Stacey McKenzie: Model, Actress & Conversation Starter
One of the best parts of my work is that I get to meet all kinds of interesting people. And I’ve learned it’s often the ones you don’t see coming are those that make the biggest impact. Case in point: Stacey McKenzie.
She is a well of energy, wisdom and humor – you meet her and you are sparked. She really should be a motivational speaker (peep her IG and Twitter), and she does mentor, because in addition to fashion she is crazy wise. One of her wisdoms she shared with me, “Make it happen for you because no one else will happen.”
Sure, she’s the totally amazing looking Jamaican model-actress hyphenate, that has been doing it for over two decades. In print campaigns for Calvin Klein and Jean Paul Gaultier, walking runways in Paris and Milan, and acting for Luc Besson (the story of that happening is the stuff of cinematic urban legend), she has not only worked with the best of the best but has been sought out by them.
And her career and longevity is even more impressive considering her unique look and that she made it in the era of Linda and Christy and Naomi and Cindy. As she told me, “Once you get the opportunity you can’t sit with it. You’ve got to work towards the goal.” See, motivational speaker material.
So, it’s no surprise she is still going strong. She keeps going with a drive and determination to make her life amazing that propels her to do it.
What makes speaking with her so impactful is what you see in her work – she is energetic, vulnerable, hilarious, brave and honest.
It’s no wonder Vogue named her as one of the top five Jamaican models that changed the face of fashion. And she’s not done with fashion yet.
After hearing her story I bet you will feel three things: amazed by her faith, further in awe of the Richard Avedon, and a believer that if you believe it, you will achieve it.
But you tell me.
TAC: You’ve had an amazing career so far. What are some highlights?
SM: Every single moment of this has been a blessing and has been a highlight. I never thought in a million years it would all happen. I wanted to be a model as a 6-year-old in Jamaica, but this world I’ve been in didn’t exist (there.) I felt I was going to be one, a model, but I didn’t think it would give me the blessing and opportunities I have gotten.
TAC: That’s all nice, but some specifics please…
SM: OK, well, one of the highlights was Jean Paul Gaultier, (for his) was the picture that propelled me to go into modeling, that moved me. When I had the opportunity to go to Paris, I didn’t care if I got the show because I was in front of him.
Another one was meeting and working with Richard Avedon for my Calvin Klein campaign. I didn’t even go to the casting. My agent didn’t even want to send me! They sent everyone but me.
He saw me trying to talk my way into the building after I stole the address. He took me to a separate office – me! Stacey! – I’m crying to him and telling him it’s my dream to model, my agency isn’t doing anything. He sent the secretary to get Godiva chocolates and I cried and laughed and we hugged and he talked to me for almost two hours! And I said to him, Mr. Avedon I hope you give this to me and he said it’s not fair because you didn’t come to the casting and I said come on.
And in that little room he gave it to me.
And then I asked him to call my agent and tell them that he was going to book me along with Kate Moss for the campaign! She almost had a heart attack, and said you had him call me off your cellphone!? I did the campaign and I left the agency not long after.
That man gave me that campaign for a 10-year contract. He knew I needed it.
Even if I wasn’t working I got a check. Mr. Avedon did that for me.
TAC: OK, that’s some amazing highlights. But let’s backup. How did you get from a girl with a dream in Jamaica to working with the biggest names in Fashion?
What inside you gave you this strength?
SM: There’s being Christian and Him instilling a strong sense of self within me. It is the one vessel and gift to work with that I was given.
And there’s also my background, coming from Jamaican culture, we are strong people and strong willed. The more you tell us no the more we are going to prove you wrong. Both of my parents are Jamaican, it was always my mom who instilled that in me. It’s important not to forget where I came from and not to settle for any less. Make it happen for you because no one else will happen.
I would go through ups and downs and think I don’t fit in – and she (my mom) would say don’t let anyone else make you feel down.
I talk to Him. And ask for strength.
TAC: What was it like for you modeling in those early days?
SM: When I started modeling my skin complexion was light and I didn’t wear foundation, but then it was tricky; the black girls had to carry their own stuff, which was still difficult to find, and the makeup artists didn’t have it. And because it’s not white or black (my skin) I did too! But it’s changed now, and there are more products available. They didn’t carry products for us minorities, because there weren’t many of us. They are catering to us. And some of the make up artists now are more knowledgeable.
TAC: How do you see the industry nowadays for models?
SM: Well, there weren’t as many magazines and designers (back then) as now. The industry has grown. And there were only a few key black girls, and hardly any Asian girls. But now, because the industry has grown, and they are more open-minded, there are more black girls and Asians and more ethnicities. There was a girl that looks like a young version of me on the cover of Italian vogue and I was like oh my god!
It has changed — but it has a long way to go. With a fashion show of 30, there’s only two blacks or one Asian so it has a long way to go.
TAC: You are a model but you’ve also done acting, including with Luc Besson. How did that happen?
SM: Luc was in a meeting in Africa and he picked up an ID Magazine saw me. I was wearing a Gaultier fur coat, so he called Gaultier and basically that’s how I got it.
I was in London at the time, then went back to Paris. At 12 at night I got a call from Luc Besson and he said I need you to come into my office, I’m interested in you. We went back and forth a couple of times. He kept calling back, but I didn’t believe it. So he called my agent in the middle of the night in New York and my agent called me screaming and told me to go!
I went and we were talking about volleyball, we both were going to go pro at the same time, random, right? And I was like, give me the movie I’m not testing for sh**! And he gave it to me on the spot.
TAC: You not only do for yourself, you believe in helping young girls in the industry, Tell us about Walk This Way.
I started Walk This Way when I started modeling. I started it as a model workshop back in the day because when I lived in Paris I taught myself everything. So I used to invite them to my apartment, talking about how to get in the business, how to pose and walk.
It started as workshops and then I started it as business in 2005, and I was doing speaking engagements with youths in at-risk areas. I would go and donate my time and tell them my story, encouraging and mentoring. And I decided to start a camp, a free week camp, a week or two. “The Walk“ is only for young girls 12-17, and it’s a free, 2-week camp where they learn and inspire, including fashion, arts and entertainment, and business and education. I block out two weeks in the summer and it’s dedicated to those 30 girls. It’s for fashionistas; with a fashion school and modeling, and also styling is one part of it with photographers and makeup, and there’s “The Walk.”
TAC: OK, so drop some wisdom on us now. What have you learned in your amazing career?
SM: Main piece of advice for aspiring models is love yourself first. Love and own everything about themself. You have one body to work with, love that! Because the industry is so fickle you will get swallowed up quickly. This is a rule for life, but in our world, you’ve got to love yourself.