VCU alumna signs with international modeling agency

RVAFW model and VCU student Tirtha Ratnam walking the runway at Richmond Fashion Week in 2019. Ratnam recently signed with international modeling agency, IMG Models. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Sahara Sriraman, Spectrum Editor

VCU alumna Tirtha Ratnam never thought she would be a well-known Richmond runway model, let alone an international one. However, four years after she went to her first casting call on an impulse, she’s signed with IMG Models, an international modeling agency.

“It was something I wanted to do for a really long time, even at the beginning of high school, but it also wasn’t something that I ever assumed would end up being my career,” Ratnam said.

Ratnam, who graduated from VCU’s interdisciplinary studies program this spring, said she didn’t ever intend to audition for any modeling gigs. During her second year at VCU, she went to a casting call for RVA Fashion Week and was “surprised” to get a call back requesting she model for the fall show. 

Ratnam said after that experience, she connected with a lot of other models, photographers and designers which gave her networking and modeling opportunities. Later, she started receiving modeling inquiries from other companies in the Richmond area.

The work she was doing in Richmond gained the attention of the first agency Ratnam signed with, Kim Alley. Ratnam said the agency sent out her portfolios to agencies after she graduated from VCU, before she was noticed by IMG Models. Ratnam is currently represented by both modeling agencies. Notable models represented by IMG include Bella Hadid and Karlie Kloss. 

“IMG was definitely an agency that seemed interested in me, so I told her that I would love to go to New York and meet them,” Ratnam said.

She’s currently in New York auditioning to be casted for modeling jobs. So far, she said it’s been very unexpected and more fast-paced than she’s used to.

“It’s doubly intimidating because no one in these rooms knows me and I honestly don’t know many people in these rooms,” Ratnam said.

Throughout her modeling career, she said she took advantage of the opportunities offered to her and the possible exposure that came with them. Ratnam said that a good model is not only able to walk and look photogenic, but able to be a well-rounded person.

“You have to have multiple things going for you that make people want to work for you because they see you’re interesting in more than one way,” Ratnam said.

She said it was important that she finished her studies in cognitive science before she started modeling outside of Richmond, so she would convey herself as a well-rounded person and not just a runway model.

Ratnam said it’s been slightly difficult to not live in Richmond anymore because she left behind familiar people and surroundings.

“[Richmond] was a very lovely community that I felt there, full of people who have such diverse interests and talents,” Ratnam said.

She said the city helped her grow as a model because she was able to connect with so many people who thrived in different ways artistically, some of whom she is still very close to.

“It feels very humbling in a sense, like, it feels really special to be recognized by an agency of this grandeur that I’ve always had admiration for,” Ratnam said. “And I think I view Richmond very much as a community that really raised me up and hyped me up for this kind of success because I feel like everyone I’ve worked with and known in Richmond is rooting for me.”

Ryan Azia, the executive director of RVA Fashion Week, said the first time Ratnam auditioned for the show in spring of 2019, everyone at RVAFW was amazed. The first time the two worked together was for an impromptu photoshoot. 

“She came out and she just wowed all the model coordinators with her walk and the way she carried herself,” Azia said. “She did the right things by networking and going to the events.”

Azia said he knew Ratnam had the potential to be a professional model since the first time he met her, and knew she would be successful because of her modeling skills, work ethic and adaptability.

“I think she’ll go far internationally because her look is very unique, very diverse. I hope she becomes big; if she doesn’t, I know she’ll learn a lot from the industry,” Azia said.

Hannah Grace, a freelance model who worked with Ratnam during last spring’s RVAFW, said she was not only a great model to work with but was an open and kind person. Afterward, the two became friends and hung out often.

Grace said that Ratnam is different from most models because of how she walks and carries herself, along with her bright personality. 

“She’s very much in love with her creative side, she’s very in touch with it,” Grace said.

She said during one of the first shows they worked together on, Ratnam invited her over to hang out with her and her friends since Grace didn’t have anyone attending the show with her.

“She made sure I felt at home and felt welcome and felt like I had somebody to be there, and had someone who was supporting me,” Grace said.

Freelance photographer Jermaine Anderson said Ratnam contacted him about scheduling a photoshoot after she saw his work on social media. 

“We met, we connected right away,” Anderson said. “It was about the third picture that we hit it dead-on, what we were looking for, because we’re both coming in with the expectations of what we wanted.”

Anderson said that he is very confident that Ratnam will have a successful modeling career, because of her drive and skills, and looks forward to saying that he was one of the first photographers that worked with her.

“It also, in a way, feels very full-circle because I do think that for years and years I’ve put out these hopes and dreams into the world and it’s kind of coming back in a cool way,” Ratnam said.

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