Though her face has now been used to sell everything from designer denim to soft drinks, model Winnie Harlow still finds her ascent to fashion prominence pretty unbelievable. “It’s crazy that people know who I am,” says Harlow. “It’s unbelievable to me that this girl from the hood in Toronto is now on billboards.” While the giant outdoor posters certainly are impressive, Harlow’s distinctive beauty—she is the first high-profile fashion model with vitiligo, a chronic skin condition characterized by loss of pigment on portions of the skin—has resonated in the pages of fashion magazines and among influencers like Nick Knight and Nicola Formichetti.
Defying the naysayers and the taunts of childhood bullies, Harlow found her confidence working in front of the camera. She’s now using that passion to inspire others: This weekend, Harlow and photographer Jonathan Mannion (the latter famed for his images of hip-hop stars like Jay Z and Dr. Dre) led a portrait workshop at 188 Bowery as part of Sprite’s curated pop-up series. The aim was to give young people an opportunity to pursue their creative side, with Mannion photographing guests while Harlow gave a crash course in modeling—and no, it’s not just about posing. “For me, even though modeling is an art, this isn’t particularly about that,” says Harlow. “This is about doing what you feel passionate about, encouraging anyone who is passionate about something to pursue it to the fullest extent.”
To her audience, Harlow stressed the importance of staying true to yourself when in front of the camera. Social media served as a talking point, with guests wanting to know how Harlow keeps her nearly 900,000 Instagram followers engaged. Harlow pointed to honesty rather than sultry pictures: “I think it’s more putting yourself out there—being yourself and being vulnerable with the world—that makes people interested,” the model says. And while getting photographed has become second nature to her, Harlow hopes she can provide even the most camera-shy with an added boost of confidence: “I’m hoping that I can help them just to let go, be open, because that is what can make a great image.”
—Janelle Okwodu, Style.com