Runway Legend Omahyra Mota Feels Stronger Than Ever

Runway Legend Omahyra Mota Feels Stronger Than Ever

Story by Mickey Boardman / Photography by 91 Rules / Creative direction by Paul Bui / Styling by Gabriel Held / Makeup by Kento Utsubo / Hair by Ryuta SayamaMar 26, 2024

In the early 2000s, the runways of New York Fashion Week were ruled by Omahyra Mota. The androgynous Mota combined a tough tomboy from the streets look with an old school fierce runway walk that perfectly captured the energy of the day. She strutted the catwalks for brands like Miguel Adrover, Heatherette and Baby Phat before unleashing her magic on the runways of Europe for Gucci,YSL, McQueen and Moschino. After taking a long break from fashion to raise her kids in Miami, Mota is back and more badass than ever. PAPER caught up with her to hear how she feels about being back in the spotlight, below.

You’re having a moment, right now. Did you officially leave modeling?

I had kids and I decided to be home with them, to raise them, to be there. I moved to Miami to be mommy. I wake up at six. I'm the one that takes them to school. I'm the one who showers them, who makes their food, washes their uniform, does their homework with them. It's crazy, but it's easier now because they're a little bit older.

Was it the Jean Paul Gaultier campaign that brought you back?

I think the Mugler show. They just started calling me again like, "Oh, we want you for this. Can you make it?" A lot of the times I had to cancel because I couldn't leave the children. They just started asking and I was just like, "I have to go back into my career."

Did you still have an agent this whole time?

Yeah, the whole time. They've always been there and giving me my space. If anything, they were being very respectful. They were just like, "I'm just telling you there's this going on. They want to see you. They want you for their show. You booked this campaign. This photo shoot, this is a great photographer. You have to come. Let us know if you can make it. We can figure out with the kids timing and we'll work around your time. We'll fly in, do it, and then you fly back the same day or the next day, early first flight." So that's how I've been doing it mostly. Just in and out, in and out.

What was it like doing runway after taking a break?

It was a little bit strange because it was very different. There was this whole bunch of new girls. I knew the hairdressers, the makeup artists, the photographers, but the girls were new and younger. And for me, it was missing a little bit of that backstage loudness or excitement, how it used to be. I think it was more business this time around. It was more serious, more corporate. It used to be such a party and everybody that came into the shows were such characters, and it was all this glam going on. But once we started, it sort of all came back and I was like, "We're ready, boom." I was really excited, actually. I had so much fun and I loved it. I felt like myself again.

You really were a star on the runway.

It was alive, the moment. You can't fuck up. You're here now, and everybody's watching and expecting this sort of energy or this projection of confidence and strongness and this boss type of invincible energy.

When did you start modeling?

I think I was 14. I was in New York in school and my mom took pictures. I'm like, "This is not going to work. Look at these girls, I don't think I fit." I wasn't really sure, but my mom was the one pushing and then we took pictures with a disposable camera. We finished the whole roll with the bathing suit, front and sideways, and I did my little pose here and there, and I had short bleached hair, that sort of ’90s type of look, with the piercings in the ears and looking really young. On the back of the pictures I put my size, my measurements, my age, my phone number, my address. And George Speros, from Boss Models, called back that time. He was the only one that called back actually. So I went and he saw me and he loved it, and he's like, "Oh my God, I have to introduce you to the agents and we have to start building your book." That's how it started and then it just went.

Do you remember what your first big professional runway show or photo shoot was?

I can't recall if it was Tom Ford for Gucci, the fashion show in Milan, or if it was Helmut Newton for German Vogue in Monaco. I don't know which one was first because it's so mixed and it happened so fast.

Both of those are legendary. Did you know who Helmut Newton was? Did you follow fashion photographers like that at the time?

No, no, no. I just knew that he was big and I saw some of his work because we did a little homework, but right before. The stylist was telling me, "He likes this, he likes that." He was really guiding me through the whole photoshoot. Oh my God, it was so great. He was really there, so I was able to understand and come through. I was able to behave and intake direction properly. Everybody was happy, the pictures came out great.

You were still a teenager at this point? What was that like to make your debut for Tom Ford for Gucci? I mean, that's crazy.

I went into this room and there were all these gorgeous Brazilian models. I mean, their hair. That's really almost all I can remember: just them, beautiful tans and this hair. I was like, "Oh my gosh. What am I doing here?" I was a little bit out of place, I felt, but once Tom knew I was there he opened the door. He was like, "You, come in. I was waiting for you." So I came in and he was just like, "Oh my God, I've been wanting to work with you." Then I did the show and they really liked it. So he kept on booking me for the shows and for Gucci. And then YSL in Paris, since he was there, as well.

