A model graduate

Elizabeth Lake graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2020. Now she’s making her living as a model in New York City.

lizabeth Lake was 15 when she first started modeling. In what she considers to be her first official job, for Marie Claire Taiwan’s August 2018 issue, you can just barely see a hint of the braces on her teeth. The vintage-style editorial photo portrays her sitting with arms crossed, directing a sidelong glance at someone outside of the shot and wearing a shabby-chic combination of a cotton floral button-down shirt, a white boa around her shoulders and a linen bandanna in her hair. It was designed specifically to showcase the dark blue necklace and earrings set from Van Cleef & Arpels’ new collection that’s perfectly framing her face.

Lake is her professional surname—her given name is Elizabeth Kulikowski. She grew up on Woodhaven Drive, went to Markham Elementary, Mellon Middle School and graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2020, with her twin sister, Katherine.

“The beginning half of my senior year was super normal,” said Lake, whose “normal” involved leaving school for random stretches to work in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other, more far-flung locations. “COVID didn’t really hit until March, so I felt like I did get to experience most of my senior year, other than prom or graduation … though those are kind of the big moments you look forward to.”

Lake started casually pursuing modeling during her sophomore year. She had just signed with a Pittsburgh-based agency, when IMG Models scouted her on Instagram (@elizabethlake_). IMG is a well-known international modeling agency, so Lake agreed to go to New York City to meet with them and wound up signing a contract.

“I was a junior by the time I actually started working. So I would go away, maybe a few days out of the week. I didn’t tell anyone about it in my grade or even in my school. So I think people just kind of started to notice I was leaving spontaneously throughout the weeks,” said Lake, adding, “My teachers knew what was going on.”

Up until March, 2020, Lake’s plan was to graduate from Mt. Lebanon and move to New York to become a full-time model. “But once COVID hit, there was no work in the industry whatsoever. None,” said Lake. She decided to stay here until IMG could safely put some of its models back to work.

Photos provided by Elizabeth Lake.

From August to November of 2020, IMG organized jobs for her in Europe. The first stop was London, but she had to quarantine for two weeks. Her mother, Amy, was worried she would be lonely in quarantine, so she came along and stayed for an additional week after the quarantine to vacation around London.

From London, she went to Paris and Milan, taking many COVID tests along the way. When she returned in November, 2020, the world was in the midst of another COVID surge—and industry shutdown—so she found herself working through the winter at a ski resort in Vail, Colorado.

She might not have intended it, but it turns out this was a smart move for her career. In V Magazine, writer Thomas Hurd says, “Throwing herself into the eye of the storm during COVID-19, Elizabeth set up a brand-new life for herself working at a ski shop, throwing herself in a foreign world without visibility of how it might turn out, and chronicling her new life online to highlight the parallel dimension she had just entered into. Not surprisingly, her stint into the unknown made her more enigmatic and enviable to the outside world which just sat watching on waiting for the pandemic to subside.”

It was a year later than she had hoped, but now Lake is living in New York City and enjoying a thriving career.

She recently worked on a campaign for one of her “dream brands,” Maybelline. She had a great time at the shoot, which involved frolicking in the pouring rain on the streets of New York. Lake expects that the project will be released in early 2022.

Another memorable project was for Christian Louboutin. The designer is primarily known for his signature red-bottomed stilettos, but he also designs other luxury leather goods and makeup. Lake modeled one of his “Loubilooks,” a series of six different makeup looks that were created in partnership with celebrity makeup artist Hung Vanngo.

“My favorite thing [about modeling] is the kind of opportunities you get from it and the people you meet,” said Lake. “I kind of love the spontaneous travel that comes with it, too. One day you’ll be in New York and in two days, you have to fly out to Thailand or something.”

Lake says that the last-minute call times have been the most difficult adjustment—she could be at the gym when she finds out that she needs to be on the other side of Manhattan in two hours—but she has personally found the industry to be pleasant.

People often ask her what her “secret” is. In Lake’s case, she did not have any industry connections to help her break into modeling. It was a right-place-right-time situation (with the place being Instagram). However, she says that it never would have happened if she didn’t “put herself out there.”

Instead, she offers advice that is applicable to anyone: “Even if you’re a model, you’re still human, and you’re not going to look your best all the time … it is important to stay healthy, work out, take care of your skin, take care of your hair, like anyone else would,” she said. “It’s about the little things that keep your mindset and your body looking and feeling its best.”