Tavernier-raised Donya Fiorentino was booked to shoot a Budweiser commercial being filmed at an Islamorada resort after a casting director saw her water-skiing down a ramp at 50 mph when she was 12 years old. And from there, it seemed her life as a sought-after professional model and photographer came at her just as fast.
That commercial led to beauty pageants, which led to high-fashion modeling, which led to more commercials, music videos and a life of parties, living in cities around the world and high-profile relationships.
It was a life of, “‘Yeah, let’s hit Amsterdam on the way to a Formula 1 race in London,’” explained Fiorentino to the Free Press. “But there’s a certain amount of fearlessness you get when you grow up in the Florida Keys. We used to play football on U.S. 1. We were allowed to be by ourselves.”
Fiorentino, 48, was raised in Tavernier’s Hammer Point along with her brother and sister. An interest in photography was sparked when her father, an insurance adjuster, would take her along to inspect car crashes at the age of 6 and ask her to take photos.
And always, there was the on-the-water life.
“I’m a true Conch,” she said. “My mom was working at restaurants and helping my father build his business. We were all running wild. We were trusted, and our community was trusted with the children.”
She got her first boat, a rowboat, when she was 5. “As my skills got better, I finally got up to a 9.9 Mercury outboard engine when I was 9 or 11. I would fill up the boat with lobsters,” she recalled. Fiorentino started water-skiing when she was 7, and she would fearlessly sit on the top of a human pyramid and perform stunts as her team held her and sped across the water.
But another life beckoned. She did the Budweiser commercial, and she and her mother started going to commercial auditions and beauty contests in Miami. A modeling career took off, and she dropped out of Coral Shores High School by the time she was 16.
Her life became a blur of international cities; she traveled to them for her modeling and also lived in a few. She moved to London first as a teenager and met Andrew Ridgeley, a member of music group Wham! and a Formula 1 race car driver. She lived with him in Monte Carlo for a while; she also lived in Tokyo.
She modeled for all the high-fashion magazines and had a Revlon contract. She did commercials for Jaguar and Apple and music videos for Van Halen and Matchbox 20.
Her Facebook is crammed with throwback shots of her modeling past, loving and happy group shots of family, and quotes like this one: “I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past.”
Fiorentino admits that a complicated past pops up when she is Googled, particularly in connection to her relationships. She was married to film director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Social Network,” “Gone Girl”) from 1990 to 1995 and actor Gary Oldman (”Sid and Nancy,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) from 1997 to 2001.
But when asked about her marriages, she firmly states that out of respect for her children, she can’t go there. That vault is closed.
She said, “I have two ex-husbands. But I love them no matter what. They are the fathers of my three unbelievable, amazing children.”
She is the “proud mama” to her daughter with Fincher, Phelix, 21; and her sons with Oldman, Gulliver, 18, and Charlie, 17.
The one detail she is willing to reveal about Fincher? He helped her start her photography career.
“David Fincher gave me a Leica CL for my 19th birthday,” she said. “I got some great instructions from a genius. He’s a great man. He taught me how to use that camera.”
Other than being schooled by Fincher, Fiorentino says she didn’t have any formal training. But like her modeling, her photography career took off quickly. She was hired by magazines such as Esquire, Interview and Vogue.
“I got an agent, and I got jobs. It was crazy and amazing at the same time. I always had my kids on the set. This was before digital photography,” she added, with a laugh. “I’m that old.”
She specialized in celebrity portraiture, and on her website are black-and-white shots of film directors such as David Lynch, Bryan Singer and John Sayles, and actors like John Turturro, Sam Elliott and, of course, Oldman.
After years spent in Los Angeles raising her children and doing photography, Fiorentino decided to move back to the Upper Keys in February 2015 to be with family. She said she is trying to find her niche as she builds her photography business from her loft-like studio in Tavernier. She does want to continue to do portraits of people, but she said, “I can shoot anything.”
And she’s built websites. She helped a friend and neighbor, Sharon Hamilton, create one to publicize her campaign to run for county court judge in Monroe County. And she is proud of her work with the Arthritis Foundation, a cause with personal meaning for her, as she and a close family member has suffered from the illness. She has done fund-raising and public speaking on behalf of the organization.
There’s also a children’s book: Published last year, it’s called “Fletcher: Happy Kid of Divorced Parents.” It was inspired after a conversation with one of her sons. “I hung up the phone after speaking with him and wrote the book in 10 minutes,” Fiorentino said. “Then it took another 10 years to publish it.”
She said she wanted to give the children of divorce a voice, and the book reflects how she wished her custody experiences could have been, rather than how they turned out.
But Fiorentino is moving forward. She lives on a sailboat in a marina with her dog, Gatsby, checks in on her parents and builds her business. Rather than a reinvention, she sees her move back home as part of the plan all along.
“Yes, I’ve danced with princes and lived around the world and been around legends,” she said. “At the end of the day, they’re really just people. I mean, right now, I’m standing in cutoffs and rain boots on my marina, walking my dog. That’s the good life. I’m right where I grew up, where the sun melts into the ocean, with my family. I just feel really blessed and lucky.”
For more information about Fiorentino’s photography and her studio, The Click, go to donyafiorentino.com or call 305-587-1018.