Michelle Dee, daughter of model-actress Melanie Marquez with former husband Derek Dee, made her modeling debut Tuesday wearing a two-piece off-white cotton ensemble for Bench.
She may be a newbie, but the 20-year-old psychology student from De la Salle University knew what to expect after growing up and being exposed to her mother.
“Being in the same household has kind of prepared me for life as a model,” said the 5’9” chinita looker.
Dee, with Filipino-American model Kelsey Merritt and New York-based American model Chad White, was one of the featured models when Suyen Corp., led by its chair Ben Chan, hosted an exclusive luncheon fashion show at the Blackbird restaurant, featuring the 2016 Spring-Summer collection of Bench, Human, Kashieca and Bench Body.
Dee, one of Marquez’s six children (she has two girls with Derek), is raring to follow in her mother’s footsteps, even venture abroad, as soon as she finishes school.
Without her mom’s knowledge, she has been quietly accepting offers from various stylists and magazines to do photo shoots.
“I came to shoots as Michelle Dee,” she said. “I never told them that I’m also a Marquez until they started asking about my background.”
She had waited for months for a “sign, if modeling was really for me.” That sign came when Chan offered her to be one of Bench’s star models in its current marketing campaign.
When Marquez, who shuttles between the Philippines and the United States, learned about her daughter’s decision, she welcomed it and gave her some practical advice.
Project the clothes
Marquez, who was Miss International in 1979 before nearly bagging the Supermodel title several years later, reminded her daughter that as soon as she signs up and steps on the runway, she’s no longer wearing her own clothes, but those of other people.
“She told me to make sure that I project the clothes well because the designer or retailer’s ultimate objective is for other people to buy it,” said Dee. “I shouldn’t fuss over myself too much. My main concern as a model should always be how to best carry the clothes.”
Days before her debut, Dee was rehearsing like crazy at home by walking back and forth and studying her angles. The last thing she wanted to do was to embarrass herself in front of other people, including her mom, who went out of her way to see her daughter make a splash.
Unlike Dee, 19-year-old Merritt was no newbie on the ramp. The communication arts student from Ateneo has spent a few months in New York exploring her options after signing up with Wilhelmina.
“But this is my first time modeling for Kashieca, and I’m so honored,” Merritt, who modeled a black dress shirt, said. “By the way, have you seen my Kashieca billboard along Edsa in Magallanes? They unveiled it last week. People didn’t recognize me. They say I look different.”
Voted last year by readers of a woman’s glossy as one of the country’s “Eight Sexiest Models,” Merritt is touted by industry observers as the next biggest thing since Georgina Wilson, one of her idols in the business.
“Honestly, I’m just going to keep doing what I do. I don’t want to say naman that I don’t want it to happen. If it does, okay. If it doesn’t, okay din,” said the 5’8” mannequin.
She had to take a break from school some time ago after her agents in Wilhelmina asked her to fly to New York. But it was also her unfinished education that made her come back.
They wanted Merritt to finish college in the Big Apple, while modeling on the side. But after she did the math, she confirmed what she knew all along.
“It would be too expensive for me to study in New York,” she said. “Since I know my priorities, I opted to come back and finish what I started here.”
But as soon as she graduates, she plans to fly back to New York to model full-time. She’s heartened by talk that she could very well be the next Pia Wurtzbach or Anne Curtis should she pursue either beauty pageants or showbiz.
White, who only had a few hours of sleep, arrived the night before from New York. Since he knew he would be required to strip to his undies as one Bench Body’s featured models, the Oregon native even found time in the morning to squeeze in several hours at the gym.
White, 30, felt he needed to work out after eating a late dinner of cookies and milk.
“When I’m in New York, I’d be so talkative and full of energy,” he said apologetically. “But because of the long flight and the time difference, I feel zapped.”
When we assured him that there was nothing wrong with his body, which everyone in the room saw earlier, the soft-spoken White readily admitted that “I’m my worst critic.
“If I look at my photo and I’m not pleased with myself, I think my friends and clients won’t be pleased, either,” he said. “My dad and friends always tell me that I need to relax. I guess I’m just competing with myself.”
But he has no issues slipping into Bench Body’s electric blue and green undies, one of several bold shades the underwear brand will be introducing this summer.
“It’s the story of my life,” White said with a wry smile. “Ever since I was a kid, I have been used to going around the house in my underwear. It’s nothing new to me. I never really liked wearing clothes.”
It sounds ironic coming from one of New York’s most liked male models. After doing successful ad campaigns for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger and Dolce & Gabbana, White would rather run around naked.
“I learned how to cook because in this business, I need to feed myself right,” he said. “I can cook almost any kind of dishes. But I’ve become quite an expert at grilling. The way I grill chicken, beef and shrimp is very precise.”
Cooking for him, he added, “is like meditation.” And, ladies, he doesn’t mind washing the dishes, too, as long as you swap stories with him in the kitchen.
If there’s one thing he loves about modeling, apart from the travel, it’s the opportunity to collaborate with photographers, designers, stylists and makeup artists to do art in ad campaigns and editorials.
Like most Americans who conquered New York, White lived the life of the typical party-loving Manhattanite. He loved the lifestyle, until he started asking himself one day “Is this what I really want?”
“I began asking myself, are you doing what you really wanted to do?”
With this realization, White packed his bags and moved to Brooklyn. Although it’s a mere 10 minutes away from the center of New York, he might as well be living in a different world.
“I also like to have fun,” he said. “But this is who I am. I enjoy the calm more. I’m an old soul.”