If Joan Smalls wasn’t the world’s official number-one model and one of the most recognizable faces in fashion, she would be Miss Universe. Not Miss Puerto Rico, Miss America, or even Miss World – Smalls would have gone all the way, for she is one super-ambitious supermodel.
Growing up in Hatillo on the north coast of Puerto Rico, Miss Universe could so easily have been Smalls’ fate. The tiny island has borne more of the title-holders than any other, and holds pageants in a much higher regard than modeling. “So many people said I should consider entering,” Smalls recalls. “I went to my father and he said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, then we’ll support you.’ But, you know, it is super-expensive as you have to pay for the gowns, the costumes, the travel and hotels, and I wasn’t ready for my parents to sacrifice that kind of money for something that has a short life span. I had an epiphany and realized that it wasn’t the right thing.” Instead, aged 19, Smalls traveled to New York, spurred on by cable TV shows