Size 14 Kathryn in VAWK S/S 2011

Size 12 Lelia in VAWK S/S 2011

On Monday October 18th, VAWK by Sunny Fong presented their Spring/Summer 2011 collection, Toro Safari, in Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Combining Spanish and African influences, the winner of Project Runway Canada season two created a richly textured collection: perforated suede, weightless leathers and fringe. We were delighted to provide models of varying ages and sizes for their runway show. Size 12 Lelia, size 14 Kathryn, 61 year old Helen and size 4 Carolyn each made their fashion week debut. The media raved about the empowering representation of women, with the Globe and Mail exclaiming:

The models were not the undernourished, underage waifs typically seen at fashion shows.Instead, Fong sent women of varying shapes, sizes and ages down a makeshift runway that undulated in imitation of the Frank Gehry staircase overhead. The underlying message was that his clothes are wearable and accessible to a large swath of the Canadian female population.

Diversity on the runway has been slowly gaining mainstream momentum with labels such Chanel, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier and Zak Posen casting models of varying ages and sizes in their most recent Paris shows. VAWK, however, has featured diverse models since its launch three seasons ago. We have been thrilled to partner with this leading luxury brand since their start and help them authenticity reflect their consumer while still staying true to their high fashion DNA. Photos Credit: Model Resource

61 year old Helen in VAWK S/S 2011

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My Role Model: Radiant Tali

September 2, 2010

An image from Tali's portfolio

What makes us beautiful is our ability to trust our own voices, be true to ourselves and radiate beauty through our actions. This is the mantra told by my client, Tali Giat, who shares her story of learning to believe in herself in our latest My Role Model feature. Many of you might remember Tali from FOX’s More To Love TV show; her authenticity, compassion and charisma captured and inspired so many of us, including me. As a woman whose voice touched me, it was personally thrilling to connect with her only a month ago. It is now a true privilege to serve as her modeling agent.

At 5’4 and size 12, Tali statistically represents the average North American woman; but it is her confidence, kindness and honestly that allows her to represent our true definition of beauty. Her story of learning, challenging and re-defining beauty gives me the strength to always dare to be me and to celebrate my own unique beauty. Even more, it gives me confidence that the fashion industry will continue to change and represent diverse images of beauty because Tali is here to share herself and her message.

So after you read her message, answer this question: How will you Be The Change and help shift the singular beauty ideal? We can do it – but only together!

Growing up I always admired beautiful things. Not in a material kind of way, but in the way they captured my eye; interior spaces, a piece of art, dinner table setting, clothes on windows’ mannequins or how they moved on the body, people’s faces, nature, colors, sounds. None really had to be organically perfect, however the way each was put together in presentation was what appealed to me. I have always sought harmony and balance in the esthetics of everything.

Like many young girls, I was fascinated and mesmerized by beauty ads and TV commercials featuring models and celebrities. I believed idealized these images and was fascinated by the people in them – even though I didn’t even know who they were. But one thing I knew for sure, I would have given my all to look like one of them, even for a day.

Disappointed and defeated by my inability to magically transform my appearance to resemble these perfect people in the magazines, my insecure seven year old self convinced herself that there must be a special day each year when these people are all born; a day when God is in His best mood, and He decides to create His best-looking masterpieces.

Growing up in Israel, the oldest of six children, I didn’t feel a connection to an inspiring role model in my life. I was surrounded with love but I didn’t have someone to push me to find my own identity or encourage me to follow my passions, goals and dreams. Rather, I was often told I should stop fantasizing about places and things that only “great people” could achieve. I was told that I was average and will always be this way (little did I know, but one day being “average” would be my greatest asset.)

Whether it was for my weight, overall appearance, personality or what I had to say – I continuously felt underestimated and brought down. No matter what I did or who I was, it was never enough. I could go on by telling the many stories of how I was always the chubby girl at school, how I battled my weight throughout the years, how I was teased and looked at strangely, how I never fit in. But this would be a story you’ve all heard so many times before, in one version or another.

I graduated high school and then enlisted and served my country with pride for two and a half years in the military. As the oldest of the siblings, as a daughter, a friend, and a soldier – I felt I was fighting everyone else’s fight but my own. For twenty-three years, I did everything to please everyone else, thinking maybe it would make me feel worthier, prettier, better, more deserving.

