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Dilone was once so poor she had to jump turnstiles to take the subway to castings. Now she’s making the leap from fashion to film.
Destined to be a one-name star, Dilone is a 27-year-old model turned actor who speaks with an expressive energy and openness that mirror the invigorating poses she’s known to strike. Born Janiece Altagracia Dilone, the Dominican American multi-hyphenate who spends most of her time “all over the place” takes our call while visiting family in her hometown of Long Island, N.Y. The bustling sounds in the background deliver an audible snapshot of her childhood in a big family. “It was great,” she says. “I grew up with nine siblings, so you can imagine there were a lot of personalities. But there was a lot of creativity and playfulness in the house, especially when we put on shows. When it was bad, it was 10 times as bad, but when it was good, it was really good. A lot of my siblings have an amazing sense of humour.”
From poetry to music, all types of artistic activities captured Dilone’s imagination when she was a kid. But an inherent love of dance, and a decade spent studying a range of styles, would be formative to her professional debut as a model. “Dance shakes up all that negative energy and helps get it out of my body,” she says. “It’s just such a beautiful way to express myself where words aren’t needed.” Tap, modern and hip-hop rank as favourites, but she recalls discovering a sense of deep connection with Latin-American dances, such as bachata and merengue, that buoyed her self-confidence when she was a towering teen. “I didn’t know how to own my height,” she says. “I used to be terrified of dancing because I really thought I was going to hit the ceiling or kick someone in the face. Now — and I think modelling played a very big part in this — I can take up all this space and the more space that I take up the more beautiful it looks.”
And beautiful it does look, as proven here. While any good model knows how to move in front of the camera, Dilone is among the greats who possess the extraordinary ability to expand, bend and contort into graceful, otherworldly shapes with uninhibited ease. Members of that club include Coco Rocha and, of course, legendary supermodel Pat Cleveland, the ’70s star portrayed by Dilone in Ryan Murphy’s Halston on Netflix last year. “Growing up, I wanted to create; I wanted to express myself,” she says. “It’s so cool that I’m now living the life that I’ve always wanted to live.”
Dilone may be living her dream today, but the pursuit of her creative aspirations hasn’t been without hardship. After being initially dropped by a modelling agency when she decided to stop straightening her naturally curly hair, Dilone quickly became one to watch when a job with stylist extraordinaire Katie Grand led to her walking the runway in the Marc Jacobs Fall 2016 show. A whirlwind of success followed. Dilone landed prominent magazine covers, starred in major campaigns and walked in upwards of 50 shows in a season. “It was non-stop — a really exciting time,” she says. “I remember calling my mom and saying ‘You don’t have to struggle anymore.’ Before that, I literally had no money. I was jumping turnstiles trying to get to castings. I got arrested because of it. And now I was working with all these designers—I couldn’t believe it.” As an in-demand face, Dilone was thrust into a whole new world, but her meteoric rise was punctuated by bumps and detours. “There was an evolution happening — a lot of shedding of who I thought I was and my coming out,” she says, noting that she identifies as pansexual. “I got into drugs even before the modelling took off, and that was really hard. I’ve been on my sobriety journey for over two and a half years. It’s really changed my life.”
“When the outside world seems chaotic, you’ve got to go inward.”
So has mastering the art of letting go. “There was a lot of people-pleasing. I wanted every brand to like me, but how could I make myself work for every brand and still stay authentic to myself?” she says. “The baseline of my personality is a very goofy sense of humour, and that doesn’t translate as chic to many brands. So, it’s been quite a journey of self-acceptance.” To stay true, Dilone has developed a meditation and yoga practice to actively check in on herself. “When the outside world seems chaotic, you’ve got to go inward,” she says.
Following encouragement by a photographer, Dilone dived into studying acting a few years ago. Her hard work paid off: She landed a role in The Novice, an award-winning indie thriller by writer-director Lauren Hadaway that was released in late 2021. “I manifested that role, I kid you not,” she says of playing Dani, whom she describes as a cool, sexy lesbian singer. Dilone adds that she is more attracted to indie films than Hollywood blockbusters. “There is an element of ‘Let’s just go for it’ rather than trying to sell a movie and make mad money.” Not that she’d turn down a big-budget offer. “My dream would be an action role or a psychological drama, and I’m definitely open to playing a villain,” she shares. “The best part about acting is you get to do and say things that in real life you normally wouldn’t but have thought about.”
Another perk of future film roles is that there will likely be more red-carpet moments where Dilone can flex her fashion muscle and show off her androgynous aesthetic. The bold blue Versace jacket and trousers she wore to the August 2021 Outfest Los Angeles premiere of The Novice hint at how menswear-inspired pieces are central to her wardrobe. “I like comfort and I’m not super flashy,” she says. “I love to put on a blazer — that is very much my style. And I have a pair of wool Chloé pants from seasons ago that I’ll never get rid of. They remind me of dad pants.” For spring, she’s got her eye on Miu Miu’s schoolgirl uniform-inspired collection. “I love that they took the suits, and all the pieces, and cropped and chopped them and made them look sexy,” she says.
So, where will we see Dilone next? That remains a surprise: Her upcoming film project has been pushed back due to COVID, and she can’t spill any teasers. Chances are we’ll be hearing from her instead. “I’ve been working on music for the past two years, and I hope to release something to the world soon,” she says. “I’ve been a songwriter since I was a kid; it’s a very big part of me. And I never wanted to talk about it prematurely, but I feel like I can start.” Citing David Bowie, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Jeff Buckley among her biggest influences, Dilone will put a personal spin on whatever she offers. “What I love about writing, filmmaking or music — the arts in general — is when someone expresses something that no one else wants to talk about,” she says. “I love it when people create from that place. It’s so real, so human.” Consider us all ears.
Photography by GREG SWALES. Styling by RAFAEL LINARES. Creative direction by GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Hair by RUSLAN NUREEV FOR INFINITY CREATIVE AGENCY. Makeup by WENDI MIYAKE FOR MAC. Makeup assistant: TY SANDERSON. Styling assistant: TAMARA SYED. Digital tech: AMANDA YANEZ. Producer: ALEXEY GALETSKIY FOR AGP NYC. Production assistant: SASHA MILOSTNOVA FOR AGP NYC.