Alyssa Riley has been modeling since she was 14, when she landed her first-ever job for Kohls. In the decade since, she’s modeled for Covergirl, Guess, Saks Fifth Avenue, Crest toothpaste…the list goes on. “Chicago was the closest city with the most opportunity, so I graduated from high school at 17 and signed with Ford Models so I could fully devote myself. It’s been an interesting world to grow up in,” says Alyssa, “but my family keep me grounded—my parents are my biggest fans. I’m thankful to them for trusting me at a young age and for being there when I needed them.”
A Capricorn whose nicknames include Lys, Toad or Jubilee (“long story”), Alyssa aptly fits the model profile: outgoing, ambitious, confident and street-smart, though “I’ve been known to walk on set wearing something backwards every once in awhile,” she admits.
Growing up in Ohio, Alyssa was an athlete—she played volleyball and was trained in classical ballet—and a “pro babysitter: I love kids and taking care of people.” After bouncing from city to city for work, her life is more settled now. She lives in New York City and spends a lot of time in New Jersey, where her boyfriend lives. “I’m obsessed with cooking and being outdoors—my happy place is Montana—so it’s nice to have an escape from the city. I love weekends spent relaxing at the house, having amazing wine and cooking dinner for friends,” says Alyssa, who credits her great-grandmother for teaching her to cook and bake.
In her downtime, Alyssa is likely reading a good book (currently The Hôtel on Place Vendôme: Life, Death and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris) or having a Sunday Netflix marathon in her favorite Calvin Klein boy shorts and sports bras (“I wear them as pajamas”). Says Alyssa, “My favorite campaigns to shoot are swim and lingerie. I absolutely love the beach and working outside; I feel my most beautiful when I’m on the beach in my bikini. And I always feel sexy and confident shooting lingerie, especially anything from For Love & Lemons. They make such beautiful detailed pieces. To me the contemporary department is the most fashion-forward, cool and appealing.”
Confession #1: Social media has seriously changed the game.
The Internet and social media have drastically affected the modeling and entertainment industries. Everything moves at a much faster pace. Editorial shoots used to last for weeks; now they’re done in a day! E-commerce never used to be a thing; there’s so much product to shoot all the time, it’s never-ending, like scrolling through Instagram—there’s always another picture. It’s exciting, though, because you really get to build your own personal brand and connect with different people and clients that you maybe would never have known about before.
Confession #2: Cultivating a healthy body image is essential.
This industry is cutthroat. We have a lot of pressure to keep our measurements on point to fit the samples. Also, if you’re shooting mainly lingerie, you need to be very toned because you’re so exposed! I’ve accepted my body, I love having a womanly shape. I’m focusing on staying healthy and strong and consistent as opposed to losing weight and dieting. I’ve found I feel much better, and it actually helps me stay looking my best to live that way.
Confession #3: Models love to eat.
The biggest misconception about models is that that they don’t eat, but we love food! My girlfriends and I try to go out to dinner a few times a month. Our favorite spots are Chalk Point Kitchen and ABC Kitchen. I adore my mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and I love pasta and a good burger, too.
Confession #4: I’m super into fitness.
I love to run and hope to one day complete the New York City Marathon. I like to switch things up to keep myself excited. My favorites at the moment are boxing and Pilates. Boxing helps relieve stress. My trainer really knows how to get long, lean muscles while making a workout fun and enjoyable. I love Pilates because it works the small muscles that really change your shape and body. It also helps to create very long, lean muscles, which is important as a model. I also enjoy yoga and running. I used to dance ballet en pointe; I can still do a few moves.
Confession #5: We all dream of landing Sports Illustrated.
I’ll know I’ve made it when I achieve the goal of being featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. It’s such an iconic brand to be a part of and has always been a dream of mine.
Confession #6: When in doubt, add a dab of Aquaphor.
It’s my favorite hair/makeup product I’ve picked up on set. I use it on my lips, cheekbones and brow arches for a natural-looking glow.
Confession #7: It helps to have a theme song.
The most challenging thing about a full-day shoot is staying “on” and being present. Any shoot depends a lot on the models, so we have to maintain great energy throughout the day, which isn’t always easy. I think people think it’s easy. It’s not. Modeling is very demanding, you need to study and know how to move your body and work your best angles. You also want to stay creative and exciting to work with, so there’s always room for improvement or new poses to try out. Also, it feels like a marathon sometimes when there’s a full day of product to shoot or a certain amount of images to get done. When I hear the “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, I immediately get a second wind. James, the photographer for Bare Necessities, always plays it for me at some point in our day of shooting. We may or may not take a little break to dance it out or make a Boomerang video.
Confession #8: Approach every situation with a can-do attitude.
The modeling industry can be challenging, so I always try to look ahead and to stay positive. Success requires an amazing team; it truly is a group effort to get great images. If there’s a link missing, it won’t turn out. The best advice I ever got was this: You don’t fail until you stop trying. Never give up on your goals and dreams.
Confession #9: It’s really weird to see yourself in pictures.
I love it, but I’ll never get used to it. I still get excited when family or friends send me a text with a picture from an ad or a website; it’s just a cool feeling. It’s also rewarding to see all the hard work that goes into the shoots as a final product.
Confession #10: There’s no such thing as balance.
My bad habit is overcommitting. I tend to make too many plans with not enough time. Finding balance between work, personal life, friendships and family is stressful. But I’m working on it!