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Michele Ouellet has a recognizable face. You've probably seen her high cheekbones and intense gaze gracing catalogs from Reformation to Free People. But modeling is only a fraction of her day-to-day life. When she's not posing as the face of J.Crew and Madewell, this Napa Valley native is the creator and manufacturer of her own line of rosé wine, Lorenza.
Alongside her business partner and mother, Mindy, Ouellet has secured a place for herself in both the wine and fashion industries — walking in shows for brands like Libertine and getting Lorenza into restaurants and wine bars across the country.
In between business trips back to Napa Valley for harvesting and bottling, we caught up with Ouellet in New York City. There, she gave us an idea of what a day for a full-time model and vintner was like, from her morning bike ride to an afternoon wine break in the heart of Manhattan.
7am - Coffee and Bike Ride
The Freehold in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is one of those coffee shops in which you could lose hours and hours. It's insanely quiet when I walk in on a bleak morning in mid-October. I'm sitting near a window listening to the barista prepare his first coffee of the day when Michele's mother walks in. "Hello, nice to meet you," she says walking over with bright eyes and an even brighter smile. The resemblance is uncanny.
Michele arrives mere minutes later, riding past the garage-door style windows on her burgundy bicycle. I grab my coffee from the bar as she enters. "The Freehold is great," she says as we walk over and sit down near a window with an unobstructed view of the Williamsburg Bridge. "I live really close, and it's one of my favorite places to just come and chill out in the mornings."
She takes a few sips of her mother's tea before we step out of the cozy comfort of the coffee shop and into the hazy, grey drizzle that has developed outside. "I usually ride my bike to my J.Crew shoots," she says walking over to unlock it from alongside the curb. "I can get to my apartment in Williamsburg to the studio in Manhattan in 11 minutes, which is definitely the fastest way. Follow me," she beckons to us over her shoulder, bike in tow.
Her mother laughs as Michele hops on, smiling back and waving at us. "Ever since she was a little girl, she's always played this role of leader. She would have all of her younger cousins following her around," she says as Michele takes off toward the Williamsburg Bridge.
8:00am - En Route to J.Crew Shoot
The rain is incessant, though, and it ruins our plans for a Williamsburg Bridge bike ride. We hop on a slow-moving R-train instead, hoping that Michele makes it for her 8:15am call-time. In between lurching stops and disgruntled passengers, I ask her how she became one of the faces of a major retail chain like J.Crew. "I actually did — I think it was — the first ever Madewell shoot in 2007," she says, managing to grab us seats on the crowded car. "Then, they reworked their brand a little bit, and when I came back to New York around 2011, I just started working for them again, and I have been ever since."
We exit the subway at Union Square with a few minutes to spare. As Michele and her mom walk arm-in-arm along the bustling sidewalk, I admire their bond from afar. Yes, they share that mother-daughter connection, but they're business partners as well, handling together the day-to-day struggles that manufacturing wine entails.
"I think we're really lucky to share what we call the same brain," Michele tells me later on. "Yesterday we were catching up on my mom's first day here, and I was thinking if somebody was listening to our conversation, they would think we were like all over the charts. But we just know the flow of each other's minds."
"She's a great daughter. I've been really lucky," her mom chimes in. "And she's just always been such a cool mom," Michele smiles. I nod in agreement, pointing out her mother's casual-chic outfit and "Bien Fait" tote — one of Madewell's signature bags. Michele laughs, "She's too much, really."
4:45pm - Wine Break
We regroup later on in the day at the Italian eatery, A Voce, overlooking Madison Square Park. It isn't the only restaurant in New York that carries Lorenza Rosé, but it's our best bet for a quick wine break after a long day at J.Crew.
"We created our first vintage in 2008," Michele said as the waiter ushers us to a quiet corner table in the restaurant. "I kind of fell in love with rosé when I was spending time in Paris. It didn't always have such a cool reputation, but now it does. We just wanted to see if we could make something close to the Provençal style that we loved in France." To that end, they used Napa vines that are more than 100 years old.
Michele admits that her double-life as a fashion model and a vintner overlap in unexpected ways. "After we got the wine started, I wasn't really shooting anymore. And then a lot of pieces came out about the wine, so I started getting messages from clients and started booking myself on things again," she says. "When it comes to the fashion and wine industries, they're similar in that they're creative industries telling a story."
"You're selling a fantasy, too," Mindy adds, and she smiles and nods. They talk about wine in tandem, finishing each other's sentences. "It's been really fun to share what we do in New York and with my clients on shoots. I love being able to bring something that I made. It's like a total treat to be able to be like, 'Hey, guys. Here's some wine,'" Michele laughs.
5:30pm - Hair and Makeup for Secret Campaign Shoot
"I've got my full entourage with me," Michele jokes as we cross a busy intersection, "All we need now is a bodyguard." We arrive at Michele's second job of the day: a secret campaign shoot for a New York jewelry line. Michele is a big fan of the designer, having met a few times previously: "I’m excited to get to work with [this designer] on this beautiful shoot," she gushes.
Upon arrival, Michele perches a bottle of Lorezna Rosé on the snack table before heading into hair and makeup. The look for today is subtle and radiant, and requires minimal primping. "Any tips on getting my nails to dry faster?" she asks the nail tech, admiring her pearly, barely-there nail polish. Apparently, the fewer coats the better. And a quick-drying top coat won't hurt either.
7:30pm - Libertine Book Signing at Bergdorf's
Michele wraps the shoot in a little under two hours, just in time to make her designer friend's book signing at Bergdorf Goodman's. "I met Johnson [Hartig] when I was 18," she says as we climb in the backseat of an Uber. "He's been doing Libertine for 10 years, so he's releasing a book and the opening of his permanent Libertine shop in Bergdorf's."
"He's come so far," says Mindy from the front seat. "He has," Michele smiles. "Johnson's really sweet and asks me to open his show every season. I don't know if you've ever seen his shows, but they're so full of energy, and super colorful and wild. I hope we get to the book signing before it's all done," she says, noting how close we're cutting it time-wise.
We hop out of the Suburban about a block away from the entrance, trying to cut off traffic, and Michele shows off the embellished, fur-lined Libertine jacket she threw on for the event. "It's a poem," she says, prancing down the sidewalk.
Bergdorf's is closing when we make our way in, but the Libertine party is still in full-swing. Hartig embraces Michele and her mother the moment she walks in. All eyes are on her: the face. "Oh, you've completely stolen my spotlight, darling," he jokes, whisking her away for small-talk and introductions.