A Dream of Beauty: A Profile of Kelsey Olson

Part III: Ideal of Yesterday

Editorial in ''Inspire'' magazine; photograph by Jason Vrolijk

by Heinrich Saint-Germain

(Continued from Part II.)

For the final portion of our discussion, I proposed to show Kelsey a collection of her most memorable modelling images—the pictures that had made the greatest impact on the general public—so that she could share her impressions of the photographs, as well as her reminiscences from the shoots in question. I was interested to discover how she viewed her own work, and eager to learn more about the circumstances behind the creation of these indisputable masterpieces.

      “First off, of the many shots in your initial test, this was the general favourite,” I advised her, presenting a photograph from her celebrated Maria Rangel shoot, “because it actually shows your curvy waist.”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      “Yeah, there it is,” she consented wryly.

      “How old were you?”

      “Eighteen, maybe 19.”

      “Ah. Fresh as springtime,” I marvelled, prompting a chuckle. “Here, on the other hand, you were a bit more sensual. You previously mentioned the value of models practicing their craft. Had you perhaps seen a look like this in a magazine, or did it just come out of you: ‘Be sensual,’ and that’s what happened?”

      “Yeah. And being nervous, and being kind of like what you think [sensual] would be.”

      “That’s not yours, is it?” I inquired, indicating the an adorable puppy in another photograph from her first test, which made the picture very sweet. “It’s just so cute—the young girl with her favourite pet.”

      “Oh, no. It was just a dog that was outside. That was the cool thing about the photographer, Maria Rangel. We just went to these different places, and she used the environment.”

      “Okay, new shoot now.” I turned the page. “Had you practiced this look beforehand?”

      “Mm-mm,” she denied, shaking her head.

      “Not yet? You hadn’t started doing that yet—practicing?”

      “No, that was a random impulse.”

      “Where did the idea of putting your hand in your hair come from?”

      “I don’t know. I was probably just holding it down.”

      “But what an effect!” I enthused. “And look at your gaze. This is another one of your signature expressions—just looking directly, soulfully into the camera. Does that come naturally? Or would you rather not divulge your secrets?”

Test photograph by Stanley Debas

      “No, no, no,” she denied. “If you touch your face, it adds a sensual element.”

      “You mentioned that before. It’s a very interesting way of looking at it—considering what the reaction on the other end of the camera will be, thinking about the viewer.”

      “Yeah, that kind of helps drive it,” she agreed.

      “I’ve frequently invoked that concept on the forum,“ I reminded her, “the idea that you’re engaging the viewer, but I never knew if it was true or not.”

      The next image that I showed her was one of her all-time greatest. “I realize that I’m leading off each topic with an ‘Oh, my god, that’s so amazing’ reaction, but seriously, look at this.”

      “That was a photo I was really proud of,” she professed.

      “Fadil Berisha?”

      “No, it was, um…” she trailed off, struggling to remember the name.

      “No? I was misled, then, because I thought that it looked like his work.”

      “No, that was a photographer named Rick Day. He’s based out of New York.”

      “This was such an enchanting picture,” I emphasized.

      “Yeah, it was really beautiful.”

      “Are you wearing frost pink lipstick?” I asked, and conceded, “I have a soft spot for that.”

      “Yeah,” she confided, chuckling. “Yeah.”

Test photograph by Rick Day

      “Were you consciously playing up the fair-angel look?”

      “No, it was just the end of the day, and I was doing something, and he said, “No, don’t do that,” and then he said, ‘Okay.’ And then that’s what happened.”

      Only later, after seeing Kelsey’s modelling video, did I understand how rapid-fire the process of shooting is, how the changes from one pose to another are a blur of motion. I had always believed that each picture was carefully crafted and took minutes on end to perfect, but no, the true model’s art consists of being able to generate a host of fantastic looks in quick succession.

      “Parting your lips?” I noted, referring to a feature that especially distinguished the image.

      “Always remember to breathe,” she explained. “You always want to make sure you breathe. It’s an important thing.”

      I could imagine many beginner models forgetting this crucial element, then gasping for air and ruining a shot. But I remained curious as to how she felt when she gazed upon such a visionary image.

      “When you look at this, do you think of it as a completely different person, or is that a part of you?”

      “Sometimes I do that with pictures,” she acknowledged. “I feel like, ‘Whoa, that’s really… That’s a really nice…’ Especially if you’re not feeling your best, you feel, ‘Oh, I can’t relate to that right now.’ But no, I think that’s a very nice picture of me.”

      Although her last comment was encouraging, she still felt reticent about admiring her own work, so when her beauty was undeniable and apparent in an image, she felt disconnected from it, as if she simply could not believe that she was so astoundingly gorgeous. Yet seeing Kelsey right in front of me, not only could I confirm that she was every bit as lovely as she appeared in even her finest pictures, but more so. It was no trick of the camera. Her beauty was authentic and undeniable.

Modelling for Torrid, spring 2006; photograph by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “How do you feel about the fact that you represent these qualities to people?” I inquired. “I can’t imagine what that would be like—the awareness that people look at you and see an angel.”

      [AUDIO] “That’s… I mean, what can you say? Really, like, ‘Wow. Thank you,’” she ventured, a bit overwhelmed. The angel comparison touched something deep inside her. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me. But honestly, I’ve never thought that about myself. I’ve never compared myself to an angel. Not until I read it on your site.”

      Then she noticed the next picture that I wished to show her and laughed heartily. It broke the serious mood.

      “Oh, it’s just so funny.”

      “Your first job that I know about,” I introduced.

      “I worked for the Bon-Ton before, I think. But this is the start of it.”

      “This must at least be your first work for Torrid—and, as luck would have it, it was a prom shoot. Did you know that it would be beforehand?”

      “Yeah, but Torrid is generally catalogue, and this was more of the first lifestyle stuff, so I was just, like, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.’”

      “Yes, you did.”

      “Michael did,” she contradicted me. “He helped.”

      “Oh, he did? He helped coach you?”


      “Because you were getting into sensual territory here. This is a sexy pose.”

Kelsey on the Torrid.com cover page, March 2006

      “Yeah, I’d say so,” she granted, laughing, as if I’d stated the very obvious.

      “Diva on the crown,” I specified. “There’s an example of the ‘princess’ theme that has run through your work. Was it your impetus to do such a sexy pose, or Michael’s?”

      “I think they wanted it a little bit edgier.”

      “See, but this is a good kind of ‘edgy.’ This is not, ‘edgy ugly,’ but ‘edgy sensual,’ ‘edgy alluring.’”

      “Yeah, it’s still pretty,” she agreed.

      I introduced the next picture as her first Torrid cover.

      “Oh, my Gosh,” she recoiled, laughing. “That’s not good.”

      “Oh, I think it’s a lovely photo. Fairy-tale princess. It ties in with a running theme of your career. Were you excited to find out that you were on the Torrid cover?”

