In Hidden Talents, Bwog seeks out the most fabulously gifted of your peers and exposes their skills to inspire your general awe and, of course, requisite jealousy. In this edition, Bwog’s resident modeling maven Liz Jacob introduces you to Lisa Cant, GS ’12, Columbia’s very own supermodel. Know any other Columbians worthy of a profile? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before being discovered in a Calgary Ikea at age 14, Lisa Cant had never even considered a modeling career. Indeed, as Lisa recalls with a chuckle, “I was the shortest in my class until I was about 13. And then one summer I grew all the way up to how tall I am now. I remember it being…really painful.” Since age 16, however, Lisa has traveled all over the world for her modeling, walking the runways for Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana, gracing the covers of German and Italian Vogue, and perhaps most notably, acting as the face of Juicy Couture for five years.
Despite the success of her modeling career, Lisa always planned to attend school, though she wasn’t always sure how well it would balance with her work. “When I first started school, I went part-time. I did the first year only like 2 or 3 classes per semester so that I could still continue with work. And then as I’ve been continuing with school, I’ve come to like it more than work.” As a history major, Lisa really appreciates the passion that Columbia professors bring to their teaching. For that reason, she can never quite understand why other students are so content to skip classes. “Kids are always missing class! I never miss class if I don’t have to. Even in classes where professors take attendance, I still see the lecture hall half empty.”
All the same, Lisa’s work obligations do require her to miss classes every now and then. And while photo shoots and traveling engagements nearly inevitably fall during inconvenient times, Lisa is lucky in that her agent is supportive of schoolwork, which means that together, they find ways to make it work. And at the end of the day, Lisa has to admit, “Modeling pays for school, so there’s definitely that advantage to it.”
Having taken a class with Lisa, this admittedly dense reporter must confess that she’d never guessed at her modeling background. Apparently, this reporter is not alone: rarely recognized on campus, the 5’9” wide-eyed beauty maintains a fairly unobtrusive style when headed to class. “You know, just a ponytail, jeans, and glasses.” Entirely devoid of diva complex associated with supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Lisa is infinitely friendly and approachable, in a way that only a true Canadian can be.
Most of us worry about finding a job post-grad, but Lisa, as a 26-year-old model, is already nearing retirement after a ten-year career. But save your critique of the fashion world’s ageism, as Lisa describes it with refreshing pragmatism. Though Lisa admits that it is a “youth-obsessed industry,” she also insists that the modeling world isn’t quite as awful as it’s depicted on shows like America’s Next Top Model. “They’re really mean to those girls. They’ll say things like, ‘You have no personality.’ It’s not as bad as that.” Rather, after 13 seasons on the runway and even more years doing print work, Lisa finds the industry’s desire for “fresh faces” entirely natural. “Designers are under pressure to constantly produce new and beautiful things, season after season, and I’ve been around for a long time.”
Lisa will, however, speak to the occupational hazards of the modeling industry. “You’re not employed by your agency; you employ your agency. So you’re a completely independent worker—you have no benefits, no protection, nothing.” Fortunately, she’s helping to work toward fairness in the industry. Last year, Lisa’s friend and fellow supermodel Sara Ziff, GS ’11, released Picture Me, a documentary that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the seedier underbelly of the modeling world. Along with Cameron Russell, yet another supermodel GS-er, Lisa allowed cameras to follow her on photo shoots and runways around the world. Her eventual hope is for the success of Sara Ziff’s proposed “Model Alliance,” an organization that would improve health and working conditions in the heretofore unregulated modeling industry.
So what’s next for Lisa Cant, world-renowned supermodel? With two and a half semesters left at Columbia to finish her history thesis (she’s writing about documents captured by the Allies during World War II) and graduate, Lisa’s view on the future seems like that of most Columbia students: she’s just as worried as the rest of us. But at the same time, this brainy beauty speaks with a degree of hopefulness: “In the next two years, I’ll find something to do. I have no idea what it is…but I’ll find something.”