Skip to content Skip to footer

Avaneil John – Four Decades of her Fashion and Fitness Career

Avaneil John has built a career as a commercial runway and showroom model for 40 years. As a runway model, She displays garments, accessories and overall style for clothing and fashion brands. As a showroom or ‘fit model’ she wears garments in the relaxed atmosphere of a showroom, helping buyers understand how they’ll look and fit customers. John has excelled in both these types of modelling.

(Photo Courtesy of Avaneil John)
Photo Courtesy of Avaneil John

Early Life and Career

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the second of seven children, John’s family emigrated to Canada when she was eleven, settling in a predominantly Jewish area at Bloor and Spadina in downtown Toronto. She attended Castle Frank High School and was a top athlete having no interest in modelling, until age sixteen when a teacher got her involved in a Simplicity Patterns photo shoot. “I was proud, but uncomfortable in front of the camera,” she shares. “However, the teacher and my friends encouraged me, and I enrolled in a course at the renowned Judy Welch Modelling Agency,” says John.

It was there she discovered runway modelling and she loved it, refined her skills and prepared for the modelling industry. “Judy was very detailed,” she says, “I learned to walk, stand, sit, eat and even get in and out of a car.”

John was a freelance model in Toronto until the age of 18 and then moved to Montreal to study English Communications at Concordia University. While there, she continued modelling and joined the Constance Brown Agency, telling us she decided to pursue runway modelling instead of photography. “The camera always made me feel awkward and to ease my discomfort, I’d laugh,” she confides. “Constance and I discussed it. I told her I enjoyed prancing and doing my thing, and so I stuck with runway,” says John.

This was the beginning of her commercial modelling career and John concentrated on runway shows and showrooms. She worked as a fit model for furriers, and modelled for designers Bernie Cohen and Hugh Garber, for whom she did showroom and runway, becoming his brand ambassador. “He hired me to walk his show in Toronto and eventually I moved back there and joined Bookings model agency,” says John.

Her work took her back and forth between Montreal and Toronto. “In Montreal, I worked for high end brands like Christian Dior, First de Van Clef & Arpels Paris, retailer Lily Simon, and top designers like Armani, Cacharel, Marilyn Brooks, Tsipora Levy, Lorraine Delsol, Hugh Garber and Winston Kong,” she remembers.

In Toronto, John appeared in the annual Ebony Fashion Fair travelling trunk show and also worked with the legendary Black model, Beverly Johnson. In addition, she did the Vogue Pattern Fashion show and the ground breaking Bronze Magic show in Toronto.

“I did this for 40 years,” says John, “supplementing my income working as a secretary at Combustion Engineering and after graduating from the Humber College paralegal program, temped as a legal assistant.”

(Photo Courtesy of Avaneil John)
(Photo Courtesy of Avaneil John)

 

 

This special section creates a spread of 2 photos that will jut out into the side margin.

 

 

I’m not satisfied being a token, so I was confident,” she adds, “and I worked those garments to the max and stood out.”

Breaking Barriers

John then explored Europe’s modelling scene, living in Italy for a year and walking a runway in Brussels. But the market for Black models was next to none, essentially having one token Black. She moved back to Montreal.

We chatted with her about being one of few Black women on the runway, and she knows she’s been the ‘token’. “The white models knew I was the token and weren’t very friendly,” she shares. “But that wasn’t a problem for me. I refused to let them intimidate me and basically I said ‘to hell with you,’” she says defiantly and proudly.

Continuing, John explains, “I’m not satisfied being a token, so I was confident and I worked those garments to the max and stood out,”she adds. Bringing her charisma, passion and confidence to the runway made her feel secure, like she was adding value, even when, she tells us, “my white counterparts didn’t feel the same way about me.”

The industry became more diverse and more Black women modelled, but the few spots available in shows remained the same. “We were competing because now there wasn’t just one Black model and there was some resentment, ” says John.  “We all wanted to secure our spots in the shows and this resulted in ‘Black jealousy.’”

She speaks about a time when another Black model brushed her off at a show. “We were the only two Black models, yet she chose to stay aloof and never made me feel welcome,” says John. Even through this, John’s focus remained the same. “I’ve never been envious, so I’ve never felt I was competing,” she continues. “I got work, which was great and If another Black model’s essence got her work, that too was great.”

The white models knew I was the token and weren’t very friendly” she shares. “But that wasn’t a problem for me. I refused to let them intimidate,” she says defiantly and proudly, “and basically I said, ‘to hell with you.’

Photo Courtesy of Avaneil John
Photo courtesy of Avaneil John

Influence and Legacy

Now over 50, John has reinvented her style several times and yet one thing has remained consistent–her love for sports and fitness. She became a local equestrian at Leachcroft Farms, where she won Reserved Champion in a competition. A former member of North American Hobie Catamaran Association, she sailed competitively internationally in 2017, representing Canada, United States, Brazil, Australia and West Africa (Nigeria). “Even in those sports there were one or two other Blacks, plus me,” she remembers.

John’s passion for health and wellness stayed consistent throughout her modelling so it was only fitting when she transitioned her career to become a personal trainer. Her personal training company, Xquisite Fitness, offers at-home fitness for people over 45. “I’ve trained many, from former ballroom dancers to CEOs and other prominent professionals,” she tells us. “Most are referrals, so my rave reviews speak volumes,” says John.

Her life today consists of being a personal trainer, a holistic nutritionist and wellness coach and a companion sailor volunteer in summer  with Able Sail Toronto, a sailing service for people with disabilities.

To conclude the interview, we asked John what advice she’d give to 20-year-olds who are beginning their careers. Her answer was a reflection of her authenticity and confidence, two characteristics that have inspired many throughout her lifetime.“If you love yourself, be yourself,” she concludes. “You are not here to please others. You are here to please yourself.”

Photo of Avaneil sailing, courtesy of Avaneil John.
Avaneil John riding. Photo courtesy of Avaneil John.

About the authors:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

About the author:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

Archive of images at BFC:

From token to trailblazer: her rise, resilience and reinvention.

From token to trailblazer: her rise, resilience and reinvention

NameAvaneil Gail JohnBirthOctober 19BirthplacePort-of-Spain, TrinidadEthnic OriginTrinidadianOccupationsModel, Personal Trainer, Holistic Nutrition Wellness CoachWebsitexquisitefitness.comShare

© 2024. All Rights Reserved.

Go to Top
0
Read the comments & leave your thoughts!x