      “Uh, yeah,” she affirmed, again implying that the statement was obvious.

      “Your princess identity. Your first cover. You must have been proud of that.”

      “No, that was really exciting,” she admitted.

      “This was an outtake, never published on Torrid, but Michael gave it to me personally for the site,” I recounted. “There’s that vulnerable expression again, that ‘Help me. Help me, please. I’m so needy’ sensation, which is completely irresistible; the doe-eyed look in your eyes. Do you have to feel that sort of vulnerability within yourself when you project such looks?”

Torrid outtake by Michael Anthony Hermogeno, spring 2006

      “I think so. When something’s flowing, you just go through an array of emotions. You work with what you have.”

      “Ah, so for a shoot like this you’ll go through a number of expressions quickly: click, change, click.”

      “Oh, yeah,” she explained.

      “So it isn’t a case of making an effort to get one, specific look?”

      “Sometimes you do. But Michael, he’s very vocal,” she revealed. “He’ll say, ‘Okay, I don’t like that,’ or, ‘I like that.’ ‘Let’s go with this for a few frames, and then we’ll change.’ And then we’ll go to something else and see what else works.”

      The next image prompted Kelsey to react with an, “Oh, lord.”

      “It’s memorable,” I observed.

      “Yeah, that’s very dramatic.”

      “Was this a pose that you saw somewhere, or…?”

      “I’m sure I’ve seen things done like that, because obviously it’s been done before. But no, that was really interesting because of the energy that gets flowing during a shoot. Stanley [Debas] is very, ‘Yeah, hot, hot, hot, hot!’” she recalled, creating a vivid impression of the photographer’s manner. “So you think, ‘Okay,’ and then you just kind of go with it. So that was a little bit more dramatic.”

      As she said this, she plunged her hand into her tresses and flipped them over in her characteristic way. I could no longer keep myself from commenting on this mannerism. “There’s something that I’ve noticed. It’s one of your most enchanting traits—this magical thing that you do with your hair.”

      “I do the hair,” she admitted with a laugh. “I’m always touching it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. I’m always doing something.”

Test photograph by Stanley Debas

      “But it always seems to fall magically in place, as it’s doing right now. A photographer could shoot you at this very minute,” I raved. “I’ve always wondered if your hair somehow naturally arranges itself into such beautiful forms on its own, and sure enough, it does.”

      I proceeded to the next photo, pointing out, “I just thought that this was a very pretty top.”

      “It is,” she agreed.

      “I love this item on you. That shade of pink really is your colour. Would you ever wear something like this in real life, or is it a little too girly?”

      “No, it’s cute. I mean, I don’t know. I think it’s a little dated, but it’s cute, though.”

      “Well, what do I know about fashion?” I bemoaned, hanging my head in mock shame.

      “Oh, that’s Bon-Ton,” she announced, identifying the next image.

      “I love this because it evokes the idea of an Ice Princess, with you in white, with the delicate blue.”

      “That was one of my first jobs. That was interesting.”

      “What was interesting about it?”

      “Well, just because it’s catalogue, and it’s very slow moving, and each frame has to be different, but not too different,” she delineated.

      “I see. So if catalogue is shot the way that you just described, how would that compare to a different type of shoot?”

      “Well, for campaigns, or what they call “lifestyle,’ it’s free moving and not as posed, while in catalogue you’re basically just showing the item—you know, very soft,” she stated. “Kind of like how Nordstrom does theirs. Nordstrom is really pretty.”

Test photograph by Fadil Berisha

      The photographer of the next picture was never in doubt.

      “Fadil,” she testified immediately.

      “This looks like his style.”

      “Yeah. Definitely.”

      “How did you know that in this outfit—which is a sexy outfit by the way.”

      “Yes,” she assented with a giggle.

      “It bares some décolletage and so forth, and shows masses of hair flowing down over your shoulders. You know, I could run one forum just on your hair, another one just on your eyes…”

      She laughed merrily.

      “But what I was about to ask is, how did you know that of all of the different looks that you could have given, that this one, this kind of doe-eyed vulnerability, would be the most effective? Because you could have opted for all-out sexiness, or something like that. But no. You chose—”

      “Well, don’t you feel like it leaves room for your imagination a little bit, so it can be interpreted in many different ways?” she ventured.

      I paused, admiring her insight. “See, I kept asking that question, but in the end I got a fascinating answer. I knew it had to be there. You’re so creative with the way that you think.”

      “Oh, thank you,” she said graciously. I felt that she was becoming more confident in her responses, just as she was becoming freer about acknowledging her own beauty.

Test photograph by Fadil Berisha

      “This is from the same shoot,” I observed, indicating another Fadil photo. “And, of course, your hair is just—”

      “Whoosh,” she joked. “Yeah. He’s a very fast person, but he’s in high demand, so he kind of pumps it out.”

      The next image had an interesting story behind it.

      “Oh, my God.” She drew a breath.

      “Sydney’s Closet specifically gave me this for the forum,” I told her. “The whole campaign was nice, but I love the fact that they sent me this picture. The owner even provided a write-up about what the shooting experience was like. For a long time I thought that this was your first job.”

      “I think this might have been my first one,” Kelsey absorbed. “I don’t know if I got it through my agent. I don’t remember. But, yeah.”

      “They were so excited about using you. They already knew who you were and even wrote up an account for me about the whole experience. That alone should tell you how much of an impact you made right from the beginning, that there was something special about your work.”

      We turned to her first Hallowe’en shoot, featuring an image of Kelsey in naughty-nurse mode adopting some effective business with a stethoscope.

      “So embarrassing,” she murmured.


      “It’s just so silly.”

      “But it is kind of sexy,” I reassured her. “Did you relish the opportunity to be flat-out sexy in this manner?”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      “That’s what they wanted,” Kelsey volunteered, which neither confirmed nor denied my supposition.

      “Because that’s the sexiest that you had been up to that point. It’s direct, but not over the top.”

      “It is a little bit over the top, but that’s okay,” she said with a giggle. “That’s okay.”

      “Was that your idea, the gesture, or did they coach you to do that?”

      “I think I initially tried it,” she recalled. “Then they said, ‘Yeah, go back to it.’”

      As I pulled out a different picture, showing Kelsey in daring lingerie, reclining on a bed, she seemed more enthusiastic than usual. “That’s hot,” she beamed. “I like that.”

      “This was an early lingerie shoot for you, but you look pretty confident there.”

      “Yeah,” she affirmed. “I was still kind of nervous because I had never been that naked around someone.”

      A thought occurred to me. “Did it help that it was a female photographer?”

      “Yeah. Yeah, and Maria is all about celebrating women. I really liked that,” she acknowledged, allowing herself to express some delightful enthusiasm about her work. “There are some other ones that I have of that, and it was just very Guess—like in the ’90s—so I really enjoyed that. I really liked that style.”

      “That’s a great aesthetic. It’s contemporary but has a femininity about it; glamorous sexiness and so forth.”

