Culture / Performing Arts

Houston Ballet Star Featured in Vogue, Dances in Dubai

Meet Nozomi Iijima, a Crossover Star on the Move

BY // 10.26.18

In an exclusive for PaperCity, we chatted with Houston Ballet first soloist Nozomi Iijima, who’s currently one of three dancers performing the coveted role of Odette/Odile for the Houston Ballet’s production of Swan Lake in Dubai. (Yuriko Kajiya, principal, and Mónica Gómez, soloist are the other two ballerinas in this iconic role.)

This is the year of Iijima, who famously graced the pages of Vogue‘s September issue. In our Q&A, we checked in with this rising star in the ballet world about her career that intersects fashion and media.

You’re in the September issue of Vogue. Take us back to how and when you were asked. We saw you had been featured in Vogue Japan. Is that how American Vogue discovered you?
Vogue contacted Houston Ballet PR. It was in May. At that time, unfortunately/fortunately I was injured, so I was able to participate in shooting. I wasn’t the cover of Vogue Japan, but I did the beauty story in that issue.

Nozomi Iijima in Vogue Japan, June 2018. (Photo @nozo0806)

But I think Vogue U.S. knows me as an ambassador of the Chanel watch “Code Coco“ campaign. I’m also doing a Chanel cosmetics campaign as well.

What was the process like? You flew to New York City. Who did the hair, makeup for you? Did you select the Vetements ensemble you wore?
I flew to NYC two days before the shooting. I had a fitting with the famous stylist Camilla Nickerson on the first day. I didn’t have any information about what I was going to wear, but she already had an idea of a style, so the fitting finished quickly. I wish I could’ve been there a bit longer.

Hair was by James Pecis, makeup was Diane Kendal. It’s hard to see hair and makeup in the magazine because of the hat, but I had super-straight hair and blue cat-eye makeup. James had expected me with pixie hair, ’cause I did a shoot for Chanel with very short hair. He kind of wanted to cut my bangs.


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What was it like working with writer Michaela Bechler and photographer Mikael Jansson?
Actually, I didn’t know about the two of them before I met them. [Bechler] was very interested in ballet and talked about the Houston Ballet performances and rehearsals. And it was a really amazing experience, shooting with Mikael Jansson. [I found him to be] very friendly, and his smile was sweet.

Where was the photo shoot? How long did it last?
The shooting location was a warehouse in Brooklyn. Shooting went very smoothly, so we finished earlier than scheduled.

Did you bond with the three other talents in your group photo?
I met them that day of shooting for the first time. While shooting, we talked and introduced themselves. Some of them have connected to me through Instagram. They express themselves in a totally different world, so it gave me good stimulation.

Did you meet Anna Wintour or any of Vogue’s famous staff?
I wish! But I didn’t even expect to see her. I went to the office for the fitting. Everyone who is working with Vogue was very fashionable and chic. Some people were beautiful enough that you’d think they were models.

When did you first see a copy of the story?
I first saw it during Jacob’s Pillow. I was nervous to see myself in Vogue but felt proud.

How long have you been a Chanel ambassador?
Since January 2018. Chanel and iD Magazine were collaborating on a short film for Chanel N°5 L’EAU perfume. They were looking for an Asian girl who could dance, and iD contacted me on Instagram in March 2017. I decided the concept of the story, choreographed it, and danced it.

It was directed by Partel Oliva. She is the art director of Kenzo. We rehearsed and shot it in Tokyo in May 2017, and Chanel liked the video. Since then, I have been involved in their campaign.

What are the similarities between modeling and dancing?
I don’t know much about being a model, because I’m not a professional, but I noticed that with modeling and dancing, you need to know the angles which look good and how to use your body in order to make a difference with others. I felt it necessary to know your individuality and use it well.

But, for me, modeling is more difficult than ballet since there is no movement. I think it’s difficult to express with posing, face and gestures alone.

Do you have any modeling or film aspirations? We saw your beautiful dance clip for Vogue Japan.
I’d like to continue if there is such opportunities. I’m happy if people in the world are interested in ballet culture and Houston Ballet through fashion.

Take us back to the time when you first came to Houston to study at the Ballet Academy.
I did not speak English, but people told me that I had a big attitude.

Although I was 15 years old, I had a goal to join the Houston Ballet company as fast as possible, so I wasn’t afraid of anything and had never been homesick.

Can you talk a bit about Swan Lake in Dubai upcoming?
The shows are October 24 through 27. I will be dancing Odette/Odile. My partner is principal dancer Connor Walsh.

The Vogue story had a strong message about talents and borders. Do you see Houston as a city where talents transcend borders?
There are people of various nationalities in Houston, and they are very creative. I think it’s an exciting city with strong arts.

Are you a U.S. citizen, or do you have plans to become one?
I’m not a U.S. citizen. I don’t know if I will be or stay in the U.S. that long. I want to travel and work in other countries as well eventually.

Favorite cities in the world to visit — and what you do there?
I always love Paris. I go there mostly for shooting. I love the atmosphere of the city and people. Feels good just by walking.

Is your family still in Osaka? What’s special about your hometown?
All my family live in Osaka. Osaka prices are cheap, and the food is delicious, whatever you eat. People are full of fun. Neon Street in Dotonbori is [the perfect way] to know Osaka.

What three Houston restaurants are on your list?
Theodore Rex, Les Noo’dle, Coltivare.

Your ideal day in Houston. What’s on the agenda?
I want to go horse riding, because I’ve never tried.

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