‘Top Model’ runner-up (and Scotia native) soars to new heights

She starts business with fiance in Mexico
Laura LaFrate hangs on during a tandem skydiving jump.
Laura LaFrate hangs on during a tandem skydiving jump.

The woman famous for her work in front of the camera is taking charge of what goes on behind it as well. 

Amidst a sprawling and crowded Mexico City, Laura LaFrate has found a way to model and to live on her own terms.  

LaFrate, the Scotia native who became famous as a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” moved to Mexico City three years ago, where she now lives with her fiance, Elias Nicolopulos. The two recently founded an athletic modeling agency called StuntStudiosMX. Their goal is to help skydivers, skateboarders and other athletic models find good modeling jobs at a fair rate. 

LaFrate now has years of modeling experience, but growing up, she never considered modeling. She would rather work with animals than mess around with makeup. But during a fluke experience in high school, everything changed for LaFrate. Her mother, Marilyn, entered her into a beauty pageant in Albany because the winner would receive a scholarship. LaFrate won and from there, she took a model contract with a local agency and modeled throughout the rest of high school. 

“I realized that modeling wasn’t just about looking pretty. You could really make amazing stories out of the photos that you did,” LaFrate said. 

Throughout high school, LaFrate traveled and modeled all over the world. The work was fun and a great learning experience but often left her feeling drained. LaFrate still remembers falling asleep at her desk during an AP Psychology class and waking up panicked. 

“‘I need my homework for the week because I’m going to Paris Fashion Week,’” LaFrate remembers telling one of her teachers. 

Although she grew up in the Capital Region, LaFrate didn’t have the high school experience typical of local teenagers. 

After graduating from Scotia-Glenville High School, LaFrate modeled in South Africa for a few months. She came back to the United States to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine, but after a semester she couldn’t concentrate. 

“I knew I had to leave, I knew I had to get out and explore more,” LaFrate said. After some encouragement from her grandfather, she decided to model full time, travel and explore while she could. 

The chance to be on “America’s Next Top Model” came as a welcome surprise and the six months LaFrate spent on the show turned out to be some of the most tumultuous and exciting times of her life. While she didn’t win, she was able to sign a modeling contract with Paragon and gain more modeling experience. 

Of course, being on any reality television show comes at a price. Usually to someone’s reputation. 

“What they want is to make you as stressed as possible,” LaFrate said. Contestants were cut off from everything not related to the show; they weren’t allowed to read or watch television as a distraction. The food provided wasn’t healthy (or plentiful). LaFrate eventually became physically sick because of the stress and eventually had a panic attack that became a part of the show.

“That had never happened to me before,” LaFrate said. ANTM dramatized that clip in the season and made it seem like LaFrate was a “nervous person.” 

Several ANTM interviews were clipped and edited together to make it seem like LaFrate didn’t feel supported by her parents.  

“That broke my mom’s heart,” LaFrate said. 

The version of LaFrate that was pieced together on the show didn’t reflect the strong and free-spirited person she is. 

In fact, about a month after the show ended, she started skydiving and got her skydiving license. 

“I’d always wanted to skydive . . . after the first jump, I was like ‘Here’s my wallet, here’s my free time. I don’t think I saw any of my friends for two months,’’ LaFrate said with a laugh, “It’s such a great sport . . . you can do it all over the world. There’s always a jump site somewhere.” 

Working as an athletic model, she’s found a way to pour her passion for skydiving and extreme sports into her business. 

“When you’re a reality star or a model, you are just a product. You are not in charge, someone else is always in charge of you and I didn’t like that feeling,” LaFrate said. 

At the start of 2017, LaFrate and her fiance began StuntStudiosMX, a modeling agency for athletic models in Mexico City. They work with skydivers, skateboarders and many others to secure modeling sessions with companies like Red Bull and Pepsi. 

“We actually just had our first shoot for Pepsi not too long ago,” LaFrate said. 

Athletic modeling, rather than fashion modeling, is more in LaFrate’s comfort zone. 

“I think there is a potential to make fashion modeling into a full-time career, but it’s a very, very hard industry,” LaFrate said. On top of that, most modeling agencies are what LaFrate considers corrupt, taking upwards of 50 percent off their models’ income. 

LaFrate likes to be in control of more than what’s in front of the camera and more importantly, she likes to call the shots. Down the road, LaFrate wants to expand the business into the United States and work with American models. She’s also hoping to get her real estate license during a trip to the Capital Region in July. 

“My mom used to be a real estate [agent] and she loved it. I remember when I was younger I used to go with her and watch her sell houses,” LaFrate said. Her parents, Tom and Marilyn, still live in the Capital Region.

On top of running StuntStudioMX, LaFrate plans to take a cue from her mom and sell real estate in Mexico City.

“There’s a big market here and eventually, I would like to have my own brokerage firm,” LaFrate said.

From her experiences getting StuntStudiosMX off the ground, LaFrate found that she loved all things business. “I love organizing things and working with people,” LaFrate said. 

It’s been years since her grandfather first told her to get out and explore, LeFrate has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. 

Categories: Life and Arts

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