      “Oh, yeah,” she concurred. Then a grieved look crossed her face as I pulled out one of her celebrated images for Igigi. “Oh, my.”

Modelling for Igigi, spring 2007

      “You were sick for that shoot, weren’t you?” I inquired. “I was told that they kept you alive on hot tea.”

      “I was so sick. I was on NyQuil or DayQuil. It was horrible. I felt so bad. That’s mirror stuff right there,” she stated, indicating one of the finest images in the campaign.

      “Is it?”

      “Yeah,” she confirmed with a giggle. “There you go.”

      It was a truly haunting expression, proving the merit of Kelsey’s suggestion that models should practice in front of a mirror.

      “That’s phenomenal,” I admired. “And in not a single picture could anyone tell that you were under the weather. Just look at what you accomplished. No one would know that you were at anything less than a hundred percent.”

      “Thank God.”

      “That was very professional on your part, to perform so well even under trying circumstances. Catherine Schuller was involved in that shoot and told me how ill you were—that you were practically dying.”

      “I felt so horrible,” she grimaced. “That was exhausting”

      “But you know what? Maybe that contributed to your fairness, which actually enhanced your beauty. Did you like shooting in such an elegant setting?”

      “So beautiful. It was absolutely amazing.”

      “The environment adds something, doesn’t it?”

      “Uh, yeah,” she stressed, indicating that the results were self-evident. “It inspires you in a different way. We were trying to go the classic route. And you take from your surroundings and use it.”

Test photograph by Kicka Witte

      I had always wondered if shooting in a classical setting invigorated a model. Kelsey indicated that it did. “The fact that your look complemented the opulent building around you created a harmonious aesthetic of timeless beauty,” I raved. “It was marvellous.”

      Next, I was privileged to show her one of her most dreamlike images. “This was another absolute masterpiece. Was that tall grass, or wheat, or something else?”

      “Yeah, this was in Florida, photographed by Kicka Witte,” Kelsey informed me. “And we went out to the beach. There were these fields. It was kind of like a park.”

      With a tight enough shot, then, even a simple field could be made to resemble an Oklahoma prairie. “It’s like you’re in the midst of springtime, and the whole world is blossoming around you, and you’re a part of it. In fact, you’re the reason for its existence. So enchanting.”

      I followed up by showing her one of the high points of her career so far—a Torrid ad that had appeared in InStyle magazine.

      “That was the coolest thing ever,” she reflected, justifiably proud of the accomplishment. “I knew that they were going to put one in there, but I didn’t realize it was going to be that. That was a moment where I thought, ‘Oh, I did something really cool.’”

      “Because InStyle is a prestigious magazine.”

      “Yeah, that was really, really exciting.”

      “And it was a great picture,” I complimented her. “You can see the greenery, the flowers in the background, and so forth.” The juxtaposition of Kelsey’s beauty with the elegant, natural setting was idyllic and enchanting.

Torrid ad in ''InStyle'' magazine, April 2007 issue

      “No, it was really fun,” she reaffirmed.

      “Oh, speaking of flowers, a running theme at Torrid has been images of you with flowers in your hair. Do you ever wear blossoms as accessories?”

      “Uh-huh. Yeah. That’s pretty,” she opined. “It’s very romantic.”

      Encouraged by her comment, I showed her an Angelo Asti painting of a girl with features as gentle as her own, adored with blossoms.

      “That’s so beautiful,” she sighed. “That would be so pretty to do.”

      Next up was one of Kelsey’s most alluring pictures. “This was Leslie Delano,” I noted. “Many of the photos in this series were quite stunning. I like this one in particular—very sensual, very gentle, a little daring.”

      “Yeah. It’s really pretty. She’s really great,” Kelsey endorsed, quick to compliment the photographer’s contribution rather than her own. “I really like her. Lots of good light.”

      Given the theme of our get-together, the next image that I showed Kelsey, which featured her modelling a ballgown for a Hallowe’en costume campaign, had a special significance. I was as curious about her impression of the elegant world that it betokened as I was about her modelling memories.

      “Could you imagine yourself in such a stately ballgown in real life?”

      “I wish,” she fantasized. “Yeah, that would be amazing.”

      “You could thrive in that environment?”

      “I think so,” she conjectured with a little laugh. “It would be wonderful.”

Still from Disney's ''Sleeping Beauty'' alongside an image of Kelsey modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2008

      I could hear the fairy-tale dreaminess in her voice as she said it.

      “I bring this up for a particular reason,” I explained. “Notice what you’re holding in your hand—the rose.” Then I showed her an image of Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, similarly holding a red rose in her hands. “The rose is her motif.”

      “Aw. It’s beautiful,” she commented. “I love it.”

      As a follow-up, I presented her with another still from the movie—this one showing Briar Rose walking through the German forest, birds fluttering all around her—then juxtaposed it with a candid photo showing Kelsey with two very similar birds alighting on her hand.

Still from Disney's''Sleeping Beauty'' alongside a candid photo of Kelsey

      “Oh,” she beamed, laughing. “You got that from Facebook.”

      “It’s fate. As soon as I saw it, it occurred to me that you were unwittingly bringing the film to life. All of creation is drawn to your beauty.”

      “That’s so cute,” she said, smiling.

      To underscore the timelessness of her look, I offered one more then-and-now comparison between her costume images and a historical depiction of beauty. I showed her a Viking Princess outfit that she had modelled, then presented several reproductions of 19th-century Wagnerian postcards.

The valkyrie Brünnhilde

      “These are depictions of Nordic heroines.”

      “That’s so pretty,” she responded, as she examined one of the cards. “It would be so awesome to do something like this. Who is that?”

      “Elsa von Brabant,” I identified, pleased that she was showing such interest. “She’s the heroine of Wagner’s Lohengrin. Many of Wagner’s operas concern old Germanic myths. They each have a princess-like lead heroine, and truthfully, they all look like you.”

      Kelsey chuckled. I dreaded that I was subjecting her to information overload, but she seemed taken with the idea.

      “And this, on the other hand,” I continued, pulling out another card, “is Brünnhilde, the valkyrie who was the original Sleeping Beauty.”


      “I bet you didn’t know about this.”


      “The Brünnhilde of legend was a great valkyrie who was put to sleep, whereupon Siegfried the dragonslayer—note the Sleeping Beauty tie-in—awaked her. When I saw the picture of you as a Nordic warrior-princess, I thought, ‘This is the costume that you were born to model.’”

      “Oh, wow.” Kelsey seemed suitably impressed with the comparison.

      From the ancient to the contemporary, we next turned to her celebrated final Figure editorial, which showed her channelling Maddie Hayes. I asked her if she had ever seen Moonlighting.

      “Before your time,” I concluded when she indicated that she hadn’t. “You have a bit of a young Cybill Shepherd look in this picture.”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, November/December 2008

      “Oh, I’ve heard that,” Kelsey agreed. “She’s great.”

