Iconic model to be honoured at fashion event
Sheila’s style advice
• Don’t conform to the fashion of the day. Mrs Ming-Burgess’s style has not changed very much over the years.
“It’s classic elegant, that’s what I term myself,” she said. “I found out what suited me and what worked best for my frame at a pretty young age rather than falling into the fashion trap that I need every new pair of shoes or every new style that comes out.
“Not every fashion trend is going to suit you, so know yourself and know what you’re comfortable in.”
• Get as much wear as possible out of your wardrobe. Mrs Ming-Burgess tends to buy more separates than dresses. “That way I can mix the trousers or skirts with a top or jacket and people think you have a lot of clothes and an entirely different outfit on.
“I might wear something and then wear it again two months later, but with a different top. I call it recycling.”
• Stick to one basic colour palette.
Mrs Ming-Burgess describes herself as an “autumnal person” — her favourite colours are rust, gold, black, white and red.
“I might wear those with a pop of colour like turquoise or blue, but by sticking to those basic colours I can always add to it or subtract,” she said.
“So I put on accessories or a scarf that will accent it.”
Sheila Ming-Burgess was one of a handful of black women who graced catwalks in the 1960s. She modelled for the fashion-forward in such places as Hong Kong, Israel, the Seychelles, Germany, France and Italy over her two-decade career.
She also featured in music videos for top artists of the 1980s: Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love and Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf.
She landed her dream career after a visiting fashion photographer spotted her at the Hamilton Princess. She followed him to England when she was still a teenager.
“There weren’t many black models in Europe at that point in the late 1960s and early 70s,” she said.
“When I got to London at 17 I think there were maybe one or two. That’s actually why I chose to move to London, because New York had tons of black models.
“Plus, they loved models from Europe, so I thought it would open doors.”
Mrs Ming-Burgess will be honoured alongside the late Polly Hornburg on Monday. The special event will be hosted by the City of Hamilton, which decided to pay hommage to local icons as part of its Bermuda Fashion Festival.
“We need to know where we came from to know where we are going — and growing,” explained executive director Danilee Trott.
Growing up in Devonshire, Mrs Ming-Burgess was a skinny girl with a love of fashion.
She would practice the poses she saw in Glamour and Vogue magazines in front of her bedroom mirror. She also took pride in making her own outfits for big events such as Cup Match.
“I don’t know where it came from because no one in my family wanted to take up modelling or fashion either,” she said. “My love of clothes and always wanting to look good in clothes is where it stemmed from.”
She found work at Calypso, the retail store founded by Mrs Hornburg, who had established a modelling career of her own in New York in the 1940s. Mrs Ming-Burgess also got a job on the side modelling for cruise ships and hotels. Her lucky break came in a fashion show at the Hamilton Princess.
“I was modelling around the pool at the hotel and [the photographer] asked me if I had an agent. Of course, in those days in Bermuda they didn’t have modelling agents.
“He said, ‘I’m doing a shoot in Barbados and would like for you to be one of the models, would you like to come?’. I told him he would have to speak to my mother. He did and she agreed.”
From day one it was a very competitive industry. “I stayed in Woking in Surrey, England. Then from there we went to Barbados and did the shoot,” she said. “When I got back the first thing I did was start calling modelling agencies at half-hour intervals.
“The first two refused but the third one took me on.”
It was a “very bold and cocky” move; reality set in only moments later.
“I thought, ‘Ok, what do I do now?’,” she said. “My dream was now being manifested. I was a girl from Bermuda now living in London. My family wasn’t there and it was a bit intimidating at first because I was totally new to it.
“I had done fashion shows here in Bermuda but it’s nothing in comparison to the ones out there.
“Then you see all these beautiful models coming into the auditions and you think, ‘Can I do this?’.”
She refused to let other know models know she was scared.
“Sometimes I would sit in the corner before an audition and put on this confident face, but inside you’re shaking and wondering what the other girls think of you,” she said.
Mrs Ming-Burgess went on to be named Mode Avante Garde Magazine’s Model of the Year in the 1970s. Designers were also calling the agency to ask for her by name. She was also the face of a Tia Maria commercial filmed in Jamaica.
The highlight of her career came at a fashion show in Tel Aviv.
“That’s when I got my first standing ovation,” she said. “I was modelling for a fashion show for Gottex, a swim, lounge and beachwear company.
“To me it was like they were saying, ‘We all really liked and appreciate what you do’. I was really just amazed that I was getting paid to do something that I loved so much. The paycheque was a bonus because I loved it.”
Mrs Ming-Burgess, who survived cancer twice, went on to write a faith-based book, Fashioned for Reigning — Healing and Encouraging Scriptures.
Her advice to anyone hoping to pursue a career in modelling is to never compromise your standards or principles.
“You have to know yourself and your limitations,” she said. “There are many pitfalls that one can get into in the modelling world, but don’t forget what you know or believe just to get a job.
“It may be a situation where you’re offered a lot of money, but have to lower your standards or your principles. My advice would be to just stop and really listen to your own gut and intuition.”
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