Years of self doubt, constant questioning and confusion had brought me to a very low point in life. I felt worthless, unappreciated, invisible, a complete outsider. I couldn’t believe there was nothing that I was meant to be or do in this life; it was only one thing that kept a glimpse of confidence in me. I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted more for me without feeling guilty.

But in order to get over my hurdles, I soon realized I had only two choices. I could choose to be the Victim or the Creator of my own journey, dwelling on my life’s circumstances or writing my own destination. Deep down my heart kept whispering one clear message: “Don’t ask. Don’t question. Don’t wonder. Just GO!” And so I did.

I did something no one who knew me thought I would ever do. I packed up my insecurities, my questionable pride and my intimidating fears (and some clothes too!) and boarded a plane to the land of opportunity. Twenty-six hours later, I had landed in the USA, with two suitcases, a fifty dollar bill, a little overwhelmed and a lot confused. I thought “Have I just listened to my own voice for the first time, and without thinking twice, actually allowed it to lead me across the world?”

Now years later, I am still thanking this voice inside. For speaking so loud in my head, and making my stomach crumble, for pushing me to BE the change I so wanted and needed in my life. I now recognize the voice as God speaking through my inner spirit. This journey has taken me to the most empowering ups, as well as to the most challenging downs. But most of all, it has led me in ways where the biggest blessings were brought to me through the incredible people I met along the way. These people have taught me strength, faith, courage, belief, the power of one’s own will and the courage to let go and let God.

It was in winter of 2007 that I had faced difficulties paying for my college education, and my aunt and uncle sat me down and suggested I should perhaps try modeling. I looked at them in disbelief and incredible doubt. I had hated taking pictures, even family photos. Nevertheless, just two months later my best friend had heard an advertisement on the radio about a local talent and modeling casting in Denver. I took a leap of faith and with zero expectations I attended the casting call. Soon enough I passed the first audition and was invited to meet with top agents in a weekend long event in Kansas City. It was now spring of 2008 and I was discovered by a modeling agent from NYC, and a Hollywood casting director out of Los Angeles; both attended the event.  My modeling career was born.

In the first year not much of significance had yet developed in my career. I learned a lot about how strict, harsh and often narrow minded the industry can be. Winter of 2009 was when I decided to take another big risk. At that point in my life I was already so determined and passionate, and I didn’t care as much about what people thought of me.

I packed and moved from Denver to NYC by myself, four years after starting my journey to the US.  It seemed at the time as if I was back again in the place where I started; a new place, two suitcases, less then $100, some old insecurities, and lots of worries. I was hitting the pavement with go-sees, working overtime; doing everything I could possibly do to use the opportunities I was presented with, and creating new ones from the obstacles and challenges. In the spring of the same year, I replied to another casting call, this time for a new reality dating show that for the first time aimed to depict people of normal-size on national TV. I got the gig and was quite proud to be a part of something that had such an incredible potential to make a change.

Since becoming a finalist (well the ‘winner’, but really what does that mean?) of the Fox Network show, my dreams and goals, my passion and purpose in life have become clearer then ever. Modeling is my way of speaking up; I have grown to learn that beauty has no single definition, form, time or mathematical equation. It is simply an interpretation to the reflection of one’s own existence, through many different eyes. There is no one-way to be.

Today, I strive to show young ladies their beauty in a different light by explaining that the chase after perfection is a no-win race.  Such a destination doesn’t exist. It is an illusion. I encourage them to look in the mirror and be the champion of their own uniqueness. My main goal through modeling is to challenge the beauty ideal by breaking the standards of that the industry can perpetuate to maintain as status quo. Using your voice is all that is needed to make a change. And I choose to use mine.

Through entertainment, media, fashion and marketing, I aspire to challenge the beauty ideal by simply promoting the message that the word “ideal” shouldn’t even be in association with the term “beauty.” Creativity, fashion, style and beauty are not limited by a cookie-cutter form. The impossible is what nobody can do, until somebody does. Coming to know and work with Ben Barry and his agency has been a blessing.  Our values are well matched and I have endless respect and admiration for what Ben has accomplished in moving boundaries and open minds in beauty, fashion, and life.

