Walking the Runway in Toronto Fashion Week SS16

If you follow me on Instagram then by now you know that I was given an amazing opportunity to walk the runway this season at Toronto Fashion Week. This is one of the coolest things I’ve been able to do and I really wanted to share that with you guys in a meaningful way so buckle up and enjoy my detailed firsthand account of my trip into Hayley Elsaesser’s “Carnival of Curiosity”.


It all started on Instagram, as many creative endeavors in my life do. Fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser and I both follow each other on IG and about three weeks ago I saw a post of hers announcing a casting she was holding. About a week prior the Spring/Summer 2016 Toronto Fashion Week calendar had been revealed and she was again announced to be presenting a collection on the runway, this time set for Tuesday, October 20th. The little gears in my head started turning as I read the phrase “No height requirement”. ‘I should give this a try,’ I thought.

On Tuesday, October 6th I arrived at her newly opened retail space in Toronto’s Bayview Village Shopping Mall. Hayley greeted me warmly and handed me a look to try on. I quickly put on a blue sleeveless top with a pink crystal ball print and slim cut metallic fuchsia leather pants. She asked me to walk for her across the length of the retail space. I thought back to the one time, several years ago, I had received a runway lesson from a former model. I was nervous but decided to give it my best shot as she recorded my attempt. “Let’s try one more look,” she said, handing me another wardrobe option. This time I slipped into a leather-textured dress with a metallic rainbow finish. Its fitted bodice and flared skirt ending above the knees made me feel like a walking burst of color. Again I made my best attempt at a runway walk. When it was all done I thanked her for her time and she seemed like she was interested in having me in her show.

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Next began the wait, a week-long wait that seemed to stretch on forever. I was sick and jittery with anticipation. I remember feverishly checking my email awaiting the results of the casting and calling her store twice, asking to see if a decision had been made. The second time I called she answered and my heart was pounding. That afternoon, just as she had said I would, I received an email from her publicist Shaun regarding my selection to take part in her show. I quickly responded. Even though I had gotten a yes, it still didn’t feel real.

Later that week I arrived at her PR agency for the fitting where my runway look would be decided. Again I tried on that rainbow dress from before, this time with an orange and pink poodle-print top underneath. Again I did my best impression of a runway walk. While I had been waiting for my turn I had watched a model before me try on a yellow poodle-print crop top and miniskirt coordinate set with buttons down the front. They had decided against her wearing it. Now Hayley was suggesting that I try it on as well. I slipped into the midriff baring look and after I walked for her and Shaun, it was decided that it would be my look. “The next time I see you will be at the tents,” Shaun smiled as we parted ways.

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On Tuesday, October 20that 3:00pm I arrived backstage at World MasterCard Fashion Week. There were many models already there awaiting their transformations for their next runway show. In the hair and makeup sections the Redken hairstylists, Maybelline makeup artists, and Essie manicurists were all hard at work. Photographers and producers buzzed around the space with the click of camera shutters becoming a constant sound.

Photo by Sierra Nallo
Photo by Sierra Nallo (www.sierranallo.com)

In about twenty minutes or so my name was called and I was taken to get me hair done. As I sat, a manicurist began painting a metallic rainbow design on my nails simultaneously while two hairstylists diligently worked on my hair. It really does take a fashion village to make one model runway-ready.

Photo by Sierra Nallo (www.sierranallo.com)

When that portion was done I returned to the area where models were waiting. By this time I began being photographed by several people, something that would continue on the rest of the night for me and the other models. I also began running into several people I knew in various parts of the industry that I had worked or connected with before. Models I dressed, photographers and producers I knew. I was called to the makeup section where I had my face prepped with foundation before being asked to wait in the model zone for the next step. When I was called again I followed a woman to a makeup artist’s station. “Sit here,” she instructed. When the makeup artist and I turned to face each other we immediately smiled and laughed. Having both attended Ryerson University’s School of Fashion and worked with senior artists from the same agency, we knew each other well. Caroline and I were equally surprised to see each other. We caught up on our lives as she painted a pastel rainbow on my eyes and gave me a shiny pink pout.

