Jana Rajlich & Milena Gorum:
A Genetic Tour de Force.
Story by Diana Addison Lyle
Photography by Curtis Dahl
Hair/Make-up: Kathleen Hagan
IconicFocus Models NYC
Jana Rajlich transforms a room. Regally tall, she exudes massive quotients of the organic qualities that naturally beautiful women possess. Her honey gold skin gleams without a jot of makeup while her athletic frame gives her an Amazonian strength. Add to that her confident ease, her ability to interact compellingly with anybody in the room, and you discover the Jana x factor – the set of characteristics that have fanned her success.
Born in Culver City, California to a Czech father and Filipino mother, by the time Jana was a teenager she was personally signed by Eileen Ford in New York, became a Ford model, and her career exploded. She was also part of the Elite Agency in Los Angeles for over 10 years.
Before her 18th birthday, she was living in Paris and modeling for top designers worldwide, including Versace, Valentino and Yves St. Laurent. Jana was featured in several runway shows from New York to London to Paris to Tokyo to Milan. By her early 20s she had graced the covers of several major publications, including Vogue, Elle, Madmoiselle, and Cosmopolitan. She worked with noted photographers Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Alice Springs, Herb Ritts, Ellen Von Unwerth, Mario Testino and Karl Lagerfeld.
Soon, Jana was in demand doing print campaigns and TV commercials with directors like Spike Jonze and Tony Kaye, and music videos with artists like Rod Stewart, John Mellencamp and the Rolling Stones.
Her commercials and campaigns include Mitsubishi, Volvo, Jovan Musk, Jovan Perfume, Karl Lagerfeld, Lancôme Cosmetics, Pearle Vision Eyewear, Keds, The Gap, and Swatch Watches.
Jana’s two daughters are her pride and joy. Eldest daughter Milena (20) joined her mom on this special summer cover shoot. Martina (17) is Jana’s younger daughter, and her strong identity is carved in pursuits outside of modeling.
We particularly appreciated Jana’s and Milena’s good-natured spirits during our cover shoot. A rogue wave drenched them unexpectedly, and they laughed off the frigidly-cold soaking with humorous ease. Their effortless charm created one of our best afternoon memories.
Our sincere thanks go out to IconicFocus Models NYC.
Q: Your Dad – a Czechoslovakian lawyer – sought a better life in the USA after the harrowing ordeal of Hitler’s World War II. You were born in Culver City. What are the most important lessons your parents taught you?
Jana: The most important lesson that came from my parents was to have a profession and be really good at it. They wanted me to specialize in something. Both my parents worked full time. My father was a perfectionist; he worked for Hughes Aircraft (in Culver City) and would machine parts for the U.S. space shuttle, ships, satellites, and a wide range of other uses on earth and outer space. My mother was an RN and worked as a surgical nurse in the operating room during the day and was head supervising nurse at the Veterans Administration at night. She was always on call for surgery so I didn’t see much of her. My sister Gerrie, who is 12 years older than I, took care of me all the time. She was like a second mother to me. I thought about being an X-ray technician – but I took those lessons and applied them to the world of modeling with great success.
Q: Your journey as a super model began at age 16 with you being proactive. You asked if you could represent the surfwear company Jimmy’z. How did that extraordinary story come together?
Jana: I was looking through a magazine, and I saw these really cool black and white sepia toned photographs. The photos caught my eye and I was attracted to them. Then I thought “wow! – this is artistically exceptional!” Then I thought “I want to do this! I want to create pictures like this”. I found the photographer’s photo credit (Phillip Dixon), I called information, got his number, called him and said I wanted to shoot the next Jimmy’z campaign. His response was “who is your agent and do you have a portfolio?” I told him I had neither. So Phillip met me sight unseen at his studio in Venice, CA. and he immediately called Elite LA and I signed with them and ended up shooting the campaign. Phillip and I are still great friends 34 years later. He actually shot me and my daughters last year and the pictures are like a painting, a real work of art.
