Published September 28. 2013 4:00AM
Maggie J. Skinner's path to New York Fashion Week began, improbably enough, at this year's Sailfest fireworks.
She was at her father Jeff Skinner's house in Groton for the pyrotechnics, and a friend of her aunt's saw Skinner - who's 15 years old, 6 feet tall, and stunning - and suggested she contact her sister, Pam Masucci, who runs a modeling agency in Westerly.
That was July. Now, in October, Skinner has already worked her first New York Fashion Week event.
In between, she has modeled for two designers at StyleWeek Northeast in Providence and was shot by New York fashion photographer Alex Palombo in Newport.
And she's been accepted into the development program of agent Paul Fisher's company The Network. Fisher is quite a name in the industry; he has represented models from Naomi Campbell to Stephanie Seymour and is filming "I Can Make You a Supermodel," a series that will air on The CW in March.
Skinner, who lives in Mystic, has thought about being a model since she was 12 years old and 5-foot-8. Because of her height, she says, she's always gotten questions about whether she models - or plays basketball. She doesn't play basketball, by the way; she is, though, a member of Mystic Ballet's junior company.
She had made some small attempts to get into the modeling world on her own, but it wasn't until Masucci of The Beauty Within Model Management in Westerly became her agent that things began percolating.
One of the latest coups was modeling for Candice Wu Couture designs during New York's Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. It wasn't part of the official shows at Lincoln Center but it was held across the street, on the Empire Hotel rooftop.
The original plan was for the women to do installation modeling, meaning they would stand on platforms as people strolled by.
Skinner was decked out in a gown that was long in front and sported a three- to four-foot train. She was bedecked in 100 pounds' worth of elaborate House of Cach jewelry.
And her high-heel shoes were two sizes too big.
"I was saying, 'Thank the Lord this isn't a runway show because I'd fall on my face wearing this jewelry and these shoes and this dress,'" she recalls with a laugh.
Well, they did, in fact, end up doing a runway show, with the models walking down stairs and through the audience. Skinner says that the floors were tiled, with spaces between each tile serving as potentially dangerous crannies for high heels.
"I was really scared," Skinners says. But, she adds, "It turned out beautifully, and it was so much fun."
Masucci says that Alexa Cach of the House of Cach told her that Skinner has a huge future.
And Skinner did an impressive enough job that Wu is having her be an installation model Monday for her Boston Fashion Week show at the W Hotel.
Skinner credits her ballet training with helping her in modeling. It has made her conscious of her body and how to hold herself in a posture, for instance, and it has helped her feel comfortable on stage - or, in this case, on a runway.
And Skinner does have a little modeling in her family background. Her mother, Annie Chapman, did some local runway modeling when she was in school. She modeled for New London's Sposa Bella which used to be on Captain's Walk (her late aunt was a seamstress for the designer/owner), and she was in Fitch Senior High School's model/fashion show in 1985.
Skinner, who is an A student and takes honors classes, attended Waldorf schools in her younger years and is now a freshman at Stonington High School. She comes across as thoughtful and humble - and a normal kid. On the day of this interview, she was heading off later to the high school football game.
She has three younger siblings, and, Chapman says, "She is a very big support system to them whether it's baking them a birthday cake, playing games, helping with homework, or putting up ballet buns."
Skinner's first foray into modeling was in mid-July, when Masucci invited her to an open casting in Pawtucket, R.I., and had her walk in front of a video camera and say a few things.
"She's got this positive energy. She's got this poise," Masucci says, adding she was happy to hear Skinner was a dancer because she knows dancers are wonderful runway walkers. Masucci was impressed enough to ask Skinner if she could head immediately to Providence for the casting for StyleWeek Northeast. She did - and, for just the third time in her life, did a runway walk.
"There's all these beautiful models sitting there ..." she says. "They're using all this terminology I never heard. I didn't know what I was doing."
She walked in front of 30 designers, and two - Amy Stetkiewicz and Susan Troy - selected her.
When the time came for the actual shows at the end of August, Skinner says, "I was so nervous backstage, I couldn't even swallow. I walked out on stage, and everything just disappeared, and it was so much fun. I just loved it - the music and the people, and you walk out and everyone's taking pictures of you, and you feel like a superstar or something."
She got plenty of compliments afterward, and people were amazed it was her first show.
And then, the next morning, she headed to her first day at Stonington High School.
One of the biggest potential leaps is her admission into Paul Fisher's development program. Masucci's agency has a contact with Fisher, and she sent him a video of Skinner. He requested an interview with her via Skype. They spoke for half an hour, and Fisher ended by saying he was going to ask Masucci to send Skinner's digitals to him. Skinner's mother, who was there for the interview, said she thought he had those already. Fisher's assistant went to look, and Fisher said he'd get back to Skinner in 24 to 48 hours. Another model sat down for an interview at the computer Skinner had been at.
But when Fisher came back on-screen, he asked to see Skinner again.
He said, smiling, "It didn't take me 24 hours."
He not only accepted her into the development program, but he also said he liked her freckles and that they were what was going to make her different. He even suggested she go out into the sun to bring the freckles out more.
Skinner has never been a fan of her own freckles or her nose - two of her features that Fisher really noted in a positive way.
Skinner says that one of the reasons she wants to become a model is because it would give her a way to reach a wider audience to talk about her interest in animal rights and humanitarian and environmental issues. (Skinner has been a vegetarian pretty much her whole life.)
"When (Fisher) was interviewing me, he asked why I wanted to be a model," Skinner says. "I said it gives me a great platform to express to people and share my views on animal rights and (the other issues) I believe in."
After she explained all that, she recalls, Fisher looked at her for a second, laughed, and said, "Maggie, you had me at hello."