By Maggie Grainger | Photos by Hemali Zaveri
We all have those moments in life when the path we’ve chosen to walk down runs into a fork. Suddenly, we are faced with a decision: stay the course or take a turn into the unknown.
For Palo Alto-based model, Svetlana Jilenko, this moment came when she was working in intellectual property (IP) law. Although she was happy with her career, she knew it was time to find a more creative outlet and decided to follow her enthusiasm for fashion.
When she began attending her friends’ charity fashion shows, she realized modeling was something she was serious about pursuing. That she could make a living doing what she loved was motivation to make a change.
“Community is really important to me, so charity work is something I strongly believe in,” says Jilenko. “Thinking back, I remember going to many non-profit events and seeing fashion shows. I was making friends in the industry, and it just started from there.”
Although giving up on her career was risky, Jilenko says she’s never looked back. She’s felt too fortunate to have teamed up with some of Silicon Valley’s finest talents while working on complex intellectual property patents for the world’s top IP law firms. “That inspired me to go for my own American dream in fashion,” she says.
After diving in several years ago, she’s received a steady stream of work on the runway and in magazines, traveling the world, doing shoots in France, Greece, and throughout California. She has even walked at Paris Fashion Week.
Although she’s now an industry pro, she admits the excitement of seeing her work in print never goes away. “Every time I’m published on the cover of a magazine is a thrill,” she says, smiling. “It is especially rewarding to see the smiles of people watching us doing runways, photo shoots, and publications around the fashion scene. All of these different art creations have filled me with joy. I’m looking forward to new wonderful projects and people around the corner.”
Jilenko credits her parents for instilling in her a good work ethic and encouraging her to always believe in her. Early on in the former USSR, she was fortunate enough to have a caring family that fostered her dreams.
During her formative years in Russia and Lithuania, she realized how limitless opportunities were there for those who went for it. Her parents encouraged her to pursue a degree in economics and head west for more opportunities. “Living in Silicon Valley for the past several years seems to only get sweeter,” she says. “It’s an ideal place to work and play!”
However, she does get homesick for Russian desserts from time to time. Having grown up with Russian delicacies, she admits she and her friends have yet to find something here that satisfies their Russian dessert cravings. Images of mouth-watering Pastila (a traditional confection made from apples, honey, and egg whites), chak-chak (a deep-fried pastry covered in honey sauce), and churchkela (nuts on a string that are dipped in thickened grape juice, and aged for weeks) come to mind.
While she continues her search for the perfect dessert, she applies the lessons she’s learned from her years working in intellectual property law and applies it to her work in front of the camera. Jilenko says both jobs require hard work and discipline but with fashion, you never know what to expect. “You have to be flexible because things change.”
Excited to take every new challenge as it comes, she can’t wait to see what the future holds for her in her new career. She is simply grateful every day for taking the new path at the fork in the road, having found the sweet side of life.