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Dream a Little Dream

Making it in the fashion world is no easy task, but for a select group in upstate New York, it’s a passion

by Erin Pihlaja on November 27, 2013 · 2 comments

Jamila Dadashova photographed by Erin Pihlaja


It’s 20 degrees outside, and Jamila Dadashova is wearing a backless gown and not much else. She’s standing in the middle of an odd-shaped intersection in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood in 4-inch heels, and two cars, coming from different directions, are racing toward her. She doesn’t move an inch.

Click-click-click: A camera shutter fires off multiple pictures in rapid succession. When the camera stops, Dadashova walks out of the road and onto a nearby sidewalk. A woman rushes up to her with a giant faux fur coat. Dadashova accepts the gift gratefully, and wraps it around her body. The frigid air has caused her eyes to tear up, and as the tears spill over onto her cheeks, the woman instructs, “Pat. Don’t wipe.” Dadashova laughs.

This is a typical photo shoot in upstate New York. The hours are long, the conditions often less-than-perfect, and the crew—model, photographer, stylist—all often have full-time day jobs that aren’t necessarily in the fashion industry. To state the obvious: This isn’t New York City, Milan or Paris. It’s a small community, but one that is rich is talent. And the talent is passionate.

“I do this because I love it,” says Dadashova, who on this Sunday has a rare day off from her full-time job as a salesperson at a local car dealership. In a lot of ways, the 21-year-old exudes wisdom beyond her numerical age. Her job is very important to her, and she wants to be successful, so she works between 40 and 50 hours a week. She didn’t go to college, not that she didn’t want to, but she “didn’t think this was a good time to saddle” herself with a lot of debt. Like others her age, she likes to have fun, but her hobby of choice is shooting. As in guns. Big ones.

“My boyfriend and I shoot trap,” she says. “There are these clay pigeons, and they’re voice activated. I’m getting better, last time I got 16 out of 25.” It’s not just the sport that she enjoys; she’s a huge supporter of Second Amendment rights.

“It’s not the guns that are the problem, it’s the people,” she says. “Judge me as you may, but it’s my opinion.”

Dadashova is from Russia. She moved here with her mother at age 10 to be near her grandmother. “I knew no English. I was silent for the first three months.” But she caught up quickly and was soon speaking fluently, although grammar tripped her up occasionally.

“Look at ‘read’ versus ‘read.’ To a foreign person, that looks like the same word,” she laughs. The day after the shoot in Schenectady, Dadashova and her mother received their green cards. She mentions that it was a long time coming. “It’s the biggest day of my life right now, but I’m not looking to talk about it. It was messy.” She pauses and then adds that her mom has “been through a lot.”

Dadashova works with Garcia. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

She’s slowly building a bigger collection of pictures, and trying hard to vary her looks. Kyle Anne Garcia, the stylist on the Schenectady shoot, has worked with her a handful of times already. “I just instantly loved her,” she says. “I look at her and think, ‘God. that’s the kind of girl you’d see in major fashion magazines.’”

Garcia has been a licensed stylist for four years, and a professional makeup artist for 15. Before she started working with cosmetics, she went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “As a little girl I was always drawing fashion ladies,” she says. “Hair, makeup, fashion—it’s all in one. They are just different pieces of the same puzzle.” Garcia has been known to draw sketches for her clients to show off a hair cut that she has in mind.

She’s works for herself as a full-time stylist, and while much of her income comes from working in the wedding industry, she makes a part of her living working on television commercials, short films, and with local photographers. The industry in upstate isn’t a large one, but it has landed Garcia some national credits; most recently she worked on a series of TV spots for Wal-Mart.

Dadashova models the Marianne dress by Prairie Clothing Co. at Proctor's Theatre. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

The art comes from the editorial shoots with local photographers like Dan Doyle and Tina DiCocco Pelech, Garcia says. “It’s a labor of love. It’s hours worth of work, but I know it’s going to look awesome in my book.” Working with a team of other talented professionals is something that Garcia and Dadashova both highly value. After all, there’s not a whole lot of money coming through locally for fashion shoots, and as Dadashova says, “We’re not getting famous here.” But both still hope that the work will get noticed one day.

