Sunkissed Success

WORDS: Corrine Barraclough PHOTOGRAPHY Tess Lopold H&MU: Ashlea Penfold

Cosmopolitan Magazine reckons she’s the spitting image of Kendall Jenner, but having met her face to face, ORM say she’s even more beautiful! Meet model Michelle Bagarra who was born and raised on the Gold Coast and now roams the globe.

Kate Moss was scouted (discovered) when she was just 14 years old. She was travelling on a plane from JKF back to England.

Miranda Kerr was living every early 2000s girl’s dream when she entered and won the Dolly magazine model search at just 13 years old.

Gigi Hadid was picked when she was only two years old at her preschool by another parent, who just happened to be the founder of Guess Jeans and then chose her to feature in a new campaign.

Photographer: Carlotta Moye H&MU: Michael Brennan Stylist: Andrew Hainsworth

Gold Coast local Michelle Bagarra, 27, is a true story of our time.

“A friend tagged an agent in a photo I posted on Instagram,” the model tells ORM when we catch up over coffee. “When the agent first messaged me, I was 18 and about to go travelling so I wasn’t interested. But, a year later, after I’d travelled around the UK and Philippines, I needed to make extra income whilst studing.

“So I was 20 or 21 when I started modelling, which is late compared to many others. Some start at 13 or 14. You’re still finding out about yourself at that age. I’m very happy that I started when I did. I did a few shoots with a friend in High School but didn’t take it seriously – I just wanted to get into real estate!”

Photographer: Carlotta Moye H&MU: Michael Brennan Stylist: Andrew Hainsworth

Little did she know at the time, that a glittering career lay ahead of her that would see her travel the world collecting passport stamps and memories.

“My first modelling stint was in India. The agent I first met with, Mandy, said, ‘You should go to India, it will fast-track your portfolio because you get to shoot with some really big magazine brands out there like Harper’s Bazaar India and Vogue India. No one knows that! When people think about fashion, they think about Milan, London and New York – I did India. It was a shock when I first arrived. I stayed in model accommodation. The girls I stayed with were beautiful, I was very lucky in that respect. I made good friends and that made such a difference. I would have been so overwhelmed otherwise and the whole experience could have been so different. I remember sitting at the airport, crying hysterically, trying to calm myself down. I got in my own head and spun out. We all do that, don’t we?”

Photographer: Anette Hiie Stylist: Anne Hertikova for L’officiel Shot in Portugal

When we meet, Michelle is just getting over a cold but, unlike many, she doesn’t hold any grudges against COVID. “I find that every couple of months since COVID, I get sick, I’m still trying to build up my immunity – but then, I do travel a lot. Through COVID, I was probably the busiest I’ve ever been. We were so lucky that Queensland was open pretty much throughout the pandemic, and lots of brands were shooting here because it was easy to do the whole production without all the crazy lockdowns that Sydney and Melbourne suffered.”

She may travel a lot but the Gold Coast always has been and always will be home. “I just love the feeling of arriving home, especially after I’ve been in a big city. I’ve been to London maybe six or seven times. I’m very lucky that I get to stay with my aunt and uncle who have a place in South Kensington. They don’t have children, so they treat me like their own daughter. I love it there, but the Gold Coast is home. I grew up in Helensvale and now I’m in Biggera Waters. I’ve been thinking about Broadbeach as my next move! I think I’ve been spoilt by the convenience of cities. Now, if I get in my car to go somewhere I think to myself, ‘Really? Do I really have to? Do I really need to go?”

One of the many benefits of modelling, Michelle says, is that it’s forced her out of her comfort zone.

Photographer: Gavin O’Neil

“I was a pretty shy child. I’m still shy, but my job has made me become more extravert. I’ve had to build up my confidence, I’ve had to force myself to push outside my comfort zone and it’s really made me grow as a person.”

Family is a priority for Michelle, who has one older brother, 28 who has the same parents, and one younger brother who is five and has the same father and a different mother.

“I treat him like my own son sometimes! I love him so much! But it’s made me realise that I don’t want children any time soon. He’s a lot of work!”

Photographer: Anette Hiie Stylist: Anne Hertikova for L’officiel Shot in Portugal

Michelle’s mum, who is Filipina, has moved back home, which means plenty of holidays over there – and amazing culinary treats.

“My mum went back to the Philippines before COVID and when I visit, we always do family trips to the islands. My mum cooks amazing Asian food: her curries are fantastic, so are her spring rolls, fried rice and she also cooks brilliant Italian. Her spaghetti is incredible. All my friends would get so excited about coming around for sleepovers whilst I was in school. I wish I’d got that talent from her. Maybe next time I go over to the Philippines, I’ll just say, ‘Right, for the next few days it’s just you and me and I want you to teach me everything you know in the kitchen!”

The down-to-earth chatter from a high-flying model is refreshing. She’s incredibly beautiful but she’s also impressively grounded.

Photographer: Cameron Hammond Client: Sommer Swim Location: Hamilton Island

“I’ve never been insecure,” she says. “I know other models struggle with body image, but I’ve just never had that little voice in my head. I was always quite secure in myself. If someone tried to tell me how I should look, I just didn’t take it in. I didn’t let it get to me.

