It would be easy to assume Chelsey Smith is just a pretty face. The five-foot-nine-and-a-half beauty, with long, blond waves, fair skin and rose-coloured lips, looks stunning on a daily basis. But it would be wrong to take this Edmonton native at face value; beyond her looks lie a sharp, inquisitive brain and a big heart.
Call her the classic middle-child overachiever, but Smith, who turns 26 this month, doesn’t rest on any of her laurels – beauty, brains, or otherwise. Instead, this 2012 Miss Universe Canada contestant competed in that national beauty pageant as a platform to bring attention to causes she truly cares about, such as HIV/AIDS education for women, supporting survivors of abuse and encouraging young women to embrace empowerment and natural beauty.
She’s currently working towards her master’s of intercultural and international communications online with Victoria, B.C.-based Royal Roads University. But, when she isn’t busy studying, Smith travels abroad to volunteer or helps out with causes closer to home. Whether she’s having coffee at the Art Gallery of Alberta or travelling overseas, Smith puts together classy, feminine ensembles that complement her features without overshadowing them.
What kind of volunteer work were you doing in Africa?
Five years ago, I volunteered for three months for an NGO called Light for Children. I provided HIV/AIDS education and taught in rural schools. I also worked in an orphanage and wrote proposals for sponsorship and support for children affected and effected by HIV. I was there for just over three months. It was beautiful and challenging. It was the first time I had ever travelled alone. Most recently, I spent four months working with SWAGAA (Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse) in Swaziland to help secure funding for survivors of gender-based violence and abuse. I worked to improve access to justice opportunities. I also worked with girl-empowerment clubs to encourage goal-setting and leadership. These clubs act as a safe space to discuss sexuality, sex education and the rights of women and children.
What organizations are you involved with at home?
I often present and speak on bullying, inner beauty and self esteem at elementary and junior high schools and to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters clubs. I’ve held local fundraisers for charity, and I’m involved with women’s empowerment, education and gender-based violence work in the city. I’m currently working with CEASE (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation) in Edmonton on some women’s issues. I also try to get involved in any local justice initiatives that arise when I can.
How did you get involved with the EvelineCharles Beauty Bootcamp in Edmonton?
I heard some advertisements about the beauty boot camp and that they did have an aspect of inner beauty, but it wasn’t as popularized as the hair and the nails stuff. I felt like I could really speak to that. At the time, I was working for Parlour magazine, as a writer and an editor. So I’ve been on both sides of the camera. I’ve been the one who has been Photoshopped and I’ve been the one directing a scene [on a photo shoot]. I feel like media awareness and education is really important for these girls to understand and I can offer a first-person perspective on that. I wanted to share that knowledge and encourage the girls to find their inner beauty and share my beauty mantra with them and hope it would inspire them to take on their own community efforts.
Did you ever go through an “ugly duckling” phase?
I think all girls feel self-conscious at different periods in their lives. I definitely had a bit of an awkward phase – actually, it was towards the end of high school – where I felt a lot of pressure to dress a certain way or wear more makeup and act in a way that wasn’t really me. It took me a bit to get over that.
How old were you when you did your first beauty pageant?
Twenty-three. I’d been scouted for pageants a few times when I was younger, and I was never really too interested in it. I became disenchanted with modelling, and I dropped my professional contract with Mode Models. I was exploring myself in a new light. The opportunity came up [to compete in Miss Universe Canada]. I was talking to a friend of mine who had done the pageant and she talked about what a great experience it was for her. I started to look at it in a different way, sort of [seeing] through all the different myths and stereotypes that surround pageantry. I began to see it as a platform, where I could use the pageant as a means to express my thoughts on media education, inner beauty and self-esteem. I inquired about it; I had a few interviews and I was chosen to compete. I think there were 60 of us competing that year.
What was that experience like?
It was overwhelming, but really wonderful. I met a lot of beautiful women, inside and out, who are powerful, fierce and wanting to change the world. It was kind of my first experience with a sisterhood or experiencing a bond like that. We were competing, but we were also pushing each other to do better. That was really lovely. And I had amazing sponsors for the pageant as well.
How long does the competition take?
I prepared for close to six or seven months. I did a lot of fundraising, charity work, training, that sort of thing, when I was in Victoria [attending Royal Roads University]. And then, I was in Toronto for a week for appearances, press conferences, events – all of the lead-up. Then, you have the preliminaries one evening and the finals the next night. There’s a swimsuit competition, an interview and an evening-gown competition. Those are the three marks you get. The fourth component would be that you get a score for your philanthropy.
What was the most challenging part for you?
The most challenging part of the competition was having to be “on” all the time and on very little to no sleep. We were on crazy schedules filled with dance rehearsals, appearances, dinners and interviews. It was crazy! Absolutely exhausting.
I heard that you once cut off all of your hair.
