Feb 25, 2005
If you don't know Stacey McKenzie's face, get to know it. It's not difficult to recall – hers is one of the more unique beauties you'll encounter. You'll want to remember McKenzie's face because she's going to be around for a long time, educating and re-educating the masses.
McKenzie's modelling career has seen her walking the runways of Paris and New York. She's booked major campaigns for Calvin Klein and Mexx, and landed parts in movies, including a prominent role in The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich). She has worked as a correspondent for TV's Fashion File, and is cutting her first album.
She also recently started her own company, leveraging her modelling experiences to teach new models the basics of grooming and styling, and the art of the runway. "You've heard of J. Alexander," she laughs. "I'm the real, female version of J. Alexander."
McKenzie's start in modelling came when she wanted to see what the Canadian industry had to offer. "When I first started in Toronto looking for an agency none of them were really interested. Only one agent, Elmer Olsen, really gave me good advice – to try the New York market."
So she did. 17-years-old and full of spirit, McKenzie made the trek to the Big Apple to meet with several agencies, only to learn they weren't interested in her unique appearance either. Only the last agency she visited, Elite, had one scout (Karen Lee) showing interest.
"So I ended up with Elite, and stayed in New York for a couple of weeks, hating it. At the time I was really young, and didn't have anyone to support me. I couldn't handle it."
Still, McKenzie doesn't regret her first trip to New York. "Those few weeks I spent in New York showed me enough about the industry that I knew this was my goal, but there were things I wouldn't tolerate."
"At that age I was mature enough to know that I really shouldn't be there on my own. So I told Elite I wanted to wait until I was a little bit older. I came back to Toronto and finished school, got a job, made some money, got a plane ticket and went to Holland."
McKenzie's plan was to stay with friends in Holland and make enough money to re-launch her modelling career in France – another destination Olsen had originally suggested.
McKenzie recalls making the rounds in Paris, where bookers at one agency showed enthusiasm – until the head booker returned and tore up her pictures. "Everyone else said 'Hell no, she's hideous – she'll never make it in this industry. I don't want her. She's ugly. No. No. No. No. No.'"
Criticism was nothing new to McKenzie. Growing up in Jamaica, a light-skinned black girl with blonde hair and freckles, she was always getting teased. "It hurt, but I never let anybody see it. I kept it to myself because I knew I had something about me."
"Nobody looks like me – nobody has a voice like me. No matter where I go always get all the looks – good or bad I always get looks. No matter what, people always stop and stare. I knew from a very young age that I had it. So when I heard these people dissing me, it bugged me a little teeny bit, but I knew I had something going on."
After meeting with nothing but rejection, McKenzie thought, "F*** everybody, I'm not giving up – I kept on moving. I had a week-and-a-half before the shows. The first day in Paris I met a girl on the train whose boyfriend was a photographer in the industry, so I called him up and said can you help me find an agency? He told me about this little agency called USA Paris. I went in there and this booker – a black guy named Gaspard – he was the only one who said 'Oh, she's drop dead – I want her.'"
McKenzie's first season in Paris saw her walking for Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler and Christian Lacroix, to name but a few. But even with heavyweight runway credentials she struggled in France for four years before giving New York another shot.