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Skokie native Erin Heatherton modeling for Victoria’s Secret

Just a few years ago, Skokie native Erin Bubley studying hard to get into college and playing sports at Niles North High School.

As a junior in 2006, she was a star player on the Viking basketball team and ranked eighth in her class. She worked at Abercrombie & Fitch and enjoyed hanging out with her friends.

But after a chance meeting in the summer before her senior year, Erin’s life changed dramatically. Today she’s known by her professional name, Erin Heatherton, and graces the pages of top fashion magazines and struts the runways in the biggest fashion shows.

Only 21, she is one of Victoria’s Secret’s newest “Angels,” and has walked in the lingerie designer’s annual show in November for the past three years.

During the summer before her senior year, Erin traveled to Florida with a friend to check out the University of Miami campus. While there, she was approached by an agent who invited her to come to New York to visit and possibly join Marilyn Agency, New York’s third-rated modeling agency.

After she and her mother made sure the offer and opportunity all was legitimate, Erin decided to give it a try and headed to New York.

Two days later, at age 16, she signed with the agency and started a career that took off almost immediately.

Erin’s mother, Lauren Bubley, a special education teacher at Niles North, said she has always known her daughter, one of four children in the Bubley family, went into modeling for the right reasons and wasn’t concerned that she would fall victim to the pressures of the modeling world.

“She’s always been self-sufficient and has never done anything to show us she couldn’t handle the responsibility,” Bubley said. “When she moved to New York, it was only a year before she would have left for college, so I think she was ready to be out on her own.”

At nearly 6 feet tall and with long legs — an advantage on the basketball court — Erin headed onto high-fashion runways.

She made her runway debut in September 2006 at the Diane Von Furstenburg spring fashion show. Her subsequent runway shows have been for top designers such as singer Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Lacoste, Christian Lacroix, Valentino, Carolina Herrera, Prada and Stella McCartney.

Her first big advertising campaign was with Michael Kors, also in 2006. Other ad campaigns included for Versace Jeans, Diesel, Valentino, Lord & Taylor and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfield Eyewear.

Her most notable magazine cover to date was February’s issue of British GQ, where she appeared with three other Victoria’s Secret models. She has also appeared on the cover of Italian magazines Flair and D. She’s been featured in British Elle (April 2007), Italian Vogue (April 2008), Italian Marie Claire (September 2008) and British Harper’s Bazaar (December 2008).

Erin said she adjusted well to living in New York City as a 16-year-old and didn’t get too homesick.

“Even though I didn’t know one person, I never remember feeling afraid or alone,” she said. “I fell in love with the energy of the city, the farmer’s markets and parks in the summer, and the streets full of people trying to get by just like me.

“The only thing that was a tough adjustment was suddenly having to be totally self-sufficient, buying all my own groceries, and making my own doctor appointments.”

Erin did not return to Niles North to complete her senior year, but recently completed her GED, and plans to attend college, she said.

She said she never stays in one place for too long, and said she “pretty much lives out of a suitcase.

“I love seeing new places and meeting new people,” she said. “I’m sort of addicted to traveling.”

Although fame and success has come to her swiftly, she fondly remembers her days at Niles North, describing it as a “second home” for her.

“My favorite memory from school was going to football games with my friends,” Erin said. “We always had so much spirit and dressed up to go to the games, even though our team was pretty bad.”

Now, she says her typical days are as glamorous as one might imagine.

“It usually includes traveling to a beautiful beach, maybe St. Barts or Turks and Caicos, and waking up at 4 a.m. to be ready to shoot with the sunrise,” Heatherton said. “The team is always familiar, like my second family, so it’s always a lot of fun, great music and of course team dinners afterward.”

Back in Skokie, Lauren Bubley looks forward to her daughter’s phone calls, which usually come a few times a week, and tries to collect all the magazine covers and Victoria’s Secret ads featuring her. She said it has become harder to keep up as Erin becomes more famous.

“You just want what every other parent wants, which is for your children to be happy,” Bubley said.

Despite Erin’s fame, she remains humble and identifies with the same self-esteem issues that many young women often face.

“Everyone struggles with self-esteem as some point — all my friends who are models, and myself included,” she said. “Loving yourself is something that no one else can do for you.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned in modeling is that when you love and embrace yourself it radiates, and that, to me, truly defines beauty.”

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