The minute I stepped onto the fourth floor, I could hear MADONNA’S ‘VOGUE’ coming from speakers in the studio down the hall. When I opened the door to the studio, Stacey Mckenzie greeted me with a big hug and smile. I noticed the show had already begun, with Stacey already on her second look and energy levels running high.

By Victoria Vanderplaat

Photographer Alex Evans
Fashion Editor Shea Hurley
Shot with Fujifilm GFX50S Camera

In typical Stacey-fashion, she was wearing an amazingly vibrant, vintage men’s suit jacket that had been tailored to fit her perfectly over a pair of cut-off jean shorts, paired with her green and yellow Nike Cortez sneakers and a small, round, woven basket bag. The outfit screamed “Jamaica!” (her home country). Stacey has the type of personality that can only be enhanced, but not outshined, by whatever loud ensemble she wears. She is funky, bright, loud, quirky, outgoing, and always unapologetically herself, which is what makes her so beautiful. As someone who has been constantly criticized for her appearance, she recognizes that beauty is more than how you look on the outside. When asked what is beautiful to her she responded, “You owning who you are. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks of you. Your inner strength, your inner power, your inner champion for loving you and sharing that love with others. I consider that beautiful. Then the outer beauty, you just gotta own who you are. We all have flaws, nobody in this world is perfect. We are all made individually. So recognize that and own your individuality. Don’t try to look like who people consider beautiful. Own what you look like, own what you sound like. People will gravitate towards it.”

She told me how important it is to her to uplift everyone she meets and I think anyone who has ever had the pleasure of meeting her can agree that Stacey has the ability to make you feel as if the two of you have been best friends since childhood. She is warm and welcoming in an honest and humble way. Her ego is so miniscule that you would never be able to tell she is a super model who has walked for Jean Paul Gaultier, starred in a Calvin Klein campaign shot by renowned photographer Richard Avedon, graced the cover of Vogue numerous times, was and is returning as an official Model Coach for America’s Next Top Model with Tyra Banks (catch her in Season 24 this Fall on VH1), and is coming up on 24 strong years in the industry with no end in sight. Looking back on all of these accomplishments, she says “Oh my gosh, you know what, I’m really, really shocked. I really never expected any of this.”

Her story began in Kingston, Jamaica, where she was born and lived with her family. Her older sister brought back a magazine with her from Canada and in it Stacey found an image that struck her, “I was like, ‘What is this? Who are these people? We kinda look alike,’ because they were white with blonde hair and when I was younger my hair was blonde.” The photo was of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier and pop icon, Madonna.

“That’s how I found out about the world of fashion on a bigger scale. I didn’t even know [modelling] existed as a career, but when she told me that Madonna was modelling for Gaultier I’m like ‘What? That’s a career? I can do that shit! I can show off my clothes! I always show off my school clothes and my church clothes. I look good in them! I look good in everything.’” With that affirmation, she began on her journey.

She moved to Toronto and immediately visited every modelling agency, but was turned away by all. Undeterred, she went to New York and approached every agency, but was once again met with rejections for being “too different” and “weird-looking.” Fast forward a couple of years later, Stacey found herself in Paris looking to book castings for the upcoming Prêt-à-Porter shows. As luck would have it she couldn’t find the address and missed her casting. As she was walking down the streets of Paris, crying, a woman ran up to her with a business card, saying she had spotted Stacey walking from her window. The woman insisted she come to an address, saying, “Just please be here I think this guy’s gonna love you.” When Stacey asked for the location, she realized it was the address of the casting that she had missed, for none other than Jean Paul Gaultier. “When I finally got there the next day, I walked in and I didn’t know I was going to meet with him. So, walking in and seeing him there with his entourage I was like ‘Holy shit, I’m actually going to meet this man that I saw in the picture when I was nine years old.’ It just floored me because I never expected that. He called each girl up to go up. When I went up, he was like, ‘Elle est belle,’ and I was like, ‘Huh? I don’t speak French. What are you saying?’ and then he’s like, ‘I said “She is beautiful,”  and it was the first time anybody’s ever told me I was beautiful. He was the first. My family never told me I was beautiful. My friends never told me I was beautiful. I’ve always heard negative things about my looks, about my voice, from family, from strangers. So, when he said that to me it really just made my life.” She didn’t realize that from the second she had walked into the building he had already confirmed that she would  walk in his show. She walked her first show for Jean Paul Gaultier alongside Madonna, all the while remembering that photo in the magazine.

