Arlenis Sosa Peña’s Fast Track to Stardom

Less than a year ago Arlenis Sosa Peña was a dedicated student living in the Dominican Republic until designer Luis Menieur approached her on the street and changed her life. Intrigued by Peña’s look, Menieur sent her pictures to the Marilyn Agency, which signed her immediately. Ten months later, Peña is one of the most sought after models, working with top photographers and turning heads at major fashion shows.

Sosa Peña spoke to WWD about her rise to fame, the person she credits for her lucrative Lancôme contract, and how she remains grounded through it all. Here are a few highlights:

How were you discovered?
I was walking in Santo Domingo with my cousins and the designer Luis Menieur, who’s huge in my country, stopped me. I didn’t know who he was, but my cousins did. He asked me if I modeled and I said not really. He gave me his phone number and I called my family and they were like, “Call him,” so I did and I met him the next day. He sent my pictures to Marilyn Agency and the next day, they sent an invitation to the embassy for me and I got my visa. I came to New York for one month and in the second week, I met Steven Meisel and did a photo shoot with him for the Black issue of Italian Vogue.

You landed your Lancôme contract within the month. How did that come about?
Anna Wintour. She invited me to the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute] ball with Moises de la Renta, the son of Oscar. I went and she introduced me to Giorgio Armani, George Clooney and Julia Roberts. You can imagine—my favorite actor is George Clooney. I didn’t know it was going to be like that! I met a lot of other people that evening, too— stylists, designers, so many I didn’t know. The next day, Lancôme sent a message to my agency and wanted to meet me. Three weeks later, I had a contract.

You've shot to fame. How are you staying grounded?
My agent from the Dominican Republic is like, “You don’t know yet who you are.” But I’m just Arlenis. I just say thanks to God for everything you give me and I’m trying to give back. I’ve started a foundation in the Dominican Republic to help children with diabetes.

Who do you admire and why?
I love Liya Kebede. She’s one of the best models and she has skin like me. Iman, also—they are both people whose footsteps I would like to follow in.

What do you like to do when you're not modeling?
I love to be with my family and go to church. I’m Christian and believe a lot in God.