Wichitans shine in spotlight, on runway

10/09/2011 12:00 AM

10/10/2011 1:44 PM

After covering fashion for three decades, I still enjoy learning about people from our fair city who have had extraordinary experiences in the fashion business.

Last week, I talked with three multitalented people who are extremely nice and well-mannered. And their good looks have led to some big adventures:

Maria Bradley

The 17-year-old started modeling with Models and Images a few years ago and thought it was time to update her modeling portfolio. So she went to Chicago.

The photographer, Simon Perry, sent her photos to a casting director in New York, and she ended up getting several jobs during New York Fashion Week in September.

Maria walked in the Alexander Wang, Tommy Hilfiger, Proenza and Eden shows, and also worked a Gap presentation.

"One photographer showed interest, and it just blew up from there. It's crazy," she said.

What's crazy is that she was snapped up and got exclusives with Versace and Versus in Italy and Balenciaga in Paris during fashion weeks there.

"I knew an exclusive had to be good, but I didn't know exactly what that meant," Maria told me. "I'm not good with modeling terms."

What it meant was while some models were paying their own way in hopes of getting booked, she was given a plane ticket, hotel accommodations and a driver.

She worked the show and all week at the fashion house.

"They tweak the outfits, or they add accessories. They constantly change things. They work so hard. Sometimes it was a 16-hour day," Maria said. "I did get homesick, but it went by quickly because I was so busy."

Behind the scenes, she says the other models were easy to get along with and, overall, everyone was nice.

When she is home, she attends Maize High School, where she is a senior. When she's traveling, she does school work online.

Needless to say, her friends are very impressed.

"They love hearing my stories I come home with," she said.

At the Versace show, the makeup was simple and more natural, but stylists went to work on the model's hair.

"They put extensions in my hair and made it look very voluminous," she said. The stylists doubled the amount of hair she has.

It was a month-long adventure that was fun and lucrative.

"The money goes straight into my college fund," she said.

Maria doesn't know when she'll be off and running again, but she won't forget where she's from. She mentioned twice that she knows the importance of staying grounded.

"I will always appreciate what Maryann (VanSickle) at Models and Images did for me. She gave me the spark that started it all. And I love saying I'm from Kansas. Kansas is my trademark," Maria said.

Manny Thompson

This 23-year-old is another local person who can't believe what's been happening in his life lately.

He is the Kansas representative in the Cosmopolitan magazine Hottest Bachelor Contest.

A former teacher of Manny's sent his picture in, and Cosmo editors selected it from all the photos from Kansas.

In March, Manny got the call and flew to Los Angeles for a few days. He had a photo shoot and taped segments for "Entertainment Tonight."

Manny has modeled for The Wichita Eagle, is signed with Models and Images — and is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.

He's a senior at Wichita State University majoring in criminal justice and will graduate in December. He's a professional boxer, a student and an intern, and a community volunteer. He spends one weekend a month with the Army Reserves.

And now, in his few minutes of spare time, telling people to go to Cosmopolitan.com and vote for him. You can take a look at the magazine when it hits the stands Oct. 11.

"I plan on getting my master's degree next, so that $10,000 prize money would come in handy," he said, flashing his wide smile.

He goes to New York on Oct. 16 for Cosmo's media week, with appearances on "The Today Show," "Access Hollywood" and "E! News," to mention a few.

"It's a good mix of guys. There's a professional race car driver, a surfer, guys in the military, a grad student in engineering. All good guys, but I want to win," he said.

He'll come back from New York a couple of days early because he has classes.

He says the modeling has been "something to have fun with" but was happy to have the experience when he was at the shoot in Los Angeles.

"I think I had some confidence some others didn't. They weren't used to being in front of the camera," he said.

He loved California, can't wait to see New York, but says he's very happy to be representing Kansas.

"This is a great state with great people, and it's full of opportunities if you look for them and ask questions."

"I didn't even see college — or any of this happening when I was younger. I'm actually surprised and excited for every opportunity, and I just jump on it," he said.

Nathan Williams

This 23-year-old agrees with Manny, who is a long-time friend: When an opportunity presents itself, go for it.

Nate graduated from Southeast High School in 2006, attended Friends University on a music scholarship, then, because he had friends in Warsaw, Poland, decided to pack up and go there.

His plan was to continue playing his trumpet, something he'd done since he was 10 years old, and see if he could make a living composing and performing.

He got gigs and was making money — but without trying, he landed a different type of gig. It started when he was on a bus going to meet some friends at KFC.

"A Russian lady walked up to me and said she was an art director at some school and she wanted to do a sculpture of my head," Nate said. "It was so random, but why not? I'm cool with anything like that, and she paid me."

Not long after that, he got a call from the Orange Modeling Agency. Before he knew it, he was in several shows and magazines.

Had he ever thought about modeling?

"My mom always said I should do that, but you never listen," he said.

He was home for a visit and had plenty of stories to tell.

When asked if he'd ever worn anything on the runway that he couldn't wait to take off, he showed me a photo of him in a purple plaid skirt and shirt.

"I take so much crap from my friends who think of me only as Nathan the musician," he said, shaking his head.

He wears a size 14 shoe, and, for that particular outfit, had to wear a pair of purple size 10 Doc Martens.

"It was the worst experience of my life," he said. "Modeling is hard work, but it pays, so you do what they ask."

He says that, just like the music business, the pay depends on the gig. Overall, modeling pays better.

The accomplished musician prefers the music world to the fashion industry.

"I like the getting up there and playing part of the business. And since I have the Polish vocabulary of a three-year-old, music helps me cross the language barrier," he said.

He'll soon leave on the 21-hour flight back to Poland in time for Fashion Week.

Even though juggling his job schedules can be challenging, Nate says he never wants a 9-to-5 job. "I have to get out and go places, see things. The more I see, the happier I am."

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