Tali in a fashion editorial in Plus Model Magazine

My Role Model: Moji

August 6, 2010

Moji in an image from her portfolio

Moji is a woman whose confidence and radiance makes you believe in yourself as soon as you meet her. As the winner of our Every Woman Search, her positive energy, passion for fashion and fierce catwalk strut inspired the judges and audience alike. But what makes Moji so special — and makes her my role model — is her commitment to her community and her belief that fashion is a form of self-expression. She works tirelessly with youth in the justice system to help them realize their full potential. Her attitude towards fashion reminds us that fashion is not about trying to look like someone else, but it is about expressing your personality, playing with fabrics and having fun. Reading about her experiences of discovering, challenging and redefining beauty inspired me to always be me … and to have fun with fashion while doing it; I know it will do the same for you.

As a young girl growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, my light skin, light brown eyes, gangly figure, flat chest and bottom went against the accepted norm and ideal representation of a black person and an African for that matter. I was teased constantly but my older sisters always told me that I was pretty and special which gave me the confidence to face all challenges head on.

My parents always dressed well and my entire family had a love for shoes. Although we didn’t have much, what we had was quality. In my neighborhood, I was the first to wear trousers and a men’s shirt with the tail un-tucked (compliments of one of my brothers). Within a short period, my fellow neighbour girls started to wear trousers; to the chagrin of their parents. I have always had a sense of fashion and the statement fashion conveys about an individual. One must not be afraid to make a statement in a tasteful and classy manner.

I arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1978 with plans to attend college. I was admitted to the Radio Arts program in Lethbridge where I continued to amaze my classmates with my fashion sense. I always came to class wearing a dress or dress pants (never jeans) and had my hair styled differently five days a week. Many foreign students were shocked by what they perceived as either bravery or stupidity.

At the time, a black female with an accent studying broadcasting in Alberta was unheard .  There were individuals who advised me against perusing broadcasting because they believed that no one would hire me, it would be a waste of my time and my foreign tuition fees. Regardless of the naysayers, I completed my diploma and acquired a job at a radio station. After six weeks of employment I was “let go” once the owner found out that I was black. Instead of being discouraged, I enrolled at the University and earned a BA in Sociology. I have not, nor will I stop learning and achieving.

Back in Calgary in the late 80s, with three small children and a full time career, I entered the Mrs. Calgary Pageant contest. Surprisingly, I made the top ten but a career in modeling as a black person was not meant to be. This was due to the restrictions that were placed on what constituted the present ideal beauty, the industry and media at large. Nonetheless, I have never allowed restrictions to define who I am or who I can become.

A few months ago, Sharon Cornwall of Fashion Has No Borders Expose in collaboration with Ben Barry Agency put out a call in search for the “Every Woman” Competition. One of my children entered me in to the competition. Initially, I was reluctant to participate thinking that my modeling days were over. My daughter reminded me that she has never seen me shy away from challenges or adventures before. With this reminder, I decided to investigate the criteria further. As soon as I found out the criteria for the competition…..individuality, confidence, charitable, beauty and inner strength….I decided to embrace the challenge and have fun while at it. I love having fun regardless of what I’m doing.

On March 20th, 2010, at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Jeanne Beker of Fashion Television announced the winner of the competition. Out of 1400 applicants, I was chosen as “The Every Woman” winner. I now have the realization that my fashion and beauty journey from Nigeria has come full circle to being chosen and represented by the Ben Barry Agency: An agency that promotes all people, cultures and challenges the status quo concept of beauty.

After meeting in person with Ben Barry, I know that I’m ready to embark on a new adventure and possibly a new career. Whatever happens happens, I’m ready to have fun modeling and live life to the fullest because we all have only one life to live.

My message…..Go ahead! Take chances, go where you’re not suppose to go, do what you’re not suppose to do and dare to be different, if you wish.

Moji in an image from her portfolio

My Role Model: Kate

July 26, 2010

A look for Kate's portfolio by Melissa Peretti

My second role model profile features courageous Kate. You might remember Kate from a previous post as the woman I discovered on Craigslist who made her modeling debut in the VAWK by Sunny Fong Fall/Winter 2010 show. At age 55 and a size 14, Toronto-based Kate inspires me with her bravery and self-confidence. In a set of 15 traditional fashion models, Kate strutted the Toronto Fashion Week catwalk like a pro with years of experience. Her very presence in the show, and in this industry, sends a clear message to all of us: We are beautiful and fashionable at every age and every size. Kate is now one of our newest models; she has an exciting and trailblazing career ahead. I know her story of questioning, challenging and redefining the beauty ideal will inspire you as much as it does me.