      “She was actually a model when she was younger, and she was on the curvier side. You favour her a little. And here, specifically, the outfit resembles something that she might have worn on Moonlighting. The hairstyle is very Cybill Shepherd from that time period; big—”

      “Big. Yeah, yeah,” she agreed. “She was in Taxi Driver, right?”

      “That’s right. One of her early roles.”

      “It’s funny. I was watching that… I just watched it for the first time the other day, and I thought, ‘Oh, I kind of look similar. A little bit.’ Yeah.”

      Except much more beautiful, I reflected.

      At last, we turned to the image that was the proximate inspiration for the interview—Kelsey’s editorial as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

      “There it is,” we spoke in unison, and laughed at the fact that we were so much in sync.

      “This is a rare pose for you,” I put to her. “This demure, eyes-downcast look is widely associated with Barbara Brickner. I was intrigued by the fact that you adopted it for this image.”

      “Well, he wanted to convey the sleeping idea.”

      “Oh! So that’s why you shot with your eyes closed.” It was so obvious when she pointed it out that I felt foolish for not realizing it earlier. “That’s what it represents.”

      “Yeah. So I thought it was really pretty,” she commented.

Modelling for Alfred Angelo, 2009

      “I’m surprised that he didn’t have you lying down.”

      “He tried to,” she divulged. “We had done various shots, but I think this just looked the best.”

      Undoubtedly it did. It was a stunning image. Mr. Vrolijk later sent me a few outtakes from the shoot, which were also lovely, but none quite as gorgeous as the image that he chose to publish.

      The next set of photos showed Kelsey looking equally princess-like—not in costumes, but in bridal dresses for Alfred Angelo.

      “The best campaign of your career,” I deemed it. “It really is a vision of heaven, with the sky and the ocean meeting at the horizon. And they allowed you to look soft here. They didn’t Photoshop away your curves.”

      “It’s really pretty,” she confessed.

      “The perfect bride on her wedding day.”

      “Yeah, it was really beautiful.”

      “I think that most brides, when they fantasize about their wedding day, imagine themselves looking something like this.”

      “I hope so. Yeah, I hope I look that pretty, if I ever do.”

      The comment was interesting in that it indicated, once again, how Kelsey sometimes looked at her images almost in the third person, as if they represented someone other than herself. Seeing her pictures, she had to acknowledge their beauty, but her modesty prevented her from personalizing it. Yet as I sat there, gazing upon her as she flipped her golden tresses, I could verify that she was truly even more gorgeous in real life than in her finest photos.

Modelling for Alfred Angelo, 2009

      “Of the three pictures in the campaign, do you have a favourite?”

      “I just think they’re very different,” she decided. “That’s really happy. But then that’s softer. I don’t know. They’re all really nice. That’s really pretty, though. They’re all really cool. That was really fun.”

      “You should walk around with a bouquet in your hands all the time,” I entreated, half seriously. The flowers brought out her essential femininity.

      “I wish. I wish.”

      “I also wanted to show you this bridesmaid image because it’s so captivating, with the landscape in the background. It suggests that you’re a part of the beauty of nature, as if the whole world is in bloom as a tribute to you.”

      “Yeah. I really, really like that photograph,” she avowed. “I don’t know why. I just think it’s very nice.”

      “It shows the blossoms on the bushes, the tresses tumbling down your back. Don’t ever let anyone cut your hair, by the way.”

      “Oh,” she reacted, laughing. “Okay. I promise I won’t.”

      “You really don’t think you will?” This was a more serious matter than my affected nonchalance indicated.

      “No, not for a long time,” she repeated, to my great relief and delight.

      “Okay, please don’t, because it’s such a vital part of your look.”

      Despite Kelsey’s misgivings about showcasing intimate apparel, I knew that she would be proud of the next pair of images, taken from a stunning Valentine’s Day Torrid promotion.

Modelling for Torrid, Valentine's 2009; photographed by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “Probably your best lingerie campaign to date,” I dubbed it. “Did you know that they were putting these angels’ wings on you in the background? Or did they add those later?”

      “No, the heart wasn’t there.”

      “It was a nice touch. Every time you shoot lingerie you seem to become a little bit more confident.”

      “I was still so nervous about that,” she confided.

      “Even after all these years?”

      “Yes. I don’t know why. I was just really, really nervous,” she repeated. “And it turned out really nice.”

      “It definitely did,” I seconded, pleased to hear her enthusiasm about the photograph. “Even if you were someone else looking at this picture, you would have to acknowledge its beauty. You’re wearing darker lipstick than usual, which gives the image a dramatic touch.”

      The companion photo from the same shoot featured Kelsey in a different intimate outfit. “This came out a little later. Very nice, although you’ve adopted more of a contemporary pose. You make it work—because it’s you—but it’s such a recognizable straight-size pose, to cave in the bust like that.”

      “Yeah,” she acknowledged, and physically demonstrated the sunken-chest, arms-extended pose right in front of me. I shook my head.

''Flawless'' plus-size model calendar, 2009

      “Everything that you do looks good, but I simply don’t get that pose. Why is it encouraged?”

      “I think it’s just an angle thing,” she conjectured.

      “Angles!” I scoffed. “People don’t want to see ‘angles.’ They want to see curves. Straight-size models can show ‘angles’ if they wish, but plus-size models should—”

      “Should do this. Yeah,” she granted, then arched her back and pushed out her magnificent bust. Her curves were full and goddesslike, more generous than any photograph had ever captured.

      I felt dizzy, but strove for composure. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

      “Yeah, yeah.”

      “But your arms do look shapely there.”

      Next, we turned our attention to the recently published Flawless plus-size-model calendar in which Kelsey had appeared.

      “What was that experience like, by the way?”

      “It was… I don’t like to be that showy, so…”

      It was a very tame picture, but I could see how Kelsey’s modesty would have left her feeling a tad ambivalent about the result. My real interest in bringing up Flawless, though, was to set up an image comparison.

Candid photo from ''Flawless'' plus-size-model calendar shoot, 2009

      “Here’s the picture of you that the calendar actually published,” I presented. “And here’s a snapshot that someone took behind the scenes. Now, let’s think about this: The purpose of the calendar was to be a Sports Illustrated featuring curvy girls, right? Well, which of the two images would actually be the more sensual picture to someone who is a fan of plus-size models, someone who might be inclined to buy such a calendar?”

      “Probably that,” she said of the candid.

      “It is,” I confirmed. “In this candid, your tresses cascade like a golden waterfall, and your bare back is shown. But it’s still a very respectable image—not even particularly busty. This is definitely the one that they should have used.

      “I’m forever stymied by the producers of plus-size-model calendars,” I continued. “The never consult the people who might actually buy their publications. Surely they want people to purchase their calendars, don’t they?”

      “Oh, definitely,” Kelsey stated.

