Never in a million years did Sofia Mechetner, a 14-year-old teenager who grew up in poverty, believe that a chance encounter would change her life forever. This is the Cinderella story of the fashion industry of a young girl who had big dreams.
Meet Sofia, a 14-year-old teenage girl from Holon, Israel, a city that is located on the main coastal strip of the country just 10 minutes south of Tel Aviv. Kids her age usually worry about things like being popular, what nail polish color they should wear, who their friends are and what filter should they use to fix their next selfie on their Instagram account. However, for Sofia Mechetner, reality is slightly different. She doesn’t have the time to enjoy these careless parts of life. She doesn’t have much choice really.
Growing up poor
Sofia was born to Russian immigrant parents who settled in a suburb close to Tel Aviv. The family never really had much over the years, but when her parents split up when she was only ten years old, reality kicked in and became more cruel. Sofia’s mother, who was now a single mom, was forced to move with her three children to a one-bedroom apartment in one of the poorest areas in Holon. Sofia, being the oldest child, was born into a new reality, whether she liked it or not.
Since her mother is never home as she has to work in multiple jobs to support her family, Sofia has spoken about what her life looks like every single day: ‘It’s pretty sad that she’s not home and we don’t get to spend more time with her, but if she wouldn’t have gone off to work, we wouldn’t have a place to live nor food on our table. I understand why she has to work so much, and that’s why I help out as much as I can with the household chores.. when I get home, I make food, clean the floor and do the laundry.’
Apart from all the daily household chores, Sofia also probably has the toughest job in the world, and one of the most important ones out there. Since her mom is never around because she works several jobs, Sofia has to replace her both in terms of logistics but also on the emotional side, and that’s never an easy task, especially not for a teenage girl who wishes she could spend that time on her phone instead.
Nicole and Max
Since the family can’t afford any summer day camps or any after school activities, Sofia picks her young siblings, Max and Nicole up everyday after school and takes them home. They have their own routine, and as every parent knows, having a daily routine for your kids is always a good idea because they know what to expect. The only thing is that Sofia is not their mom, she’s their sister. The Mechetner gang gets home from school, they check the mail, walk upstairs to start their afternoon.
Having food on the table is not something the family is taking for granted. For Sofia and her siblings, it wasn’t always obvious that they would have a home-cooked meal for dinner, let alone have the entire family sit around the dinner table. As part of Sofia’s job at home, she cooks dinner for her younger brother and sister. She asks them what they would like to have and she just gets in the kitchen like an experienced mom in order to make sure her siblings will not feel like they’re missing their mom’s presence in their life.
Seeing this photo of the exterior of the place Sofia calls home really takes you in, ironically, into the poor and her family live in. Sofia has spoken about the fact that she is sometimes embarrassed to have friends over knowing that her house is not even close to what their house looks like. She needs to hide the only place she feels safe, and that cannot be easy for a teenager. Her family might be poor, but richer than most families in terms of their special bond.
The sleeping arrangement
Four people sleeping under the same roof where there is only one bedroom available, can’t really be so convenient. While there isn’t much room to maneuver and lay your head down, there is a lot of room for creativity with what you could do with such a small space. During the day, the living room serves as the play room for the young ones, and at night, the sofa turns into a bed for Sofia’s mom where she could finally rest after a long and hard day.
Dreaming of a real bed
Sofia shares one bedroom with her younger siblings, Nicole and Max, but while they get to sleep on an actual bed, Sofia’s sleeping arrangement is quite different. She sleeps on the floor on a mattress because they can’t afford fixing her bed. The young teenager who doesn’t only get zero privacy, she also literally has to sleep on the floor as they simply can’t afford anything else a this point. According to Sofia, this is good enough for her and she doesn’t meet more.
She’s just a girl
We have to remember that Sofia is only 14 years old and while she might act as grown up most of the time, usually in order to mask all of the financial problems so her siblings won’t notice anything’s wrong, she still has her own normal wishes. If you ask her what she dreams of, she would say she wishes she had a closet, a mirror and sometimes she wishes she had a real bed, not a mattress on the floor.
Her world fell apart
One of the most traumatic experiences a child can go through is seeing his or her parents going through a divorce, especially at such a young age. Sofia hasn’t been in much contact with her father for nearly four years since he left home, which makes the situation even tougher. Apart from the psychological aspects of this impossible-to-bear situation for a ten-year-old, not having a father figure around to support the family financially has been extremely difficult.
If there’s one thing Sophie’s mom knows a thing or two about is hard work. She has numerous jobs including taking care on a an old lady, cleaning houses and sewing from time to time. She spends most of her day outside going from one place to another just so she could support her three children. The sad reality is that she barely makes $1,000 a month. You can only imagine how hard it must be to live that way. For instance, they would but cereal, one of the most favorite things for kids to have, once a month only when they could afford it.
Sofia knew that her life was meant to be greater than that and that seeing her mom working so hard all these years helped her realize that she will meed to work hard for her dreams. Being the tall girl that she is (5-foot-1), many people have asked her whether she played basketball or modeled. Her slim figure, her bluer eyes and porcelain skin must have been a big part of why people kept asking her that.
After thinking long and hard, Sofia decided to approach Roberto Models Agency, the biggest agency in Israel to see if she has what it takes to become a model. When Roberto saw Sofia for the first time walking in with her mom by her side, he couldn’t stay indifferent. He thought that a young Claudia Schiffer was right in front of him and at that second he knew he had to sign her. He has never seen such beauty in the past and he knew she was hired immediately.