Q: You moved to New York and were represented by Elite and Ford Models. Your strong discipline kicked in automatically and by age 21 you had bought your first New York apartment. To what do you attribute that discipline and maturity?
Jana: I credit the discipline to my parents; I watched them work very hard. I knew that I had to work hard to make it in NYC. I was with Ford models and it was expensive to live there, so I knew what I had to do to make it. I was traveling constantly to every corner of the world, working long hours almost everyday, and was exposed to lots of people in the industry. I got invited to elite parties where actors, models, musicians and athletes were the norm. It’s still like this today. When I wasn’t working, I was networking, going to industry lunches and dinner parties to meet new people . This was something Eileen Ford set up and promoted all the time. I would meet photographers and clients from magazines at these dinners. They actually were great to go to because I ended up getting hired by these clients. Getting home at 4am and waking up at noon was also the norm. I loved every minute of it and would do it all over again. I have no regrets.
Q: What attributes are you attracted to in a man/partner?
Jana: I’m attracted to and appreciate a man who is very organized, secure in himself, and knows what he wants; successful at his profession and loves it. Having a fun sense of humor and being able to make me laugh…a lot.…also gets my attention. If he’s a perfectionist like me, we usually have a deep understanding of each other.
Q: Your 2nd daughter, Martina, was born with juvenile diabetes – and later on, your sister died tragically from ovarian cancer. What did you learn from your sister’s death, and what preventative measures have you taken to insure your long-term health?
Jana: Martina was 5 when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Our family had an already established lifestyle of eating healthfully and exercising regularly. Martina’s diabetes is very manageable as long as you stay on top of it and don’t ignore it. I learned from my sister’s death that there wasn’t any way of her knowing she had ovarian cancer until it was too late, and it had already spread. Gerrie was diagnosed at age 52. She begged me to get a genetic blood test to see if I inherited the same BRCA 1 gene that she had. I got tested and I do carry the same BRCA1 gene. One day she called me and said she had only 4-6 weeks to live. I flew to Seattle and held her hand for 3 days. We talked about old times, growing up, and shared funny stories. We talked about dying. She knew the next time I would come to Seattle would be to attend her funeral with our mother. 2 days after I left Seattle, Gerrie died. She was 56. When I was 45 I decided to have my ovaries removed as a preventative measure. I felt that it wasn’t a case of whether I would get it; the question was when. So I knew I had to do it. I still have to get a mammogram and MRI every 6 months to make sure I don’t get breast cancer. Another option would be to have a double mastectomy. That’s what Angelina Jolie did.
Q: Family is exceptionally important to you. You care for your mother who has Alzheimer’s. You give your 2 daughters latitude to be who they are but at the same time, you worry about them. As a parent, what are the pitfalls about life in L.A. that keep you keenly vigilant of Milena and Martina?
Jana: For me, driving is a big one, and with 2 teenage drivers in LA, it’s very worrisome to me. There have been a few fender benders but thank goodness they’ve been injury-free so far. My daughters have always had exposure to this big city, so I made it a point when they were younger to put them in private Catholic schools to keep them somewhat sheltered and safer from what’s out there. Keeping them busy with activities (like club volleyball) was very important to me, and they both excelled in the sport.
Q: Milena is flourishing as a model. Did you ever discourage her from modeling? Now that she is, have you passed on much of your knowledge of the industry to her – or are you leaving her to figure it out for herself?
Jana: I did discourage Milena from modeling and tried to get her to go to college right away. She’s very smart and always got very good grades. She announced she was going to take a gap year. She reminded me that I dropped out of college to model. If she wants to model, I’ll support and help her as much as I can. I have given her advice on getting an agent, taken her to galleries, photo exhibits, musicals and movies. Milena’s a smart girl so she’s figured out a lot by herself already and is doing great!
Q: What are some of the most important lessons that life has taught you?
