Call her Our Model in Romania, as Antonnela Senatus, 21, is the only known model from Haiti on the runways in that country. At designer fashion shows, her darkly bronzed skin makes her a novelty, and she attracts attention wherever she goes. Born in Gonaives, Haiti, Senatus says because of her height, she was handpicked by the fellow classmates to be part of the basketball team at her school College Saint Pierre Claver. Her schoolmates nicknamed her kasav—cassava—because, she said, they thought she was as thin as the flat vegetable bread, not having no front and no back. Senatus says she also earned the nickname Doll from her schoolmates as well, for her slim figure.
Antonnela Senatus was already living like a model, long before she became Romania’s Haitian sensation. She loved putting on makeup at her home in Gonaives, and would parade as if on the catwalk. The flashy, unique outfits she would put together made her a standout at school and during little get-togethers with friends, and school activities.
Little Antonnela would stuff her book bag with a change of clothes, jewelry and other accessories and change halfway to school into one of her self-styled get-ups. To her surprise, when her mother found out, she wasn’t angry, and actually encouraged her fashion sense. Her father, on the other hand, was not too pleased.
In addition to being a model in the making, she was also a stylist in the making, styling her little sister at the request of her mother, whenever the former was heading out the door. Oh, and Antonella Senatus has never, ever liked flat shoes. High-heeled pumps have always been the way to go ever since she was a little girl.
Things are good for her in Romania. She now is able to speak fluent Romanian, helping her career right along.
Q & A
How did you get started in modeling?
It’s been 6 years already, which means that I was fifteen when I started out. I loved music. I was singing a rendition of a song at a show, with my family in town, and right after I met this man who came to introduce himself to me and asked me if I was a model. At the time, I didn’t really know much about modeling. He gave my mom his card and he invited us to his agency a few days after. My mom and I went to his agency and discussed it over with him, and my mom agreed to have me sign with his agency so that he could teach me the ropes. He trained me for 3 months. He was a good teacher. I really miss him. May he rest in peace, Delfin Bien-Aimé—better known as Doudou.
How did you end up in Romania?
I met a Romanian in Haiti. He saw me at a fashion show in Haiti. We became friends. Then he suggested that I come to Romania to work for an even bigger agency. I allowed him to take a couple of photos of me. He went to an agency in his hometown, and they agreed to sign me on for a year-long contract. So, that’s how I ended up going to Romania. My contract ended and they’ve been renewing it ever since, [and will continue to renew it] as long as I want to continue working with them.
You live in Romania. Is that permanent?
I live in Romania. Yes [it’s permanent] because I’m engaged to a Romanian, and I love Romania.
What did your parents think of you going to live there?
My mother died in the earthquake. My father lived in Gonaives. I was living with my mom, but after the earthquake, I went to join my father. He was working in Customs, he lost his job, and then my mother died, and he started doing nothing but drinking. It made living with him unbearable. This led to my decision to go in Romania without even letting him know about it because he wouldn’t have let me go. That’s why I did everything in secret and left Haiti. It’s not until I got there, that I called him. He was really mad at me. He never called me. When I called, he wouldn’t answer. In the end, I kept into account that he was my dad after all, and he knows I love him a lot. So, after two years I went back and went to see him. He was so happy, he cried.
Is there anything that’s remotely close to a Haitian community in Romania?
Of course not. I can count on one hand all the Haitians who are living in Romania. There’s not even a Haitian embassy there, and that’s the same thing with Haiti. Not only that, it’s also rare to find a Romanian who knows where Haiti is. Most often they think it’s in Africa. Besides, I live in the second biggest city there, and I haven’t met any other Haitians.
Was it difficult for you to adapt when you got there?
When I got there, I didn’t speak the language as of yet. It was really, really quiet. And then people would just stare at me when I would go out.
What’s it like for foreigners, and in particular blacks in Romania?
Well, for those who already knew I was coming, I got a really nice welcome. On the other hand, in the city you don’t see a lot of black people. They don’t like to go out because they say they get starred at a lot. Me, I always go out. When I go somewhere, they are always gawking at me. Towards the beginning, that bothered me. For example, one of my neighbors had a three-year old kid. The first time he saw me, he started to cry like he saw a monster or something. [Laughter] But now, he’s really used to me, and he’s one of my best friends. Let me tell you about something else that happened to me. I was at a rehearsal and I started speaking Romanian. A huge crowd started gathering around me, just starring. I asked them why. They said they’ve never seen a beautiful woman like me. The ones that they see on TV—Beyoncé–are not real, whereas with me they saw me with their own two eyes. That was really mindboggling. There’s an African who’s been living in the city; they always think she’s Naomi Campbell. In my case, I live in a city, where by now everyone knows me, because I’m the only black model in that city. And I’m always at all the modeling shows, as a host, on the runway, doing photo shoots, and commercials.
What is the modeling world like in Southeastern Europe?
In Europe, being a model means that you’re an awfully beautiful creature. And it’s hard, because it’s not everyone who can do it. You have to have a nice body, which means being at least 5’10 and have a small waist. There’s been times when I’ve been told that my hips are too wide. The fashion world is highly regarded in Europe; the models are treated really well, and there are always great assignments. It’s very exhausting because there’s always something to do. For certain cities in Europe, it’s not always lucrative, just like in Romania, it’s not every fashion show that’s well-paid, like the ones for fashion malls and the smaller clothing stores. On the other hand, the show for big designers like Catalin Botezatu, Andrea Tincu y Sence, Laura Olteanu are. Those are always well-paid on the same scale of countries like Italy and London, because being a model in those places is always great, which means that one is always at the top.
Up to this point, what’s been your greatest moment as a model?
I remember my first time on the runway during Romania Fashion Week. Oh my God, they dropped us off at the hotel, and they gave us the time to come down for a meeting. When I went downstairs, I was the only black model in the room. When all the other ladies there started starring at me, I felt two sensations. I got really shy and I felt proud. When I went back to my room, I cried, because the two people who were responsible for me being this far—meaning Doudou my modeling instructor, and my mom—both of them had died.