Three Years. That’s all it’s taken for Winnie Harlow, thriving international model and public spokesperson to ‘shake’ up the fashion industry and prove there isn’t one type of beauty that is worthy of supermodel status.
Im pretty certain you’d agree that three years doesn’t seem like that long ago, considering she has fronted international campaigns for Desigual and Diesel, made a cameo appearance in Beyoncé’s video for her single Lemonade, has given an influential Ted Talk entitled ‘My story is painted on my skin’ and has featured in adverts for major brands including Sprite and most recently, Converse.
Last month Glamour Magazine hosted their annual Beauty festival where Winnie was invited to appear as a guest speaker. Quite naturally, it was a moment I wanted to witness, after all, this was a young woman that was publicly exposing Vitiligo (and who was beautiful at the same time) strongly urging the fashion industry to recognise there were many forms of beauty outside the standard types we had been exposed too. For so many years, I had tried my hardest to disguise it, yet, along with her 1.9 million Instagram fans, I was instantly fascinated by her story, attitude and her ability to dispell any negative judgements directed towards how she looked.
Held at the iconic Saatchi Gallery in London, I was thankful that the room where she would be speaking accommodated a small audience, after all the last thing I wanted, was to find myself at the back of the room stretching my neck to allow for a good view! With everyone seated and waiting in anticipation for her to arrive, she soon emerged from backstage to a rapture of applause supported by a small entourage (as you do!). She looked effortlessly chic in a Stella McCartney ensemble; a white long sleeve fitted shirt that subtly revealed the Vitiligo on her upper body and olive wide-leg trousers. She was, as expected, aesthetically stunning.
Walking eloquently on stage, alongside British model, Erin O’Connor, she was quick to wave and greet the audience with her wide smile. In that single moment, I didn’t get a sense she had adopted the attitude of a diva like the media had portrayed, rather a young, 22 year old girl with confidence, sassiness and a strong head on her shoulders.
Winnie has often been referred to as a ‘role’ model, something she has frequently challenged. Developing Vitiligo when she was just 2 years old, she has candidly shared details of what it was like growing up in Canada as a girl with Vitiligo. So when she talks about the taunts, the stares and the pressure to fit in when being different wasn’t the ‘in’ thing, most of us know exactly what she means. Whether you have Vitiligo or not, Winnie is most definitely someone to admire, even though she adamantly brushes away any talk of being a role model. “The term role model means someone being imitated and I don’t feel like someone that should be imitated” she commented when asked. “I pull inspiration from everyone and am grateful that people feel they can pull inspiration from me” she continued.
Warm, honest and wise beyond her years, she spoke about being in the limelight and her hopes for the future. “I’d love to collaborate and work with beauty brands” before excitedly admitting she’d also love to be asked to walk the infamous Victoria’s Secret runway someday. Appearing on the front cover of Vogue or even Glamour magazine (to which a twinkle appeared in her eye!) was another thing she’d love to see happen in the future.
When she isn’t boarding a plane for another photoshoot, or walking the catwalk like she recently did for Julian McDonald at London Fashion Week, Winnie likes to keep things casual in gym gear and sneakers.…which is somewhat hard to believe given her impeccable style choices. She spoke fondly about her family and friends and often calls upon her ‘bestie’ when she is away from home. She has formed a close friendship with model Jordan Dunn and their similarities in that they are both of Jamaican descent, nicely connects the two beauties.
Rumours of who Winnie is (or isn’t) dating is often a hot topic in the British press and when asked about potential crushes, she giggled before commenting that she thinks guys are ‘cute’, but until she’s actually met a guy in the flesh, its simply just admiration from a distance. She admitted to coming over all shy when she does spot that guy that makes her blush, a refreshing response that made me realise that, glamour aside, she too, has moments of weakness when it comes to dating and finding love.
A lot has been said about Winnie trying to ‘distance’ herself away from consistently talking about her skin and whilst, ultimately her skin is the reason why the beauty industry is able to feel more diversified, I’m starting understand that not everything has to be about her skin. Her story of how she evolved as a girl with Vitiligo has been reiterated so many times, that maybe now is the time to move away from her striking appearance and concentrate on her role within the fashion and beauty industry. To have her be known simply as Winnie Harlow.
With the final question being ‘what is beauty?’ she paused before explaining that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it’s a question that can be left open’ and with that she was whisked away through the back door, to continue life as Winnie Harlow the woman that is proof change is coming…