I am so grateful for the opportunities I had in life because growing up, I was teased by a lot of people because of the way I look and sound. For some reason even at that young age, amongst all the negativity – I felt I had something special. I did not know at the time what it was but I knew I was getting a lot of attention even though it was negative, it was a LOT of attention. Don’t get me wrong, all the criticisms hurt like hell growing up and still do when I think about those times in my life! I decided however that I was not going to let it get to me, I have my destiny in my hands, I can do anything I want in life if I put my mind to it and work hard for it. That’s why I’m sharing my REAL BIO of who I am in the hopes to help inspire at least one person to LOVE and BE YOU and go after your dreams and goals despite your circumstances. Here’s my story…
When I was somewhere between 6 and 9 years old my sister came to visit us in Jamaica for the Christmas holidays. I took the magazine she brought from the plane and began to go through it when I came across an odd looking couple. The man had on a crazy black outfit with bleached blond hair and the woman had on a white wedding looking dress and a biker jacket. I asked my sister to read the article to me, when she was finished I learned that the man was a famous designer name Jean Paul Gaultier who was designing clothing for the woman in the picture. The woman was a famous singer named Madonna and she was ” modeling ” his clothing. I was shocked and asked if “Modeling” was an actual career, because in our country modeling was considered a fun thing, you know like when you’re getting ready to go somewhere, we look in the mirror and “model” how good we look. Once I found out I can actually do it as a job I was hooked. With a picture of a “odd looking’ couple and a few info on what my sister thinks it would take to be a model. I was ready to take on the world!
I trained myself how to pose by doing facial expressions in front of the mirror. I taught myself how to walk by “borrowing” my moms heels (sneaking and wearing them to school). When my mom decided to hide her heels from me I would practice by walking on my tip toes. Not too long after my mother and I moved to Canada and right away I began to make moves. visiting the agencies in Toronto. They all said NO right away! I did not let that get to me, and continued until I was in high school. I would visit all the agencies and when I did not get signed I would wait a week then go back to the same agencies again with a different hairdo or outfit. I was determined to do whatever it took to make them see my potential. I continued to try my luck in Canada but realized I needed to take a trip to New York. I researched all the agencies in NYC cold calling them to find out what day of the week they have walk-ins to see potential models. Some of the agencies I wanted to see required an appointment but to make an appointment an agent had to call on your behalf. I pretended to be an agent in Jamaica calling on behalf of Stacey McKenzie. It worked and I got many appointments thanks to my “agent”- who just happened to be ME! During this time, I had a job after school and on weekends and worked to save up money to take the Greyhound bus to New York to go to all the appointment I had arranged for myself. I had only one day to see all the agencies and had to be back home to go to school the next day.
As with most things, I was not successful on my first trip. I waited until the following month then got back on the Greyhound to New York; I saw the same agencies again and got the same reply from everyone – NO! The last agency I saw was Elite Model Management. Karen Lee took a look at me and liked me right away. She decided to try and convince her boss to sign me. She did and I was given 3 months to prove myself! I went back to Canada packed my bags, dropped out of high school (not a good thing) and left to pursue my dream as a Model. Not long afterwards I returned home to Toronto. I did not know what I was in for being so young and on your own in the fashion world. I was not prepared to live with a bunch of girls in a beautiful apartment, no supervision, and no guidance. We were free to do what we wanted, go anywhere, hangout with anyone, dress any which way…I decided to walk away from this major opportunity go back home, finish school and pursue modeling again when I am mature enough to be out in the world on my own.
