Presenting Shalamber for Vogue Hong Kong’s anniversary issue! Supermodels and soul sisters, Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta have appeared on countless Vogue covers and walked on fashion’s biggest runways. The pair quickly forged an unbreakable friendship that would see them through thick and thin for over 30 years. They come together on Vogue Hong Kong wearing Prada and lensed by legendary fashion photographer Craig McDean. Name a more iconic duo – we’ll wait.
What were your first impressions of each other? Can you tell us about a backstage moment you shared together?
Amber: I thought Shalom was this tall exotic being but also the beloved of the agency. I felt I wasn’t as cool as her! We went to a dinner to vet each other to become roommates and after about 10 minutes we feel in deep friendship love! We have so many backstage stories I don’t even know where to begin. To be honest I don’t know if I would have survived all the pressure and challenges of my days of doing tons of shows without Shalom. I remember being so tired one morning waking up for an early morning show (we were almost in tears) and I said “we just have to bin and grear it”. What I meant to say was “we just have to grin and bare it.” We laughed so hard about all of it and still do today.
Shalom: When Amber and I met we were still teenagers. So we saw each other from the lens of high school cliques. Amber was preppy and clean-cut with an Hermès scarf. I was grungy with ripped jeans and old band T-shirts. We would’ve run in different circles back in our respective hometowns. But once we started talking childhood dynamics; our single mothers and absentee fathers and our eldest sibling syndrome, our commonality was evident. Our first dinner date lasted hours and culminated in a decision to live together. The rest is history as they say.
How do you define friendship?
Amber: Friendship for me is trust, authenticity, vulnerability, laughter and love.
Shalom: Empathy, commonality and consistency. The one to whom you reach when you’re in a place that feels too much to bear alone, and the one to whom you reach to share your joys and victories.
How have you formed and maintained long lasting friendships in such a competitive industry?
Amber: Shalom said it best. We have made each other better at our work because of our competitiveness. She is an amazing model and professional and I have learned so much from her. We used to have a harder time with all the competition and people literally confusing us for the other one but today we own it! Shalamber is our moniker!
Shalom: Though the industry is competitive our relationship never was. By joining forces professionally we empowered each other. The designers and photographers and stylists were inspired by the genuine nature of our love for each other. And visually we were opposites but complementary.
Has being a mother shifted your perspective or the way you approach work?
Being a mother has informed almost all of my decisions in life! Now that my kids are in college and living on their own it’s less about the time I’m away but the time when I am with them. It’s precious!
After a successful career in Hollywood you returned to modelling. What is it about fashion and this industry that keeps you coming back?
This is a longer conversation but to put it briefly, I like having more control over my schedule, creatively I have more input, I can work on all the sustainability projects to help change the fashion industry and I can still tell stories through characters I play. I love acting and I’d do it again if the right project came to me. I am open to it for sure.
You are an outspoken advocate for supporting those struggling with addiction. What is a common misconception about people struggling with addiction? How do you hope to shift the narrative for future generations?
There is no shame in having a disease. Addiction is a disease in the mind and body. I don’t want anyone anywhere to suffer needlessly when I know there is a way out of the darkness to the light of freedom beyond addiction. People need help worldwide… one life saved is a miracle.
Raising awareness for sustainability in the fashion industry is important to you. How do you implement sustainability or strive to be more sustainable in your day to day life?
I practice being sustainable and using my voice in my everyday life. I am mindful of what I buy. I have an electric car – the same one for 12 years. I call, write and protest social and environmental injustices, I do simple things like use more glass, cloth and reusable things instead of plastic. I use all I’ve learned to try and share with others in a gentle way so they feel empowered to make changes in their own lives. It is a ripple effect.
Besides modelling and acting, what are you passionate about?
I think you can see I am a lover of life. I am in love with nature, my pets, friends, family, learning, art, self care, adventuring and being a part of bringing more joy and peace to others.
Anna Wintour has said you have one of the best catwalks of all time. What’s the secret to a perfect runway walk? Do you remember your first runway?
My dance training as well as my background in the theatrical arts informs the way I approach the catwalk. Katousha Niane, Marpessa Hennink and Giselle Zelauy all ruled the runway when I first began stepping out. I integrated their approach and applied it to my generation of designers. There is a lineage, and I am honoured to be a part of their legacy.
You dropped ballet for tap dancing and guitar for the drums. How does music and percussion set your inner child free? How else do you like to express yourself?
My relationship to my body has been the main focus of this lifetime. Dance enabled me to process the challenges of my childhood. At the time I didn’t have a way to name or understand what state I was in. My relationship with my body and the somatic practices of dance created an outlet for instinctual expression.
The breathing, stretching and strengthening gave me a sense of order, agency and self-regulation. The discipline one learns from dance is invaluable. My focus eventually shifted to tap because of its percussive and rhythmic nature. Tap dance syncs the hemispheres of the right and left brain. And the patterns it organises around gave me a constructive way to focus my anxiety and obsessive tendencies.
Ecstatic dance like Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms or Vincent Martínez-Grieco’s Soul Motion dance brings me joy and a sense of freedom. It is my form of prayer. Prayer through the form of the body.
Yoga and Qigong are my other primary lifelong practices. Because my life as a model is on the road with constant travel, I am currently unable to fully realise my other passion which is teaching these modalities, though I do substitute and assist from time to time for my teacher Ingrid Boulting.
You had to battle Lyme disease while also being subject to black mould poisoning. How did you stay positive throughout it all?
I had to befriend Lyme, not battle it.
I have experienced tremendous suffering in my journey with Lyme and Black Mold Poisoning. Human experiences are rife with suffering; I am not alone in this. The nature of these invisible illnesses makes them hard to understand to those who are not familiar with the terrain. It can be incredibly isolating as it often takes years to get a clear diagnosis. Most family and friends have no way to relate to or understand this and often malign the one who is ill. I would encourage the loved ones to believe and tend to with care the one who is suffering, even if it’s from something yet nameless.
The key is not to insist on being positive throughout a hardship such as this. Allowing the full spectrum of your feelings and seeking those who have the capacity to see you and hold you emotionally is paramount. Often hired professionals are the only ones who can truly do this.
I make purpose by focusing on garnering resiliency that comes from making sense of my experience. There is metaphor to all illnesses, and so I have mined these darker spaces with attentive care and gleaned meaning from my experience.
I am a student of somatic psychology. I study trauma informed pre and peri natal birth development. The work was developed by Ray Castellino. I’m in a nine year training and about 1/2 of the way through. I will initially begin to apply the work by offering trauma informed somatic experiences through yoga and Qigong.
Photography: Craig McDean
Styling: Dena Giannini
Producers: Alexey Galetskiy & Ryan Fahey
Casting Director: Jill Demling
Makeup Artist: Holly Silius for Tata Harper
Hair Stylist: Diego Da Silva
Manicurist: Ashlie Johnson
Tailor: Vitalina Gavrylyuk
Photography Assistants: Nicholas Brinley, Nicholas Ong & Shri Parameshwaran
Fashion Assistants: Alexandra Cornwell, Anna Hermosillo & Julia Varavkina
Makeup Artist Assistant: Natalie Tchokreff
Production Assistants: Sasha Milostnova, Ivan Shentalinskiy & Andrey Burak
Eileen Gu Stars On Vogue Hong Kong’s January Issue
EditorVOGUE HONG KONG