Beauty

Victoria Secret Deanna Miller

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About 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, practically on the Ohio border, you’ll find a miniscule town by the name of Bessemer. At first glance—and if you’re driving over the speed limit, there will only be one glance—Bessemer fits all the stereotypes of Small Town America and John Cougar Melloncamp’s hit single. Pizza Joe’s, Mohawk Lanes, and Cow Licks Ice Cream make up the triumvirate of businesses necessary for survival in such a place and all of them lie within the shadow of the sizeable Essroc concrete plant.

If you would just close your eyes, you could probably hear the plant’s five o’clock whistle blowing and smell the wet blanket of freshly cut grass.

Bessemer is the kind of place you picture in black and white; a place where if someone doesn’t know your name, well, they at least know you went to Mohawk High with their older sister or that your dad comes into the convenience store every morning before work. With slightly over 1000 residents, the entire population is smaller than some Pittsburgh schools’ senior classes, so if any local were to accomplish even a modicum of success, people would be likely to remember.

And if a girl of 5’9”, 34-24-34 proportions were to go to New York City and don knee-high boots, lace lingerie and enormous, iridescent bluish-green wings flowing with streamers on the Victoria Secret Fashion Show… well, I’m rather surprised they haven’t renamed the town or rerouted Main Street around a marble statue.

This is the story of Deanna Miller and the metamorphosis of a small town girl into a Victoria Secret Angel.

Like so many coming-of-age fashion model histories, it all began with a dream to work at Dairy Queen.

“When I was fifteen, my parents said, ‘You need to get a job,’ so I applied to Dairy Queen,” Deanna explained. “Unfortunately, you have to be sixteen to work there, so someone my mom knew suggested the Docherty Model & Talent Agency and said I should send my pictures in. I kind of hesitated, but if I was going to make money then sure, so then I went down and met with them.”

In this way, Deanna started her modeling career the way most of us started our food service careers. That is, the drive for funds as a teenager pushes you into career paths for which you have no interest or long-term goals. The only divergence in this time-honored teen ritual is that I washed dishes, bussed tables, and replaced roofs while Deanna was modeling products and working on her posture.

Lest you think this Angel-to-be never looked back, it’s important to note that Deanna did eventually fulfill her dream. Upon turning sixteen, she acquired a coveted position at the local DQ. And when several of her managers got the state certification allowing them to open up their own Subway chain, Deanna was part of the coup that marched into the sandwich business with them.

And perhaps that’s where this story ends if it weren’t for the people of dear old Bessemer. As Deanna got more involved with modeling in Pittsburgh (whilst slinging Subway Clubs, mind you), there came an opportunity to travel to a modeling convention in Canada with some other Docherty girls.
“I needed to raise I don’t know how much money, but it was money I didn’t have and my parents couldn’t afford to give me. So we went around to people in my town, little businesses, and asked them if they would donate money to help me get there,” said Deanna, humbled. “Everyone gave me money to go, which was amazing. Everyone in Bessemer helped me out.”

To go there now is to know what that money must have meant. In 2007, the town’s estimated median household income was close to $38,000—nearly $10,000 less than the Pennsylvania average. Its Main Street is home to numerous businesses that have closed in recent decades and tendrils of ivy have set up permanent residence in conjunction with the “For Sale” signs. Deanna’s former home atop the old hardware store on South Main Street is no exception. The flagpole is empty, the little red dog house vacant. A tiny brook still meanders along in the back yard but aside from its gurgling and the occasional lawnmower, the scene is serene and idyllic. However, those words rarely go hand in hand with thriving industry and such silence only hints at what a quick glance will confirm: the Essroc concrete plant is closing, putting many Bessemerites out of a job.

Such is the story in countless small towns across the country. Often, the only way out is a lofty dream and hefty resilience. And this time, I’m not talking about Dairy Queen.

One summer, on break from high school, Deanna, her mom and her Pittsburgh agent flew to New York City and met with multiple agencies. As fate would have it, Deanna signed on with Next Agency and started going on casting calls through them. This is how she came to work for Victoria Secret at the age of fifteen, modeling clothes for their ubiquitous catalog. Then, she got an opportunity to model clothes on the runway so designers could see their outfits on actual girls and make decisions for the live fashion show.

Unbeknownst to Deanna, the Victoria Secret producers were looking to fill a final spot.

“So I happened to do a few of the sittings for the show and I just thought I was trying clothes on for them, so they could see how they looked. When they sat me down and asked me if I’d do the show, I said, ‘Of course!’”

Now, this is The Victoria Secret Fashion Show, the highest profile, most upper-echelon fashion show known to mankind. At one point, the models are dressed as seraphim and they look every bit the part of heaven’s elite. This particular show opened with a model, adorned with white wings and garb, soaring above the crowd and landing on the runway (after multiple acrobatics) amid a gasp of smoke.

In other words, if you stumble on this stage, yours will be more than a proverbial fall from grace.

“I was super nervous. We did two shows as a precaution because the year before P.E.T.A. stormed the stage. So we did one show without an audience which they recorded just in case something happened during the live performance,” she remembered. “In between the shows they hired masseuses. I had a splitting headache because I was so stressed so I got a massage but then got sleepy.”

Once the countdown sounded however, Deanna Miller took the runway by storm.

“I think once I got up there I didn’t see or hear anything. I was just thinking, if I make it to the end and back in one piece, I’ll be happy.”

And as far as the experience as a whole?

“It’s pretty much in its own world altogether. You go out several different times and the outfits are amazing. There’s so much that goes on backstage that makes it more luxurious, more unreal, than anything else. The guy that makes the wings is just incredible. It’s so much time and work that goes into one show…”

She seemed to trail off in exhaustion just recalling the night.

Deanna’s life has never really slowed down since that cherubic evening. For almost two years, she dated Seann William Scott (American Pie, Role Models) which drug her temporarily into the paparazzi’s crosshairs. She recently bought a house in New Jersey, close enough to hop into NYC to do castings like the ones she had planned for the afternoon after we spoke. The coming weekend would take her to Germany, then Paris in another week. A day in London, another in Sicily. An afternoon in Sweden. Such is the life of a career fashion model.

In small towns across America, there are innumerable legends about so-and-so’s cousin making it big as a baseball player or a movie star. In Bessemer, those stories are about Deanna Miller, the girl who became an Angel on the world’s brightest runway. And they’re all true.

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