Seen and heard

Mathematical model

Mary Pierce, AB’15, on her secretly fashionable life.

Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93

Mary Pierce, AB’15 (fundamentals), was 12 when she was first approached by a model scout. “I thought it was a hoax,” she says. Then it happened again. And again.

She finally decided to give modeling a try after her German mother pointed out that, as a model, she could travel internationally for free. When Pierce was a freshman in high school, she walked into Elite Chicago and was offered a contract on the spot.

Now with Factor Women, Pierce is an established haute couture model. At UChicago she scheduled her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep her weekends free, she says, for “this really cool other life that I didn’t want anybody to know about.”

The Core interviewed Pierce a few weeks before she graduated in December. Interview has been edited and adapted.

So you’ve always tried to hide your modeling?

Yeah. Fashion and intellectual pursuits don’t usually go together. It gives people an easy excuse not to take you seriously.

When you started, what was the hardest thing to learn?

Politics. You have to please the art director, the person who’s paying for it, the creative director, the photographer, the photo assistant, the stylist, the hair person.

During the summers in high school I spent a lot of time in Paris. At French castings, everyone thinks Americans are idiots and don’t speak French. They just talk about the models in French as if they’re not there. You get to know what they actually think about you.

That’s why it’s nice that you can just play the dumb model. Until someone finds out you go to the University of Chicago.

Is it hard to make the cultural shift back and forth? You’re code-switching.

Yeah, it totally is code-switching. But everyone at UChicago does that. Your family doesn’t want to talk about Marx. We all code-switch a little bit.

Do you have to watch your diet and your sleep?

I don’t really think about it that much. We’re supposed to. If it’s finals week and I need a coffee and a croissant at two in the morning, well, this paper needs to get written, you know?

Did you enjoy fashion before you started modeling?

No. I’m interested in it philosophically. Fashion advertising is so fascinating because of how manipulative it is. But I’m not fashionable at all.

What you’re wearing is not fashionable?

No, definitely not. No no no. These pants are from Target.

What do you usually wear?

Oversize plaid shirts and oversize sweaters. They were not clean today.

Ever had any runway show disasters?

I’ve never fallen, but I’ve definitely gotten my heel stuck in a gown. My heel made a hole in the sample dress, and I just kept dragging the train with me the whole way. I was like, oh my God, I have to make this look elegant still.

What are your plans after you graduate?

This summer I started coding for one of my professors at the Computation Institute. That has the potential to become something maybe.

I really like computational linguistics and big data analysis, network analysis kind of stuff. I started as a math major here.

They were teaching me how to code in Python. If you have a photo shoot that ends at 10 p.m., then you can code from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Can you keep modeling long term?

I think it depends on how you transition as a human being. There are definitely white-haired models, regular people models, hand models, feet models. I’ll definitely transition in the next 10 years, I think.

What’s the worst fashion crime on campus?

People who try really hard. This is the University of Chicago, kids. We’re here to learn.


Chicago native Mary Pierce, AB’15, scheduled all of her UChicago classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep weekends free for modeling. (Photo courtesy Trump Models)