This time I decided to take the advice of a local Canadian agent and go straight to Paris. I took the plane to Holland and from there I took the Greyhound bus to Paris. I arrived not knowing where to go until I met a girl name Dawn. She happened to be a Model on her way to see her Photographer boyfriend Vincent at an agency! It could not have been more perfect and meant to be! I followed her and while waiting some of the bookers spotted me waiting in the hallway. I got signed the day I arrived in Paris; I could not believe how “easy” it was. Too bad it did not last, within a couple of weeks I was dropped from the agency. I had 1 week to find an agency and get a new portfolio so I could attend castings for the Prêt a Porter shows. Vincent took some quick pictures of me for free and right away I went to see all the agencies. It was terrible! They were so mean to me and I was turned down left right and center in the most hurtful ways. For once I felt defeated and by the time I got to my last agency I was finally giving up and beginning to believe what people were saying of me. I walked into the agency not being the upbeat, outgoing bubbly Stacey, the agent basically told me to come back the next day. I don’t know what came over me, I looked him in the face and said “No, I’m here right now, I do not have enough money to stay another day, either you take me now or not, Let me know right now”. Gaspard said he was happy to hear that I had a voice and right away decided to give me a chance.
I was sent to meet with a famous designer name Jean Paul Gaultier, the same designer whom I saw a picture of years before, the same designer who I made a decision to be a model, but I missed the appointment. While in tears on the phone with my agent Gaspard a lady came up to me and gave me her business card and demanded in french for me to come to the office the following day. I look at the card after she left and she was the assistant to Jean Paul Gaultier! I ran after her and she told me to come to the casting for his fashion show the following day. I will never forget the day I walked into the casting. Hundreds of models waited patiently while Jean Paul and his associates saw us one by one. When I was called, I walked up to present myself and portfolio to Mr. Gautlier. The first thing he said to me was “Elle est belle”. I looked at him and said What? ” I don’t understand a word of French, I only speak English.” He laughed and said it again this time in english ” She is beautiful”, I cried! That was the first time anyone had ever said “I was beautiful”. He had me try on a well tailored man’s suit and walk for him. I did it and left. When I got outside I call my booker Gaspard to tell him how everything went. He waited until I was finished to tell me that Jean Paul’s people had already called and booked me for his show as soon as he saw me! I was, in the middle of the street jumping and screaming my head off like a mad woman!
That season in Paris I walked the runway for some of the top designers including, Christian Lacroix, Veronique Leroy, my ultimate show moment was Jean Paul Gaultier. In what can only be described as a magical moment, I walked out on that runway right after Madonna with the biggest smile on my face remembering that picture from so long ago.
Since then I have been blessed to walk the runways for some of the top designers in the world including Todd Oldham (who treated me like a princess), Alexander McQueen, Betsey Johnson . I have been photographed by some of the most prestigious photographers including Richard Avedon (who gave me my breakthrough campaign Calvin Klein CKbe) and Jean Baptiste Mondino (who photographed me for the Jean Paul Gaultier campaign). I’ve graced the pages of magazines and covers of magazines including Vogue (U.S , Italy, Korean, Spain), Harpers Bazaar, Interview, ID, Paper and Essence magazines. I’ve even had the opportunity to be in movies like The Fifth Element and recently TV shows including hosting MTV Stylissimo and being the Judge and Model Coach on Canada’s Next Top Model.
I strongly believe I was given this opportunity for a reason and with that in mind I felt I had to create something to give back my experiences and expertise. Walk This Way Workshops is designed to empower and educate aspiring models / people who have a interest in the fashion industry by teaching them valuable skills and also inspire them to value their uniqueness and find their individual voice. I also founded The Walk Camp, which mission is to empower kids to value their uniqueness, inspiring them to find their individual voice. The 30 kids chosen for the camp will be educated through a series of uniquely designed interactive ‘ confidence builder’ workshops. Each workshop is fashioned to help develop self – esteem and gain confidence through self acceptance.
When I was on my journey to becoming a model I did not have anyone to tell/show me and my mother what to do. I did it on my own and it was VERY hard. Creating Stacey McKenzie’s Walk This Way Workshops and The Walk Camp was the best thing that I did with this amazing experience and continues to be a great reward.
I hope that my story will inspire you to LOVE YOU, BE YOU & go after your dreams and goals with confidence.