Name: Stewellea Daville
Claim to Fame: Daville has walked the runway at NYFW for seasons. She has also graced the ages of major magazines including Elle and Harper’s Bazaar and served as an ambassador for the namesake label of celebrity favorite Thomas Lavone.
Bronx beauty Stewellea Daville’s career began at the moment that many models retire. She was approaching her thirties when her friends encouraged her to drop-in at an unconventional casting.
Each of her sisters had used their unique brand of Jamaican charm to briefly pursue the career. They appeared in local fashion shows and were consistent about following up with potential connections but Daville didn’t see it as something for her until that day.
“Everyone’s always asked me if I was a model and I never was. My sisters were models and I remember being at a brunch one evening with a couple of friends and there was a designer holding a casting call and you know, my friends were like, ‘Oh, maybe you should go back there. And I’m like, I am not a model. I’m not going back there. But I went back there and ironically enough. I got cast.”
She was understandably nervous about the gig. She admitted that, “My first day was a little nerve wracking.”
She devoted time to preparing herself for her moment.
“I had to do some model classes before actually going onto the runway. I put in the weeks upcoming to the show and it was, it was really nerve wracking because I’ve never been on a runway before. But I got out there.”
When she stepped off the runway all anyway was able to see was her professionalism.The designer let her know how much he appreciated her natural talent.
“He was like, Oh my God, you did so great!”
Now interested in finding out what the industry had to offer Daville began looking into the possibility that she could pursue a career in modeling.
“I started networking with other models and you know, getting phone numbers, emails and I just started just going into casting calls after that.”
She might not have had as much information about the industry as women who had followed it closely throughout their lives, or the desirable height of her counterparts, but the combination of her work ethic and steely facial expressions was hard for designers to deny. Every time she stepped on the runway she stood out from the boring blonde waifs.
“A lot of the designers at that time, even like now, are still looking for girls that are 5’10 and above. And I kind of felt like, well here I am 5’8 ½ eight, you know, 5’9 roughly. And these girls are so tall and some of these girls are agency models. And here I am just being some first time New York city freelance model that pretty much doesn’t even know what she’s doing.”
She is proud of the work she was able to secure on her own. “I had no comp cards, no portfolio, no nothing. But I got cast in the majority of the casting calls that I went to.”
In addition to hustling on her own she began to seek out agencies that could help represent her to potential clients, and she is still hopeful that she can secure one that can help her overcome the stigma of being an independent model.
“I’ve just been freelancing but has been working out for me. But at some point I would like to be signed to an agency. I just have to keep going to these open model calls and see what agency is going to accept the look that I have,” she said.
“I know there’s an agency out there for me, I just don’t know where they are. I’ve gone to Wilhelmina, I’ve gone to Ford, I’ve gone to IMG and it’s pretty much, I don’t have the look that they’re looking for or my features are too strong,” she revealed.
Being told her features were “too strong,” is just one of the ignorant comments she heard from casting agents including feedback that she did not feed the “girl next door,” aesthetic they were looking for.
She remains unbothered by their rejection.
Daville accomplished her goals in the modeling world without booking the commercial campaigns trafficked in by big agencies. When her eighteen-year-old son sees women hailed for their beauty on websites, in magazines, and on billboards, his mother is among them.
“I have a look that our designer is looking for and just as much as these agency girls are on the runway, I’m right on the runway with them too,” she said.
She serves as an ambassador for designer Thomas Lavone. The celebrity favorite has placed her in positions that many models never see.
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Like many designers he works outside the traditional system providing fresh opportunities for his models and muses.
She does not feel pressure to “soften,” herself like many other models do because she has an alternative source of income.
“I’m a certified New York city nanny, so that is my bread, eggs, steak, shrimp, filet mignon, I like to have that career. That is where I get my financial security from. Modeling is just where that extra money comes in.”
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“I’ve had the experiences that I’m looking for with a major brand, with a designer that’s right here at home. He’s not in any major stores. He’s not in any major boutiques. He has his own thing going on and I’ve been on six billboards in Times square through him. I’ve been in Elle magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, all through working with this one particular designer who’s been such an amazing mentor towards me.”
Modeling isn’t her only side hustle. Instead of distracting herself backstage at shows she started paying attention and eventually landed in the business of producing shows including this year’s NYFW Emerge show honoring the Godmother of fashion Fern Mallis.
“I was modeling for Small Boutique Fashion Week and Preston Walker, the CEO, he kind of noticed, I’m always being very much hands on. So there was one point for one season, he gave me a model coordinator position.”
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The position placed her in a position of power, that few models get to experience. It also padded her pockets.“So now I’m sitting at the panel with him casting models for the show and then it went to being a backstage manager. And from Small Boutique, I went on to being a show producer for Harlem fashion week and then I went on to being backstage production with Emerge fashion week. So it’s been, it’s been a great road because I make more money being behind the scenes that I make being on the runway.”
She hopes that different players making decisions will promote diversity at every level of the fashion industry.
“A lot of shows, I’ve noticed a lot of Caucasian models and then you have a lot of shows that are a lot of African American models and it’s just great to just have a show where you have Chinese Caucasian, African American, like you just have all shapes and all sizes and all colors in a fashion show. That’s very rare that you have that in fashion.”