Joan Smalls (Joan Rodriguez) grew up in Puerto Rico, where she discovered modeling by way of television. Originally using the TV to watch Sesame Street while sandwiched between her two pet dogs, Smalls later gained a healthy addiction to fashion-related shows. Frequent comparisons of her body type against the models on the tube convinced Smalls that she could make it in the industry, while an episode of E! True Hollywood Story provided her with enough industry insights to believe that a modeling salary could mean a better life for her and her family.
In 2007, Smalls jumped ship from Puerto Rico to New York City, where she promptly found professional representation with Elite Model Management. From there, she was chosen by Tory Burch as a fall show headliner, something she would also do for Heatherette, L’Wren Scott, Tracy Reese, and Benjamin Cho. Besides a gig for Liz Claiborne that would see her in a print campaign with Anouck Lepere, Smalls’ biggest exposure that season would come from modeling the new Nordstrom catalog as well as being the closer for Ports 1961.
On the heels of her fall appearance for Ports 1961, the company chose Joan Smalls as its new face in 2008. The subsequent ads featured the model’s naturally exotic features contrasted against a desert background, and she later represented the company in its Fall 2008 New York show. At the same show, Smalls also teamed up with the likes of Sass & Bide and Diane von Furstenberg before landing her first major magazine editorial for Cosmopolitan. Shortly thereafter, she hit the music circuit with an appearance in Ricky Martin’s music video for “It’s Alright.”
In June of 2008, Smalls graced the cover of the American magazine Bond — her first cover shoot as a professional model. The momentum of this appearance led to a special editorial in V to highlight the beauties of Elite Model Management and also carried over to the runway, as Smalls found an industry ally in the Oscar de la Renta label. The prestigious designer’s label hired her to flaunt its ready-to-wear collection for spring/summer 2009 and its pre-fall 2009 line. In addition to this work, Smalls would again walk for Ports 1961 while also wearing the clothes of Harlan Bell, Sophie Theallet and Rachel Roy.
Before 2009 was over, Joan Smalls made one of her most important career moves by switching her representation from Elite Model Management to IMG Models. Having been on the brink of true modeling stardom for several years, this move paid off immeasurably in 2010 when Smalls was chosen by Givenchy’s creative director, Riccardo Tisci, to appear as an exclusive in the company’s spring Paris couture show.
Suddenly the demand for Smalls increased tenfold, and in the spring of 2010, she walked no less than 40 industry shows, with fashion stalwarts like Gucci, Prada, Burberry, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent making requests for her services. Smalls received another vote of confidence when Gucci and Givenchy both hired her as a face for their 2010 campaigns. She returned to the Paris runway in the summer of 2010 for Givenchy and also for Christian Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier.
The increased runway exposure for Smalls was matched by a number of high-profile magazine shoots in 2010. Under the lens of industry-praised photographer Steven Meisel, she was photographed for an editorial in the April 2010 issue of Italian Vogue, which was followed a month later with a second editorial put together by Patrick Demarchelier for German Vogue.
Finally, Smalls added another crowning achievement to her substantial 2010 accomplishments with a group cover shoot for WWD with fellow beauties Tatiana Cotliar, Ilvie Wittek and Hind Sahli. It was a fitting career surge for the Puerto Rican beauty and an exemplary sign of great things to come.
Now, after years in the industry as a successful commercial model — and after lending her irresistible legs and pout to a number of the top names of the fashion world — Joan Smalls continues to make serious headway into high fashion. She was named Paris Fashion Week’s Top Model last year and made AskMen’s Top 99 Most Desirable Women 2011 list. Joan Smalls has finally arrived for good.