Name: Dajah Dorn
Agency: Paradis Model Management
Claim To Fame: Dorn has walked at NYFW for C.R. Lee, Romeo Hunter, and Sukeina. She has also walked in Bridal Fashion week and appeared in the inaugural ESSENCE Fashion House show.
Dajah Dorn was raised to see beauty as temporary. Her mother, a former R&B singer, knew all about the endless promises prepared to be hurled at the young and attractive.
Dorn’s ears were shut to them before she ever set foot into the world.
“I used to like hate attention and hate taking pictures and I hated listening to people talking to me and looking at me and telling me I’m pretty, I hated all that stuff,” she told HelloBeautiful. “I wasn’t raised that way.”
“My mama she used to tell me girl, something could happen to you today and you won’t be looking the same way no more,” she revealed.
As she got older Dorn began to see beauty as not just a weak asset but a liability. She ignored the catcalls when she went to the corner store in her neighborhood. She stomped away from would be suitors in Jacksonville heat seeing their interest as nothing but invitations to trouble. “I grew up in like, not the best neighborhood,” she said. “I feel like they just wanted something from me,” she said. “And it didn’t make me feel safe. It just made me feel like they wanted you know, whatever they could get from me physically.” She fled for what she considered a safer environment after high school.
“I went to the military before I went to college,” she said. “I really just did the military, pretty much, well, honestly, just to get out of my neighborhood, um, back in Jacksonville, I just wanted to get away from, a bad environment.”
“I was logistics. So it’s like, uh, we worked in the warehouse, basically anything that everybody needed, they would come to us and we would get it.” The training prepared her for the tangled logistics of the modeling industry but before she could take on the runway she approached the industry from another perspective at Florida A&M.
“I was on the staff of our school magazine doing graphic design,” she said. “Art is my first love.”
She worked on layouts and spreads centering the beauty of others in her layouts. In her spare time she wrote poetry she would later turn into song lyrics and dreamt of finding her way into a career that resembled The Devil Wears Prada.
“I really wanted to be like an art director at a magazine, like Vogue or something. That was my dream,” she said. She didn’t see her own potential to capitalize on her beauty until the gig placed her in front of the camera.
“We had a staff photo shoot and the people we took the pictures or whatever, we were all dressed up when the pictures came back, like they came back really good.”m
Staring at her own image ignited a seed in Dorn that lay dormant. “I used to watch America’s Next Top Model all the time and like, secretly, I used to really want to do that, but, you know, I just never told anybody cause I was so shy.”
“It made me think like, okay, maybe I can really take modeling serious. And so I had a friend in college who did photography and we just started from there,” she said. “Then maybe like a year or two later, I applied for New York fashion week.”
After putting the money together for her travel she stayed at a model apartment adjacent to Penn Station and spent all of time at castings trying to book “any show that I can fit into the schedule.”
“It was through this production company and I came to New York, we had to do the castings and I ended up booking all the shows that we did castings for,” she continued.
“I had a lot of jobs during that time. I probably had three jobs. I was working at this hair store or and Old Navy and I worked at this call center, doing credit repair.” She wanted to make sure the time she spent away from work and school was productive.
“My goal was to come up here and book every show.”
She relied on her HBCU experiences to channel the energy she would need to rock the catwalk. “I was never in the modeling troupe, but a lot of my friends were.”
Nerves clenched her tall frame as she headed towards the runway. “It was crazy. It was like a whirlwind. My very, very, very first show we had on like six and a half inch, skinny stilettos and I wear heels, but that was like my first time wearing heels that high and having to walk in front of people.”
A friend from Florida she had connected with through social media snapped a video she could use to promote herself and the first question she had when she emerged from backstage was, “Did it look like my feet hurt?”
Dorn did so well at hiding her pain she was convinced that she had a shot at modeling full-time in the city. “After that I went back to Florida and from there I was like, I’m moving to New York.”
“It was a lot of other things going on with my family and just with myself and I stopped going to school and just put all my focus in wanting to be a model,” she said.
Before dropping out of school and moving she took the practical step of picking up a skilled trade so that she could secure an income if her second go-round with the Big Apple wasn’t as successful. “I got my license as an esthetician,” she said. “I’m licensed in New York now but at first it was Florida.” She felt having a job without rigid hours would give her an advantage. “You really do have to have an open schedule” she said.
“I moved to Harlem, I moved to a model apartment,” she continued. Model apartments are often run by club promoters who staff their properties by using aspiring models to add ambiance.
“I lived in one of those for like the first nine months I was in New York and went to the club three nights a week.”
The experience was unpleasant as she routinely clashed with the promoter running the apartment. “It was terrible,” she said. “Basically he had higher expectations for the Black models than he did for the White models and me and him would, we, you know, we would get into a little disagreements cause I’m kind of outspoken. I was way more outspoken than the other girls.”
A rough upbringing, enlisting in the army, and excelling on her own at New York Fashion Week had equipped Dorn with more leadership skills than the 19 and 20 year olds she was sharing the apartment with.
“They just came from a really sheltered background,” she said. “They just didn’t really speak up for themselves. I was speaking up for myself.”
She would drown out the promoter’s criticisms by listening to Brent Faiyaz, Drake, and J. Cole as she headed out the door. “I would hop right up to go downtown to Soho or whatever, and just walk around and try to get noticed, try to get scouted.”
Dorn was eager to get signed so that she could walk away. “The whole club scene situation, it kind of got to be draining,” she said.
Still showed up nightly as if it was a shift at any other job pinned down by the exorbitant real estate market in New York. She didn’t partake in any of the vices she was surrounded by. “I didn’t drink or nothing like that when we were in the club,” she added.
She wasn’t about to get distracted. “I just saw how easily, like you could forget what your dream was just by being in the club,” she said. “You could get really jaded,” she added.
“When I moved up here, I moved up here in June,” she said. “I set a goal for myself that I want it to be signed within six months and I got signed in September.”
Dorn didn’t lose her hustle when the ink dried, she continued to advocate for herself and actively look for jobs. “When I worked for myself, I’ve found that I got my biggest jobs,” she said. She plans on bringing her ambition with her as she returns to her artistic roots by taking on the music industry.
“My mom was in a singing group when she was in high school. Like she can really, really, she can blow like the nineties R&B singers blow. My mama can sing. So I would always be trying to mimic her when I was little,” she said. When she isn’t attending castings she spends her time trying to sharpen her writing abilities or practicing with her vocal coach.
“I definitely want to tell my stories. My relationship stories, my growing up stories, just my stories of healing from everything and coming into my career,” she said. True to her upbringing her look doesn’t factor into who she wants to be as an artist at all.
“I wasn’t raised that way.”