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Joan Smalls — fashion’s “It” girl of the moment—has been scaling industry heights, breaking down barriers, taking New York Fashion Week by storm, and making her hometown of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, very proud.

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In true Cinderella-story style, Joan left her family’s fruit farm at 19 to pursue her dreams of modeling in the Big Apple. It took a few years to get her foot in the door, but thanks to her fantastic agent, Kyle Hagler of IMG, and of course, her stunning beauty, she has definitely arrived. In the words of sartorial savant, Derek Blasberg: “Joan is what everyone is looking for in a model: looks, brains, fun, fabulous and a damn good dancer, too.” In fact, you may have noticed her moves in Ricky Martin’s 2010 It’s Alright video.

The fashion world began to take notice of Joan’s sultry and sophisticated presence when Richard Tisci made her the exclusive model for Givenchy’s 2010 fall haute couture show, but 2011 was truly a breakout year for Joan. She became the first Latina Global Spokesmodel and face of Estée Lauder, she was the first Puerto Rican to spread her angel wings on the Victoria’s Secret catwalk, and this spring she will be the first woman of color to be featured in a Chanel campaign.

It is wonderfully encouraging to see the industry’s definition of beauty changing, as even the oldest-school labels and cosmetics companies are increasingly embracing and celebrating diversity. It’s clear that Joan truly appreciates the importance of the barriers she is overcoming and how much it means to women and girls to open a magazine and see their own unique beauty reflected back at them. In a recent interview she told Latina magazine, “I’m so grateful because I’ve worked so hard to be in this position, to put my best foot forward, and bring pride to my family. I’m honored to rep my culture and want to show the world out there that the Latin culture is beautiful, exciting, and that we all look different.” Amen!