Yes. That was the year I got back from Ghana. I donated my waist-length, natural blond hair to the Pantene Pro-V Beautiful Lengths program for cancer wigs five years ago. Each year, I try to give substantially to a cause or charity. But, as a student, that can be financially difficult, so I started looking for other creative ways I could give. My hair was untreated, and blond hair is in highest-demand for cancer wigs. I went to the Lorenzo Lawrence salon, and Lorenzo cut off my ponytail. It was a big moment. There were some tears. But I was so happy I did it.
How did that change your beauty routine?
I had never had short hair. I had always had long hair. I was a ballerina for 13 years so I did a lot of big buns. So I wasn’t able to do that anymore. I had to get up and style my hair every day and blow-dry it. It changed things up. I was a little self-conscious at first because I was used to having hair to flip around.
How would you describe your personal style?
I strive for classic elegance with a twist. I also echo the sentiments of Oscar Wilde when he said, “You can never be over dressed or over educated.”
Is there any particular era that influences your style?
The ’20s and the ’50s definitely influence my style. I love pencil skirts and cinched waists, that sort of thing. As seasons change, so does my taste. In the summer, I go a little ’70s: Lots of tie-dyed scarves, loose blouses, running around barefoot.
Who are some of your favourite designers?
Locally, I’d have to say Bridget Smatlan of Fridget Apparel and Ali Schick of Suka Clothing. I’ve worked with them a bunch and they’re amazing. They make the most beautiful clothes. Also, Malorie Urbanovitch – she actually styled my first photo shoot that I ever did, so I’ve always been a fan of hers as well. Internationally, Ralph Lauren. I love his preppy styles – super preppy but he also has some of that bo-ho in there that I like.
Do you do a lot of shopping?
I love boutique shopping. I’m not someone who likes to have the same handbag or designer “whatever” that everyone else has. I’d much prefer to shop at boutique stores in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton or online as well. I do a little bit of digging to find the perfect ensemble. I also love vintage shopping.
Where do you shop for vintage clothes?
Actually, most of my vintage clothes are from my grandmothers. They’ve both passed away now, but both had the most beautiful style so I kept a lot of their coats, blazers, hats, furs, that kind of thing. Also, the Junque Cellar on Whyte Avenue is amazing for vintage shopping. And Etsy, for sure.
You’ve mentioned before that your grandmother inspired your beauty mantra.
My beauty mantra is “beauty is as beauty does,” and my Nana Lois used to always say that. She was my mom’s mother. She was charismatic and showed great leadership; she always had bright lipstick on, great dresses and suits, that kind of thing. But, again, it’s not how you look or how you appear; the beauty is in your actions. That’s what I admired most about her.
What’s the biggest fashion faux pas you’ve ever committed?
That’s a funny question! I think the biggest fashion faux pas anyone could ever commit is believing that a beauty product or article of clothing or a designer bag could somehow enrich you, because it doesn’t. Style and beauty comes from within.
However, if you asked my sister, she would say “Valentine’s Day.” I went out to a lounge with my girls and wanted to wear a splash of colour with my black cocktail dress. My sister was already wearing red, so I opted for pink. I wore this dusty rose-coloured pink jacket with a big faux fur pink collar. And I had big hair. As soon as I left the house, I knew I looked outrageous. My sister said I looked like Cher from Clueless – super ’90s! But whatever – I rocked it! And I’d do it again. It felt good.
Do you plan your outfits in advance every day?
I do, but I’ll probably still change 10 times in a morning. I’m super particular in what I wear. It’s kind of goofy.
As someone who has competed in beauty pageants, do you ever feel pressure to dress or look a certain way?
Yes, but I think that that societal pressure exists for all women to dress or look a certain way. I put myself in that position [by competing in a pageant] but I still think that pressure is out there for everyone and it’s how you deal with it, how you handle it, whether you want to buy into that or not. I feel that pressure but I don’t succumb to it. If I didn’t want to wear heels every day, I wouldn’t. Dresses and high heels are kind of how I roll. I’m a shoe girl. I love high heels. I don’t care for denim or pants but I love skirts and dresses.
Who is your style icon?
Madame Genevive Antoine Dariaux, French style guru and elegance expert.
What’s your favourite accessory?
Confidence. And to love who you are, and to rock whatever you are wearing. I don’t think it matters what you are wearing, as long as you have that love for yourself. I think that’s the best thing anyone could wear. I’m not much for flashy bling. I wear more understated jewellery on a regular basis.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Taking over the world. Shaking things up.
Way to spend a Friday night If I’m not studying? Drinking wine. Or both!
Travel destination Mozambique
Films Casablanca and Roman Holiday
Actor/Actress Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor
Band The Civil Wars, CocoRosie, Lana Del Rey
Book The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Artist Banksy, Andy Warhol and Marc Chagall
Designer Kate Spade and Coco Chanel
Shoe store gravitypope
Drink of choice French 75
Hair product Davines oil and defining gloss