Following in grandma's stilettos

Veteran model grooming granddaughter for fashion industry

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, May 26, 2019

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At last Saturday's staging of Fashion Block, the outdoor runway show organised by local modelling agency Saint International as part of StyleWeek Jamaica, there was no prouder grandmother in the house than veteran Jamaican model Althea Laing.

Among the scores of young models who went down the long runway erected in the middle of Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston was Laing's 17-year-old granddaughter Sidnei, who was taken on as one of the new faces by head of Saint International Deiwght Peters earlier this year. Sidnei is the daughter of Laing's older son. She is a student at Belair High School in Manchester and is in the midst of her final examinations.

“Words fail to adequately describe what I felt inside when I saw her coming down that runway,” Laing beamed in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“A few weeks ago she participated in the Fashion Face of the Caribbean competition organised by Saint, and I thought she was great. But when I saw her on that giant runway I began to see her in a whole new light. What I saw was this totally different person. She is usually all quiet, sophisticated and ladylike, but what I saw coming down that runway was spunk and pizazz. I saw myself coming down that runway... If I may say so,” said the now 63-year-old Laing.

In 1985 Laing created a stir in the local fashion industry when she won the Miss Jamaica Fashion Model pageant. With her strong features and a personality to match, she became the standard-bearer for the development of local models. She became a staple on the local fashion show scene. The highlight of her trailblazing career would come in 1986 when she snagged the cover of the iconic American publication Essence, the first for a Jamaican model. She would repeat that feat in 1992 with a second Essence cover. With modelling behind her she returned to her first love, teaching as well as providing grooming and etiquette training.

Laing strongly believes that it is a combination of genetics as well as socialisation that led her granddaughter to the world of fashion and modelling.

“I am her legal guardian...she has lived with me since she was three years old. She has seen me on fashion shows, seen the photographs and is aware of my experiences as a model — so there is that. Then comes the genetics. She is taller than I am and has the look. I took her to Saint three years ago, but at that time I don't believe she was ready; now she wants it. It is something that she wants to do and I am here to support her 100 per cent,” she said.

Having experienced the world of modelling locally and internationally, Laing is in an ideal position to guide and advise her granddaughter on the ups and downs of the industry. She is however confident that the her young charge is grounded and prepared for whatever may come her way.

“Sidnei truly understands the value of respect for self. I have taught her that, so I really don't fear that she could fall prey to some of the negatives that the industry represents. That is one of the reasons why I am so confident that she is with an agency like Saint, which is aligned with my own core values — so I feel contented with her becoming a model. I have also advised her on how to identify persons in the industry who will want to use models for sexual pleasure... you know the ones who only compliment you because they have ulterior motives. Then there is the matter of rejection. She has to understand how to turn negatives into positives. It's all about next, and keep it moving.”

Always one to support the development of young people, Laing is currently deep into planning and preparation for her image enhancement workshops for young girls, which will be held from July 8 to 13 and 15 to 20 and which targets girls between the ages of 8 and 15.

“Sidnei has always been part of this over the years. It serves to empower young girls for life. The areas covered include motivation, poise and posture, social graces, and the art of communication. This year we will also be looking at teens and peer pressure, and teens and mental health,”

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