As she was telling me this story I noticed tears in her eyes, “Whenever I tell this I cry…every time I tell this story.” Although it can be easy to get caught up in success, she has never let it get to her head. “When you get blessed with things in your life, you shouldn’t brush it off. I don’t forget where I came from, and I don’t forget what it took for me to get to where I’m at. It means the world to me.”

As for the fashion industry now, Stacey sees a huge difference. “Fashion has changed so much. I’ve seen girls and guys that look like me now. When I started, and for the majority of my career, there was nobody that looked like me. [The] everyday beautiful is always going to be in, but the unique is in now, the different is in now. I just hope that continues, and I hope that it’s not a trend that will just stay for a couple seasons… I feel like this is here to stay. Different types of bodies, different types of looks, different complexions, colours, different age groups! I just think it’s awesome where fashion is going, but, I wouldn’t trade coming into the industry when I did. I would never trade it for the world, never. It was hard, but I went for it and I accomplished a lot despite the naysayers, despite people telling me this is not the industry for me.” Stacey was able to pave the way for models who differ from the norm; just last year, Vogue recognized Stacey as the second most influential Jamaican model to change the face of fashion, right after her idol, Grace Jones. While social media plays a huge part in creating visibility for underrepresented groups, she has a message to those who have yet to see themselves represented in the media: “Even if you look in magazines and you don’t see anybody that looks like you, you should use that to your best benefit and you go after that real hard work to be the first person.”

 Without mentoring or any previous knowledge of the fashion industry, Stacey went after her dream completely self-taught. During castings, she would meet other models who were trying to navigate the industry on their own, so she would teach them what she did for herself. There was so much competition within the industry, where established models felt the need to block her in order to get ahead. “I would actually approach those girls, one or two of them, to mentor me or I would go to them for advice, but they would never give me or the other girls advice. It was so much competition where they felt the need to block me in order to keep their status or keep getting ahead.” She knew that kind of behaviour needed to change and she saw the opportunity to give back and used her platform to teach aspiring models how to find agencies, book appointments, and walk the runway. That’s how her Walk This Way workshop came to be, and as if Stacey wasn’t generous enough, she also founded The Walk Camp. The camp offers classes to inspire and teach confidence for young girls. Each day the camp has a different, often well-renowned, Mentor who teaches aspects of various industries, from fashion to finance. ”If [these mentors] won’t go to the girls and guys in the hood, I’ll take them to the girls. I’m starting off with girls right now and then I want to do both girls and guys, gradually. I’m bringing my camp to Jamaica too, to my country, and to New York, because it’s needed!”

She recognizes the important role she plays in being able to uplift and inspire these girls, aiming to provide them with life-changing opportunities. “We all go through hardships in life but the thing is, because I get to have a platform, I can share those hardships with others to show them, ‘Listen, I go through shit too.’ There’s times when I am broke, I don’t know how I’m going to eat, I don’t know how I’m going to live, I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent. For me, I refuse to keep it for myself, I share with people because it’s very important… Even just me being on TV, me being in magazines, could change somebody’s life, by sharing something that I went through in life that somehow happens to be similar to what they went through or just sharing a bad experience with them.”

When asked what gets her out of the bed in the morning, she responds, “Life. Being able to be alive, number one, and to do what I love and to be able to share what I love because I have a platform. That’s what gets me up.” It is so clear to see that she has a passion for life and her work. “I just love fashion. I just love to be able to dress up and be different characters or play different roles or just be myself. It’s like a fantasy world that only so few is chosen to be a part of, so, if I get chosen to be a part of it, I’m running with it, I’m gonna make sure I have a ball (laughs).”

Photographer ALEX EVANS.
Fashion Editor SHEA HURLEY at PLUTINO GROUP.
Model STACEY MCKENZIE.
Male model JUSTIN ROCK at ELMER OLSEN MODELS.
Makeup and hair CAROLINE LEVIN at P1M.CA using MAC COSMETICS.
Makeup and hair assistant VANESSA GARLAND.
Nails MISU at P1M.CA/ TIPS NAIL BAR.
Shot with FUJIFILM GFX50S CAMERA.

 

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