When I think of those times, in New York, it was a big moment with Miguel Adrover, Baby Phat and Sean John. Can you talk a little bit about Miguel?

I love Miguel, of course. He was so animated every time I went in to get fitted because he was like, "Oh my God. You look like a boy, but it's like a girl." He's like, "Oh my God, I love it." Still today he writes me here and there, and he's just amazing. His shows were so intense, his clothing and the styling and everything. And the girls that he used, they were so weird and special, special looking. He knew. He's like, "No, this is what I want. This is what it is." He was really, really passionate, just full of excitement. It was beautiful, I loved working for him.

What about Baby Phat?

I remember Patti Wilson was styling it and they were like, "You're perfect for this. You represent New York." So it just worked. I knew what to do, you know what I mean? From there, I got to be able to do the “Change Clothes” video for Jay-Z. Then after that, Damon Dash came to me and said, "You have to be the face of Rocawear, you're just perfect for it." That was just a New York type of thing. Also, Heatherette. It was so much fun and it was also that energy. It was something about New York and these designers. For me, somewhat representing New York, the edginess and some type of flavor.

For the runway, do you have a favorite kind of look to wear or are you happy with anything?

For me, it's like, "What are we doing today?" I was excited about that, of course, because I could pull that off. But also the different ways you can see yourself with different outfits and different scenarios because it'll change. It was fun being different characters. "I'm somebody else now." When I look at myself in the mirror with this outfit I'm wearing, sometimes it’s like, "Oh my God, what am I wearing?" But I had to bring out this character of this outfit that I was wearing specifically and, for me, that was fun. It was kind of acting or giving the audience the illusion of this character, whatever that looked like.

Since you were so young when you started, do you ever look back?

I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about creativity and working with all these creative people surrounding me always. It was very inspiring and eye-opening. For me, that was the most fun. But I feel like the part of being young, it was sort of important because it opened my eyes to this whole professional creative world on top. It was a special art show. Look at this shit, you know what I mean? It's like, "Wow."

You've been doing shoots again. Does it feel like the same energy or is it a different world now?

It does feel like a different world, but it's also depending on the people at the shoot. A lot of people are worried and stressed. And I get it, because of course you want to do it right and there’s pressure. But also some of these shoots, the group of people, they make it so fun. Some of them remind me of back in the day, of that energy where they're really creating and having fun creating. And that's how we get such great pictures.

Do you remember a moment when you thought, Wow. I've really made it?

The Tom Ford for Gucci show. I was like, "Jesus, my grandmother uses this perfume. I know exactly what this is." And for YSL, every time I did him, I was just like, "This is so beautiful, so elegant, so high fashion for me." Also Gaultier, oh my God.

Gaultier is definitely an important thread in your career.

When I first saw him, he was like, "You fit here so well." Doing this show was something out of this world for me. Those are great moments for me. You are doing this for real. This is really happening. It doesn't get higher than this. It is melancholic even because I can feel it now. Even remembering, I can feel this air of “I made it.” My mom was right, I was born for this and God brought me all the way over here.

Do your kids see your work?

Oh my God, yes. My kids are like, "My mom did this, My mom did that.” They always put me on the spot, my eldest mostly. And some parents will tell them, "You know that your mom is this and that person." But it's great, they're really proud. When I did X-Men, my eldest didn't know. And then she's like, "Oh my God, Mommy. You didn't tell me that you did X-Men," because she found out when some kid in school told her. She's like, "Why didn't you tell me that? That's amazing.” They're so proud, and they're so loving and such kind kids. I couldn't ask for better, I couldn't.

Do you feel like you appreciate everything more now that you're older and have had more life experience?

Yes, I think so because it was so busy back in the day. I was young, so I did love it, but I didn't really have time to sit and take it in. Now when I look back, I'm like, "Wow, I did a lot of work. How did it even happen?" Coming back and modeling now, I feel even stronger with more power. For me, I can really understand and see the difference and still be my age and come back and I can feel it from the people, even from the audience.

Photography: 91 Rules
Creative Direction: Paul Bui
Styling: Gabriel Held (using vintage from his archive, and Anger designed by Omahyra Mota and her partner Christian Anger)
Model: Omahyra Mota (Supreme Management)
Makeup: Kento Utsubo
Hair: Ryuta Sayama
Set design: Gio Rgi M and John Ciumberland
Lighting: Alex Morgan
Styling assistant Akai Little John
Makeup assistant: Robin Stright
Special thanks to SAA Brooklyn, Adrianna Veredi and Christian Anger