In an Audrey Hepburn-inspired shoot at Orchardleigh House in Frome, Somerset, the tall and elegant Kay-Jay models clothes by London designer Opulent Reign and tells us what 2023 has in store for her. She and her twin are turning 21, and the influencer, brand ambassador, and promoter of all things travel and tourism has also just started her own YouTube channel. So, Kay-Jay, let’s talk fashion, fun, film work and photoshoots.
Audrey Hepburn is one of the classiest movie stars of all time and her films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holidayand My Fair Lady are enduring favourites. What Audrey wore and how she wore it is a standard still aspired to by millions, and her timeless look remains as fresh as ever. To celebrate the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, and the start of the British Season with events like the Chelsea Flower Show and Ascot, our model Kay-Jay – who started in the fashion industry at the tender age of 14 – showcases chic and effortless Audrey-inspired looks by London designer Opulent Reign, photographed by Stuart Green.
Born Keri Jean Johnstone in Southampton, Kay-Kay has been working as a model since she started the day before her 14th birthday in 2016. Six feet tall and a slender UK size 8 (a US size 4), Kay-Jay was scouted by a German fashion designer while on a family holiday in Tenerife in March 2016. The designer was having a fashion show in Berlin in the July, loved Kay-Jay’s look, and asked her to be her muse. As she was under 18, Kay-Jay’s mother accompanied her to that event and, until very recently, escorted her daughter everywhere to keep her safe and to look after her.
“My first experience in a fashion show was at the Hilton Hotel in Berlin,” remembers Kay-Jay of her introduction to her international catwalk career. “It had a magnificent staircase and I pretty much experienced every emotion possible that day,” she says.
Kay-Jay still lives in the same house she’s known all her life with her mother Karen, 56.
Like supermodel Gisele, she is a twin. Hers is Leah, and there is an older brother Lloyd, 24 in July, and younger sister Chloe, 19. Kay-Jay was the tallest girl in her school, skinny with braces and had “zero confidence”, she says.
“At school I was teased and bullied about my height and about my model work. I was very insecure, but modelling gave me the confidence I needed to grow into the person I am today.“
“My Mum and the designers saw me differently and supported and encouraged me,” she says. The name Kay-Jay comes from the initials for Keri Jean or Keri Johnstone. Kay-Jay was told early on she should have a model name and is now known in the industry as Kay-Jay or Kay.
Elegant, pale-complexioned and natural-looking, with her natural long hair, no tattoos or body piercings – except for earrings, in the early days most of Kay-Jay’s model work took place at weekends or evenings or during holiday time, so it didn’t really affect her schooling. If she was abroad and studying for exams, she would take her revision work with her.
“My mother has supported me throughout my whole journey so far. It is only now, at 20, that I have started to go to shoots and shows on my own. Right up until 19, she accompanied me everywhere.
“I am very lucky to have such a supportive family. About a year or so into my model journey and after the year contract I had with the German designer, my Mum became my manager. During the course of the first year, she researched and studied how the industry worked, and built up my social media so she had the knowledge to manage me,” Kay-Jay explains.
There are stringent laws in place for young models, especially underage. Fashion is a tough industry to be in both competitively and with undesirables and scammers out there, so it is important to have an agent or a manager who knows what they are doing, Kay-Jay says of the family decision to have her Mum as her manager.
“As a model it is very important to have someone in your life who supports you wholeheartedly and understands the industry you are in. It takes someone confident in themselves and trusting, because as a model you have to engage with your followers, go to events and network with people. I am young so my career at the moment is important to me.”
As an influencer, Kay-Jay promotes being a real, genuine, natural model. “I don’t like to put images on my social media that are edited too much. I like people to see what I really look like and to keep it as real as possible. Editing the odd blemish or hair out of place is fine, but altering my features or my body is a no for me.
“Body positivity is important to me. At the end of the day, just be you, there is something beautiful about everyone!”
When Kay-Jay reached adulthood, she was told her bum was too big and that she wouldn’t make it as a supermodel. “I wasn’t skinny enough, apparently. I had always struggled with eating enough and was very thin, and it took me a long time to feel happy with my weight. I am a size 8 and am 6ft tall. To be honest, I am the happiest I have ever felt at the size I am now; I have small curves to make a dress look good, I am not super boney and I look healthy.
“If I was told I had to diet, I would say no, take me as I am or not at all,” she says.
Another favourite fashion memory is the time Kay-Jay walked for Vanessa Alfaro, in California. “She designs wedding dresses and the dress I wore was her finale piece. It was so beautiful and her work is bespoke, unique and just exquisite,” she says.
“I have lots of designers that I enjoyed working with such as Vanessa; Chanel Joan Elkayam; and Pegah Pourmand, whose label is Lapearlin. Her collection is very feminine, the models had facials, were really looked after, and I got to wear two of her really unique designs,” she recalls.
“And I really bonded with Vanessa Alfaro. She is a beautiful person inside and out and has an incredibly supportive husband. Her work is just outstanding.” Brands Kay-Jay would also love to work with include Versace and Prada.
Among her favourite photographers are Carl Ryan of Black Planet Photography in Wales, and Devon-based Stuart Green Photography, whose work is featured in these pages. Kay-Jay also namechecks London photographer Alan West as someone she enjoys collaborating with.
This Audrey-inspired shoot took place at Orchardleigh House in Frome, Somerset, where Kay-Jay is shooting a film later in the year. “It’s so beautiful there, with amazing grounds,” she says. The peach and the white dresses are by London designer Opulent Reign, and Kay-Jay often works with the photographer, Stuart Green. The black dress is Kay-Jay’s own.
What do you wear when relaxing at home?
Lounge sets or joggers or leggings. Anything comfy and cosy.
What products do you use?
I like using Maybelline and Benefit on my skin. Being an influencer, I am sent various products to try, but these are my usual brands.
How do you look after your skin?
I have a strict facial routine as I have acne-prone skin. I try to use all natural products and minimal chemicals. My go-to is a cleansing balm to ensure all my make-up is off. I exfoliate, wash, tone and moisturise, all with natural products.
How do you relax from work?
In my free time, I enjoy going to the gym, spending time with my friends and family, eating good food and travelling.
I enjoy all types of genres of music from rock&roll to Motown, blues, and modern pop.
London or New York?
I will be going to New York in the next 12 months, so I will tell you then!
I would love to go to The Maldives, Bora Bora, Pacific Islands, I could do some amazing shoots there as well as take in the natural beauty. It is my aim to travel as much as possible with my work now that the pandemic is over.
Favourite movie stars?
Sandra Bullock, Jason Statham, Melissa McCarthy are some of my favourite actors. I love anything to do with crime, thriller and action. I would love to work with any of the three actors above or be part of a thriller or action movie.
Four dream dinner party guests?
Elvis Presley, Jason Statham, Melissa McCarthy and my Mum.
If you could change the world?
It would have to be to change people’s attitudes. Being kind, having patience, listening, smiling, having good morals and manners all cost absolutely nothing but can mean such a big difference to lives. If we all did that, the world would be a much better place. As a person, you are who you are, make the most of your life and who you are in a positive way,
Your Desert Island luxury?
It would be hard to choose between my dog or lip balm – I hate having dry lips!
A pasta dish of some description with cheese, or a nice juicy steak.
I never, ever want to see broccoli on my plate!
The easiest thing to give up?
Alcohol, because I don’t really like it anyway.
Your role model or mentor?
My Mum. If I could be half the person she is, I would be doing well.
To be true to myself and live my life.