a good thing.
MM Edu: If you weren’t a model and artist, what would you be doing?
Ulorin: I don’t really know. I really had no idea what I wanted to do long term. I would probably have gone on to do a Masters degree in Ecology or something environmental. I feel like only in the past year or two I’ve realized I want to be an illustrator or a painter. And I’ve modeled for 8 years now and that turned into a career. I didn’t plan on modeling, but now I’m using my modeling to promote my art work too, so it’s proving useful in another way. I never thought that would happen either, but I guess it all happened for a reason.
MM Edu: Getting back to modeling for a minute, your posing ability is also very noticeable. There’s a lot of movement, a lot of exaggerated poses in your work. How much of that is practiced and how much of that is improvised or natural for you?
Ulorin: I’ve never consciously practiced posing. I think it’s just because I’ve been doing it for so long and I just have a lot of body awareness. I realize it’s not something everyone has, but I’m able to make up stuff as I go along. I often have this picture in my head and I usually try to pose to match what I think suits the clothing I’m wearing or the environment. I just do what I feel works and it usually seems to work out well.
MM Edu: Watching you here today it seems so effortless.
Ulorin: I think that depends on the shoot. The clothing I was wearing today was actually pretty restrictive on movement, so I couldn’t really do a lot of stuff, but you have to work with that. Allan is one of those photographers that once he has the shot he doesn’t keep shooting; I like that, especially for these kinds of clothes.
I do also enjoy the shoots where the photographer will take loads of pictures and keep having you move around constantly, and you get a completely different look too.
MM Edu: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ulorin: People ask me if I used to be a dancer, but alas not. Though I would like to start. I pretty much just make up poses as I go along. I started doing yoga recently because people kept asking if I do yoga, and apparently some of my art nude posing looks a bit like yoga.
MM Edu: What advice do you have for aspiring models?
Ulorin: I get a lot of models emailing me, asking how I got started modeling, and I feel like I’m being really lame because I tell them that I put some pictures online and that was it. I didn’t ask anyone, I just did what I thought was right. I don’t really have any secrets. I just worked really hard to become good at what I was doing and people noticed.
As general advice, the obvious things such as behaving like a professional, taking care of your appearance, etc., are very important.
MM Edu: You also do a lot of your own makeup and styling. Are you self-taught?
Vex: Yes. I’ve been watching what a lot of other makeup artists do on me for quite a long time and learned from them. I have a makeup artist friend in London and she taught me a great deal. So, I’m good at doing my own makeup, but none of the crazy air brush stuff we did today. I’m also an artist, so I know what suits my face. I can do hair too, but nothing too complicated.
MM Edu: How involved are you conceptually?
Ulorin: It depends on the shoot. There are some shoots where I will do the entire look and concept and then the photographer will light it and shoot it. And some people have their own specific concept that I mould myself into. I kind of like when it’s 50/50 input of mine and the photographer or the makeup artist or designer etc. For example, today we had a very clear idea of how they wanted me to look, so it really just depends on the photo. I think I’m lucky. I get booked a lot by people who are very interested in my ideas and suggestions.
MM Edu: Do you prefer shooting in the studio or the location?
Ulorin: I prefer on location, but in an indoor location. I find it easier to pose if I have things to interact with. I think the hardest thing to shoot against is just a plain colored background because there is nothing apart from you just standing there and I feel like it gets repetitive. If you’re on location you can climb on things, lie down, and improvise more easily by interacting with everything around you. Saying that, a lot of my favorite work is on plain backgrounds.
MM Edu: You’re also an artist. What or who has influenced you?
Ulorin: I love children’s book illustrators from early 20th century, people like Aubrey Beardsley, who have a really unique style. I think that’s where my influences started off, but recently I’ve been trying to do more painting and less illustration. There’s a weird distinction between illustration and art, and I’m trying to have more concept behind what I do now. I don’t want to just to draw a dragon because it pops into my head, not that dragons aren’t awesome, but because I’ve been trying to have a set concept before I start instead of just making it up as I go along, which I do with everything else.
MM Edu: Improvisation seems to work for you. Do you see your future more as a model or artist?
Ulorin: I’m still really enjoying modeling, so I would like to do that for a few more years, but we’ll see how long I can keep that going. I feel like I’ve been doing it forever now, but I still love it. Eventually I would like to transition to doing more art work and having modeling as a hobby, but right now it’s the other way around. I would like to have art as my career, but I don’t think I’m quite at that level yet.
MM Edu: Let’s chat about Model Mayhem. You’ve been on MM since 2005. How has it helped your career?
Ulorin: It doesn’t seem like that long, weird!
It’s funny because when I first joined Model Mayhem I didn’t really use it. I was on this other British site that I got a lot of my work from, but Model Mayhem was just a better set up and easier to use. It also coincided with when I started visiting the U.S. and I wanted to find more people in America to work with. I used to think I would never get any work off Model Mayhem for some reason, but then in 2008 I got two really big ad campaigns through it. A photographer just contacted me and told me to go to a casting and I realized Model Mayhem did have good professional people using it. From then on I used Model Mayhem more than any other site. It’s crazy but I probably get more than half of all my work from this site. You wouldn’t think so, but I get so many emails. I have my own website as well, and I get lots of referrals, but Model Mayhem has definitely been a huge help, especially since I started working in the U.S.
MM Edu: You have a huge social media presence and seem very internet savvy.
Ulorin: I’m kind of internet addict so it’s pretty easy for me. When I’m not modeling I’m usually painting and I have my laptop with me. I’m always connected to the internet and whenever I take a break from painting I’ll check the castings.
MM Edu: And what do you have coming up in 2013?
Ulorin: I’m going back to London for two months in mid-January, and I’m going to Newcastle to visit my parents as well, but I’m already booked the entire time. I can’t help it but every time I go somewhere I have to post a travel notice and then I get booked very quickly.
I’m also hoping to do an Asia tour next year. I also have some exciting collaborations with clothing designers in the pipeline. I can’t say that much yet, but my own latex fashion collection is in the works.
MM Edu: You mentioned you worked in Hong Kong, where else would you like to work or visit?
Ulorin: Australia actually. A lot of people contacted me to work in Australia, but paying for the initial flight is a bit daunting; it’s so expensive, and I don’t usually take deposits from people, but I’m sure if I went there I would definitely make the money back. It also looks like I will be visiting South Africa later in 2013, which I’m very excited about!
MM Edu: Well, thank you so much for allowing me to come to your studio to see you in action, and for taking the time to chat with me.
Ulorin: Thank you!