Minnesota is well known for its high concentration of Scandinavians—blondes as far as the eye can see. And yet, in the modeling world, Teqen Zéa-Aida has put the state on the map for quite the opposite: those who stand out from the crowd. A pioneer in the “unconventional modeling movement” of the 1990s, he established Vision Management Group in 1996, signing models who were rejected by other agencies for not fitting the norm (a black model with freckles, for example, or a model with gap teeth).
Today, Zia-Aida’s tribe of beautiful, diverse Minnesota-fresh faces can be found working for clients that range from Aveda to Calvin Klein to Essence magazine. He’s also expanded his eye for esthetics into art, now representing several international contemporary artists through his organization, City Wide Artists.
Robyne Robinson, arts and culture director for the Airport Foundation MSP, recently interviewed this globetrotting beauty guru who offered his take on Minnesota models, Mexico City, and Paul Bunyan.
RR: What inspired your interest in modeling and the business of beauty?
TZ: In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I used to rip pages out of American Vogue to help my sister decorate her bedroom wall. I remember favoring Escada adds that featured supermodels with the 50’s/60’s make-up look, which was popular at the time.
RR: What motivated your support of unconventional models?
TZ: Being unconventional myself allows me to see the deeper meaning of beauty and to appreciate the beauty in others.
RR: What’s unique about Minnesota models?
TZ: They are incredibly diverse and have a strong work ethic.
RR: What is your beauty philosophy or mission?
TZ: To change society’s perceptions around what we consider beautiful.
RR: What’s the most exciting trend in the beauty/modeling and/or art world right now?
TZ: I think many people would say Caitlyn Jenner.
RR: You’re a frequent flyer—where are you off to next?
TZ: I hope to jet off to Amelia Island, Florida, for some R and R. The mother of one of my best friends is the Grande Dame of the island. She has a gorgeous townhouse overlooking the marsh, which is absolutely beautiful to wake up to and to watch transform with light and life throughout the day.
RR: You’ve just won five days off and 300,000 frequent flyer miles. Where do you go?
TZ: Mexico City to take in some art. Why, you ask? Who doesn’t want to go to Mexico City? It is an art hub and is well known to have a vibrant city culture.
RR: What’s an absolute must in your travel bag?
TZ: I dare not commit to an absolute must in my travel bag, but the bag would be a very chic men’s Ralph Lauren carryall, which I purchased at the old Ralph Lauren store on Nicollet Mall in the Young-Quinlan Building. It’s a sensible grey and brown leather bag that fits almost everything. I also use my Prada men’s shopping bag when I travel, and when my Pomeranian, Inti, was alive, I used to stow him away in it.
RR: For those new to the state, what’s your Minnesota must-do?
Check out one of Vision Management’s top models, Ash Walker, in this Vimeo clip: https://vimeo.com/85128935