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Behind the Makeup: Fashion Week Models Tell Their Story

Associated Press photographers spoke backstage with models during New York Fashion Week, which began Thursday.

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They're the often-anonymous stars of New York Fashion Week — the models who walk the runways in designer clothes, looking mostly impassive and inevitably beautiful as they pose before cameras. Their lives off the runways, however, remain for the most part a mystery. Here are their stories.

Jing Wen, center, of Guangzhou, China, waits to rehearse with other models before the Prabal Gurung Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 6, 2014, during Fashion Week in New York.

Jing Wen, 19, began modeling at age 17. She says that as a little girl, she loved the idea of modeling, but never dreamed that she would end up walking runways internationally. Although her mother and sister are back in China, she doesn’t often suffer from homesickness. For Jing Wen, the struggle to stay emotionally balanced is far more difficult. “You have to keep your heart strong,” she explains. “It’s so hard to get the show, so you have to [stay] peaceful, all the time.” As for her future plans, Jing Wen sees herself as an entrepreneur. She says she plans to go back to school after modeling “and maybe after few years I will have my coffee shop.”

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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Fashion model Yulia Musieichuk of Kiev, Ukraine, reacts as she is photographed from multiple angles while having her toenails painted backstage before the Rebecca Minkoff Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 5 during Fashion Week, in New York.

Musieichuk, 22, who was scouted in her native Ukraine at age 16, has a mother, father, sister and nephew back home. "I like to be alone and traveling," she replied, when asked if she ever finds herself homesick. She feels the biggest misconception about modeling is that it's easy, saying that dealing with rejection is the biggest hurdle. With regards to casting, "It’s very hard after it’s 'no.' You can do it so many times and it’s no, no, no… it’s very hard emotionally... to stay in this and just to believe in yourself." As for her future in modeling, "I like it for now."

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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Max Esken of Dusseldorf, Germany, has makeup applied backstage before the Tim Coppens Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 7 during Fashion Week in New York.

Esken, 21, is brand new to modeling, having just been scouted in January in his native Germany. Although this is his first time working at Fashion Week in New York, he already knows that the most difficult part of the job for him is the schedule. Between having to attend so many castings, go-sees and fittings, Esken says, “You’re always in a hurry, and you can’t relax.” Once he gets to a show though, he says things slow down considerably. “The jobs are almost, like, half an hour hair and makeup and then you can chill, relax, smoke cigarettes,” he explains.

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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Fashion model Dasha Jold, 18, of Yekaterinburg, Russia, has her nails done backstage before the Monique Lhuillier Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 5 during Fashion Week in New York.

Jold was scouted on the street in her native Russia, at age 17. She struggles sometimes with homesickness, but says that keeping in touch through services like Skype helps ease those feelings. "I’m not missing the place, I’m missing the people there," Jold says, speaking about her hometown. Asked about the hardest aspect of modeling, she mentions the physical demands of the job. She explains that sometimes you just "need to recover, vacation, and then you can be fresh again - your skin, your head” and, she says laughing, “your feet.”

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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Fashion model Mari Agory of South Sudan has glitter applied to her eyelids backstage before the Christian Siriano Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 6 during Fashion Week in New York.

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, Agory’s family lived in what is now known as South Sudan. The youngest of eight children, she and her family fled to Egypt in 1999 during her country’s civil war, where they were granted political asylum by the United States, eventually settling in San Diego, Calif. Agory, 23, was discovered at age 20 by a photographer while attending her junior year of college. “It’s considered late in the industry,” she explains, “because girls start really young.”

For Agory, homesickness is her biggest hurdle. “Especially when I go over to Europe,” she explains, “but when I’m in New York, for some reason, I still feel close to my family because I’m in the States.” Despite sometimes going a full year between visits home, Agory admits that life on the road can also be rewarding. “I get to see the beauty of this world, and it’s part of my job,” she explains. When asked about how long she sees herself modeling, Agory jokes, “I’m gonna do it until my skin starts crackin’.” Although she has not been able to return to her native country since her family fled, Agory, who studied public health in college, hopes to utilize her education and opportunities generated by her modeling career to contribute something positive to her home country. “There’s just something that pulls me back.”

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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Stephanie Joy Field, center, of Sydney, Australia, rehearses before the Prabal Gurung Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 6 during Fashion Week in New York.

Field, 19, who has only been modeling since January, was actually scouted in Australia at age 13 but decided to finish high school before beginning her career. Although her family remains back in Sydney, being homesick isn’t a problem for her. “I went to boarding school, so I’m kind of used to not being at home.” One aspect of modeling that does challenge her, however, is the constant scrutiny. “You always have to be...on show, and, like, presenting yourself right,” she explains, “because...everyone’s always watching you.” One thing she appreciates about modeling, though, is the people. “I love meeting...amazing people, and working with, like, some really amazing clients,” she says, adding, “and you get to have lots of fun while doing it.”

Field plans to study university level law and psychology by correspondence next year, with an eye towards her life outside of the fashion industry. “I’m just gonna see what happens with the modeling, and I’ll have a fall-back if it doesn’t come through.”

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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Mona Matsuoka, 16, of Tokyo, waits backstage before the Monique Lhuillier Spring 2015 collection show on Sept. 5 during Fashion Week in New York.

An only child born to a Japanese mother and American father, Matsuoka began modeling in her hometown of Tokyo at age 10, after her mother put her into a modeling agency. Deciding at age 13 that she wanted to pursue modeling internationally, she had to wait until her 16th birthday before she could begin the next phase of her career. "I’m really homesick," she says, when asked about life on the road. Matsuoka says she struggles most with the uncertainty that permeates her essentially freelance lifestyle of modeling. “You don’t know what’s gonna happen." Nevertheless, Matsuoka views her modeling career in the long-term. “I would like to do it my whole life if I can."

Jason Decrow / FR103966 AP
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