March 1, 2022 9:50 am
BOISE, Idaho — Celilo Miles, a wildland firefighter with the Nez Perce Tribe, had all but given up on her dream of modeling when she got an Instagram message from a casting director asking her to apply for a mysterious modeling gig.
Miles had been home on the tribe’s reservation in Lapwai in North Central Idaho for the last two years. She had given up modeling in New York City, where she had lived for nearly four years. Miles had no idea that moving back home would open the door to the biggest fashion campaign of her career.
Months later, after sending an audition tape, Miles learned that she would be modeling for lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret in its Love Cloud campaign.
The campaign, launched on Valentine’s Day, marks Victoria’s Secret’s latest effort to expand its size range and change its marketing, Vogue reported.
“Love Cloud Collection is a major moment in the brand’s evolution,” said Raúl Martinez, head creative director of Victoria’s Secret, in a news release. “From the cast of incredible women that bring the collection to life, to the incredible inclusive spirit on set, this campaign is an important part of the new Victoria’s Secret standard we are creating.”
Victoria’s Secret flew Miles, who is half Nez Perce, and dozens of other women to Los Angeles for three days to shoot photos for the campaign.
The women joined a handful of famous models for the campaign, but most were lesser-known “inspiring women around the world,” Vogue said.
“They had women from all walks of life,” Miles, 27, said in a Zoom call. “It wasn’t just size. There were women with disabilities and pregnant women, Black and Hispanic women, and I was there. It was nice to see people from different backgrounds.”
At age 14, Miles’ agent told her to lose weight
The Victoria’s Secret Love Cloud campaign was one of the first times that Miles saw Indigenous women in the modeling industry.
While she was growing up, and in 2017 when she moved to New York to pursue modeling full time, “there were like zero Indigenous models,” Miles said
Miles was first scouted as a model when she was 12. She and her mother attended a scouting event in Moscow. From there, the scouts told her to go to the next event in Seattle.
“At the scouting event, I got the most calls back,” Miles said.
She had never thought about modeling before. Miles was used to spending her time playing basketball, fishing or picking huckleberries with her family in the rural area where they lived.
When Miles was 14, she signed to work with an agent. She was immediately told to lose weight, she said.
“I was 14,” she said. “It sent me on this whole roller coaster ride of not really being comfortable in my own body and wanting to lose more weight, even though I was slender. I am almost 6-foot, so I was never worried about weight until I started modeling. It was disheartening.”
After graduating, Miles took an internship with the Nez Perce Tribe’s environmental restoration and waste management program. She was an intern in the department and shadowed the other employees. After that, Miles became a wildland firefighter for the tribe.
Miles said becoming a wildland firefighter felt like a calling. She joined the crew in 2016.
“I had a brother and two cousins on the team,” Miles said. “The cousins and I were all girls, so it was so fun.”
Miles moves to New York with $1,000
After a year, Miles felt the itch for modeling again. She knew she couldn’t make it as a model in Lapwai, so she moved to New York City with $1,000 in her savings account.
For the first six months, she slept on a cot bunk bed in an Airbnb. Miles was working out and dieting constantly.
“I had zero connections and zero money, and people just assumed that I had everything because I was pretty,” Miles said.
But she was constantly getting passed up for jobs, she said, and industry leaders told her each audition that she “had potential,” but she never saw that potential come to fruition.
Not only was Miles nearly jobless, but she was disconnected from her culture. Miles remembers not being able to find an Indian Health Service clinic, where she was used to going to the doctor.
“I looked for tribal community spaces, but they are really sparse in New York,” she said.
Miles found some other American Indians who helped her feel a sense of community, but she didn’t feel as great a connection with them as she had felt in Idaho with members of other Pacific Northwest tribes.
“I think people have this perception that all Indigenous people are the same,” Miles said. “The geographical regions are different and our looks are so different, east to west and north to south. We have one thing in common, and that is our relationship with the land.”
In August 2019, Miles’ younger brother AJ died of a fentanyl overdose. He was 23.
She was numb.
“I don’t remember anything that happened,” Miles said. “I couldn’t look for jobs, I had nothing left to give.”
Nationwide, American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been disproportionately affected by drug and opioid overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The opioid crisis, it affects generations,” Miles said.
A few months later, Miles decided that she needed to be back with her family and gave up on modeling, at least for the time being.
“In order to grieve I had to be with my family,” she said. “Grieving meant going out into the mountains, and that was why I went back to firefighting. I am stronger on the land and when I am on my homeland.”
She returned to firefighting and threw herself into it. She’ll be in her fourth fire season this summer, her third on the fire-engine crew.
Miles said if the Victoria’s Secret campaign brings her more modeling opportunities, she would welcome them.
When Miles got the call for Victoria’s Secret, they told her to bring some items from her career. She packed her fire helmet, books and a pair of moccasins.
Miles is seen on the Victoria’s Secret website and in online photo and video advertisements alongside dozens of other women, posing with her Nez Perce Tribe fire helmet at her side.
“I’ll be sporting my bra on the fire line this summer,” Miles wrote in a Facebook post.
(c)2022 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)
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