Interview: Model Marija Shatilo
Meet Marija Shatilo, the Hapa Supermodel and It-Girl Who Happens to Have a Law Degree
By Matt Blank
For this issue, we aspired to reach outside of our bubble and meet some new Hapa personalities from different parts of the globe. I had the opportunity to speak to Marija Shatilo. While her name might be new to you, chances are that you will recognize her face from various campaigns modeling for GUESS, Levi’s, Alexander Wang, Steve Madden, Victoria’s Secret and so many more. She was also featured in MAXIM not too long ago.
The Lithuania-raised beauty, who is partially of Korean descent, fell into modeling as a way to see the world. Working consistently from a young age, she never compromised her commitment to education and can now boast a degree in Law from Vilnius University to go along with her ever-growing portfolio.
Splitting her time these days between New York City and Miami, it is clear that Shatilo is a talent very much in demand. We were thrilled to have her take a few moments to chat with Hapa Mag.
Going all the way back, where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Vilnius, Lithuania. I was there till the age of 20. That’s when I started traveling half-time, and half-time studying. Once I graduated university two years later, I left my country and started my modeling journey full time.
The core of this magazine lives with the unique beauty that comes with being Hapa, or part-Asian. In that spirit, what are your parents' ethnic breakdowns on each side?
Even though I was born in Lithuania, I never looked like a typical Lithuanian girl. I always knew I had some Asian roots, and I found out later that my grandparents were half Korean. This made me move to Asia for almost a year, where I had never been before, to explore the culture and its beautiful nature. I really loved it there. I didn’t go particularly to Korea, but I chose Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong, as it was better for my career.
Do you have a large extended family or influences on both sides, and where on the globe do they mainly live?
Most of my family are in Lithuania, some of them in Poland and Russia.
The word "Hapa" (a Hawaiian term for half-Asian) was part of my vocabulary at a very young age, and being from the SF Bay Area, I was very lucky to have Hapa classmates and friends of all races. Tell me about your experience growing up. Was race an issue or cause of challenges as a child, or was it something that was more matter-of-fact and a little interesting?
Lithuania, especially Vilnius, the capital, is very multicultural, so we are used to different nationalities and languages. I never had an issue with my Asian look, as there were many children in school that weren’t pure Lithuanian.
Inevitably, we encounter a lot of people who are curious "what we are." I get all kinds of guesses... usually Latin, Greek, Italian. What do you get most often?
Oh, I hear that all the time, different options! Starting with Asian, Russian, Brazilian (I get that a lot) or Latina, and finishing with French hehe. It doesn’t bother me at all, sometimes it’s even funny!
How has race played into your modeling career? Have there been specific times where you've lost out on opportunities for not having the right "look?" How do you identify in terms of race?
I never heard someone saying, “Oh You don’t have a right look.” I understand that if I don’t get a certain job, it’s because the client is searching for a different look, and it’s nothing bad about [me]. I do hear a lot that I have an exotic look, and I think it has only been helping me so far, wherever I have been traveling.
Tell me how you first got involved in modeling. Was it always a dream of yours? What was your first gig, and when did you come to realize it would be something you could pursue as a living?
Well, I honestly never dreamt of being a model, though modeling agencies were chasing me since I was 13. I never considered it before I finished my studies. I wanted to have a degree first. What made me think of modeling after that was a dream to travel and explore the world.
For someone who grows up in such a small country as Lithuania, it is not easy to travel, especially so far as Asia. I never traveled when I was growing up, because we simply couldn't afford it. That’s what pushed me to try modeling and see what it [would] bring me. Now after four years of modeling and traveling, I think that was the best decision ever made. I never looked back or wanted to return to my previous life.
Tell me about your journey. I know you began in Lithuania and now are NYC-based. How did that path come about, where do you consider to be "home" at the moment, and where do you hope to explore in the future?
I’m exactly where I always wanted to be: NYC! Since I started traveling, I [have] lived in more than 10 cities all over the world, but New York was the one that made me stay. It does feel like home now.
Were there models you looked up to when starting out?
I was always more passionate about models and fashion from 90s than nowadays. It was just different back in the days. The meaning was different. Now it’s hard to describe what [modeling] is, looking at the newest fashion campaigns.
You've had the chance to model everything from Steve Madden to Victoria's Secret. In your career, is there a single shoot or experience that truly stands out as your moment of "I've made it?”
I have a big list of clients, and I truly feel grateful to work for all of them. It would be hard to mention just one. They all were all special for me.
How do you stay in shape on the day to day basis?
Genetically I’m skinny, but I do love to work out to stay in shape, and I’m truly not a fan of fat/junk food. That makes a huge difference.
Any favorite restaurants in NYC or other cities you frequent?
I love Thai and Japanese food the most. NYC has so many of those, it would be hard to mention just few.
Who are your greatest style icons in terms of personal fashion?
YSL is definitely a big influence for me, Azzedine Alaia, Balmain, Ralph & Russo, Alexander Wang. I’m working on my [own] clothing brand called “Lace & Angels” right now. I get a lot of inspiration from them. Also, Dolce Gabbana and Chanel from 90s… I just love it!
THE single greatest book you have ever read:
The Alchemist. I [have] read it at least six times since I was 16. I keep reading it every few years, and every time it seems different and I learn something new. Incredibly written.
Something you are incredibly proud of:
I NEVER ever tried any kind of drugs in my life, and I’m not planning to. Being in fashion industry, [this] is very rare. So I’m really proud of it.
Career you would want if not doing what you are now:
Fashion designer, but as I said, I’m working on it now!
Three things you can't live without:
Mascara, phone charger, water (I do love water! haha!)
Any words of advice to anyone struggling with contentment and identity, whether it be racial, sexual, interpersonal or otherwise:
We are who we are, we look the way we look. I believe everyone and every BODY is beautiful in their own way. If there is a problem, it’s usually the environment and people that we are surrounded by that have to be changed.
Words of encouragement to young people who wish to follow their dreams:
No fear. That was my first tattoo that I did to encourage myself not be afraid of changes, even if I don’t know what it is going to bring me.
Matt Blank is an arts journalist, educator, designer and lecturer. He most recently spent a decade on the editorial team for Playbill.com and as Editor-in-Chief of PlaybillArts.com, publishing over 7,000 articles and covering five Tony Award ceremonies. Follow him on Twitter @MattBlankPlease and Instagram @brdwymatt.