Meet Lu Sierra: The Runway Coach Behind Miss USA Winner Deshauna Barber

Former model turned teaching presences and empowerment into a successful business

Lu Sierra
(Image: Fadil Berisha)

Behind this year’s Miss USA pageant, is Lu Sierra, a runway expert who coached five of the top 10 ladies, including the second runner-up, Miss Hawaii, and the winner of Miss USA 2016, Deshauna Barber. As a former runway model, she successfully transformed her years of experience into a successful global runway coach business. Black Enterprise caught up with Sierra to delve into her life as a highly sought after pageant and runway coach.

Tell us about your journey from model to runway expert and pageant coach?
After moving to New York and getting lots of “no’s,” I finally got an agent, but they didn’t believe in my high-fashion potential and kept me booked as a show room model. I wanted to do high fashion so I decided to go to Paris. Once I hit Paris, things took off. My first runway was with Pierre Balmain—through working with him, I worked closely with Givenchy and it taught me about formulating a relationship with a fashion ICON and being a muse to such an amazing man. Once you make it in Paris then, Italy uses you, then NY must use you. So when I got back to NYC I worked with Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Halston. But it was after working with Bob Mackie in New York City that I got the name “Runway Lu.” He allowed us to have personality in his shows and use my theater training.

When did you know this was going to be a business?

The coaching started as a surprise. A friend, a beautiful, tall, blond fellow model with Ford Models—was going on jobs and getting callbacks, but never landing the job. She asked me if I could give her some tips to help. I did and suddenly she was booking jobs. The booker of the agency asked her what she was doing differently. She told them, “Lu has been helping me.” The booker then asked me to start working with other girls at the agency.

In 2007, the Miss Universe Organization contacted me about bringing runway styling to the pageant arena: “We want the viewing audience to turn on the TV and think they are watching a fashion show,” is how they described their objective. I knew the first day on the job that I would need to add much more than just showing girls how to walk like a model.

What people take for granted is the main ingredient of being a top model—it’s the ability to stand out in a room full of beautiful women.

Modeling is not just about being beautiful. It’s about exuding confidence, personality with a poise that seems natural. This is what models have to do day-to-day on ‘go-sees.’

This is what I bring to the pageant world—inspiring effortless confidence.

Later, I realized I was meeting a need after the second year of working with the Miss Universe organization. I’d be invited to speak to groups of girls about the general pageant rules, etc. but, then I started getting calls from mothers of bullied or low self-esteem young ladies. These were non-pageant girls but their mothers realized that they needed to be inspired and mentored to reach their full potential. This is when I realized there was an additional audience that wanted my confidence and empowerment message. And now my business takes me around the world mentoring and coaching.