It would be easy to find Ashley Smith intimidating. She’s the show-stopping, gap-toothed model from the middle-of-nowhere-Texas who’s walked the Balenciaga runway and graced the cover of Playboy Magazine half nude. Over the course of her decade-long career, she’s embodied the all-American face of Tommy Hilfiger, seduced as an Agent Provocateur temptress, and been photographed by Ellen Von Unwerth, Mert and Marcus Piggott, Guy Aroch, and just about every other major name photographer in the industry.
Here’s what you can’t tell just from looking at her picture: She’s a hugger and can talk a-mile-a-minute. She loves to draw, has an aptitude for playing Nintendo and is obsessed with cartoons, a passion she puts down to “growing up in a small town with not a whole lot to do.” She dreams of starring in a Quentin Tarantino movie and didn’t own a passport when she landed a modelling contract straight out of high school at the tender age of 16. “Where I’m from, you’re born in Texas and you die in Texas. You don’t leave your home,” she says, “If you told me I’d be where I am today back then, I would have laughed in your face and told you that you’re crazy.”
Smith’s early career included a nail-biting trip to Brazil on an assignment for Elle, (“I arrived in pitch black and thought for sure I was going to die, but in the morning I opened my window to paradise.”), stints in Paris, London, and Milan, and an eight-year sojourn in New York City. “I didn’t really tell my family I wasn’t technically living in Texas anymore, I just left,” she recalls. “My grandparents still ask when I’m going to go back and go to college.” Her continued success comes from a steady work ethic, can-do attitude, and keeping a good head on her shoulders. “I’ve never felt in competition with other models—either I’m the right girl for the job or not,” she says diplomatically.
Ashley describes herself as a natural mother to her friends—a talent she’s testing in her new role as the founder of a modelling agency, called No Agency. Bolstered by support from her friend Olivier Zahm, she announced the venture via a breezy editorial in the Summer 2017 edition of his publication, Purple Magazine. Currently, the agency manages the careers of 13 girls, most of whom were already friends of Smith’s or were discovered by her on Instagram. “A bunch of my friends were booking themselves through social media and kind of becoming their own agents and I just thought I could step in and help them,” she explains. “I also wanted to give other girls an opportunity who I thought had something special that other agents might not see—like character, personality, or a certain talent, like music.” No Agency is a mini-community: “All of the girls love and support each other. When I’m in town, we all get together and swap stories over dinner.”
Smith’s own modelling career has taken a backseat of late to make way for the agency and her other fresh enterprise: learning the ropes as an actress. The two disciplines, she says, aren’t really all that different. “I’ve always treated modelling like acting; I would play a role and try to tell a story. When you’re as uninhibited as I am in front of the camera, I think it naturally leads to exploring film and movies.” Excited by a role away from the hypersexualised typecasting that so often occurs when models meet Hollywood, Smith jumped at the opportunity to pair up with Semaine and Hala Matar for this week’s film, ‘Fish in the Sea’, “I’d rather be the awkward girl or a demented old woman. That’s why I loved this project so much—I got to play around and be a wild, different character.”
In the near future, Ashley hopes to branch out into singing and script writing too. “I have a lot on my plate, but I’m lucky that I have people to help me with whatever I’m venturing into,” she says. “My fault and my greatest feature is that I’m so curious, I’m always doing more than one thing. When I feel like I’ve done well in one category of my career, I want to expand into something new. Recently I’ve started to think about directing my own film, but I’m not sure I’d know what to do.” Given her track record, we’ve got a hunch that Smith can do just about anything she sets out to.
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.