Romania is one of the lowest model-producing countries in Eastern Europe. Irina Lazareanu (Romanian-Canadian) was the only top Romanian model until Andreea Diaconu shot into the spotlight in 2010.
In her cover story for the Wall Street Journal Magazine, Diaconu's career is explained as anything but an overnight success.
She was only 11 when a local scout first approached her. "My friend and I heard about a modeling school that had a contest where the winner got 500 euros," says Diaconu. "We thought that was a lot of money, so we went to the school, and I won." Her next booking was headlining a Peter Pan–themed fashion show at the airport Radisson in her hometown of Bucharest. For 70 euros, she played Tinker Bell.
Agents continued to approach her parents, but Diaconu didn't give modeling another go until a couple of years later. An agent booked her for a major show in New York, but the experience was a shock. "I remember crying and crying, and everything was too big on me. I was 13. I was a beanpole." When a seamstress brought her to tears, she told her mother she wanted to go home.
Through high school, Diaconu modeled part time, but she was teased when she'd return from Paris or London with different colored hair. The international travel helped her learn five languages, though, and after graduation, she realized modeling could pay for higher education. "The plan was for me to make enough money for four years of college, and then I'd walk away."
She moved to New York when she was almost 20 and found quick success as a [catalogue] model. Diaconu kept one eye on school, taking online Coursera classes in archaeology (loved it) and micro-finance (hated it). But just as she settled into the Noho apartment she shares with her boyfriend of two years, Gregory Neighbor, an ER doctor, things changed. "I had just about saved enough and was thinking of quitting, and then I got a call from my agent: ' Mario Sorrenti booked you for Italian Vogue.' "