I was naturally thin most of my life, until I hit my forties. Being slim however, did not automatically guarantee me success or make my life picture perfect. In high school my friends affectionately nicknamed me “beanpole”, but bullies loved to tease me for being so tall, gangly and flat chested. I dreaded getting changed for gym class and envied the curvier girls who displayed no inhibition about their bodies. Although I excelled at sports, I continued to struggle with my body image.  By age 15 I reached my full height of 5’9” and weighed 115 pounds. Back then my sense of worth was so lacking, I avoided my prom as I felt I didn’t “fit in”. I possessed minimal self esteem and self confidence. Several years of life experience had to pass before I could shake off those negative “body image” messages that profoundly affected me as a teenager.

I’ve never had an eating disorder and during my twenties and thirties could eat whatever and whenever I pleased, still managing to keep my svelte figure. Salty snacks were my weakness and I craved simple carbs like rice, bread and pasta.  Being moderately active didn’t prevent my weight from increasing in my forties and it has continued to creep up year after year.  Now at 55, I have those curves I desired when I was younger only to find that society in general and the fashion industry in particular have adopted a narrow definition of beauty with “young and thin” heading the “must be” list.

I now weigh 170 pounds and wear a 12/14 dress size. I’m eating a better diet for heart health and walk everyday. I always find quiet time for myself and keep a positive attitude. This is vital for women as we’re so hard on ourselves and usually put other people first.

Years ago my definition of beauty could be found in the pages of Seventeen and Glamour and like so many young women I dreamed of becoming a model but was too shy to act. Now, decades later, with buckets of strength and confidence, I’m embarking on a new modeling career. I responded to an ad placed on Craigslist by Model Agent Ben Barry, looking for a gray haired woman to model for Toronto Fashion Week. I truly believed I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by going for it. So what if I wasn’t chosen? I wouldn’t be crushed and would just go on to something else. But I was chosen, and walked the catwalk alongside veteran traditional models at the AGO for “VAWK” designed by the very talented Sunny Fong. I told Ben, taking my first step was like being on a plane taking off a runway. It was exhilarating. Even better, Ben signed me to his Modeling Agency! It’s amazing how taking that one small step forward has impacted my life. It’s sad to think how many other women read that same ad but didn’t reply simply because they didn’t feel beautiful enough. Rejection is not a loss. Never trying for fear of rejection is the loss.

I certainly don’t fit the description of a traditional model and my definition of beauty has changed. For me, it’s not about having perfect facial features, weight and measurements.  Nothing wrong with being young and stunning, but women of all ages, sizes and ethnicities need to recognize that feeling beautiful comes from within and not from the rigid definition of beauty other people would have us believe. Beauty is about energy, vitality, attitude and confidence. It’s about your own sense of style, grace and sophistication. So celebrate, embrace and appreciate the incredible beauty you already possess. You have something special that no one else has. We all have unique selling points and something to contribute in our own way. Develop the guts, courage, strength and determination to pursue your dreams and passions whatever they may be. Surround yourself with like minded people who support you. Ben is a wonderful mentor and always tells me “I’m beautiful just the way I am and not to change anything”.  My runway coach Liis Windischmann who is a gorgeous model, has been such an inspiration. Sunny boosted my confidence just by choosing me to wear one of his beautiful designs.

Marketers want consumers to buy into the fantasy that if we use a certain product we will resemble the model in the ad. We are bombarded with these messages, perhaps as this mind set has worked so well in the past. I recently had my first photo shoot to have pictures taken for my portfolio. It was a very positive experience and a lot of fun, but it did take an entire team of professionals to get me looking my best. I had a hair and make-up stylist, clothes stylist and photographer using proper lighting. Models don’t look like they do in the ads so women would be best not to compare themselves. Also, times are changing as baby boomers, who have tremendous purchasing power are getting older and want to be represented by models that look just like them. Both Sunny and Ben are trailblazers because they had the chutzpah to use diverse models in the Sunny’s show. The feedback was all positive, so let’s hope more fashion designers, editors and retailers follow suit. The fashion industry does seem to be shifting in favor of using non-traditional models to represent the general population, but there is still resistance.