Jana: Life is short. I’ve learned to give back to my parents who were always so good to me. I helped my mother take care of my father when he had a stroke at the end of his life, and now I take care of my mother who’s 85 and has Alzheimer’s. I have an older brother, George, who’s 56 and on dialysis; he’s on a 7-year waitlist for a kidney. He’s on my mind all the time. I realize and value having my mother, brother and kids in my life and I don’t take any of it for granted. When I was a young adult working as a model, my parents had already taught me about saving money. By the time I was 30 I had invested in real estate and bought 3 homes. It was important for me to be financially independent and to never have to rely on anyone. Then I’m my own boss.
Q: Favorite food?
Jana: Seafood of all kinds.
Q: Favorite indulgence?
Jana: Svíčková (pronounced sveech-covah) – a traditional Czech dish with beef sirloin and vegetables with boiled bread dumplings with gravy; a dish I grew up eating with my family. Also, Pancit – a favorite Filipino dish my mother made because she’s half Filipino.
Q: Most beautiful part of the world?
Jana: Haven’t found it yet, but I certainly love all islands and want to keep traveling and discover more!
Q: Top 3 memories?
Jana: 1. Having my daughters (my kids keep me young and silly).
2. Getting the opportunity to work as a model and taking pictures with my daughter Milena – and going full circle – sharing with her what I started 30 years ago.
3. Traveling with Mick and the Stones and seeing the world. I made life-long friends from that experience. Seeing my boyfriend’s music performed at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City was magical.
Q: Favorite movie of all time?
Jana: The Brothers Karamazov- Yul Brynner is the man! I love his work, especially this one.
Q: Greatest Hope?
Jana: I would hope for a cure for Alzheimer’s, a cure for type 1 diabetes; a way to screen and prevent ovarian cancer. Hopefully this can happen during the lifetime of my daughters.
Milena Gorum’s exceptional maturity belies her youth. As she celebrates her 20th birthday this summer, she understands the complexities of this world better than most people do in a lifetime. Her intelligence is immediately apparent; her curiosity is piqued, and her creative vision is sumptuously extensive. As our cover shoot unfolded, I marveled at Milena’s ability to see the bigger picture, and to cut through the inconsequential trivialities. This beautiful, bold and articulate young woman is going to go far in life. After graduating from high school, she decided to forego college volleyball so that she could pursue her modeling dream. Represented by Vision Los Angeles, Milena has already chalked up editorials for Vogue Brazil and Italia. She’s done American Apparel campaigns and has Pacsun, Nordstrom, Revolve and Nike under her slender belt. She’s traveled the world and sucked the marrow out of every nanosecond. And the ice bucket soaking she received during our shoot was all part of a multi-experiential journey that she is loving.
Q: You grew up with a super model mom. While you were a child, what were the characteristics you most admired in your mom?
Milena: My mother is one of the most charismatic women I’ve ever met. She is truly a presence whenever she walks into a room; her style is vibrant and flamboyant, and her elegant 6’ 2” frame is unmistakable. But it’s her ease of speech and her comfort in the spot light that is most enthralling about her. Anyone who knows Jana knows she’s a passionate woman who knows how to tell a good joke and impart some wisdom in one breath.
Q: You hit the genetic jackpot with your parents. Your dad is an Aerospace Engineer with NASA so you had the benefit of intelligence on both sides and your mom’s striking beauty. What are the pros and cons of life with two talented parents?
Milena: Having parents in such different fields has allowed me the freedom of exploring both ends of the spectrum of creativity and critical thinking. My mother has always been the fun upbeat theatric, while my father is an intellectual realist. Having both influences has allowed me the freedom to explore the arts with the support of my parents as well as giving me a thorough push to pursue writing and journalism. Knowing I have support in any field that inspires me is a blessing I know many do not have.
Q: As a 20-year-old, you very much represent the up-and-coming generation. What are some of your generation’s thoughts on important social issues? Do you think their thinking is different from your parents’ generation?
