Interview: Aria Giovanni
Pressing the flesh with Aria Giovanni
She shows up to San Francisco’s annual WonderCon looking less like a Penthouse centerfold and more like your girlfriend’s cutest buddy. Her table bleeds color through the grey backdrop of row upon row of black and white original art in Artists’ Alley — with row upon row of full-color eight-by-ten nudes so glossy they might be wet.
Almost hidden behind a small array of soft-core erotic videos on her table is a stack of business cards. She’s quick to offer one to each visitor to her table; and she traps your hand with the firm grip of an investment banker.
If you ever need to explain how you know who Aria Giovanni is, you can say you read about her here, on a nice clean site like Badmouth — rather than at whatever sordid den of adult novelties and fetish pornography you orignially found her picture.
After some amateur work originally intended merely to help fund college, the San Diego girl managed to end up on the cover — and smack in the center — of the November 2000 issue of Penthouse magazine. Since then, she’s worked with a number of well-regarded photographers, from queen of glam smut Suze Randall to brilliant fetish realist Steve Diet Goedde. She’s done a series of soft-core videos with Andrew Blake, the kind that feature no sex, generally no men, and are more a centerfold in motion than the crude in-and-out imagery that runs through your dirty little mind when you read the words “porn video.”
She’s most often described as “exotic,” a convenient label for an unapologetically curvy Mediterranean beauty. And in a room that includes middle-aged men dressed as Klingons and young women dressed as Japanese cartoon charactors, she still manages to command attention in blue jeans and a beige top that’s too racy for a church social — but not by much.
As the crowds thinned late on the first day of the three-day comics/anime/movie event, she took a few minutes away from her table to give BadMouth a backstage look at the art and business of being an ambitious glamour icon.
BadMouth: Let’s start soft: what’s the best thing about your career?
Aria Giovanni: I enjoy the freedom. Definitely, the freedom of being your own boss and deciding what you do and don’t do. Freedom’s huge — a lot of people don’t realize how much better it could be if you could be your own boss and make your own decisions. So I enjoy not having to answer to anybody.
BadMouth: Was it a lot of work to reach that point? You started just modeling a bit to pay for college, and that’s nothing like being a small empire and building yourself as a brand.
Aria Giovanni: It took a lot of working for other people for the day, being hired that day for a shoot, to be able to build a brand name and be able to have enough money to launch a Web site and run a Web site.
BadMouth: How much of your work is centered on the Web site versus doing photo and video shoots for other people?
Aria Giovanni: I think it changes over time. Now a majority of my effort is toward my Web site and new projects that I am the one doing, instead of doing shooting for hire. I don’t really do that as often anymore. I can spend that day working for myself and make more money. And also not have to shoot for someone else. There’s a certain amount you have to do. You have to keep your name out there and you have to work for other people. You can’t just cut it off and be completely for yourself. It’s a balance.
BadMouth: So when you choose to pose for a photographer, is it because you’re seeing it as a promotional opportunity, or because you’re drawn to that photographer or something about the project?
Aria Giovanni: Every job’s different. You do it for promotion … say you’re shooting photos for a mainstream magazine, that would be for promotion, because it’s hard to hit the mainstream media. But there are times you do it just because it’s extra money or because you like the photographer and you’re going to have fun shooting. There’s many reasons, and so it’s not cut and dried one way or the other.
BadMouth: When did you start to realize you’re not just a model, you’re going to be running a business?
Aria Giovanni: I think about six months into it, I got on the cover of Penthouse, and then I made my decision not to go to college, and to pursue modeling. I knew I could make enough money to not work and to live comfortably. As I started building my name, about a year into it I realized I needed to have a Web site, that this is a way of having more of a steady income, so I worked hard on getting that together.
I wasn’t a business major, but I did take economics in college … It teaches you a lot about business, about supply and demand. I think also I learn quickly. I saw opportunity and I went for it.
BadMouth: Apart from your webmaster, do you do pretty much everything yourself?
Aria Giovanni: Yeah, I book myself. I don’t have an agent, and I’ve never had a manager. I’ve always booked my own jobs, my own conventions, my own airfare; I negotiate my own contracts; I read my own contracts; so I do all that myself.
BadMouth: What do you like about coming to these shows?
