At Malabella, our muses are our source of inspiration, a wellspring for us to create a collection that represents and carries the stories and intentions we infuse into the jewels. Often times we wait to finalize designs until we’ve found our perfect muse and add pieces and edits that we believe our muse would wear during their travels and as a source of growth, meaning, and purpose.
We were humbled and ecstatic to have Condrea model for this collection; not only is she stunning, and above-and-beyond talented — but she has an ability to move and create poses with the click of a shutter. Both Hannah and Katherine were amazed at her ability to take direction, and “flip-book” her poses, where she would strike a pose, wait for the sound of a photo capture, and immediately move to a new frame. Her effortless movements and silent confidence developed her into the perfect depiction of Alchemy. She, herself, embodies the definition with grace and diligence. Meet our Muse, Condrea Zhuang…
Malabella: What do you love to do for fun?
Condrea: I love to cook and bake, on the weekends I like to make really elaborate meals and desserts to share with my friends. I’m happiest outside in nature; I really enjoy going hiking, kayaking, exploring, spending time on the beach etc. It’s important for me to practice “leave no trace” and low-impact exploration. I often end up cleaning up trash and litter on my trips. I’m also a huge animal lover, I spend a lot of time volunteering at shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centers, and of course– hanging out with my amazing cat.
M: What’s your sun sign?
C: I’m a Cancer!
M: What are your favorite forms of expression?
C: I love to paint and sculpt! There is something incredibly therapeutic about working through your emotions by working with your hands. I usually find that even when I’m unsure of myself, what I’m feeling or what I need to do, my body and my mind know subconsciously. Art helps me unearth those parts of myself.
M: We know that you model professionally. What helped you take this next step and what’s your favorite thing about modeling?
C: I started seriously pursuing modeling in NYC. It was a cold and uncompassionate place to start, I was unhappy and lost confidence in myself. I moved away to D.C. and decided to focus on developing my career as an environmental advocate and conservationist. When the pandemic hit, I suddenly had so much more time– and once again found myself drawn to modeling, photography, the beauty, and the art that I loved. I started modeling again and took off here in ways that I could have never imagined. I’m blessed and happy to know and be part of a beautiful, kind, supportive network here in the DMV.
M: What inspired you to become a model?
C: My photographer friends! We were all in college at the time and wanted to help each other express ourselves and pursue art and beauty outside of our mundane day-to-day lives. I am so grateful for how we have all grown and succeeded together in our respective careers.
M: What is your favorite kind of modeling to take part in?
C: I love to model for dramatic, over-the-top, intensely creative editorial shoots. From time to time, I work as a creative director and develop many of the themes and styling for editorial shoots myself. The kinds of shoots that are closest to my heart though, are the ones with a message or a cause. I’m an activist, I believe in grassroots advocacy, I believe in the ripple effect and the power of individuals. There is so much in the world that needs help and needs change– I believe that photos are one of the best ways to raise awareness, convey meaning, connect with people emotionally, get them to think, feel and consider a new perspective.
M: What advice would you give to a model starting out?
C: Believe in yourself, value yourself and love yourself! Practice in front of the mirror or with a self-timer on your camera. Learn your best angles and best ways to accentuate your favorite features. Expressions are just as important as poses. I won’t pretend that this is a particularly kind or compassionate industry. So when you start getting out there and working with new people– travel with a friend, develop boundaries and stick to them. There will be a lot of people who may try to manipulate or coerce you, they’ll tell you that the only way forward is through them– remember that if an individual truly wanted to help you, they would do so without conditions and that no so-called career advancement is worth your self-respect. “No” is a complete sentence.
M: What’s a daily ritual you practice?
C: Gratitude! Every morning I count my blessings and everyday I try to be as present as I can, love the here-and-now of my life. Enjoy and appreciate the day-to-day, each one special in its own way and the wonderful little things we all have in our lives. I make a point not to dwell on the past, or worry about the future.
M: What is your favorite mantra or intention?
C: Good things come to those who keep going. I’ve been through quite a bit in my life, and I’ve come to realize that power of perseverance. When it gets hard or when it seems impossible, keep going. When you’re lost, just choose a direction and start walking– soon enough, you’ll find your way again. I try to live all parts of my life with intention, I follow my heart and I never deviate from my principles or moral compass.
