Meet Grace Mahary: Canadian basketball player-turned-Givenchy model. The 5'11" stunner, who is 22 years old, flew to Paris this past March, met with Riccardo Tisci, booked an exclusive spot in Givenchy’s Fall/Winter 2012 ready-to-wear show. It was her world debut. We caught up with her to talk about basketball, being discovered and Givenchy, of course …
Tell me a bit about your childhood.
I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in a pretty small city. I grew up there, and I played basketball [with my] two older brothers. My parents moved to Canada in 1983 from Eritrea, East Africa — it’s in North Africa right above Ethiopia. No one knows about it. I played basketball in school, so [saying I’m a] tomboy is an understatement.
How were you discovered?
Like most models, I guess you are approached a couple times. I was in Toronto with my family in the mall, and they came up to me, and I was like, "No, not a chance." [Because] I didn’t care about anything except for basketball and school; I didn’t know what modeling was [about]. After a few years of them being persistent, I decided, I'm going to go to Toronto and see what this is all about, and Elmer Olsen took me onboard.
What do your parents think about your new career?
My mom is absolutely ecstatic about [it]; she was the one that was like, [drops in accent] "Why do you need to play basketball, why? Be a girl." Sorry, Mom, for the accent. My dad is all about school, but he’s starting to accept and understand how serious this business can really be. You can make a profession out of this.
So, it seems you were really big on basketball. What made you say, "Okay, fine, I’ll give modeling a shot"?
I got my tooth knocked in, actually. After five years of saying, "You know, Elmer, I don’t want to go travel to do this stuff," there was [then] a huge accident on the court. I was [going] for a rebound and this girl … she took her elbow and — boom! — right against my top lip. In an instant I knew it [was] gone. I went to the bathroom and my left cheek is pushed back, and I had a moment, like, Maybe I should give this a shot before it's all over. Last year, I had to take a break from school and basketball, so I went to Paris, and then I traveled to South Africa and London.
This season you hit it big with the Givenchy exclusive for fall 2012. So tell me how that booking came about.
I was actually on [my] way to a different casting, and my booking agent in Paris said, "Grace, drop everything — you are going to go to Givenchy." I jumped on the metro and went up there. At first, I thought I was in the middle of nowhere [because] I was in the suburbs of Paris, [but then] I saw another model walking in, and I said, "Okay, good. I’m not in the middle of nowhere." I go in, and — lo and behold — Riccardo [Tisci] is sitting there on this big couch listening to music, and I did not know if I should be nervous or excited. So, I walked for him, and he was interested in where I was from. Actually, they made me walk again, and then they said I was in the right place at the right time.
And after that?
I did the looks [for the show], and then I did the show. The team is really amazing. When you are working around people that talented, everything is just so organized, and you feel kind of inspired.