Milena: I believe my generation is one of the most empathetic and opened minded since the 70’s. There has recently been a push for more self-love and acceptance of identity in the new digital era, accompanied by a need to compensate for many of our parents’ differing views. In the midst of such social and political unrest my generation has consistently approached problems of injustice with nothing but remorse and compassion.
Q: You earned your way into modeling at age 16. How has the industry changed from your mom’s super model days? What are the pros and cons of the industry in 2017?
Milena: The modeling industry has changed immensely since my mother’s era. It is undeniable that fashion, modeling and photography have exploded since the 80’s causing a massive influx of new age creativity, resulting in an oversaturated market. But, then the question of big fish little pond emerges. Were the super models of that era truly that much more outstanding than the supposed greats of this one? Or was the market small enough to excel in? It’s a hard question to answer but when one takes into consideration that natural beauty is almost impossible to come by, the answer is clear. Many current “greats” are manufactured beauties, plastic models who lack the authenticity that accompanied the rawness of the 80’s and 90’s super models.
Q: You see so clearly the benefits and dangers of social media. What are your thoughts on that topic?
Milena: Social media serves as an easy and creative way to connect with friends, but in my case it serves a different purpose. I view my Instagram, for example, as a business tool. It is an open portfolio to brands, photographers, and other creative people to connect through. The dangers of social media arise when young women, especially, are unable to differentiate between the idealized images portrayed on social media and real life. The number of my friends that have developed crippling anxiety, depression, and eating disorders solely because of a social media presence increase is astonishing. Ironically these are the girls who initially gained notoriety because of their outgoing and confident personas.
Q: You’ve traveled extensively from Sweden to Bali and a host of countries in-between. What has travel taught you?
Milena: Travel has invoked some of the most self-growth I’ve ever seen in myself. Experiencing other cultures has given me clarity in my own life back in LA, in addition to deepening my own understanding of what life and humanity is. Traveling has helped me define my role in the world while raising new interesting questions that I’m excited to begin to answer.
Q: How do you most like to spend your time in L.A.?
Milena: Slow Venice beach days are my favorite way to spend my time in LA. I enjoy waking up early and walking or biking to get coffee – followed by some kind of workout like hot yoga, hiking, or a run to the pier. The rest of the day usually consists of time hanging on the beach, reading in my backyard, or thrift shopping with my friends. If I’m really trying to relax I’ll cook at home for my sister and then head to a vegan ice cream spot by the end of the night.
Q: Favorite food?
Milena: Pesto kelp noodles from Erewhon. They’re gluten free, vegan, and majorly overly priced (an LA girl’s dream).
Q: Favorite indulgence?
Milena: Turning my phone on airplane mode and leaving it in my car or my room for the day. There is nothing more satisfying than living untethered and care free, even if it’s just for a few hours.
Q: Most beautiful part of the world to you?
Milena: Amalfi coast. The ocean and cliff faces are stunning, the food and culture are rich, and siestas are a beautiful thing.
Q: Your top 3 Memories in Life?
Milena: 1) My mother used to play diving games with my sister and I in our pool growing up. I later realized it was her way of getting us to help clean out sunken leaves.
2) Visiting Prague with my family as a child. It was my first time in Europe, and the culture shock was pretty apparent. I’d like to think it is where I first fell in love with architecture.
3) Seeing severe poverty for the first time in Indonesia left a lasting mark on me. I consider it one of the sole experiences of my life that left me feeling sad, angry, grateful, and at peace all at once.
Q: Characteristics you admire in men?
Milena: Confidence and a sense of humor. But being able to hold an intellectual conversation comes before anything. If I don’t feel like I’m learning something, I’m wasting my time.
Q: A lifetime dream of yours?
Milena: Branching out from modeling to pursue styling and art direction and potentially opening my own creative agency – focusing mainly on vintage and classic design.