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Stacey Mckenzie

Aug 30/2015
WORDS Erin Lowers PHOTOGRAPHY Tina Chang PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT Eric Tavares STYLIST Vanessa Sanchez HAIR Blake Arsenault MAKEUP Nikola Syhatheb using MAC Cosmetics, Yaby Cosmetics and Tweezerman MODEL Stacey McKenzie at Plutino Models

There’s only a handful of black models that have hit the runways and become household names in the West, but Stacey McKenzie is not just a black model – she’s a veteran Canadian supermodel who has upheld notions of beauty often ignored by the complex and sometimes monotone modeling industry. Beyond her tall, lean stature, McKenzie stands out with a crown of natural blonde curls and freckles. “When I started my career, it is true that there was only a handful of black models on the international scene in high fashion,” she says. “Transitioning into today, I do not see much of a change overall in the industry,” she carries on. “Because of my lighter skin complexion, freckles and natural blonde hair, there was no category that I fit into. It wasn’t until Jean Paul Gaultier booked me when I became a symbol of a new and very unique category, which ultimately led to my success.”

However, regardless of her successes, the modeling playing field is still a jagged journey for models of colour. “When a designer such as Junya Watanabe chooses no black models for a collection based off varying African cultures, it doesn’t surprise me. Fashion is a business, [so] what’s most important to him is who he is selling [his] clothes to,” McKenzie says of the Japanese designer who appropriated African cultures for his spring/summer 2016 menswear collection. “What I would like to see is – regardless of the theme of a collection – an increase in the amount of black models on the runways and in fashion campaigns because it helps to promote black beauty.”

Black beauty has always had a tumultuous relationship with mainstream media, and despite “more models, more designers, more runway shows, more fashion campaigns, more modeling agencies, more photographers [and] more magazines,” McKenzie laments, “I am not confident that the ration of work (advertising campaigns, high fashion runway shows etc.) for models of colour has changed.”

The issues surrounding models of colour hasn’t just challenged Stacey McKenzie, but also new models such as Joan Smalls. Earlier this year, controversy broke out over a Cosmopolitan article titled, “21 Beauty Trends That Need to Die in 2015.” Every woman of colour was deemed to be out of style – their photos stamped with an “R.I.P” caption. Joan Smalls was one of the few models to speak out regarding the article, leading McKenzie to say, “That takes courage and I applaud her, and she’s also setting an example for other models to follow.”

McKenzie goes on to describe the privilege of being in a position of power, and how to counteract the subtle, yet challenging racial divides. “It is true that capitalizing on the black culture (and others) has been made into a money-making industry. If a model/entertainer has experienced enough success where they have influence, then one of the ways of challenging media outlets is to show the same courage as Joan Smalls and speak out. As an individual, we all have an even more powerful way of challenging such things and that’s the power to choosing where to spend our money.”

This passion has guided McKenzie to create Walk This Way Workshops, a series of confidence-building workshops geared at young men and women. “The mission of Walk This Way Workshops is to empower and educate young people to value their uniqueness and inspire them to find their individual voice. I created this program as a way to give back to the community and it reflects my personal journey,” she states.

Though her journey as an outspoken, unique and black model has presented its challenges, Walk This Way Workshops have provided the ultimate reward. “The kids that I work with inspire me. Also, I have made meaningful connections with numerous celebrity mentors and industry experts, and I’ve learned that many people want to do good and make the world a better place.”