      “Well, anyway, this candid amazes me. With just a turn of your head you achieve instant, stellar beauty.”

      She laughed graciously, by now used to my compliments. Then, as she saw the next picture that I wished to show her, she seemed surprised. “What is that?” she queried.

      “Michael Anthony.”

      “Oh, wow. I didn’t even see these.”

      “It’s very recent,” I reminded her. “This is the last thing that you did before the Hallowe’en lookbook. You never saw it?”

Modelling for Torrid, summer 2009; photographed by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “Haven’t seen this at all.”

      “Any reactions?”

      “It’s cute,” she judged. “I think why I play with my hair a lot is because it shows things—like the bracelets.”

      “I never considered that,” I confessed. “A trick of the trade.”


      “Michael employed some very effective lighting here. It’s like your tresses are lit from within. And speaking of lighting,” I said, turning my head to the side, “What have they done to the castle?”

      Night had fallen, and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle glittered with thousands of illuminated icicles.

      “Isn’t it nice?” Kelsey asked, the light reflecting in her blue eyes.

      “You were right. It’s even prettier at night—if that’s possible.”

      “I love Disneyland at night,” she emoted. “You can see all of the lights in the trees. They sparkle.”

      “It’s a slice of heaven, isn’t it?” I mused, looking her way. “And the park is nice too.”

      It was an old joke, but it was sincerely meant. Kelsey laughed.

Modelling for Torrid, Hallowe'en 2009; photograph by Shannon Brooke

      “Magic happens wherever you are,” I rejoiced. “This is amazing. You come here and all of a sudden they illuminate the whole park for you. It’s like those songbirds landing on your hand. What kind of enchanted world do you live in?”

      “Oh, Disneyland, you know,” she cooed, happily playing along. “We’ll go over when we’re done,” she said, indicating the castle.

      I confessed a particular fantasy to her. “Well, if it’s all right with you, at the very least I would like to walk over the drawbridge with you and through the castle gate.”

      “Oh, yeah,” she accepted readily. I couldn’t wait.

      Next, we turned to the final professional images that I wished to discuss—her acclaimed Hallowe’en 2009 campaign, which constituted the finest imagery in Torrid’s history, rivaled only by Kelsey’s other work for the company.

      “That’s fantastic. It’s very sensual, but suggests that you are still holding something in reserve. Pink is your ideal colour, as always. And incidentally, you’ve donned a nurse’s outfit in every single Torrid Hallowe’en campaign you’ve ever shot. This is the nicest one, though.”

      “Yeah,” Kelsey absorbed. “Shannon Brooke’s lighting is really pretty.” I almost wondered if she wasn’t teasing me by always diverting attention toward the photography and away from her own beauty. But I discerned complete sincerity in Kelsey’s eyes, with no touch of dissembling, so I knew that every word that she spoke was heartfelt and genuine.

      “Just a slight arch of your eyebrow. Was that deliberate?”

Modelling for Torrid, Hallowe'en 2009; photograph by Shannon Brooke


      “That’s been a running question throughout this interview because I’ve wanted to know how much of your genius is craft, and how much is simply you being you,” I elaborated. “As for the outfit, did you ever see the movie Clueless?”

      Kelsey indicated that she had.

      “She wears those stockings in the film, albeit not with garters,” I pointed out.

      “Yeah, the knee-highs.”

      “Have you ever worn those in real life?” I had to know. They looked so beautiful on her, and made her legs look fantastic.

      “No,” Kelsey rued. “Cute, though.”

      “They are, but you have to have your legs for it. They don’t look half as good on Alicia Silverstone as they do on you.”

      “Oh, thank you,” she said with a smile.

      “I like the fact that while the lookbook is sensual, it isn’t overly racy,” I noted. “No parent would be offended at their 13 year old seeing this.”


      “And although you’re being dramatic and ‘acting,’ it definitely works.”

      “It’s not overdone,” Kelsey concurred.

Polaroids for Heffner Management, Seattle

      “You know right where to draw the line. I love the theme that they presented here—the brunette who is envious of the blonde, and the fact that you are the one whom he is favouring, while she is the bitter, resentful one. You’re in sweet baby blue while she’s in dark colours.”

      Kelsey was as proud of the lookbook as she was of any work that she had ever done, and with good reason.

      Before we left off, though, I also wanted to question her about her celebrated Polaroids, which were consistently more beautiful than those of any other model.

      “Is there an art to Polaroids?” I inquired, indicating one of her cards. “Because there’s something more here than just standing and having someone take a picture. You do pose.”

      “Yeah, yeah. It’s just like anything else, just less makeup and no fake lighting or anything,” Kelsey maintained. “And you can just wear what you wear every day, something that—”

      “You would wear this? This is a very nice top on you.”

      “Thank you.”

      “The Hilary Duff expression is charming. And to be especially coy, you know, you could just undo the drawstrings…”

      She chuckled at the suggestion.

* * *

      With that, we finished our photo discussion, and I announced that the formal interview was done.

      “Oh. Are you going to go walk around?” Kelsey asked, “ Do you want to…?”

Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle at night

      “Sure—if you'll accompany me.”

      She responded most enthusiastically. “Yeah! I don't know how crowded it is, but—”

      “I'm still going to keep a recorder in hand,” I warned her, “because your every word is gold.”

      “Oh, gosh, no,” she denied. “I don’t even know what I’m saying.”

      I assured her that she did, and that this was the most enjoyable interview I had ever undertaken—which was the gospel truth.

      By this time, the sky had grown dark and the grounds were lit up with coloured lights. The castle’s replica icicles and snow reflected in the surrounding moat. I gushed about how lovely it all looked, and Kelsey agreed that it was very, very pretty.

      As we approached the castle, I heard Kelsey say “So romantic,” in a lyrical, heartfelt way. The word was most appropriate, both for our surroundings and as a description of Miss Olson herself. She was a romantic, whether she knew it or not—perhaps the most genuinely romantic person I had ever met.

      “I wonder how many children have had their dreams brought to life here, and had their imaginations broadened?” I pondered. “Because really, where else do young people encounter magic like this, especially in North America?”

      “Yeah. Really, though,” Kelsey agreed, and in her tone I heard a tinge of disappointment at the prosaic nature of the modern world, and a longing for more fantasy. “So pretty,” she added.


      “I’ve seen real-life castles that aren’t this big.”

      “Oh, that is so exciting,” Kelsey enthused, and asked, “What’s your favourite castle?”

      “Neuschwanstein, possibly, or Burg Hohenzollern. It’s the ancestral seat of the dynasty that ruled Prussia throughout its history. It’s also Neo-Gothic, like this castle, except a little darker, more majestic.”

      I paused, realizing that I was droning on. “Are you genuinely interested in this stuff?”

      “Yeah,” she avowed enthusiastically.

      “I could send you a picture of the castle. Something for you to consider seeing someday, whenever you do take that fantasy trip to Europe.”

