Eugenie Bondurant, St. Pete’s NYSE Balenciaga model: Crucial questions

Welcome to Crucial Questions, a series in which Times columnist Stephanie Hayes asks people questions she’s dying to know. Got a suggestion for a subject? Drop a line to [email protected].

Models in homogenous black bodysuits stomped through the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange Sunday. It was the first American fashion show by Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, juxtaposing idolatry of finance with a certain blank-slate emptiness. The footage went viral.

Anyone could be forgiven for missing her, given the face-obscuring wardrobe. But if you know St. Petersburg arts royalty, you know Eugenie Bondurant was there.

Bondurant, 61, is known for her striking visage and 6-foot frame. She worked as a model decades ago but assumed she’d aged out and began acting. She’s played Tigris in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 and a pivotal (and terrifying!) role in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. A steady stream of work has kept her bouncing between big cities and St. Pete, where she teaches acting and lives with her husband, the writer Paul Wilborn.

Then! In a surprise turn, Bondurant boomeranged back to high fashion. Hand-picked by the historic house, she spent fall and spring walking Balenciaga runways from Paris to New York. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you connect with Balenciaga?

Demna saw me in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it. He said, “You scared me for three days and I had to have you in my show.” That’s when a scout reached out. I’m thinking, this is a scam, as we all would think, right? Age-wise, I thought, they’re not interested in me.

So I Googled Balenciaga models and sure enough, found out Demna chooses a wide variety of types. And indeed, there were models in my category, and it was fascinating to see. This is my fourth show with them, and they also picked me up for a print campaign.

St. Petersburg’s Eugenie Bondurant stars in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.” [ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures ]

Is that when you signed with Next Management?

I had my wonderful theatrical agent at Brevard here in Florida. She and I are friends and she’s very honest with me. She said, “You need a modeling agent.” Well, man, I’m sweating. How do I find this and do this? It’s such a hard thing. They’re looking for people who are much more savvy than I am.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I picked up the phone and cold-called (Next). I was so nervous. I had four names, and three didn’t pick up their phones.

Do you remember what you said?

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“I’m Eugenie Bondurant” — in this very high pitch that I shouldn’t have used — “and you don’t know me, but I am one of the models for Balenciaga” — I put Balenciaga up straight away — “and I’m an actor, and I’ve just been asked to do this print campaign for them, and I need help. Can you help me?” He goes, “Wait, wait, wait. What was your name again?”

At this point in life, did you picture being on runways in Paris and new York?

No. (Hysterical laughter.) I send pictures to my nieces and nephews, who go, “You just did what?” The other strange thing is I’m a corporate finance major. The only reason I graduated in finance is because that’s where the boys are, and the boys are good-looking. But, oh, jeezum peas! If I could have told my younger self, “You’re going to be on the New York Stock Exchange, but not in the way you think.”

A few years after I graduated college, I got very ill with cancer. Things I thought were important weren’t so important anymore, and really living life and finding joy and finding the dream became more of a goal. Not that things were flippant or anything like that. I’m very cautious and really try to think about my choices. But I moved to New York and was spotted with no hair from chemo. I ended up working there. I never became a Naomi Campbell, but I did pay my bills.

When did you know you’d be wearing the bodysuit?

I went in for a fitting around April 13. I was in Paris and they said, “You’re OK with latex?” And I’m thinking, yeah, because I’m an actor and I wear all kinds of goofy stuff. We would try on different body suits to see what fit. They took measurements from the top of the head to the shoulder, the top of the head to the base of the throat where it meets the clavicle, how long your neck is.

In fact, the closer they fit, the better they felt, oddly. They put all of our hair in skullcaps. Once you got it on and they zipped it up, believe it or not, it was more comfortable.

Related: Crucial questions for Ichabod Wainwright and his Wheel of Death

Does the designer give you a storyline or just physical instruction?

We only get physical instruction. For example, the last show I was in was this incredible, moving show in the snow. It was absolutely stunning and beautiful and very difficult for the models. We did rehearsal in the snow, but we didn’t know the day-of that (Demna) was going to do this beautiful monologue in his native tongue and give everyone these blue and yellow giant T-shirts the colors of the Ukrainian flag. They increased the wind velocity and the music was very loud and intense. We had fake snow getting in our eyes and ears and mouths, and all of us were struggling to get through it. The strobing represented bombs and thunder. Shell shock. That’s what he was trying to convey.

I’m so lucky. I’m so lucky to have someone like that and to have that challenge.

Eugenie Bondurant walks in Balenciaga's ready-to-wear fall winter 2022/23 fashion show on March 6, 2022 in Paris.
Eugenie Bondurant walks in Balenciaga’s ready-to-wear fall winter 2022/23 fashion show on March 6, 2022 in Paris. [ AVALON | ]

It’s cool that you live in St. Petersburg but have a rich modeling and acting life.

When people ask me where I live, I tell them I live in an artist town that creates growth and nurtures it. That’s what I do with my classes here. I support my artists and they support others around them. If I’m in Paris or New York, I wave that St. Pete flag high. People say, “I wouldn’t expect that.” And I say, “My mangoes will be dropping soon, my avocados will be dropping soon.” And I say I live in an incredible place.

Eugenie Bondurant works with acting students at the Patel Conservatory at the The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in 2015.
Eugenie Bondurant works with acting students at the Patel Conservatory at the The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in 2015. [ Times (2015) ]
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