Ruth And May Bell For Burberry

Ruth and May Bell captured the fashion world’s imagination with their double dose of doe-eyed charm when they participated in Elite Model Look in 2013. Born under the sign of Gemini, their paths diverged when Ruth shaved her head to shoot with Alexander McQueen and her star ascended with the likes of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Versace. For Spring Summer 2016, the pair have been reunited to shoot with Mario Testino for Burberry. We sat down with the sisters to talk about working with icons of British fashion, their journey since Elite Model Look and the triumphs of being twins.

What was it like to shoot for Burberry?

May: I thought it would be all stress, but it wasn’t very pressured, everybody knew what they were doing. It was a bit surreal when Mario Testino walked in. But he’s a good laugh, he’s very laid back. We were half dressed on most of the shoot, for someone to make you relaxed when you’re not wearing a lot of things, it’s quite a feat. Doing the shoot for Burberry has made me realise that we have a different idea about people who are successful. We think they don’t have time for anyone, but they are just like the rest of us, just a little bit busier. People might know their names but they are friendly and down to earth.

The Burberry shoot was put on Snapchat, a first in fashion. Is social media important to you?

May: Yeah. I think it can be. It’s a way of being proud of what you’ve done. Ruth is very famous on the internet, she has a lot of followers on Instagram. Some people can be nasty, but you have to ignore it and focus on the positive things people say. It used to affect me much more when I was younger, when we started out, but I’ve grown in confidence now. I just don’t let it bother me.

What did the competition teach you?

May: You’re thrown in at the deep end, and you really learn how to socialise properly, including with people who don’t speak your language. Because when you’re working as a model, you might have to go abroad and not be able to speak the language. It’s a very sociable industry - even on the Burberry shoot, there was an upstairs lounge area, so when we weren’t shooting, we were all upstairs in the lounge area watching the telly and chatting. So learning how to be a good people person is an essential skill.

What was Elite Model Look like when you participated?

Ruth: Stressful! But at the same time it was very useful and worth doing. It was hard but it’s like doing anything new for the first time, and then doing it for two months straight. I was taught a lot about what modelling was actually like. I just thought it was just standing in front of a camera! [laughs] I had no idea. I wanted to go to China [for the World Final, where May represented the UK], but I don’t think at that time that I was ready for the pressure. I would have freaked out if I had had to do the show. Now, I have done Gucci and Versace and they are huge, but I saw where the EML Final was and the amount of people there was, and I still don’t know how my sister did it.

Ruth, how would you describe your journey since EML?

Ruth: People knew us in fashion as the twin models, but outside of the industry, we weren’t well known. I’m glad we started like that, we got to finish school. If it had have exploded at the beginning, I’m sure I would have messed up, but it was nice to start off as a normal model! The craziest moment has been when I was asked to shave my head, but it was that Alexander McQueen wanted to work with me, David Sims wanted to shoot me, Joe McKenna wanted to style me. That was the craziest thing, not the haircut. Since then it hasn’t really stopped, I’ve hardly had time to process it all, but it’s amazing.

May, what have you done since EML?

May: I’m really proud of Ruth, she has been doing some really great stuff. I have been doing a little bit of modelling, but I have also been relaxing and figuring out what I want to do in the future. I have a real fear of flying which limits me. There’s work in London, but there’s no way I could do what Ruth is doing right now. You have to keep yourself healthy in mind and body when you’re a model, it’s so important.

You worked together before the haircut, was it a big decision to cut it off?

Ruth: May was the first person I told when I was asked to cut my hair. I got the call when we were at dinner, and I went back in to talk about it with her. and I only had 24 hours to decide but her advice was very logical. She said, “think about the work you’re doing to shave your head. Is the money enough? Is the prestige enough?” She said she was worried we’d lose work together, but of course we haven’t, we’ve got new work together, like Burberry!

Has it helped either of you to develop your own identity, as twins?

May: I think that we have always been individuals. Ruth used to be a tomboy, and I’d be a girly girl, then Ruth went through a girly stage and I had a tomboy stage, but we had different interests and different personalities obviously. I went off to university and she did a lot more modelling, and she got a name for herself and hasn’t been known as “one of the twins”. It can get frustrating, we should be treated like individuals. To me, I never understood why people would ask, “what’s it like being a twin?” We are close, but it’s good to be different!

Finally, what are you doing for Christmas?

May: We are having a family Christmas this year, spending lots of time together and eating lots of food obviously. I'm most looking forward to making a New Year’s resolution... And breaking it a week later. It's tradition!

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