In case you missed it, all week leading up to the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race on Thursday on Crave, I’ll be spotlighting the judges and the competition. To access our Drag Race main page, where all Drag Race articles are collected, please click here. Earlier I wrote about judge Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. Now it’s time for …
Stacey McKenzie: Supermodel turned Club Kid
Judging runway presentations isn’t a first for Stacey Mackenzie. As a judge on Canada’s Next Top Model, and a Model Coach/Mentor for America’s Next Top Model, Stacey’s a seasoned professional when it comes to giving advice on the runway.
Stacey started her career quite similarly to Jeffrey. As young as 15, Stacey first modelled for Joeffer Caoc after attending a casting session for Ryerson’s Mass Exodus fashion show. From there, she tirelessly worked her way to runways in New York and Paris, modelling for the likes of Alexander McQueen, Betsey Johnson, Tommy Hilfiger, Thierry Mugler, and Jean Paul Gaultier. None of it came easily. For someone who looked like Stacey, there had to be a constant effort to make space for herself among the numerous people who didn’t want to cast her.
“When I first started out in my career, and for many years actually, I hardly saw a black girl or a black guy on the cover of the magazine,” she tells me. “There were hardly any black girls or black guys even inside the front page!” To get where she was, Stacey had to trailblaze her own path through the unwelcoming fashion industry.
Her first interaction with drag took place on Toronto’s Church street at the iconic drag bar, Crews and Tangos. Like most people who see drag for the first time, Stacey’s summed up her reaction: “Yoooo this is awesome.” But what truly caught her eye was the runway. “What I loved the most about it was seeing the queens showcasing themselves on the runway and just being very theatrical. I was just like, this is so me right now.”
While her introduction to drag may have been in Toronto, her induction into drag took place in New York. It just so happened that one night, outside of New York’s Limelight nightclub, Stacey met Richie Rich. For those not familiar, Richie Rich was one of the earliest Club Kids, a group of club celebrities who pioneered trends in art and fashion. The group included people like Amanda Lepore, Susanne Bartsch, Lady Bunny, and of course, RuPaul.
Through Richie Rich, Stacey was introduced to New York’s ball scene, an unparalleled hub of culture that influenced fashion, art, and pop culture for decades (of course without any due credit.) She met drag queens, other Club Kids, and fashion visionaries like Patricia Fields.
Most importantly, Stacey recalls the inclusive and accepting nature of New York’s drag scene, an environment and feeling of belonging that she struggled to find as a model. “It was one of the first places too that I had people just tell me, ‘damn you’re hot’ or ‘damn you’re beautiful.’ Cause I’d never heard this. I never got compliments like that. So, it was just really, really inviting.”
Navigating her modelling career in the 90s, Stacey never had mentors. She had to learn everything by herself. In an effort to give others what she never had, she started Walk This Way Workshops in 2005. The organization’s mission aims to “empower young girls to value their uniqueness and find their individual voice.” It teaches girls how to experience the freedom and power gained from self-acceptance, but it also teaches them about the industry and what types of opportunities are available to them. In 2013, she also founded The Walk Camp, a free two week camp empowering girls to value their uniqueness and find their voice. Through her camps and workshops, Stacey gets to showcase hers and others’ experiences to the next generation of modelling and fashion talent.
It’s this type of expertise that Stacey also shares with the queens and the models that she works with. Sometimes though, it’s received with a bit of lip. “When I work with models, I think there’s a little bit more of an ego thing I guess,” she muses. “They take it a little bit more personal.”
One of the most explosive examples of this came from Cycle 23 of America’s Next Top Model when Stacey helped the girls improve their runway walk.
According to Stacey, Canada’s queens don’t seem to have that same attitude. “One thing I love about working with the queens is that these ladies, when I give them advice, they really take it seriously. To have them really take it in, soak it up, is great because then they’ll come back ten times better.”
So what’s the secret to a good runway presentation? The answer’s pretty simple: “Confidence,” she says. Even though it seems like simple advice, it’s not always the easiest to practice. “You’d be surprised, but I’m actually very, very nervous before I go on stage, before I go on the runway,” she shares. But even if she’s feeling off, she still has to bring it. “You have to like get a higher level type of confidence,” Stacey explains. “You have to be able to walk out there and have everybody talk about you for months or years to come.”
A perfect example of that: Stacey’s runway walk in 1996 for Jean Paul Gaultier. She saw Lenny Kravitz sitting in the audience, hopped off the runway, and planted a big kiss on his lips before continuing. Now that’s memorable.
Tomorrow: Brooke Lynn Hytes
You can watch the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race on Crave TV this Thursday.