From the looks of it, life is pretty good for “Zombie Boy” Rick Genest right about now. He was plucked from relative obscurity by none other than famed fashion stylist Nicola Formichetti and his right-hand woman Lady Gaga, and in the past few months he’s walked two Paris runways for Theirry Mugler, modeled as the face of the brand, starred in Gaga’s Born This Way video and scored editorials in GQ and Vogue Hommes Japan.
However, when Formichetti first stumbled upon Rico’s photo on Google, the young man from Montreal was in a tough spot. In an interview with Hint Magazine, the stylist says that seeing Rico’s pictures on Facebook inspired him to change his entire Mugler menswear collectionand to move forward with a runway showand he went to great lengths to work with him.
Since Rico couldn’t get a passport to travel to the stylist’s studio in Paris, not only did Formichetti bring much of the collection to Montreal for a campaign shoot, he went against everything his advisers were telling him, even though it was his first season on the job. “I remember thinking I have to do this, I just have a gut feeling, I have to work with this guy. Everyone said he’s a freak, why would I want to do that to a luxury brand? Anyway, I didnt listen to anyone and just went,” he said.
The more Formichetti and Gaga found out about Zombie Boy, the more they wanted to help him. “We found out why he couldnt get a passport, because he was homeless. He had a lot of fines or something because he was always sleeping on the street… he just kept telling me, ‘I’m not a criminal, I’m not a criminal.’ It took him so long to tell us. Oh my god, he was so emotional. He was crying and saying how this was going to change his life. It was a beautiful moment,” the stylist explained.
Not only did the Mugler designer pay off $20,000 worth of Rico’s debts, he flew him to Paris to walk in his menswear show. This is quite the fashion fairy tale, and it all came to be through the magic of Facebook. “I just really fell in love with the way he lived. In a way his story is similar to Gaga, in that there’s no going back. You do what you believe,” said Formichetti.
It’s always inspiring to hear about young people overcoming adversity, especially in an industry as cutthroat (and at times, shallow) as fashion. Rick Genest’s story is a testament to the power of being yourself, as Lady Gaga preaches in Born This Way. If some people think you’re weird, who caresyou just might become someone else’s muse.
Photos: Karim Sadli for GQ