Why Dilone Walked Away From Modeling and How She Fought Her Way Back

by Charles Manning

Dilone, the face of DKNY’s newest viral ad campaign, gives us a glimpse inside her crazy, busy, joyful world.

What’s your earliest memory of DKNY?
My sister had a lot of clothes from DKNY, but I think my first memory of their campaigns was when Cara Delevingne was standing on the taxi. I thought that was awesome.

What do you like about your own DKNY campaign—is there anything about it that feels different from other work you’ve done?
It’s just a lot happier, which is really nice. Fashion can be really serious a lot of the time, but this campaign was just about expressing yourself and letting that shine. I thought that was cool.

How did you become interested in fashion?
I watched America’s Next Top Model religiously, but I didn’t know anyone in fashion until I met my cousin. My uncle passed away, and she lived in the city and came out to Long Island for the funeral. She was a stylist and told me I should be a model.

How did the reality of modeling differ from what you had seen on TV?
From watching America’s Next Top Model, I kind of expected it to be difficult. I never expected it to be easy in any way. You hear so many horror stories. I’m grateful that I haven’t had any bad experiences. I’m really tough, and I’ve been working since I was 12 years old, so I’m like, “Eh, it could be worse.” I’m probably more shocked than anything at how great it’s been.

What job were you doing at age 12? You weren’t modeling yet, were you?
All my brothers and sisters worked at a restaurant, and during the winter, they needed a coat check girl. I could barely reach the coat hangers, but I got paid like $300 for the weekend. For a 12-year-old, that’s pretty great.

What did you do with your earnings?
I’m not the best with money. I really believe that money comes and goes, and if you give it away, it’s always going to come back. My sister wanted to buy these stud earrings for her boyfriend, so I gave her the money.

Your modeling career didn’t take off right away—and you even walked away from the business at one point. What made you decide to give it another shot?
I was with a different agency at the time, and they didn’t really believe in me. They teased me for my Dominican curls, and then they let me go. I was working as a  waitress, and I met a few cool photographers who were like, “You should totally keep modeling.” I went to see two agencies, and they both said no to me. DNA was the last one, and I told myself, “If this doesn’t work out, then I’m going to pursue acting,” but they gave me a contract right away. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Well, this means I am supposed to be doing this.”

You mentioned wanting to act. Are you doing any acting now?
Yeah! Bruce Weber introduced me to this acting manager, Allan Mindel. He’s wonderful. And I’ve been working with a few acting coaches. Naomi Campbell told me to start taking classes at Susan Batson, so I’ve been doing that. I feel really good about it. I’m getting a lot of good feedback so far.

You recently buzzed off your hair. What prompted that?
We are really attached to our hair. When I first started modeling, I actually had really long hair, and it was kind of a crutch. I was just tired of it, so I wanted to get rid of it and show that it’s not something that defines me, that I’m beautiful without it, and that hair grows and not to take it so seriously. At the end of the day, it was just something I did because I wanted to, and that was liberating for me.

Did you tell your agency before or did you wait until after it was done?
I was in Ibiza with this hair stylist, and he was like, “You would look amazing with a buzz cut,” and I was like, “I’ve been wanting to do it for so long, but let me send an e-mail to my agency.” There was a time difference, so I didn’t really give them a chance to respond. But they love it, so I’m happy that it worked out. Everyone keeps complimenting my head shape, which is really funny. It’s not really the kind of compliment you think about receiving.

You have nine siblings. Who are you closest with?
We’re all really close. We have a group chat that never stops dinging and it’s sometimes really annoying, but my older sister, Judy, was like my second mom to me. I called her mom until I was like 16 years old. She brought me to Barnes & Noble almost every week to get me a new book. She gave me my first journal when I was 7 years old—a Hello Kitty journal—and she told me to write down everything. I’m also a writer, aside from modeling, and I thank her for that, because she opened up that creative outlet for me.

What kind of writing do you do?
Poetry, music, short stories, scripts. Eventually, I would like to get into screenwriting. I just had a wonderful group session. My friend, who’s a producer, invited me to see how it happens—pitching ideas and all that stuff—and it was so cool. That’s kind of a dream for me, somewhere in the future, to be able to write anything.

What else keeps you busy when you’re not modeling?
I’ve partnered with Urban Dove Charter School in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I go there and teach dance whenever I can. It’s hard working with kids, though. I’m not a teacher. I’ve never taught anything, so I was walking in with this idea that I was going to be their friend and their mentor, and it was a little hard. But I love kids so much.

Do you want to have kids of your own at some point?
I don’t know. If my wife wanted a kid, maybe she could have a kid. Or, even if I end up with a man, maybe I would consider it, but I’d rather adopt. I could imagine myself adopting a lot of kids. There are a lot of kids out there who need homes. I would like to be a mother, but not necessarily a mother to something that looks like me, talks like me, walks like me. That doesn’t interest me, really.

We hear you’re a foodie. What are some of your favorite places to eat in New York?
I like Café Mogador a lot. I’m vegan now, and Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint has an entire menu dedicated to vegan pizza. It’s, like, my favorite place to go to. They have vegan desserts and all that. Jajaja Plantas Mexicana is a vegan Mexican spot, and everything is so good. They even have ceviche that you would think is actually seafood.

Any post–Fashion Month vacation plans?
I really love to work, and I’m also pursuing music right now. So picking up a guitar and practicing my keyboard, and all these other instruments I’m learning how to play right now, is really where my focus is. I’m trying to expand as an artist. Vacation is just…I don’t really need it.

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