Barcelona’s homeless model Nastasia Urbano is back in front of the cameras

The former face of Yves Saint Laurent has returned to the studio after living on the streets of the Catalan capital

Nastasia Urbano strikes a pose.
Nastasia Urbano strikes a pose.Manuel Outumuro
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In photos: Nastasia Urbano returns to the studio for EL PAÍS SEMANAL

Former Vogue cover model Nastasia Urbano has returned to the studio almost 25 years after she retired. In the 1980s, she modeled for the world’s best photographers and directors, including Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and David Lynch. She appeared on the cover of numerous international magazines and worked with major fashion brands such as Armani and Loewe, appearing as the face of the Yves Saint Laurent perfume Opium. She danced in Studio 54 with model Jerry Hall and actress Melanie Griffith and dated film icon Jack Nicholson. The world was at her feet.

But the press she has received recently has not been about her successful modeling career but on the difficulty of her current situation. Last November, the 57-year-old was evicted for the third time and forced to live on the streets in Barcelona.

Her story made the headlines – but it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. The modeling industry is precarious. Models, who are often underage, work with little or no legal or union protection in an unstable and arbitrary market. The reality of their working lives is a far cry from the glamor of the advertisements they appear in.

Nastasia Urbano poses in a silk dress.
Nastasia Urbano poses in a silk dress.Fotografía de Outumuro / Estilismo de Fermín y Gilles

Nastasia Urbano, whose real name is Consuelo Urbano, was born to Spanish immigrants in a factory in Switzerland. Her mother worked at the factory and Nastasia joined her at the age of 16. Her meteoric career began when a photo of her at the beach wound up in the hands of a modeling agency. It’s been 24 years since she last modeled. Not that you can tell.

Nastasia speaks five languages and arrives on time. The stylists play with different outfits and accessories while the photographer, Manuel Outumuro, and his assistants prepare the set at the spectacular Fonollar Palace in Barcelona. Nastasia glides over to wardrobe. “You can do what you want with me,” she says.

One of the challenges in photography is finding the perfect light. Nastasia carries it within her. Two of her former partners tried to extinguish it – the first wanted to pull her away from her career, and the second, her husband and the father of her two children, encouraged her to invest all her money in his projects. It was a lot of money. Nastasia says that at one point in the 1980s she signed a contract for $1 million for 20 days of work. “I left these relationships by myself because one day I woke up and said: ‘It’s over’.”

I didn’t see myself as either beautiful or ugly

Former model Nastasia Urbano

For some, beauty is an enigma; to others, it’s a construction. For Nastasia, it’s about “knowing how to carry your age well, accept your wrinkles and that your hair is not like it once was. Being happy within so that it can be seen on the outside.” Is this how she feels? “I never thought anything about myself, I didn’t see myself as either beautiful or ugly. Perhaps I felt special, that’s what I was told I was.”

What Nastasia enjoys most is being in front of the cameras. “I love immersing myself in my own world, forgetting about what’s around me, playing a little with the clothes that suit me, being myself,” she says.

“You’re a machine,” photographer Outumuro tells her. All the shots are good. Nastasia believes photographers are the most interesting characters in the fashion industry but she recognizes “a bad one could destroy you.” She remembers Vogue photographer Irving Penn as “very silent, he gave you very few directions,” and cult filmmaker David Lynch as “very affectionate and intimate, exactly the opposite to what he projects in his strange films.” But her favorite shoot was with Steven White in the Italian Alps, playing in the snow with huskies and remembering her childhood in Switzerland.

The team applauds her when the modeling shoot comes to end and she smiles, embarrassed and humble. They are not the only ones to have been enchanted by the 57-year-old – one of the most important modeling agencies in Spain is interested in signing her.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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