As a mature woman, I refuse to believe that beauty diminishes with age. I only have to look at the beautiful women in my own family to attest to that. My grandma, mom and aunt were all strong women with fashion style and beauty which only intensified as they got older. They’ve all passed away, but I carry with me the memory of my mother always telling me I could be anything I wanted.

I would like to be a role model for women aspiring to be the best they can be in every area of their lives. It starts with self love. Once you embrace and love yourself just as you are, you can go on to be and do whatever you desire. Do what I did – just do it!

A look for Kate's portfolio shoot by Melissa Peretti

My Role Model: Cathy

March 9, 2010

An image from Cathy's portfolio by Felix Wong

My work to promote diverse media images is only half of the effort; the other comes from the women and men we represent who have the courage and confidence to re-define our visual culture with each flash of the camera and step on the runway. They serve as the ambassadors for this new movement of beauty that reflect and represents all of us — and their stories and positive energy inspire me daily. Given their important role in my work, I have decided to launch a new series on my blog that profiles our models, introducing you to the women and men behind the pictures. I have called the new series “My Role Model” because that is how I think of fashion models; they are role models that should empower us. In each post, I will introduce you to the person profiled, and then, in their own words, they will share  their experiences in life and motivations to model. Each person has a story; I want share their stories because they are as inspiring as the way their images change the wallpaper of our world.

I am delighted that the first role model is Cathy Iadinardi from Montreal. I met Cathy last year via social networking shortly after she was selected as a finalist for Canada’s Next Top Plus Model Search presented by Addition Elle. I was immediately captured by her confident and soulful spirit that I saw translated to her pictures, whether professional or candid with her friends and family. When I had the opportunity to meet her in Montreal, I saw her spirit in-person and immediately asked her to join my agency in Toronto. I am excited to work with Cathy; I know she will inspire people through her courage to listen to herself and speak her mind.

I’ve struggled the fluctuations of my weight for as long as I can remember. I started my first diet when I was 11 and worried about how I might lack acceptance from others because of the weight. At that age the seeds of self-hate are planted and it becomes very difficult to steer away without the proper guidance. Everyone woman in my family struggles with their weight, so weight loss and appearance was a huge presence in my upbringing. I made excuses for myself not to achieve certain goals, be more productive with myself. I stopped myself from enjoying life, doing things that a normal adolescent girl would do. I dreaded the changing rooms at department stores to the point that I avoided shopping malls all together. I struggled with binge eating disorder and by age 17 my weight escalated to 320lbs and found myself spiraling down as my self-esteem diminished. I lost myself in this whole process.

I finally woke up one morning and had enough. I felt in my heart I needed to do something drastic to get my life back. I booked a plane ticket to Africa when I was 19 and left the country for 6 months. The experience shaped and shifted my perception on life; it helped me grow as an individual and also helped me get my life back on track. I noticed right away how differently people’s mentality was. Strangers say hello to one another on the street, they were content with what little they have and another shocker… curvy women were PRAISED. Curves were a sign of health, wealth and sex appeal! Upon my return, I took it upon myself to lose weight and most importantly promised myself to approach the endevour it in a positive and healthy way. I made it a point to love myself and do things for myself that would feed my soul. I read beautiful books, took mediation and yoga classes, surrounded myself with positive people. After 3 years I dropped 100lbs.

I am now a healthy size 14/16 from being a size 26. I have never been happier; however I would be liar if I said I don’t battle with “fat girl demons” from time to time. They come and go, and its a price to pay while living in North America, to be bombarded and subjected to weight loss pills and gimmick on top of gimmick that is just brainwashing people, adolescent girls especially. Becoming a model has been an exciting and extremely fulfilling experience and has also assisted my journey to self-acceptance. Adolescent girls need more positive messages about weight, self-esteem and body image issues. North American women spend way to much time criticizing the way they look instead of using that precious time to feed their spirits with beautiful experiences and self exploration. Hopefully I can be a positive role model and aid in the healing of negative body image.

An image from Cathy's portfolio