      “Oh. One day,” she maintained. We were in front of the castle now, and she recalled my previous request. “Do you want to walk through?”

Murals of Disney's''Sleeping Beauty''

      “Yes, please.” I could barely believe that this was really happening. I would be crossing the drawbridge with a fair princess (or the closest modern equivalent)—someone who, in another time, would have personally inhabited a castle such as this.

      We crossed the bridge together and came upon two large murals on either side of the gate, depicting scenes from Sleeping Beauty painted by Eyvind Earle, who created the look of the film.

      “I want to show you these before we go on. Have a look at the one on the right,” I entreated. “This is the moment in the film when Aurora—or Brünnhilde, if you will—awakens from her slumber.”

      She seemed awestruck by the depiction, as if she were seeing it for the first time.

      “Someday, I hope you create an image like this,” I told her, then took her to the corresponding painting on the other side of the gate.

      “The Prince slaying Maleficent—or Siegfried slaying the dragon, in the mythological version,” I expounded. “Notice the parallel. The other painting represents the feminine principle, and this one represents the male. That one showcases the Beautiful, this one the Sublime. And observe the Gothic castle in the background.”

      “Gothic, yeah,” Kelsey echoed. Looking at the castle, she sighed and said again, “That’s so romantic.”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, April 2008

      “You actually seem interested in all of this. I’m so happy,” I confessed, then blurted out, “You’re not just a modern girl!”

      “A modern girl,” Kelsey repeated with a laugh. “That’s a lovely way of putting it. It’s funny when you say it like that.”

      “Not that there’s anything wrong—” I quickly jumped in, which made her laugh even more at how embarrassed I was. “You’d be just as wonderful and splendid and amazing if you were modern, of course, but the fact that you also have an appreciation for the timeless, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.”

      I hoped she understood what I meant, but she was generous enough that I knew she wouldn’t hold my faux-pas against me.

      “You know, there used to be a tour inside the castle. Is it still here?” she queried.

      “Have you been on the walkthrough? I was going to ask you if you wanted to view it.”

      “Yeah. Is it open? I was here less than a year ago and it wasn’t.”

      “They only reopened it within the last few months,” I mentioned. Prior to coming out to California, I had read about the interior walkthrough and had hoped that Kelsey would agree to take the tour with me. The idea of leading this princess inside the castle seemed too perfect an opportunity to pass up, but I hadn’t been sure whether she would go for it or not.

      I needn’t have worried, as Kelsey commented, “This is my favourite part.”

      “So you’ve seen it before?”

      “Yeah, but they changed it. I mean, it was so old.”

Fashion Bug ad in ''Figure'' magazine, March/April 2007

      “They used to have puppets representing the characters in the film, right?”

      “Mm-hm. Yeah,” Kelsey confirmed. “I wonder what they did with it?”

      I invited her to join me for a look.

      The walkthrough presented scenes from the film in creatively interactive displays, with computer-controlled lighting and elaborate special effects—and no puppets. While Kelsey was certainly interested in the flashy showcase, I perceived that she might have been a tad disappointed too. “They really redid it,” she commented. “I don’t remember it being like this. At all.”

      Even without her frame of reference, I could certainly appreciate her feelings. We never want the things that we love to change, and part of the beauty of a true castle—or of Disneyland itself—is that it remains the same, unaltered, even as the rest of the world succumbs to mutability. After all, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Main Street U.S.A. both represent visions of bygone, better times, preserved and immortalized. I could well understand Miss Olson’s mixed feelings about the revised display.

      Once we emerged from the castle, I directed Kelsey to a nearby shop that I had scouted beforehand, set in a half-timbered structure that resembled a medieval hut.

      “This is where they do heraldry,” I pointed out. “We were talking about family and heritage a little bit earlier. May we look in here for a moment?”


      “Let’s see if they have an Olson family record that’s Danish,” I suggested. “Who knows? Maybe you really are descended from a line of princesses.”

      “I highly doubt it,” she stated with characteristic modesty.

      As we approached the counter, the clerk recognized me and called out, “Hi again.” She was a red-haired, fair-skinned, full-figured lady of fiftyish, dressed in a medieval-style outfit.

Olson (Denmark) family crest

      “Olson, if you recall,” I reminded her. I had previously mentioned the name but hadn’t known Kelsey’s nationality. “And we’re looking for Denmark, if you have that.”

      Sure enough, there it was.

      The clerk described the symbolism of the motifs of the crest. “The hearts [represent] saving a great life. New life, the new growth of the tree branch over the trunk of the tree. Swiftness for valour are the wings.”

      I asked the clerk to print out the coat of arms, along with the Olson family-name history, on elegant card stock as a gift.

      “Oh, my God. No!” Kelsey protested, but I reminded her, “It’s Christmas, after all.”

      “You really don’t have to do this,” she insisted.

      I assured her that it was my pleasure, and the clerk helpfully chimed in.

      “He’s been planning all day. Don’t take this away from him.”

      All three of us had a great laugh at that, and Kelsey relented.

      “Tell me truthfully,” I asked the clerk. “Doesn’t she have an aristocratic, princess-like look?”

      “Oh, yes. Of course!”

      “She’s good,” Kelsey whispered.

      “I’m the Irish version of the Viking bloodline,” the clerk informed Kelsey. “You’re the Viking. A Valhalla woman. The Valkyrie.”

Modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2008

      Kelsey and I looked at each other in wonder, for the clerk’s assertion fit in perfectly with the Wagnerian themes that we had beeing discussing moments earlier.

      “I have a girlfriend who is 6'4,” the clerk went on. “She’s awesome. And she’s the most gentle, wonderful lady. But she is a tall, genetically Viking woman.”

      “Kelsey has actually modelled Viking attire,” I mentioned. “She’s a famous model, by the way.”

      “Oh, no,” Kelsey denied. But I persisted: “She is.”

      As the clerk finished printing out the Olson crest, I murmured to Kelsey, “Did you hear what she said? She called you a descendant of Vikings.”

      “What can I say?” she concluded wryly, shrugging her shoulders in mock resignation.

      “It’s fate. It’s fate,” I claimed, delighted at how the day’s themes were all knitting together. “Thank you for accepting this. If you have a frame, you’ll be able to mount them. They look rather nice and decorative.”

      “Yeah, they’re beautiful,” she assessed. “Thank you so much.”

      “See? It wasn’t so bad that we had to stick around till dark. We got to see the castle lit up.”

      “Yeah, it was beautiful. I’m still in shock that you flew down here. It’s insane. Thank you so much. I feel you should really walk around and go on a ride or something.”

      On a ride, I thought to myself. It was humorous to even consider such a thing. No ride at Disneyland could match the emotional roller-coaster that I had been on with Kelsey.

      “After all, when’s the next time you’re going to come back?” she reasoned.

      “That’s true. There aren’t that many Kelsey Olsons who are worth coming out here for,” I bemoaned facetiously. “You’re the only one, so when will I be back?”