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The next moments moved at a dizzying pace. We models all rushed to the changing area, quickly got dressed, and were placed in order. I remember standing in line and having my hair touched up and lotion applied to my arms and legs while many more photos were taken. I remember seeing that it was about 5:45pm and the show was set to start in 15 minutes when we did a quick rehearsal on the runway before the crowd was let in. At that point it began becoming very real and my stomach was twisted in knots. I was just praying I had grasped all the instructions and that I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

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Photo by Edward James / Getty Images
Photo by Edward James / Getty Images

Soon the show began. I had no idea what was going on out on the runway but the music was loud and the energy was becoming more and more electric. I spotted a monitor live streaming the show backstage for us and I tried to watch as the models before me took to the runway.

I was Look 18 and my time to strut was quickly coming as I approached the runway practically shaking. A producer told me to go and without thinking I went. The lights shining directly on the runway were so bright and I remember seeing throngs of people on either side of me in the stands seem to melt into shadowy masses. I barreled down the runway like a bat out of Hell, strong and with a little more bounce than the others. I heard cheering to my left side but had no idea who it was as I quickly approached the end of the runway, arms swaying at my sides. When I reached the end I paused. Due to my nervousness I had completely forgotten all my previous thoughts on how I would pose for the photographers in the pit so what happened next was wholly candid and organic. After a few overzealous poses I pivoted and headed back up the runway towards backstage.

Photo by George Pimentel / Getty Images
Photo by George Pimentel / Getty Images
Photo by Che Rosales
Photo by Che Rosales
Photo by Paul Ross (www.topoftherunway.com)
Photo by Paul Ross (www.topoftherunway.com)

This experience was very significant to me for various reasons. I’ve been told more than I can count or remember by many in the industry that I am just an inch or two too short to be a fashion model and it will never happen. I’ve been told I’m somewhere in this awkward, unsellable middle where I’m too short for runway but my face is too avant garde for commercial work. But yet and still those same people admit they see something in me, they just aren’t sure what to do with it. “Maybe in another market?” I have been told. I had been offered a contract by an agency only to have it swiftly taken away from me as I was about to sign. They decided it just wouldn’t work. ‘But you guys came to me! Scouted me!’ I had thought, mind racing. It left me feeling burned. In the same respect I have had people push me to keep going, even in times when I myself didn’t care to. I have had many photographers express a strong interest in working with me and have posed for some notable shooters in the city. I often feel caught in this purgatory and for one night I got a taste of Heaven.

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Also in this one night I came full circle in a sense. Very few people know the story of my first taste of Toronto Fashion Week. It was an autumn night in 2011 when I arrived at the tents for the first time about to assist a runway photographer. Flustered I stumbled around the white structure in the dark, trying to find an entrance. “Hey you,” someone called from a place I couldn’t see, “Come here.” I located the source of the sound as they spoke more. “You’re a model? Come backstage,” they motioned to me. “Get her into hair and makeup,” they called to someone else, beginning to usher me inside. At this point I was borderline hyperventilating that they were about to throw me on the runway. “Can we put her on?” they asked, discussing it with others present. In order to put me in the show they would have to take away a look from another model so ultimately they decided against it, handing me a business card and sending me back on my way. I was flattered and exhilarated but also very relieved. I would later realize it had been someone from design label Juma’s Spring/Summer 2012 production team, quite possibly one of the designers themselves but I’m not positive anymore.

When it comes to Toronto Fashion Week, over the past several years I’ve shot the shows as a media in the photographers’ pit, I’ve watched the shows as a designer guest from the stands, and I’ve worked the shows as a stylist assistant in production backstage. Now I’ve walked the runway and literally the only thing left is to design a collection. I’m not sure if this will lead to other opportunities or if this was just one night of fun but either way I’m eternally thankful to Hayley Elsaesser and Agence Select for taking a chance on me. ❤


Watch the full runway show by World MasterCard here (I come in just past the 6:30 mark):

Watch a recap of the day by ELLE Canada here:

Thank you for sharing in this experience with me and please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below 🙂

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