“I just wanna be James Franco. I’m serious—I want that on record,” Dadashova laughs after she discusses the parody of Kanye West’s “Bound 2” video that Seth Rogen and Franco just released. She’s half joking, half serious. “He went from working at McDonalds to being a famous, and mind you, hysterical actor.”

Life is treating Dadashova well right now. “I’m proud that at 21, that I make a good a living as people with a master’s degree.” Troubles getting her immigration status officialized made it difficult for her to go to college, but she made the best of it. It was strange, she says, to finally get her papers, and she says it will be even stranger to take a test to prove how American she is. “I hope I paid attention in high school,” she jokes. “I feel very Americanized, I’ve lived half of my life here. I’m an American. Anyone who has been through this process understands my happiness. You are very lucky to be born in this country.”

After the shoot wraps in Schenectady, Dadashova heads off to see the Patriots-Broncos football game with her boyfriend. It’s her first time going to see a live football match, and she’s excited. “Upstate can be a little slow, but we try our best to do the most stuff we can.” She seems to be living a pretty happy and full existence.

But she still dreams for more. “I hope for world peace,” she laughs, deflecting a deeper question. “I don’t know what my fantasy is, I haven’t figured that out yet.” She admits that she would love to get discovered as a model. Thanks to social media outlets like Facebook and Model Mayhem, she says, even those in upstate can make contacts who are in the know and in larger cities.

“It’s always on my mind,” she says. “I’m happy with how it’s worked out, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Jamila Dadashova is on Facebook, and Kyle Anne Garcia’s work can be seen on her Facebook page, Hair and Make Up Artistry, by Kyle Anne Garcia. Jeni Wrightson’s Prairie Clothing Co. fashions can be found at her Etsy shop, ducieldesigns.


Feel Your Best

Metroland asked three fashion and style experts how to pull together a great look for a holiday party.

Dadashova in a Prairie Clothing Co. dress. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

Metroland: Are there any seasonal style trends that we should be aware of?

Kyle Anne Garcia: As much as I’ve always loved fashion, I’m not always a trend follower. I’m really into a past-meets-future thing. Hollywood plays such a huge role in style trends, and right now I’m really inspired by The Hunger Games. I love the ’20s looks mixed with futuristic ideas.

Let’s say we have no idea how to glam up. What then?

KAG: Don’t hesitate to hire a stylist for help or even to give you a makeup lesson. I take my clients through a few different looks in one session and offer them different choices.

Jamila Dadashova: I watched a lot of YouTube videos when I first started modeling to figure out how to stand for pictures. And yes, reach out to a stylist. Everyone deserves to feel like a model or look and feel their best at least once. Splurge on hair and makeup or that special dress. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to get dolled up, so go for it.

So, what kind of makeup is appropriate for a party look?

KAG: A lot of women forget that makeup is an accessory, and are afraid to step outside of the box. Why not wear lashes or bright purple eyeshadow for once? Wing out your eyeliner a little extra, don’t be afraid—it’s fun.

JD: I focus on a good foundation. It’s the most important thing to me. A really good foundation makes your skin look perfect and crystal clear, especially in photos.

How about hair?

KAG: I like a structured updo but I would mix it up with soft makeup. Maybe it could still be dark but blended and diffused. I like softer, looser hair too, but I would maybe take the makeup up a notch.

What about the outfit?

Jeni Wrightson: No matter what, you need to be comfortable. My dresses are in materials like jersey knit because they wear well. No one looks good fussing with their clothes, you shouldn’t have to worry about it.

JD: Find something that is flattering to your body type. It doesn’t have to be sexy—if it flatters you that’s more important.

Everyone posts everything to social media, any tips for looking great in a picture?

JD: Stand tall, heels help. Angle your body, pop a hip slightly—that really slims down your look. Look in a mirror! Know your best angles and side. Black and other dark colors are very flattering.

Any last tips?

JW: Take the time for yourself to do what makes you feel good. Don’t be afraid to take that time for yourself. If I don’t take 15 minutes for myself every morning to put some mascara on, it really affects how I feel all day.

JD: Confidence. You are more beautiful than you may think you are. Confidence shines better than any outfit.