Our May Woman of the Month is the legendary Carlotta Lennox. In Part I of our interview with her, she took us to Enid, Oklahoma, where she was raised with two brothers and a sister by a dad who revolutionized the chicken fried steak industry and a fashion-forward, boutique-owning mom. After a chance encounter, fate whisked Carlotta off to Miami to launch her modeling career.
In Part II, we go deeper into her life as a model, a single mom, entrepreneur, business owner, and wife. She shares hard-earned wisdom about marriage and about the strength it takes to follow our dreams.
Please enjoy the second part of Courtney’s interview with Carlotta Lennox.
MB: Picking up from our earlier discussion, do agencies take their time building a new model’s book or are they thrown into it?
CL: I’ll speak for Kim Dawson, my agency now. They’ve groomed and molded at least nine supermodels. When I say supermodels, I mean models who are grossing millions and millions of dollars a year. I’m still working towards that Super model status, but I have a very lucrative modeling career. As a new model, you need street smarts. If you’re thrust into this industry—which a lot of young girls are—you may get caught up in the partying, the drugs, all of that. But if you can take a step back, you’ll understand that this is a business where you can make a lot of money.
Agencies mold young girls so that they have the opportunity to mature and the agency can see how they handle themselves in front of clients—does the model arrive on time, does she come prepared, or did she go to bed at 3:00 a.m. and now smells like beer and wine?
MB: Miami is known as a tempting city. How did you thrive in such an environment?
CL: Even though my home base was South Beach, I would fly to a lot of different countries for different Fashion Weeks. Ultimately, I think I survived because I like to observe. I watched a lot of girls go into a downward spiral, hit the ground, and never bounce back. They could’ve been something amazing in the industry, but they were too quick to get involved and didn’t understand what could happen to them in the future.
MB: Whenever all this was going on, were you still close with your family?
CL: Oh YES! Absolutely. My parents would visit me at least twice a year, if not more. They were always checking on me and making sure I was doing what I was supposed to do. As a young adult, I did some crazy things, too, but I felt like everything has timing. What happened to me in Miami has prepared me for who I am in my life today. I’m extremely happy that my parents supported me and gave me the confidence to live the dream I wanted. They didn’t pressure me to follow what they wanted me to do.
MB: Not every parent is like that. Sometimes people who are successful, they want to give that success to their children, maybe force them onto a certain path because that path worked for them, or they want their legacy to continue. It’s extra cool that your parents supported you and wanted to help.
CL: It was a beautiful thing. Some people love the challenge of studying. Me, on the other hand, I’m not that way. I’m hard-wired to be creative. I’m hard-wired to watch other people and learn from that.
MB: You lived in Miami, New York, and Paris for a number of years. When did you move from Paris to Dallas?
CL: That is an interesting little story. I had been back and forth for years…Paris, Miami, New York. I met a Frenchman while living in Miami. He lived in Paris, but had a three-month visa and would visit Miami for three months and then return to Paris. When I was in Paris, we would connect and he would take me around. I would stay in Paris for a good two to three months at a time. I’d get there prior to Fashion Week so I could go to all the castings. The shows didn’t happen for another few weeks after I got there. Then I’d wait until I had to go to the next Fashion Week, in Milan, New York, or somewhere else.
MB: It sounds like something out of a fairy tale.
CL: At the time I would say it was. We were married a few years later in France. My family attended the wedding. We had the best time ever. Unfortunately, our marriage didn’t stand the test of time. The blessing behind that is I have an amazing and beautiful daughter.
MB: What was motherhood like for you?
CL: I loved being pregnant. I got pregnant right away. There were no problems. I had my daughter, and it was great, but then there were no picket fences, or a house, or a dog. I was like, here I am a single mom with a baby, and I’m a model. How in the world am I going to provide for a child as a model?
But, I was working, and I was working a lot—thanks to my fabulous agency Kim Dawson. I have many friends from that time and they would always ask, “How are you doing this?”
My answer was, “God always puts everything in place.”
My daughter Alle had a grounded childhood. I call her my strong flower. She’s like a sunflower. She stands tall in whatever weather, wind or rain. She’s always been very wise, very aware. I know she’s an old, old soul because she’s never wavered in any of the situations we were in together. That’s how she is to this day.
MB: I have a friend who says there are children who are just meant to be in this world. They’re determined to be born. It sounds like Alle is one of those people—she was always meant to be here.
CL: Exactly, and she’s a Pisces, so she just goes with the flow.
MB: I’m a Pisces too!
CL: She’s the easiest person to get along with. Sometimes I wonder how she can be so grounded. She tells me things that I should be telling her? Like whenever I’d be discouraged or sad about being a single mom, thinking maybe I’d failed as a wife, or that I’d failed to give her the house I’d dreamed of for her…there was a lot of guilt. As a child, she could sense that, and she’d tell me, “Mommy, it’s going to be okay. We’re okay, Mommy.”
MB: Some people have that wisdom. Some people just know how to make the people around them feel better. That’s one of the traits of Pisces, that they’re very empathetic, so maybe she could just feel what you were feeling and wanted to make you feel better.
CL: Exactly, that’s my Alle!
MB: I remember her walking in Friscovania and I thought, “I can’t believe she’s that young!”