Maybe that’s because I started modelling when I was that bit older?” Her father was born in Australia and moved to the UK.

“My dad would always take me and my brother to the Great Barrier Reef. Often, when I’m arriving home from travelling, I just can’t wait to get into the ocean. Last month, I arrived back to Gold Coast airport for the first time, straight from London. I felt disgusting after that 26-hour flight. I left Gold Coast airport and went straight to the beach. I couldn’t wait to get into the water. I love swimming, snorkelling. My ideal getaway must have water – I’m obsessed!”

Photographer: Gavin O’Neil

Modelling is a strange career in that you’re either surrounded by loads of people or travelling alone. It can be a lonely job. I feel like this past year, I’ve nailed enjoying my own company. I used to get anxious before I’d have to leave for an overseas contract, but now I look forward to reading and enjoying my own quiet time to wind down.”

Flicking through Insta isn’t top of her to-do list.

“It’s not a big part of my day, but I do feel like I should get more on top of it. Compared to other models, I’m pretty slack. I’m just so busy at the moment, in my time off I just want to relax, I feel I’m always at the airport, in meetings or castings. I just want to chill out when I’m not working. But Instagram is really important for this industry; when you go in for casting, they often flick through your Instagram, it’s become like your portfolio. If I want to stay on top of it, I need to get on top of this. My problem is that I want all the images and videos I post to be perfect!”

Photographer: Tess Leopoid H&MU: Ashlea Penfold Client:Pennyland

Talking about the fashion world that’s become her career, Michelle has a clear stand-out role model.

“Miranda Kerr! I love her; she’s all about health and fitness and she’s a very strong businesswoman. She’s gorgeous, isn’t she? I know that’s such a typical, predictable Australian person to pick. I haven’t met her – I wish! I would be starstruck. I wouldn’t know what to say”.

As for what she loves about modelling, Michelle says very strongly that it’s the travel.

Photographer: Gavin O’Neil

“I loved India, it was a great starting point, and I got more confidence in front of the camera through that trip. I also had a good trip to Europe this year, I had a really good sting. I booked a lot of jobs and visited Germany, Poland, Spain twice, travelled a lot around the UK. I was thinking the other day that a lot of my friends count how many countries they’ve been to. After this call, I’ll count up how many countries I’ve made it to so far!”

And what about the future? What does a 27-year-old with the whole world at her feet want to achieve next?

Photographer: Anete Hie Stylist: Annie Hertikova For L’officiel Beligum in Portugal

“I’ve travelled to New Zealand, Dubai, the US, the UK, Bali and others for work. I’m excited to travel more and see where else I’ll go. I’d like to launch my own brand, right now I’m in the networking phase. I want to start a homeware brand that’s sustainable and focuses on protecting our oceans. Often the most successful brand aligns with someone’s values, so I’ve been thinking about how I can launch a brand that aligns with my love of the ocean.”

Ahh, spoken like a true Gold Coaster.

Ps. Michelle confirms she’s travelled to 15 countries! “I can’t wait to add to the list,” she laughs.

Photographer: Gavin O’Neil


On tips for choosing a modelling agent… “Don’t get ripped off! Go in for an initial face-to-face meeting and ask lots of questions. Some agencies try to get you to pay a fee upfront for a workshop or test shoots. You shouldn’t need to be paying this. A good agent will know photographers who will do test shoots for free.

On working out… “I’m an early morning workout girl. I usually wake up at 5 am and I’ll do my workout first thing. I feel that sets me up for the day. It’s really good for my mental health. I often do a 7 am Pilates or barre class. I mix it up. I love high-intensity and I’m good at skipping. I’ll do 20 minutes of skipping. So, I probably work out for about an hour and a half, maybe five days a week. I always make sure I do recovery, that’s super important.

“I don’t run, it hurts my back, I have scoliosis. I’ve just got into golf out of the blue, I wanted to try something new, I go to the golf range at Emerald Lakes, it looks so easy but it’s a hard workout.

Photographer: William Lords

“I had back pain 5 years ago, went to the physio, she had a look at my spine and said, ‘you’ve got scoliosis’. Thankfully, it’s mild, but I must be careful. It means I can’t run, not long distance, if I run it’s low speed, just a light jog, and I let all instructors know before I start a class.”

On what she eats in a typical day… “I always eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do not skip meals. I love overnight oats, and I love peanut butter. Often lunch is a simple sandwich or salad. And for dinner, I do love my Asian food. I eat whatever I want; if I feel like a cookie or cheesecake, I’ll eat it!

On home comforts while she’s travelling… “When I’m travelling I like to take lavender candles, silk pillowcases and shower steamers so that when I get off long flights, I can throw the steamer into the shower and relax.”

Photographer: Cameron Hammond Client: Sommer Swim Location Hamilton Island


On being busy… “My life can be a bit crazy. This week, for instance, on Tuesday I did a shoot in Brisbane for Dish, went straight to the airport, flew to Melbourne, did a shoot there and then went straight to a shoot in Sydney. I got back to the Gold Coast around 9 pm last night. I basically get very little sleep!

Photographer: Carlotta Moye H&MU: Michael Brennan Stylist: Andrew Hainsworth