“it’s horrible to say, but i’d rather be in a best buy than a designer showroom.”

by julia payne

What's black and white and beautiful all over? Supermodel Coco Rocha in a patterned two-tone Diesel dress at the W Hotel for the Samsung Galaxy III Launch party, obviously. We were lucky enough to sit down with the Toronto native, in Chicago for the Lollapalooza music festival, and talk music, Meisel, and modeling before she returned to the VIP tent.

The thing about Coco Rocha is that despite having a bone structure that could launch a thousand ships, she's no drama-touting Helen of Troy, leaving in her wake a string of slain men. She's really, genuinely nice—the first thing she offers to do is hold my phone in her lap while we talk so that the “free recording” app I've just downloaded will catch our conversation. Quite thoughtful, considering that the spacious room is humming with people and a large-screen TV with serious speakers is blasting songs from a playlist compiled by guests on the spot. Rocha has added a song by L.P. to the list, saying that the American-born pop/rock singer is who she's most excited to hear later that day. “She has this amazing, haunting, melodic voice…she [L.P.] probably wouldn't know how to explain it but that's how I have it.” She says, laughing, that she probably likes it so much because the haunting quality reminds her of the music of her native Ireland. Those Irish roots are a big part of what defined Rocha's career—not only was she discovered at an Irish step-dancing competition, she did that infamous jig down Jean-Paul Gaultier's runway in 2007, step-dancing, as it were, straight into superstardom. Her eight-year career has kept her busy enough that she hasn't seen a lot of live music, so at Lollapalooza she's making up for lost time: “Yesterday we went and saw Black Sabbath, and M83. We saw Passion Pit. I haven't seen anybody before, no joke. This is my second—what do we call this? Right—festival! Sorry, I'm not good with, well, words. We went to Escape to New York last year, it was a lot smaller. I'm pretty bad around massive crowds.”

She's definitely not bad with words—or with masses, at least of the social media variety. Her digital fan base is both large and loyal. When asked if she gets recognized often, she says it happens occasionally. Then I find out that within the first five minutes of her appearing at Lollapalooza, a man was ecstatically exclaiming that he had Irish step-danced for the past ten years and she was the one person he wanted to meet in the world. Although some might find it overwhelming to be so loved by strangers, Rocha takes a pragmatic stance. “I always say, if you're in an industry or a job where people will know who you are, if you don't like it or appreciate it, then seek something else. I don't mind it, and with my social media I feel like I give enough so that people don't push some more. If you're a private person, this wouldn't be the job for you, but if you can give a little bit, people are so happy with that then they're not seeking out too much, like where are you and what are you doing all the time.”

Rocha does seem to have a sixth sense about how to handle her online persona. It's probably thanks to her love of technology: “It's horrible to say, but I'd rather be in a Best Buy than a designer showroom.” Thanks to that enthusiasm, she's made her personality known in a way that many top models haven't, at least these days. Ever since getting a six-month exclusive contract with Steven Meisel, (which she says in retrospect was the highlight of her career) she's been handling the ups and downs of the modeling world with grace and foresight, speaking out against things like airbrushing and unrealistic physical expectations. “I'd say the industry as a whole has gotten a tiny bit better,” she says now. “I've demanded more respect, so personally it's gotten a lot better.”

Rocha's next project, the addictive sounding television show “The Face,” starts filming in September and will reveal even more of the model's personality—namely, her big-sister qualities. “Basically, Naomi [Campbell], Karolina [Kurkova] and I mentor the new generation of girls,” she says. “And Nigel Barker is the host. I just like mentoring. On my own I've always taken the girls at my agencies and helped them with posing, or any questions they have. When I started there was no model that was a big sister to take care of you.”

But Rocha has clearly managed to pave her own way well enough. She is excited to have just bought a new house in New York that she Conrad will begin furnishing this weekend, but disappointed to be leaving Chicago before the music ends. “We have to fly out tonight,” she says, making a sad face. “No Jack White!”

Well, better luck at next years—what is it? Oh, right. Festival.

With that, Rocha lets me takes some photos and thanks me for talking to her. Everyone in the room has an eye on her when she leaves, but she genuinely doesn't seem to notice. We'd be willing to bet she's gotten used to it.