CL: It took me aback as well. I was like, “WHOA, that’s my Alle.”
MB: That kind of takes me to my next subject, which is mentoring. It seems to be an important endeavor for you. I’d love to know how you got into it and why it’s important to you.
CL: When I lived in Miami, even though I was young, there was a teacher I came across. I guess she’d seen me in a show or something, but she asked me to come speak at her high school about becoming a model. I remember looking at her and thinking, “I’m a teenager myself. How am I supposed to relay my message to other teenagers?” But I said, “Yes, I will come and speak”
I brought my portfolio with me so they could see my modeling pictures. I was standing on their auditorium stage looking at a room full of teenagers and they were looking back at me like, “Who is she? Why is she here? Oh my god, this is going to be so boring.” There were a few, though, who were sitting up in their seats. I started off telling them of my struggles—how you really have to work hard for what you want. You can’t let other people drag you down. If you have a desire and a dream, then you have to go for it, and you have to continue to go for it. It’s not going to happen overnight.
After speaking to them—thankfully they applauded—it felt good. It felt like maybe I’d make a difference in someone’s life about staying consistent, staying the course and believing in yourself.
I received letters from the students and teachers. I still have the letters to this day. It meant a lot to me that they would take the time to thank me for speaking to them about my career. Before I left Irene Marie, my agency in Miami, they asked me to come in and teach the younger girls how to walk. One thing I told these young models was that I studied videos like crazy. When I was growing up, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista…those were all the top models back in the time when I first came into modeling. Elsa Klensch on CNN had a show every Sunday where she would showcase all the shows from around the world. I could not wait for this to come on. I had my high heels on in my pajamas. I would mimic all their walks. I had a mirror on the back of my bathroom door in the hallway of my apartment. I would walk, walk, walk, walk, walk. All I did was walk, and I watched them walk. Apparently, it worked because I was asked to come in and teach a class on how to walk.
I’ve always loved talking to people and sharing with them whatever life skills I’ve learned, and helping them tap into what they want to do in life. I want to teach them how to love themselves, and I hope that what I share encourages people to never give up. To never ever give up.
MB: You mentioned that you want to teach people how to love themselves. As a model, it seems like it might be hard to hold on to that self-love in the fashion industry. I’m not even a model and I struggle with that. I’m curious if it was a journey for you or if you’ve always had a deep sense of self-love to call upon for strength.
CL: There are always going to be insecurities, but it’s not necessarily the outer beauty that I’m speaking of. You have to believe in your self-worth. We all come in different size packaging and different wrapping paper. That’s just how God made each and every one of us—unique. Understand that the most important thing is the light that comes through when you’re a loving individual. When you can find that inner light you are on your way to finding the true you. When people look at you or speak to you, they will be able to see that there’s a genuine love or a genuine spirit, or a very positive energy that comes through more than anything. It’s all about getting people to understand that we’re given different gifts, and we have to treasure those gifts.
MB: Such fantastic advice. One thing we haven’t touched on yet is your husband now. Would you mind sharing a bit about him and your story?
CL: I’ll keep this brief because he’s that kind of person. He’ll tell me, “Don’t go on and on about me!” After I was divorced, and after about four years of Alle and I living in a one-bedroom apartment, I got rebaptized. And not too long after that, I was in a position to build my own townhouse. At the time, David worked for the builder. When it was time to finally receive my keys, the builder was running late. The office was about to close, and David was the only person in the office, and he started up some small talk.
He’d seen me coming in and out over the last six months, and he said to me, “You know…I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me for dinner.”
I was looking at him thinking about how I just got out of a crazy relationship and how I wasn’t into this right now. But still, I did agree, and I tell you what: It was the best decision. He has the heart of a thousand men. The first thing he and I came together on was scripture and the Bible. We dated for several years, and he is the most respectful, kind-hearted person. We connect on a genuine basis.
When I first got married, I didn’t understand the day-to-day routine. If you can understand that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, and that you need to work with each other, despite your quirks and pet peeves, then life is good. You continue to move forward and grow, making all your dreams come to reality. It’s all about working toward the desires of your heart together. When you are ninety years old, sitting outside, and just talking—communicating—that’s what it’s about. That’s David. That’s my husband.
We were married at the Dallas Arboretum on 11-11-11. That was the best day of my life.
MB: Sounds like y’all are kindred spirits.
CL: Yes, I think we are.
MB: Final question. I love finishing up these interviews with the same question. What advice do you have for other women who are facing any sort of big decision in their life?
CL: Whatever spiritual belief you have, I believe you have to become one with God and one with yourself, and you really have to ask for guidance. Take whatever your inner spirit feels. It’s hard. Sometimes your inner spirit and your intuition will tell you what to do, but your mind will try to convince you that it’s not what you need to do.
For any woman out there who’s in a transitional place, I would just say be still. Be still and let your heart and your mind come together. Know that it will be okay. Down the road it will be okay. You should never give up on what you believe to be true.
And smile! When you smile, it makes your heart happy.
Thank you so much to Carlotta Lennox for her time, stories, and wisdom. Read Part I of her interview, and check back soon to see a day in her life as a model, family gal, and businesswoman.