M: Where are you originally from and where have you lived/traveled to? Which place is your favorite?
C: I was born in China and lived there until I was 7! My parents became political refugees and we sought asylum in the United States. I’ve been here ever since– I spent my childhood in Boston and then went to New York for college. I honestly haven’t been able to afford much world travel, I’ve been back to China, Canada, Bahamas, Bermuda and Aruba. I miss my home country a lot but cannot stay, and hope to explore South America and Asia on foot one day.
M: We’re an eco-conscious brand, and we know that you love sustainability! Can you tell us a bit more about what brought you to this viewpoint and why you focus on it?
C: I love that you’re an eco-conscious brand! It was one of the first things that drew me to you! So basically, I grew up on the southeastern coast of China, it was a small fishing village and my people’s livelihoods revolved exclusively around fishing and crabbing. It was sustainable, and had been for hundreds of years. Sometime after I left China, a huge car manufacturing company moved in across the bay– and because China doesn’t really have robust environmental regulations, began dumping vast amounts of chemicals into the water. When I returned a few years later, the water was BLACK with chemical refuse and the sand was so inundated with pollution that it resembled sludge more than anything else. As you can imagine, the livelihoods of my village were destroyed, many of them were forced to begin working in the car manufacturing company instead. A couple decades later and cancer is widespread in my hometown. It is a special kind of torture to be thousands miles away from your hometown, knowing and watching pollution, shoddy environmental regulations and climate change rip apart the place and people you once called home. There was nothing I could have done back then, I was young and helpless. But I am determined to prevent similar fates from encasing other vulnerable people and creatures across the world, whether it is indigenous peoples in the Americas or small villages in my home country. I believe that environmental advocacy, sweeping policy reform throughout corporations and the government worldwide, and change ignited by the people is the only way forward. Environmentalism is a global, humanist issue like no other.
M: We love your hair; it’s so beautiful! What are your best hair care tips?
C: Thank you!! My number one hair care tip is to stop using heat and chemical treatments to alter the appearance of your hair, it causes so much damage to your hair overtime and it’s often irreparable. I recommend combing it gently often, from root to tip to distribute your hair oils evenly, it’s a great way to nourish your tips and prevent a greasy scalp. Diet also plays a huge role in hair health, eat foods that are high in biotin and collagen– your hair and skin will thank you! I actually don’t recommend taking biotin or collagen supplements– it’s often way too much for our bodies to process and too much of these supplements can actually cause you to break out.
M: We found you via an empowering women-ran group for models and photographers in the DC area. Can you tell us more about why you took an interest in it?
C: A photographer friend founded the group and invited me to help lead as we noticed that there was a severe deficit of safe spaces available in the DMV modeling/photography communities for women. We wanted to combat the dismissiveness, sexism, misogyny and occasionally predatory behavior that permeates the industry, as it does many industries. The group now functions as a vibrant, inclusive and safe community for women to explore modeling and photography, share opportunities, stories and ideas. We strive to empower and support one another.
M: What’s your favorite piece from Alchemy and why?
C: Eyes of Venus gold earrings! I was skeptical about these at first because of the style of the clasp but instantly fell in love when I put them on. I’m a classic, minimalist kind of girl when it comes to jewelry and these are perfect for that vibe. I feel like the small gemstones add a soft pop of glam while the pearls add a touch of class. Plus, now I love that style of clasp– it’s secure and you never have to worry about losing the back.
M: Sunrise or Sunset?
C: I honestly love both, they’re equally beautiful to me and fill the sky with a kind of vibrancy and mystique that only the sun can do. I’ll go with sunsets though, because my bed tends to convince me to miss the sunrises. 🙂
Jewels ~ Malabella Jewels
Muse ~ Condrea Zhuang
Still Edits ~ Hannah Skedsvold
Clothing ~ Twice is Nice Consignment Boutique // Winchester, VA
Location ~ Star in the Valley Winery // Strasburg, VA
BTS Magic ~ Elizabeth Fox