Meet Mary Larunsi, an Austrian Fashion Model With Nigerian Roots

Tall, long-limbed, with bright eyes and a fresh face, Mary Larunsi has a mixed-race background (Nigerian and Austrian) that lends her a versatility that the international fashion scene would surely welcome. Or so she thought.

After a promising start in Austria, the Vienna-born Larunsi’s budding career met unexpected hurdles in London, where she wasn’t “black” enough. But then, she wasn’t “white” enough either.

“They tell you this straight to your face,” the now 27-year-old recalled, “…that they don’t know how to ‘categorize’ you.”

Even when race is not an issue, being “pretty” should help. But in certain seasons, that’s not necessarily the “look” agencies are going for. At times, Larunsi was even told she was “too pretty.”

“At one point, not being bald or having a gap between my teeth was a disadvantage,” she said, revealing her own flawless smile. “They were looking for ‘characters.’”

Eventually, she did find her footing and managed to get bookings. Her real advantage was the ability to grow up and be responsible – fast. She attributes her talent to adapt to her supportive family and perhaps starting a bit later than other girls (at 17), some of whom begin as early as 14.

While living in a “model” apartment in Milan with other girls, she found herself “mothering” just such a girl, who was working to support her entire family.

“She was absolutely miserable and constantly crying,” she said. “There’s a certain amount of self-awareness and confidence that only comes with age and experience.”

Gradually, Larunsi’s built an international name for herself based in Vienna, represented by Stella Models, working with top designers like Vivienne Westwood, Giorgio Armani and Hermès.

Now Mary Larunsi is completing her second master’s in communications and founding a startup. After participating in the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Vienna, she feels positive about the future, including working as a model.

“Modeling has allowed me to see the world and have some of the most beautiful experiences,” she beamed. “As long as I can do it, I will always model.”

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