Viva la vida
When Roberto noticed the hidden potential that was found in the the 14-year-old that has never modeled in the past, he decided to take the biggest risk in his career probably. He decided to set her up with a boutique modeling agency in Paris called Viva who doesn’t sign just anyone. There needs to be something very special about a model for them to take sign her. Upon arrival, the agency was impressed with young Sophia, but turned her down due to her young age.
A girl in a shop in Paris
Being rejected by Viva was probably the best thing that could have happened to Sofia. After the tough ‘no’ that she had received, Sofia, together with her chaperone, went into a Dior store in Paris to drown their sorrow. Little did they know that entering the luxury store would change their Sofia’s life forever. While checking out the expensive clothes dreaming of one day being able to afford something from the store, the two unexpectedly noticed someone very important.
It turns out that the man they saw in the store is no other than Raf Simons, Dior’s creative director in the past few years. Sofia’s chaperone from the agency back in Israel decided in a bold move, to approach the man behind the French fashion house and tell him their story. When Simons laid his eyes on the young girl, he was captivated by her presences and beauty. Despite knowing how young Sofia was, Simons couldn’t stop thinking about the girl he saw at Dior.
Fashion and racism
When Raf Simons stepped in as the head designer of the prestigious fashion house, it was after an embarrassing incident that the brand has experienced. Right before Paris Fashion Week in 2011, the former head designer of Dior, John Galliano, was captured while he’s drunk saying the most antisemitic things. The fashion business was shocked by what the things that came out of his mouth and had suspended the long-running designer. That was when Raf Simons was hired to replace Galliano.
An unprecedented decision
With his caring nature and more approachable manners, Simons soon became the leading man behind the luxurious brand. Simons, who had taken the number of Sofia’s agent whom he met at the store together with the aspiring model, has decided to phone Viva agency, the same agency that had rejected her just a few hours earlier. Raf Simons had notified the agency that he wants to hire Sofia.
Just think about all the things that had led Sofia to that defining moment. One fine day she decided to turn to a modeling agency, the same agency that decided to send her to Paris, the fashion capital of the world with no previous experience. She then had enough luck to be accompanied by an agent who happened to adore Raf Simons and have enough courage to approach him and tell him their story. That was after she was turned down due to her age.
Going back to reality
When Sofia and her agent landed back in Israel, they were of course over-the-moon excited to tell Roberto their story. They couldn’t believe what had happened to them in Paris and were filled with excitement. However, the truth of the matter was they had no signed contract with Dior or the casting director, and all they had was a cool selfie with Raf Simons. Weeks have gone by, and Sophie didn’t hear a thing from Dior. She started to lose all hope.
Heading to Dior
Just a few days before the big fashion show, Sofia’s agent called her in to let her know that Dior, one of the biggest fashion houses in the world, has chosen Sofia to lead their new campaign, something that has never happened to an Israeli model in the past. They also let he know how much money she was going to make off of the new contract.
The show of her lifetime
When Sofia Mechetner walked out on the catwalk at the Dior Fall/Winter 2016 Haute Couture show, she looked absolutely angelic. The young girl who grew up in poverty, was now opening the prestigious show in Paris. She was also the one to close it, which doesn’t happen very often to many models. From doing laundry and making food for her siblings, it’s safe to say, Sofia has walked a long way to get to where she was.
A life-saving contract
From struggling to make end meet with just, Sofia’s contract with the fashion house exceeded beyond her wildest expectations. She has reportedly signed a two-year contract worth of $265,000. That means that she will be part of the brand’s family until she will turn 16, at least. Sofia didn’t think twice in regards to where the money will go and she knew she was going to help her mom and siblings purchase a new house.
The age controversy
Sofia’s first foray into the world of fashion wasn’t all smooth and easy. While walking the runway for the first time, the 14-year-old was wearing a sheer white gown where that didn’t leave much to the imagination. While Sofia and her agent tried to convince the audience that there was nothing sexual about her appearance, the media thought otherwise. Debates regarding her young age in the industry started to rise.
Kate, Kaia and Cara
The fashion industry will forever be one to spark controversy, but when it comes to age, it seems like it’s even more sensitive. The fashion industry also forgets that some of the most famous models in the world have started at such a young age. Take Kate Moss for instance, who started modeling when she was only 14 or Cindy Crawford’s stunning daughter who at 13, was already featured on the in Italian Vogue.
The industry has shown signs that it has been pulling back from child exploitation in recent years and Vogue all over the world has signed a contract that they will not hire models who are under 16. Kate Moss has admitted more than once that starting to model at such a young age has taken its toll. Sofia sure did surprise many when she walked down the Dior runway when she was only 14. Is she mature enough? Does she have what it takes to make it at such a young age?
A Dior Princess
Despite controversy and criticism, you can’t ignore the fact that Sofia has been through a classic Cinderella story of a girl who grew up with a single mom who had to work in three different jobs to support her family only to become the face of Dior. With an unexpected turn of events, Sofia has become a true princess, Dior princess.
Dream big little one
After she has worked hard for her dream, Sofia has reached fame faster than many models have before. There is just something about her that makes her so special, after all, she was hired to be the face of Dior without any auditions. Since that fashion show in Paris, Sofia has modeled for many other brands including Marc Jacobs and Elie Saab.
Never in a million years
At 16 years old, Sofia feels like she has won the lottery. She is grateful for the opportunity she had when she was 14 and feels very lucky. Despite her successful and glamorous modeling career, when she’s back home in Israel, she still helps her mom clean houses. She feels just as normal as other kids her age. One things’ for sure, she can now afford fixing her old bed, and maybe even consider buying a new one. Now, that’s a true princess.