One expects a beautiful woman to promenade through the streets of New York, rather than sing a Disney tune, but unpredictability is the subject’s charm. She sings the first few bars of Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, a woman standing tall at 5’10” (6’2” with the extra four inches generously rendered by her red snakeskin boots). Her look, punctuated by sleek straight hair, a maroon satin bomber jacket, and striped trousers, elicits numerous double takes.
At 28, Filipina model Sharina Gutierrez has already lived through three life cycles of a model. Models aren’t usually afforded the luxury of a second chance, much less a third. But Gutierrez has, time and again, been given the opportunity to reinvent herself. Her 15-year modeling tenure is impressive; her body of work remarkable.
Her third foray into modeling may be her strongest one yet. She recently participated in a Reebok campaign alongside pop star Ariana Grande, supermodel Gigi Hadid, K-Pop sensation Somi, and a few other globally recognized names. Despite numerous life setbacks, Gutierrez has always managed to turn her life around and, if all goes well, hopefully the lives of countless other people as well.
Longevity in Modeling: The Urban Myth
Growing up in a household with parents on the brink of divorce, LA-born Gutierrez has always sought asylum elsewhere to escape tensions at home—mostly in dance classes. At 12, a friend introduced her to modeling school but she didn’t make it very far in the program—she didn’t have to. After just one class, she was discovered walking down the street by a lady named Debbie and was offered a trip to New York to join a modeling competition. Despite her mom’s initial protests and doubts, mother, daughter, and aunt flew to New York.
The International Modeling & Talent Association competition (also responsible for plucking stars like Ashton Kutcher and Katie Holmes out of obscurity) drew thousands of aspiring models that year. After two months of rigorous training, she bested all of them—including much older 18-year-olds. “I was so honored. Every single agency wanted to meet me,” she recalls. She left with trophies and a modeling contract with L.A. Models.
While most teens her age were preoccupied with Hilary Duff and boys, she was building a career. At 13 years old, she bagged her first ever shoot for Vogue Italia with Michel Comte. (Full disclosure: Vogue Italia originally wanted her topless on the cover before realizing she was underage.) She worked with legends: David Sims for Benetton, with Bruce Weber, and Arthur Elgort, among others. “I was shooting Teen Magazine, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Elle, Lucky. Any magazine that was out at that time—I was shooting every single one of them,” she says.
Her career came to a screeching halt at 20 when she found out she was pregnant with her then on-again, off-again high school boyfriend.
Motherhood and Modeling
Mason, her six-year-old son, is currently focused on scooping the pearls out of his boba tea at a Vietnamese restaurant in Greenwich Village. Beside him, Gutierrez admits that her life has been a roller coaster ride since he was born.
“You should listen to what happened to Mama and maybe you would appreciate Mama a little more,” she says jestingly to her son.
She took a four-year hiatus post-Mason to be a full-time mom. And when you leave the industry, the industry leaves you behind. Luckily, she found help. “Audie was like my angel. He believed in me,” she shares, the gratitude evident in her voice. She’s referring to Audie Umali, the Creative Director behind projects with Tom Ford, Max Factor, and Calvin Klein. He found Gutierrez on Instagram and booked her—via a Skype audition—a huge Rimmel London campaign alongside Georgia May Jagger in 2014.
“She possessed a certain x-factor,” begins Umali, “Her look was undeniably Filipino, and there was a unique sleekness to her beauty.” He was right. Gutierrez, of morena skin, angular, chiseled features, and full lips, is objectively beautiful, but she’s also Filipina beautiful. “What really makes her stand out is her magnetic personality. She’s super gregarious and oozes charisma,” Umali says, decoding her appeal.
With her career in motion again after signing with DNA Agency, she decided to focus on work and, in the meantime, her son lived with his father in LA. She modeled for Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, and Hollister. She landed a 12-spread single story for American Vogue’s most prestigious September issue. But once again, her self-declared cockiness coupled with longing for her son, led to depression and another break from modeling.
Mason has been with her full-time for three weeks now (“I was praying for that for so long,” she shares), and Gutierrez has been homeschooling him. “I want him to find something outside of schooling, too, so he can sell his first business by the time he's 18.” Mama’s got big dreams for her baby. Mama’s also got big dreams for the world.
A Homecoming and a Reinvention
“I know that trip [to Manila] is going to change my life. It makes me emotional,” Gutierrez says, her voice slightly cracking. She arrives today.
Gutierrez has always been an amazing model—even with two hiatuses, even if she joined the social media game late. She’s worked with the greats, been published in countless titles, is back on track with endorsement deals with Reebok and Maybelline. She recently collaborated with Chris Brown for his “To My Bed” music video. But her newfound sense of self and purpose is what makes her a force to be reckoned with. To her, success doesn’t mean much devoid of purpose. Her growth is viewed in conjunction with the growth of others—her son’s, her peers’, or her community’s.
Donna Karan, known for championing spiritual development, is the fairy godmother behind this transformation. After meeting at a shoot, she has been a prolific mentor figure in Gutierrez’s life since. Now, Gutierrez is also well versed in the Law of Attraction, energy, and intention. She even walks around with dozens of crystal bracelets on each arm. “[Karan] saw a light in me.” Now, she has an even stronger sense of community. She wants to help Filipinos any way she can.
Her work itinerary is packed: a clothing line is in the works, a book is in talks (based on her daily journals), a class on modeling, press conferences and shoots with the biggest local titles, and endorsement deals are waiting to be closed.
But Gutierrez has her own goals. Hailing from Batangas, her mom rarely took her and her two older siblings (a sister and brother) on excursions whenever they would visit. This trip is a far cry from her usual Batangas-bound travels.
She’s meeting with the Department of Tourism Secretary. She’s working with three foundations she hand-selected to help raise awareness and money for them through a YouTube channel she’s just about ready to start. She wants to create her own foundation. “I bought the domain iamsharin.love. It’s my journey to my new name, Sharin. I’m going home and I'm going to leave home a new person,” she says.
May Flores, President of IM Agency, Sharina’s lead agency in Manila, talks about the brewing excitement. “It is her dream to come back and give back to the community. She wants to create awareness and use her popularity as a platform to help women, children, and indigenous tribes here. We’ll be visiting a few foundations and also spend some time with the Matigsalug tribe down south.”
These are all tall orders. A lot of people from the outside look to the Philippines with a burning desire to help. It doesn’t always translate. But Gutierrez’s determination, grit, and track record in bouncing back after adversity, are promising signs.
A lady stops Gutierrez on the street downtown mid-shoot. “Are you an influencer?” asks a lady working for a toy subscription company. They exchange Instagram handles. Mason beams knowing he’s getting new toys soon.
In a good mood, Mason asks, “Is there a marshmallow place around here?” He has no idea what his mom has in store for him—a taste of culture, a taste of poverty. “Imagine, he gets to see all this poverty and all this struggle and he's going to want to help so early on,” Gutierrez says proudly. This is a trip for him as much as it is hers. We will be waiting and watching.
Photographs by Martin Romero