As if tailor made to walk the line, the unassuming, bright-eyed twelve year old girl was obviously destined for supermodel stardom before she could understand calculus. Fully encouraged by her mother Genevieve to participate in Jamaican designer, Elaine Witter-Layne’s Kingston charity fashion show that weekend, she went along with the flow mostly to appease her mother and to playfully brag to her girls that she had participated in a real fashion show. Fast forward to show night and twelve year old Nicola Vassell permanently struts, poses and smiles quite unknowingly into the glamorous world of fashion.
Years after her premier at Witter-Layne’s Charity Big Sister Movement Fashion Show in Kingston, the 5’9” lean dark beauty has graced the major catwalks in New York, Milan, South Africa and is a regular amongst the pages of Vogue, Esquire and Mademoiselle. Arguably one of the best, most successful and one of the most respected Black models in the world, Nicola ‘Nikki’ Vassell is by virtue of her appearance, humble personality and accomplishments, an absolutely breathtaking and phenomenal Jamaican woman.
Spotted by founder and CEO of Pulse Investments Kingsley Cooper as a 13 year old, first form student at the Campion College, Cooper told the Vassell family that their daughter was exquisite and that a career in modeling was hers for the taking. While undoubtedly pleased to hear of their daughter’s potential, Nicola’s parents, Clive and Genevieve, advised their daughter that her education above all things would have to be priority. The years fly by and Nicola aka Nikki, a whiz at school, captured eight CXC passes and soon turned her attention once again at the world of fashion.
She signed up for the Pulse Fashion Model Competition in 1994 and easily took the top honours. Immediately after her win, the promising Caribbean jewel was personally directed and advised by l’Agence booker Nadia Sharik. That summer, the Fashion Model winner made trips to Miami and New York to seek prospective clients but so mentally unprepared was she for the changes she was told to make including a complete makeover and a haircut, that Nikki concluded the trip unsuccessful. Disappointed, she returned to Jamaica and went to pursue further A’Level studies.
A ‘model’s career’ sought Nikki out again after she completed the A Level curriculum and she returned to New York with advisor Nadia Sharik determined to make ‘model magic’. The second visit proved to be the charm as the voluptuous beauty had settled and embraced the realities of the model line of work. She landed Guess Jeans as her first campaign and Nikki’s agency Click models soon had a ‘Grace Jones reincarnate’.
Some Armani Exchange, Avon, Kenneth Cole, Gap, Pantene shampoo, Cover Girl campaigns as well as some American Cosmopolitian, Honey, O Magazine (Oprah’s Magazine), Glamour, Jane, Italian, German and American Vogue editorials later, little Nikki Vassell has earned the reputation of a ‘highly potent fashion force’.
A ‘sassy lil thing’ on the runway and a sexy silhouette in her editorials and covers, the Balenciaga, Gucci and Chloe designs lover has an extensive client list including Ann Taylor, Pepe Jeans, Saks Fifth Avenue, Polo Jeans and Aveda. Her magnificent success in the fashion business however has rendered great lessons about the industry, “The world of fashion is all about business and as such is to be treated this way. All models want to make it to the top but the truth is, not all will. You won’t always get ‘that’ job so it’s important that you build a defence mechanism because rejection happens daily.”
Nikki has not only created a stir in fashion circles but in fine arts as well. She enrolled in a Liberal Arts Degree program in Manhattan and after her first semester had an amazing 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA). She began working in the arts world two years after completing her degree and is currently the director at Deitch Gallery located in SoHo Manhattan, “There is so much fluidity. You get to learn everything.” gushes Nikki about her job as Dietch Director. This spring, she organized her own exhibition project, titled ‘Powers of 10: Successive Orders of Formal and Psychological Magnitude’ in addition to coordinating the gallery’s recent Francesco Clemente exhibition and accompanying catalogue, “Francesco Clemente Works 1971-1979,” which was on view May 3-June 2, 2007.
Beauty as well as brains, the Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Chloe, Marithe Francois Girbaud star is undoubtedly one of Jamaica’s finest and sultriest exports as well as a ‘model’ example.