Dress to Kill Magazine has called her one of the top 10 Canadian models to watch. She’s appeared on the cover of Canada’s Fashion Magazine, and in the pages of Vogue in Britain, Italy, Ukraine and elsewhere. She’s walked the runways all over the world, including the fashion meccas of London, Paris, New York City, and Milan.
Steven Meisel and Mario Testino have aimed their lenses at her. Prada, Givenchy, Burberry, Dior, Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham — they’ve all chosen her to wear their latest designs in some of the planet’s biggest fashion shows.
During some rare down time this month, Amber Witcomb had a chance to visit the family home in Virgil, her mother Alison, dad Steve and brother Maxwell, and reflect on the whirlwind that has been her last few years.
Amber was discovered at 18 years old by agent Sean Penhall of Want Management outside a music festival in Toronto. He was struck by her look. “She had flowers in her hair, this tall, avatar, almost alien beautiful woman.” He handed her his card, and she got in touch with him shortly after that. Penhall says once she signed with him, he knew she was going to be his first star.
However, as the Holy Cross graduate was working on a communications degree at Brock University, mom Alison convinced her to take it slow with her modelling career. The self-described former tomboy, who slouched a lot in high school so as not to tower over the boys, lacked the confidence needed for success as a model. In preparation for the runways, walking and posture lessons began, and Penhall, whose career in fashion began as a photographer, worked on getting her comfortable in front of the camera.
While finishing her studies at Brock, having worked part-time at both the Valu-mart in Virgil as a cashier and at Ravine Vineyard, Witcomb began booking some shoots in Toronto. But as Penhall says, she really wasn’t catching on there. A trip to New York City to meet with some top agencies also yielded the same results. Penhall says, “a girl like Amber is very specific. This is a business of convincing, and they just didn’t understand her beauty.”
At one point, the continuous rejection had Amber ready to quit. Penhall drove to her Niagara-on-the-Lake home to convince her to keep at it. He sent her to Sydney, Australia, where she was able to work with a boutique modelling agency who helped her work on her image.
Perhaps not too surprising for a girl who emigrated to Canada from the U.K., a trip to Europe proved to be the turning point for Amber’s career. She and Penhall visited over 60 different agencies on that continent, finding many of them crazy for her look, often described with terms such as “eccentrically elegant” and “aristocratic chic.”
That trip eventually led to her signing with some of the European fashion world’s top agencies. She was chosen by JW Anderson and Mulberry for their 2016 shows. Then came Prada.
Amber credits the Spring 2017 Prada show as her breakthrough moment. She made the decision to let the stylists at that show cut her hair into a chin-length bob.
“That’s when things catapulted for me,” says Amber. “Prada is one of those shows in the fashion world that everyone watches. After I did the Prada show, everything went insane.”
In the short time since, her star has ascended. She has become an in-demand model for many of the top designers around the world. Her career has progressed to the point where auditions may soon be a thing of the past, as designers, stylists and show producers now ask for her by name.
Besides the bob, Amber’s other trademark has become her “grumpy scowl.” She laughs about this, as she says she really skipped those “grumpy teenage years.” Indeed, her friends and family attest to the fact that she has always been a happy girl. Amber credits her love for musical theatre, developed while a student at Holy Cross, for her ability to sell the scowl so well.
Recently, she earned the coveted spot as closer for Richard Quinn’s Fall/Winter 2019 show. She stepped onto the runway to the accompaniment of a full live orchestra, wearing a striking white feathered wedding gown. And her favourite house, Dior, flew her and 40 other girls to Shanghai for two days, just so she could wear an outfit for about 15 seconds on the runway.
Amber now calls London, England home. There, the 24-year-old shares a flat with her boyfriend and two friends, all three of whom have no involvement in the fashion world. That home base makes sense these days, as her work takes her all over the world for 12-hour day after 12-hour day, with multiple hairstylists, make-up artists, and photographers poking and prodding at her.
She says she remarkably has not experienced what many perceive to be the “cattiness” of the modelling world. She now has friends from around the globe. With her daughter so far away so much of the time, mom Alison is comforted knowing that she is amongst friends in the fashion world.
Alison tells the story of visiting her daughter at a Victoria Beckham show in New York. Amber was able to get Alison backstage, to watch as she was getting prepared for the runway. Who walks by but David Beckham himself, just two short feet away from Alison. She became flushed and tongue-tied, while Amber, sitting in a chair across the room, texted her mom, urging her to stay cool. Impossible.
Could Amber become Niagara’s next supermodel, something the region hasn’t seen since the heady days of St. Catharines native Linda Evangelista and her famous ‘I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day’ comment?
Penhall says Amber “continues to excite artists, photographers and clients with her look. There is no one in the world that looks like her. There is something in her soul that you can’t get from other models.” He adds that “if she wants, she can do this her whole life.”
Amber herself says “I know how lucky I am. It could all end at any time.” She adds “there is almost a sell-by date — they want you when you’re young and fresh, and I struggle with that at times.” She credits her team of agents who are striving to make her into a model who will last for years. She is committed to making this her career, and doesn’t want to be a fad for two seasons.
In the meantime, she heads back to her London home, waiting for the phone to ring, as it so often does. It will be one of those agents, asking her to drop everything and get to the airport immediately. She’ll get on that plane, wearing her everyday choice of baggy menswear, en route to another runway show or photo shoot. Despite the craziness of her life right now, through all that time spent in the air flying across the globe, Amber continues to stay incredibly grounded.