What Is Life Like for Local Talent Working in the International World of Fashion?

Homecoming talent: Wilhelmina International director Roman Young and supermodel Keke Lindgard reveal what it’s like working in the fashion industry.
On Roman: Roberta Oaks Jack aloha shirt, $115, 19 N. Pauahi St., 526-1111. On Keke: HI sweatshirt, $56, In4mation, 1154 Nu‘uanu Ave., 538-8898.
photo: eli schmidt; makeup: roque cozzette; wardrobe: don sumada

For most of the year, they live in a fast-paced world filled with fashion, photography and fierceness. And love it. But for Roman Young, director of the Women and Image Division for Wilhelmina International, and Keke Lindgard, 20, Island girl turned catwalk powerhouse, booking a flight back home is the sweetest gig. Here, the Honolulu-born agent and the girl he discovered reveal what they know—and, surprisingly, didn’t know—about each other.



HONOLULU Magazine: What are your hometowns?

Roman Young: Pearl City


Keke Lindgard: Ka‘a‘awa


HM: Roman, where did you discover Keke?

RY: She was scouted by a local agency and brought to a bigger model search where they were introducing new talent. I saw her on stage and was like, “Who is that girl?” I met with her and felt like it was the universe speaking because she was from Hawai‘i. She was the first model I had.


KL: This was when I was 14. I wasn’t even thinking about modeling. I just wanted to be on a TV show. I went with Wilhelmina because you were from Hawai‘i.


RY: She wasn’t like other 14-year-olds—she was way more advanced. She was polished and knew how to walk on stage and perform. I think it was from hula.


KL: I did hula for 10 years. No one really taught me how to walk. It just came naturally. Roman tweaked me a little bit and I learned how to change it for different designers.


HM: How has your relationship evolved since then?

RY: It’s very different now. Back then there was so much at stake. We say that Wilhelmina is the house that Keke built because when I got there it wasn’t as strong and powerful as it is today. There was a lot of pressure on us, two Hawai‘i kids, to rebuild the women’s brand. We were both in the climbing stages of our careers and weren’t in a place where we could enjoy each other’s company.


KL: Now it’s really healthy. Now we’re friends.


RY: Our relationship has reached a point of relaxation and comfort. There’s an honest maturity in how we talk to each other and work professionally and in my advice to her. It’s way more fun.


KL: Now I want to hang out with him.


Here, we handed over our list of questions and let the two friends interview each other…


Roman Young and Keke Lindgard at HONOLULU Fashion Week.
photo: eli schmidt

KL: What made you want to be a part of the modeling world?

RY: I saw it as a way to be glamorous. I saw it as a very cool, fantasy job that would take me away from my world at the bus depot at A‘ala Park—a lot of my life was on the bus. I wasn’t going to be a model, I didn’t want to be an actor and I didn’t know anything about design, but I knew how to work in retail. And I thought, what’s the difference between selling a beautiful dress and a beautiful person? Come to find out there’s a lot.


RY: What’s been your favorite modeling job so far?

KL: There was a shoot in the Bahamas during which we stayed on a yacht in the middle of nowhere. There was no internet and no cellular service. They were navigating all by maps. We went to sandbars and I got to swim with the sharks. It was so beautiful and so untouched.


KL: Where is the most unusual place you’ve discovered a model?

RY: Selita Ebanks is a Victoria’s Secret model who I first saw walking through the gates at a Six Flags theme park. She was leading a youth group and I was taking our new models to ride roller coasters. Luckily, our co-worker was wearing a studded belt that set the security detector off and I ended up standing next to her. I told her that she could be a model and she said, “You have to talk to my dad, he’s a prison guard.”


RY: Which runway show have you had the most fun in?

KL: Dior, because of John Galliano. He knew the name of every single girl walking the show. He would stand there, smoking a cigarette, and right before we would go out he would grab our hands and say, “You work it!” He was the sweetest man.


RY: What has been your least glamorous modeling moment?

KL: There are so many! Modeling is not perfect. One time I was booked to shoot in Colombia. On the flight there I didn’t sleep at all. I arrived and went straight to the shoot and felt sick throughout the day. Then I fainted. They sent a doctor to my hotel room who didn’t speak a word of English and he wanted to give me a shot in my butt. It was antibiotics and it was the most painful shot of my life. But, it allowed me to work the next day out on a boat in the sun drinking lots of Pedialyte.


RY: That’s a least glamorous moment, when you’re drinking Pedialyte on a shoot.


KL:  What was yours?

RY: I went on a scouting trip to northern Russia in the dead of winter. We took a Siberian railway train because the planes were not reliable or safe. We had a bodyguard, that’s how unsafe it was. It was negative 40 degrees and the heating in our car went out. We were so cold. We put on all of our clothes then we flipped our mattresses and put them on top of us with blankets to keep warm.


KL  What is the first thing you like to do when you arrive here?

RY: I like to walk to that middle section of the airport to that walkway where it’s open. I stand there and really breathe it all in and it feels like home.


KL: Yeah, the air is different. Right when I walk out that door, I can’t help but smile.


RY: How about you?

KL: I go into the ocean. Sometimes I stop on my way home from the airport and just jump in.


RY: Any particular beach?

KL: Just Ka‘a‘awa beach. And if there’s surf, I’ll surf, which is how I got this (points to the vine-like marks on her right arm from a jellyfish sting).


KL: Any favorite childhood memories from growing up in the Islands?

RY: I grew up on a watercress farm in Waipahu. It was separated into sections by bricks and mud mounds that were sprayed down wet and made slick. My cousins and I would race each other side by side and try and push each other off. You would slide off and fall into the watercress. That was fun, slipping and sliding in the mud.


KL: What values have you learned from growing up in Hawai‘i that you still uphold?

RY: Caring about the environment and respecting it. When I see six-pack rings on the streets of New York I pick them up and rip them because I think they’re going to go into the ocean.


KL: Respect is a huge value I learned from here. I believe in respecting everyone in our industry, not just the people who you think are important.


KL: If you weren’t a director at Wilhelmina, what occupation would you love to have?

RY: I think it would be an art director or branding consultant. From top to bottom, Wilhelmina has let me design everything from logos to T-shirts. In a second life, I would take what I’ve learned and work for myself. I would love to do something that helps me execute my vision of how I see the world aesthetically. Whether it’s T-shirts, bags or sneakers, I really love to design, especially things I would design for myself.


KL: Everyone tells him to be a designer. He’s so good at it. He made me an Army jacket with Wihelmina stuff on it. I wear it all the time.


KL: Your proudest achievement to date?

RY: Being a camp counselor for special needs children. There was no agenda or nothing to gain, but during that time I learned to believe in myself, trust my instincts and push for what was right, and I used that to greatly help others at the camp. It also taught me to be tender, and that has followed me in my professional career.


RY: What’s yours?

KL: Being close to my family. Being able to go home and tell them anything, bad or good, or the worst thing in the world. It means so much to me.


KL: What’s one thing you know about me that most people don’t?

RY: That you have pigs and Mastiffs as pets. You go to her house and there are these little pigs running around and ginormous dogs that look like horses.


KL: And we have chickens that lay eggs in a little coop.  


RY: Very country.


RY: Where do you see Hawai‘i fashion in five years?

KL: I definitely think it’s upcoming. It’s being noticed more. And it’s becoming more modern, while still reflecting the traditions and values of Hawai‘i.


RY: Best piece of advice I’ve given to you?

KL: To be honest with myself and to trust myself. To follow my gut.