Aria Giovanni: I think, not only do you make good money — we are motivated by the bottom line — but also the fact that it gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of my fans … It’s good, because when a fan meets you in person, it solidifies them as a fan. They get to see that you’re a real person, that you’re nice, you’re having a good time, you’re not a bitch, you know what I mean? They attach a personality to your persona, so it really makes it that much better for them. And you’re thinking, from a business standpoint, they’re more likely to spend money on you. I mean, I’m not here just because I want people to spend money on me, but there’s a personal aspect to your job and a business aspect, and the business aspect is that next time it comes around, they’ll want to buy the next DVD or whatever it might be.
BadMouth: So the personal appearances translate into a spike on your site traffic or sales?
Aria Giovanni: I don’t necessarily see an immediate spike on my site, but it’s the same kind of thing where you can’t eliminate yourself from other media. You have your own Web site, but you still have to put your name out in different areas. You still have to meet your fans, and it’s very important. So it’s not something where, ah, it’s so noticeable of a change (in Web traffic or sales), but it’s important, because if one person thinks you’re a bitch, he’s going to go on the message boards. There are girls who get the reputation for not being the nicest person. There are other girls whose reputations are, ‘Wow, she’s really down to earth, really nice,’ and that’s what I try to do, because it’s important.
BadMouth: Do you meet a lot of fans that come from that kind of involved fan base, as opposed to more casual fans or first-timers who meet you here?
Aria Giovanni: Yes. I have a message board — they come up to me, ‘I’m so-and-so,’ you know, so you attach a name to a face, which is good. It’s definitely… you know you’re doing your job right.
BadMouth: You’ve always made a point of not doing hardcore. What are you trying to do, with the style you’re creating.
Aria Giovanni: Well, I don’t do hardcore. I draw the line. I think just someone that is down to earth and personable and classy and respectable. I’m a real person, and I really try to portray that on my Web site. I put up candid photos. On my diary, I’m not talking about how ‘hot and horny’ I was. I talk about, ‘I gotta go to the doctor today,’ ‘I’m planting flowers in the yard today.’ I’m talking about the real person. And although the magazines build you up to be this person, the persona, I really try to portray who I am as a person more. That I am a real person, that I have feelings. You know, I feel depressed some days and happy some days … It’s really hard to relate to people as real when they only see you in stills, all glammed up … but we’re normal people like anybody else.
BadMouth: Have you always drawn that line the same way, in the same place?
Aria Giovanni: No, I didn’t. I didn’t know where my line in the sand was. I didn’t realize how important it was to have one until I’d done stuff where i looked at it and thought, “What did I do?” I wasn’t cool with it, and that’s where I decided I wasn’t going to take jobs that are, you know, that include this, this or this anymore, and I haven’t.
BadMouth: Does it bother you that that … unpleasant material is still out there, on the Internet or wherever?
Aria Giovanni: Oh yeah, it does. But the thing is, I say, we’re not perfect. People aren’t perfect. I make mistakes. I learned from that mistake, and as long as I’m not repeating the same mistake over in life, it’s OK, because it’s part of life, learning from the mistakes you make. You know, I wish I could take it back, I wish I could erase it, but you can’t.
BadMouth: You’ve done amateur, centerfold, fetish, glamour — is there a kind of photo that you like doing best?
Aria Giovanni: Yeah, artistic nudes. I enjoy shooting them — they’re a lot of fun. Pinup, you know, it’s a lot of fun. With artistic nudes, it’s more of the body shape, and you can play around a lot more. I find that a lot more fun. Pinup’s a lot of fun because you really get to dress up. The cool part about my job is that I’m constantly shooting different stuff. I’m not just a fetish model, or a glamour model … I do it all, and because of that it’s a lot of fun because I’m not shooting the same thing every single time. That would drive me crazy.
BadMouth: What’s your favorite among your DVDs?
Aria Giovanni: I’d say ‘Aria.’ It’s my first DVD, and the first one I did with Andrew Blake.
BadMouth: What do you have coming up?
Aria Giovanni: I’m … broadening my horizons. I have some projects that I want to tackle later this year that hit different forms of media. One of them I can mention is a DRM video site that I want to launch. A video site that’s pay-per-view, 1000K download, it’s not a membership site — you go on there and find whatever video you want to download and you can.
BadMouth: Like iTunes.
Aria Giovanni: Yeah. (laughs) Similar, but adult. And that’s a great site to have, because in years to come I’ll shoot other girls and if I decide to retire from modeling I can still sell other girls on there and not just myself. And the other stuff I can’t really mention yet — I haven’t even read the contracts yet. But getting out more into the stores and poster deals and things along that line, but also having to do with phones. There are a lot of opportunities in phones right now.
Not as many as one might hope. Checking her business card as she gets back to work, you find it has her URL, but not her number.