Cover story featuring Kelsey Merritt

it’s safe to say that the “supermodel” was superseded by the “It girl” at around the same time that “happy and healthy” was suddenly no longer as fashionable as “heroin chic.”

The fashion world has always operated on its own timeline. Even more so the modeling industry, which has warped the concept of age worse than dog years’ seven, with its multiplication of human years at an alarming rate. Fourteen is now the preferred starting point, 18 is when the bigger brands take notice, and 21 is runway and campaign veteran level.

When I meet Kelsey Merritt for the first time, she’s a college freshman, equal parts excited for the academic semester to end so she can leave for New York, and worried about going long distance with her then-boyfriend. She was 18 at the time.

The next time someone mentions her name, it’s a whispered update of her success in fashion’s most conclusive city: “She shot a Maybelline commercial with Gigi Hadid yesterday,” and “Kelsey just posted an outtake from a Harper’s Bazaar editorial,” and “Kelsey’s doing so many castings! There’s obviously a demand,” and, of course, the inevitable “Kelsey should just stay in New York.”

Maybe she should. There isn’t much left for her to conquer here, other than longevity. Kelsey is already Manila’s go-to fashion girl. She’s known by her first name only and she’s been anointed by Philippine fashion’s heavyweights as the next generation’s zeitgeist model, her half-and-half genes proof that affirmative Filipino-American relations should be pursued at all costs. Her first modeling gig was a runway show in her native Pampanga at 14 years old, and then perhaps she has social media to thank: stylist Sam Potenciano spotted her in the background of a backstage photo of another model on Facebook, and her eyes zeroed in on the enchanting plumpness of Kelsey’s lips. Potenciano immediately sent her a private message, inviting her to shoot an editorial for a local glossy. Everything else just fell into place.

Or maybe she shouldn’t. Kelsey’s dedication to pursuing her Communications degree stands above any shows or shoots offered, her availability often depending on whether or not she lucked out during class enlistment. The fear of never graduating college and the necessity of a post-modeling safety net are clearly on her mind—and on many days, she’s still just another kid who wants to hang out with her friends (“But I’ll have to wear a paper bag over my head,” one friend comments jokingly on her Instagram).

Either way, the question isn’t whether she should or shouldn’t, or whether she’s following universally agreed-upon career trajectories. It’s cliché, but the only one who’ll know what to do is Kelsey herself. Instinct, after all, is the powerhouse of Kelsey’s career. Her instinct isn’t killer per se, but they’re the same ones that told her body how to speak to a camera at her first shoot, the same ones that brought her to New York in the first place, and the same ones her impressive versatility can be attributed to. Kelsey—like many girls before her; those called Cindy, Kate, Gisele—shifts between editorial and commercial with ease, appealing to the industry’s most trained eye and to a brand’s most detached consumer. She is the freckly ingénue and the scarlet woman, the all-natural beauty and the smokey-eyed mannequin, happy-healthy and heroin chic, and maybe even—-just maybe-—the supermodel and the It girl.