Modelling for Aurora Formals (The Formal Source), 2007

      She smiled.

      As the clerk handed us the Olson coat of arms and family-history document, she restated how she herself embodied the Celtic look, while Kelsey personified the Nordic look.

      “But if you look genetically, we have the same kind of faces,” the clerk specified. “Their noses turn up, where I have the stronger bridge, because that’s the Scottish in me. You have a fuller mouth where we have a smaller mouth.”

      Kelsey seemed fascinated by these observations. Next, the clerk described the features that the Nordic and Celtic women had in common. “We’re broader-shouldered. We are barrel rib-caged. We are usually full-busted nevertheless. And we don’t have thin arms. Because we’re full here, we have rounder arms.”

      “God bless you for that,” I rejoiced, looking approvingly at Kelsey.

      “And if we take care of our skin, we age gracefully,” the clerk proceeded. “If we stay in the sun, we become—”

      “Okay, I’m out of the sun!” Kelsey relented. It was uncanny how the clerk was echoing so many points that had come up during the interview.

      “Now, she’s Nordic,” the clerk observed. “She’s going to have a little bit of brown toning, where I have more of the freckling, because the melanin comes up sporadically. She had more sunshine in her lands. It was cold, but there was more sun. We had more cloud cover. So when the sun hits, we freckle. The melanin in our skin does not come up solid. Everybody has freckles, but not this blotchy. So yeah, it’s just genetics. But we all got off the same boat.”

      “Thank you so much,” Kelsey said as we left the shop. She was clearly fascinated at how her Nordic background explained her particular beauty. “That’s awesome. I did not know that. It makes so much sense.”

      As we made our way back toward the castle gate, we passed a marker on the ground. Kelsey pointed it out to me, asking, “You see that?”


      “That is the centre of Disneyland. The exact centre.”

      “Oh!” I exclaimed. “Right inside the castle.” I dearly loved the little Disney secrets that she was sharing with me.

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      The grounds were quite crowded at this point, but I barely noticed. I was in seventh heaven, strolling down the wide boulevard with Kelsey at my side.

      “Did you ever see an old film called The Prisoner of Zenda?” I inquired.

      “Uh-uh,” she shook her head. “What’s it about?”

      “Oh, I won’t get into it now. I was just wondering if you had seen it. If you haven’t, that’s all right.”

      “Why won’t you get into it?”

      I grinned. “I’ll tell you later.”

      Changing the topic, I asked, “Who wouldn’t want to live on a Main Street in a home town like this?” At night, in full illumination, the wide boulevard looked more picturesque than ever.

      “It’s pretty,” Kelsey enthused.

      “I feel a little guilty, though,” I admitted, “because I didn’t buy you anything to eat all day.”

      “To eat? Are you hungry?” she jumped in quickly—always thinking of someone else before herself. But I knew that she had family plans that evening, and I couldn’t keep her away.

      “I’ll grab something later. It was very kind of you to stick around this long. I only asked for an hour and a half, and you’ve given me four.”

      “I know, but this is a really big deal,” she protested. “You flew out here—”

      “And it’s been a great interview.”

      “I hope so. I hope it comes out all right.”

Modelling for Alfred Angelo, 2009

      “I promise you, it won’t include anything embarrassing,” I said, then decided to have a little fun. “I’ll highlight how often you said how beautiful you think you are; how none of the other plus-size models can hold a candle to you—”

      “Oh, gosh!” she recoiled, chuckling nervously. “Right.”

      (She knew that I was kidding, but couldn’t even bear the thought of such a mischaracterization of her personality.)

      “—how you couldn’t stop talking about how ‘hot’ you looked in the Alfred Angelo shoot.”

      She opened her mouth to protest, but I added, “Remember, I have it on tape!”

      “And I said ‘sweating,’ so—”

      “Oh, I’ll just edit that out.”

      As we made our way down the crowded boulevard, I happened to notice a particularly intriguing shop along Main Street. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a popular pastime among the nobility was to have ladies’ silhouettes rendered as portraits, and this studio revived that time-honoured practice. It seemed the perfect way to cap the day, and Kelsey kindly allowed herself to be coaxed inside.

      “I don’t have a very good silhouette” she cautioned, characteristically downplaying her beauty.

      “Excuse me? I’ve seen your silhouette, and it’s gorgeous. Absolutely worth immortalizing.”

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      The artist asked Kelsey to have a seat and began cutting out her profile from a piece of black card stock. I was actually getting to see Kelsey model right before my eyes. A sigh escaped my lips, causing Kelsey to laugh.

      “Pretty hair,” the artist marvelled.

      “It is, isn’t it?” I gushed.


      “She’s a famous model.”

      “I’m not,” Kelsey interrupted immediately.

      “Is she, then?” the artist asked, more inclined to believe my avowal than Kelsey’s denial.

      “No,” Kelsey insisted.

      “In fact, she is.”

      “Ooh,” the artist effused, genuinely impressed.

      “He’s a liar,” Kelsey claimed.

      “She has modelled for Torrid and for Alfred Angelo.”

      “Oh! My daughter bought her wedding dress there,” the artist noted.

      “If you open any current bridal magazine, she’ll be in the Alfred Angelo ads in its pages.”

      “Very cool,” the artist mused as she finished the cutout. After carefully scrutinizing Kelsey’s profile, she dubbed it “beautiful.”

Kelsey's silhouette, rendered by Disneyland's ''Silhouette Studio''

      “Thank you,” Kelsey responded, examining the silhouette and looking genuinely impressed with the result.

      “You’re welcome.”

      “That’s so insane,” Kelsey said of my desire to obtain the silhouette for her, as she turned it over in her hands.

      “She even got your eyelash,” I pointed out.

      “I know.”

      Since the cutout opened across a front and a back side, Kelsey and I each came away with a copy of her silhouette. Despite her protestations, I insisted on having hers framed.

      “This is so great,” she relented. “No, it’s absolutely awesome. And that’s so interesting about the nose thing,” she mused as she looked over her profile, recollecting the heraldry clerk’s comments.

      “And remember how she praised full arms,” I reminded her. “It’s not just me. People do find that attractive.”

      Kelsey grinned. Getting her silhouette rendered had authentically been fun for her. “That was great,” she said.

      “People come here for the rides and such, but some of the lesser-known pastimes have their own charm too, no?

      “Yeah. Definitely,” she agreed.

      I needled Kelsey a little for downplaying her popularity. In the space of a half-hour, several ladies in succession had praised her for her beauty. “You probably have people telling you things like that a hundred times a day.”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, November/December 2008

      “No, way,” Kelsey contradicted. But I had seen the evidence with my own eyes and knew it to be true.

      We were almost at the Disneyland gate, but a clothing shop caught Kelsey’s eye, and she asked if she could stop in. Gladly, I told her, and mentioned how much fun I thought it would be to go shopping with her.

