Zarina Nares was a Blues singer with a day job as a lingerie saleswoman when she was discovered and signed by Mother agency in London. When she came to our office for a casting session the ink on her contract was barely dry, but that’s not to say that she was without industry savvy. Zarina’s mother did creative direction for brands like Chanel, Balenciaga, and Estee Lauder, so she grew up with her mother’s fragrance campaigns on the walls and shelves full of fashion books lining the living room of her family’s Tribeca home. Fashion was always a part of her life, but her true passion has always been music—especially Jazz and the Blues. As a native New Yorker, the vibrancy, and sometimes melancholy nature city deeply influenced her own musical artistry. But to make it as a singer/ songwriter right now, there’s no better place than L.A. She moved west two years ago, and has since been pioneering a new subgenre she calls the “modern feminist blues.” Her first album will come out later this year, but for now, her focus is on modeling.
You were signed to a New York agency just yesterday. How does it feel?
“It’s exciting, its kind of fun being the new girl. I grew up in New York City but I’ve never worked as a model in New York, so it’ll be an interesting adventure.”
What was it like growing up in the city?
“We lived across from the Ghostbusters firehouse. But I just went back to see my old house and it had been turned into an art gallery. So that was weird. New York was a very fun place to grow up, no shortage of things to do ever.”
How were you discovered?
“I was working retail for Agent Provacateur. I’m a musician as well, so I needed a way to make money. My friend who’s a photographer said, “I’ll just take your digitals and we’ll send them out and see what happens.” He took photographs of me and sent them to a bunch of agencies online. I got an email back from an agency that had a London address, so I wrote back and I said, “I’m so sorry there’s been a confusion I don’t live in London.” They replied, “no we have a scout in L.A., we’re a mother agency.” I didn’t even understand what that meant but I said I’d meet with their scout. I got signed with them. They took me to Vision in L.A., Premier in London, Monster in Milan, and Heroes in New York.”
What’s your first memory of fashion, something that really stands out in your mind?
“My mom used to go out a lot, when my sisters and I were young. I just remember these nights where we’d be sitting in front of the TV with a babysitter and she’d be getting ready. The one outfit that stands out to me was a leather gold strapless mini dress with a big fur coat over it and matching gold heels. I have such a clear memory of that outfit. I thought it was so glamorous. My mom was a big part of my understanding of the fashion industry. My mom is a creative director; she does more beauty and fragrance. We grew up with a wall of fashion photography books. That was our library. She’s been working on campaigns forever, whatever campaigns she was working on were up on the wall. She would ask our advice all the time. It’s just been apart of my life. My mom is also obsessed with Chanel, we used to go to the Soho store and run around as kids.”
When did you start singing and writing songs?
“I sing and I play guitar and piano well enough to write music. I write my own songs. I was that annoying theater kid growing up. I’ve been singing and dancing my entire life. I had a band with my little sister when I was in high school; we were called the Amazons. The band broke up. She just wasn’t taking it as seriously as me. Then I got into the genre of jazz and blues. That started really young. I took an English class in high school where they played “You Don’t Know What Love Is” by Billie Holiday. I just remember it being the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard in my entire life. I wanted to make other people feel that same way. To that end I’ve been working on an album now for a year and a half, which I go back LA on Monday to finish.”
There aren’t too many young female blues singers. Can you describe your sound?
“It’s definitely not what people expect. It’s not the most happening genre, but I’m a very soulful person I guess. Jazz is the music that makes sense to me; it’s the music I listen to at home. I don’t find myself turning on the radio. I find myself listening to old records that I have. I sing a modernized version of the blues. It’s more free than a lot of the very formulaic pop songs, and I talk about modern day relationships. A lot of my songs have to do with women in music because so many of the songs that I love from the 20s to the 60s talk about women in a way that’s not great. Women are portrayed as these desperate beings that are waiting for a man to come make their lives better. It’s interesting to see how women were portrayed through music and so a lot of my songs are a response to that time. It’s like the modern feminist blues.”
What’s your favorite place in the world?
“It really is Tribeca, that’s home. I don’t know if I’ve been to what my favorite place in the world is going to be. But I think it’s Tribeca right now.”
Since you’ve only been modeling for one day, what’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the past 24 hours?
“Honestly this is pretty cool for me right now because I watched the documentary. I was fan-girling a little bit when I walked in the door but I kept it chill.”
How would you describe your personal style? Is the coat you’re wearing Chanel?
“It’s my mom’s. I try to take her things back to LA, but she checks her closet before I leave for the airport. I call my style a modern Edie Sedgwick sometimes, but it really depends where I am. In LA, I try to look as not LA as possible because the fashion there is- interesting. Growing up in New York I wore all black all the time. Now I’ve started to wear more color. I like mixing patterns that don’t really go together, and lots of silky pieces and leather stuff. I think I’m quite fun style wise.”
What would people be most surprised to know about you?
“I’m obsessed with musicals, but I don’t tell a lot of people that because its not super cool. Growing up Grease was huge for me. Danny Zuko was my first love, and I say Danny Zuko not John Travolta purposefully because it really was that character. He was my sexual awakening. I thought I was put on this earth to play Sandy in Grease, but I auditioned for it and I got Rizzo.”
Who are some of your industry role models?
“In terms of models, Lara Stone has always been a favorite. If Diana Ross and Bridget Bardot could have a baby, that’s what I would like to be. Lara Stone is definitely a model I find breathtaking. I think she’s so beautiful. I love her body and her teeth and her face, everything about her. She’s great.”
Are your career aspirations more placed in the music industry or fashion?
“I know that I was meant to be a singer, but I’m not so strict with making life plans. I’m very happy for life to take me where it does, and to see what happens. I’d be very happy singing in tiny jazz clubs for the rest of my life. That would make me just as happy as modeling. In an ideal world I would get to do both. Singing comes as natural to me as breathing. It’s something I have to do to survive. Modeling is like living in a fantasyland; it’s great. If I could do both I’d be set.”
(Interview by Paul Pastore)