Canadian model Jessica Stam credits fashion photographer Steven Meisel the man who discovered Linda Evangelista in the late Eighties with helping transform her into a supermodel. "He changed me," says the natural beauty, who shared an apartment and struggled to make ends meet in New York before being introduced to the famous snapper. "The only place I had to myself was a top bunk and my suitcase."
Jessica made her entry into the world on April 23, 1986, joining a large, devout Christian family on a farm in Kincardine, Ontario. Growing up in the countryside alongside six brothers, her biggest influence was her faith. During her childhood, she sang in the church choir, performed in plays for the congregation, and dreamed of becoming a dentist when she grew up.
It wasn't until after the stunner, then 16, was discovered by a model scout at a coffee shop that she found out what modelling was all about. Her parents encouraged her to grab hold of the exciting prospect with both hands. "They told me that this was my moment," says Jessica. "They believe this opportunity was given to me and I have to go with it."
It proved a fortuitous decision for the budding model, who shortly afterwards won the Los Angeles Model Look Search. But it wasn't until she moved to New York that her persistence truly paid off.
Renowned fashion photographer Steven Meisel was instrumental in ensuring Jessica's success. By casting the young beauty in numerous ad campaigns that required her to change the colour of her hair every week, he gave her a chameleon-like quality, similar to that associated with fellow Canadian Linda Evangelista. "He brings out the best in me," says Jessica modestly.
Following successful campaigns for Versace and Prada, the 5ft 10in model star found herself splashed across the pages of Italian, German and American Vogue. In 2004 she further extended her career with a venture into acting, appearing as Orange Girl in the short flick Agent Orange. And another hair change, from flaming auburn to platinum blonde, in the summer of 2005 placed the small-town girl firmly on the international fashion map.
That same summer she was cast for no less than 54 runway shows, including such big guns as Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani. And Marc Jacobs was so inspired by the new model that in 2006 he created a bag named in her honour 'The Stam'. Jessica's profile received a further boost that December when she joined Victoria's Secret as one of the luxury lingerie label's angels, taking to the catwalk alongside Gisele Bundchen and Karolina Kurkova.
These days the model's schedule is so busy there's little time for dating, but in the past Jessica has been romantically linked to singer Anthony Kiedis, lead vocalist with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Harrison Ford's son Malcolm. And, despite the pressures and her youth, the Canadian beauty seems to have a surprisingly mature perspective on things. "With modeling, you are judged on your looks," she says. "It's easy to take that personally. But you have to realise that it's only your appearance that's being judged, not you as a whole. If you didn't, you'd be destroyed."