      “Me? Oh, my gosh. I’m horrible with shopping,” she claimed.


      “Because I look at a hundred different things and don’t buy anything.”

      “Wait a minute,” I stopped her. “What part of that scenario doesn’t sound absolutely brilliant? The most popular plus-size goddess in the industry modelling right in front of one’s eyes—you could sell tickets to that!”

      She chuckled. Despite her misgivings, we were only in the shop for a brief moment. As we emerged, I noticed the gaslight lamps along Main Street, which helped to give the boulevard its distinctively Victorian character, and singled them out. “I love how authentic they made all this look.”

      “Isn’t it, though?” she replied, her love of Disneyland evident in her voice.

      “It’s a little cleaner than such a street might have been in 1900, but this is, after all, an idealized past,” I submitted. “And that’s what the past can provide for us today—an ideal, inspiring us to make the real world a little bit more beautiful, more like this, rather than merely putting up another strip mall or a suburban shopping centre. Because there’s no reason—”

      “It’s just easier,” Kelsey bemoaned. “Which is unfortunate, you know?”

      Her words were not spoken idly, but deeply felt. She truly was a romantic.

Outtake from editorial shoot for ''Inspire'' magazine; photograph by Jason Vrolijk

      “See that light?” Kelsey interjected, motioning toward the spot where she had pointed out Walt Disney’s apartment at the beginning of the afternoon. Sure enough, a lamp was shining in the window in memory of the great man.

      “What a perfect spot,” I reflected. “He must have drawn inspiration from being in this locale.”

      “Oh, I can’t even imagine.”

      “There’s something heroic about that impulse: ‘I’m going to create the world I want around me.’ And he did. It’s such a lovely place.”

      “Yeah, it really is,” Kelsey affirmed.

      “When I proposed Disneyland, I was worried that it might be too ‘kiddie like’ for you, but there is so much here that people of any age can enjoy.”

      “Well, I think Disney’s been a part of everyone’s life,” she opined.

      As we crossed under the Disneyland railway tracks and were about to exit, I directed her attention to the words inscribed on a tablet at the main gate:


      “As someone who is not a fan of ‘today,’” I told her, “My dream is to restore the beauty ideal of yesterday and enshrine it as the ideal of tomorrow. And no one embodies that fantasy better than you do.”

* * *

      Alas, it was finally time for Kelsey to leave. As we were about to part, she thanked me again, while I insisted that I was the one who needed to thank her.


      “No, this has been so great. I still cannot believe that you came all the way here. Thank you so much. I really had a really good time. This means a lot to me,” she maintained. “And I hope it sounds good. I hope I don’t sound like an idiot. When I get nervous, I talk a lot, so…”

      I assured her that she didn’t. I was still perplexed that she felt this way, because if anything, I had been the one who had monopolized the conversation for much of the afternoon. Her answers to my questions had been short and sweet, but eloquent, thoughtful, and sincere.

      “Just a moment, though,” I stopped her. “Before you leave, do you remember my mentioning The Prisoner of Zenda?

      I withdrew a gift-wrapped DVD from my briefcase and told her that it had been my original idea for her Christmas gift.

Torrid bridal videos, summer 2008

      “Wow. You got—? Oh, my God.”

      “It’s a wonderful, old-fashioned film that fits in perfectly with the themes that we discussed today. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

      “Thank you so much,” she said, her eyes like sapphires, reflecting the lights all around us.

      I offered to shake her hand, but instead she favoured me with a warm embrace. For a brief, fleeting moment, time stood still.

      “Even prettier in real life,” I said—so quietly that I thought she wouldn’t hear.

      “No,” she countered, indicating that she had heard me. We both chuckled, as that exchange effectively summarized our respective positions that afternoon—my dreamy-eyed amazement at her beauty, and her modest denials of her loveliness.

      She thanked me again, said, “Bye now,” and strolled off in the direction of the parking lot, where her mother was waiting for her.

      I watched her walk away and wondered if she would turn around. She proceeded a good distance, and I began to think that she wouldn’t. But then, at last, she turned—undoubtedly to check if I had indeed re-entered Disneyland, as she had asked me to do.

      I waved, she waved back, and then she disappeared into the night.

* * *

      After Kelsey departed, I returned inside for a brief while and walked the grounds in a daze. No wonder that photographers enjoyed working with her so much and kept booking her again and again, I reflected. Kelsey had the most amiable, easygoing nature of anyone I had ever met. She must be a pleasure on set, I realized—someone who made photo sessions effortless, stress-free, and thoroughly enjoyable. Her patience was limitless and her energy boundless. She was everything that a client could ask for.

      A half-hour later, as a coda, I received the following text message from Miss Olson:

"Thank you sooo much for a wonderful afternoon. This means soo much to me! You are generous and gracious and I am so happy to have met you! Thank you."

      I was humbled by her words, as I was by the entire experience. I had profoundly enjoyed her company and already missed her presence. This, I realized, was what the German Romantics called Sehnsucht, and it was a bittersweet yet wonderful sensation.

Modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2009

      Our discussion had significantly transformed my thinking on a number of matters. I had always associated models with a “goddess” concept that revered their vanity, greed, self-adoration, and other morally ambiguous qualities. But Kelsey was different. To my complete astonishment, she had shown me that kindness, modesty, patience, and even selflessness were more beautiful and compelling characteristics than the so-called “evil” traits that had long fascinated me.

      In short, she had taught me the true nature of beauty—not only in the fact that she was physically the loveliest model whom I had ever seen, but also in her good-hearted character and disposition. In my focus on aesthetics, I had long discounted personality as a component of attractiveness, but Kelsey validated the Platonic idea that the beauty without reflected the beauty within.

      In the midst of an Anaheim wonderland that showcased traditional European fantasy and fable, I had met a living embodiment of the Old World’s finest qualities. Kelsey had shown me what a true princess living in the present day would be like. She would not be a dark, evil queen, but a being of light and grace, a gentle, vulnerable, good-natured soul who cherished timeless values such as loyalty, family, and heritage—values that the modern world rejected, but which were, to her, intuitively right and true.

      Throughout the encounter, I had felt the spirit of sundry Romantic visionaries of yore, from King Ludwig of Bavaria (whose Neuschwanstein had been the model for the Sleeping Beauty Castle) to Frank Miller (the master builder of the Mission Inn) to the great Walt Disney himself. Each of them had willed his dreams into reality, creating tangible manifestations of fairy-tale and fable in the midst of the modern age, concretizing his fantasies in stone so that the whole world could share them. But Kelsey personified the dream of beauty more vividly than any castles or works of art. She brought it to life, made it personal, made it real—made it believable.

      The world was very lucky to have Miss Olson in it. So long as someone like Kelsey could exist, the forces of modernity had not yet triumphed, and hope remained that the timeless ideals of femininity and beauty could still be restored.

The End

Kelsey Olson Galleries: One · Two · Three · Four · Five · Six

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