September 7th, 2012
06:16 PM ET

Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls breaks down color barriers, one runway at a time

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

(CNN) - Joan Smalls was 19 years old when she left her family's home in the countryside of northern Puerto Rico to pursue dreams of walking the runway.

In just four busy years, she has risen from department store catalog model to the ranks of fashion's most-sought-after models, walking for the likes of Jason Wu, Donna Karan and Tory Burch at New York's 2012 Fall Fashion Week.

Along the way, she has broken barriers by becoming the first Latina face of Estee Lauder's global marketing campaigns in 2011. She has done runway shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris and graced the pages of British, French, Spanish and U.S. versions of Vogue several times over.

"Joan is a modern beauty with elegance, style and confidence," said Aerin Lauder, former senior vice president, and current style and image director, of Estee Lauder. "She is the perfect addition to Estee Lauder's global faces."

Not bad for someone who used to wear combat boots to casting calls so she could make the trek from Queens to Manhattan.

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Filed under: How we look • Latino in America • Who we are • Women
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