The lights had dimmed in the theatre in Milan, Italy. The show was about to start.
Backstage, dozens of impossibly handsome men — supermodels from around the world — prepared for the big moment.
The scene, in early June, was Dolce & Gabbana’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection show, one of the highlights of the international fashion calendar.
It was a moment that made one young Castlegar man stop and think: what was he doing here?
“I really wanted to focus on kind of enjoying it, keeping it together make sure I didn’t do anything silly,” said Kane Roberts. “Obviously it’s not the most complicated thing ever, you just have to walk straight and hold your head up high. That’s something you’re more than capable of doing.”
Roberts did more than take part in the show — he was the first and last model on the stage, a major honour. (And he nailed his walk.)
Roberts has come a long way in his 18-month-long career as one of the world’s hot new male models. His chiseled good looks and lithe frame have been splashed on Steve Madden billboards in New York’s Time Square, featured in catalogues by Armani and other world-class designers, and he has strode the catwalks of Paris, London, and Milan.
Not bad for a kid from the West Kootenay.
“Growing up in Castlegar I never really knew this world existed or it was a possibility for me,” says Roberts. “It was never something I planned for when I was young. But you know, life works that way, you fall into something, and I enjoy it.”
Raised in Castlegar, he went to Stanley Humphries high school, played hockey and rugby, and hung out like other Kootenay kids.
At 17 he left for Vancouver to play rugby, and a few years later was spotted waiting tables at an Earl’s in Burnaby by a fashion scout.
He had caught the eye of the agency’s chief, Liz Bell.
“He has always been a complete delight to work with. I don’t say that often about people,” Bell told the Castlegar News from her Vancouver office. “He’s intelligent, he’s studying philosophy, he’s a thinking being.
“He brings all that to the table when he is working. He is more than a pretty face.”
As his “mother agent,” Roberts credits his career to guidance and support from Bell. But she says it’s his attitude to the work that makes the difference.
“He is well-rounded with intelligence and looks,” she says. “We always say everyone is beautiful in this business. But you have to have more, and give more, and bring more to the table.”
But Roberts’ ascent hasn’t been meteoric. He started slow, and had to struggle to get noticed in the fashion world.
He says coming from small-town Castlegar has helped him stay grounded in the often crazy, stress-filled world of international fashion.
“It’s a comforting feeling to know that when you are out there in the world,” he says. “It’s comforting to know there are these people who have your back, who I’ve known since I was four or five. Seeing you through all those formative years, in different lights.
“I am proud of the person I have become. I have nothing to hide and I will stand on my own two feet. If I’m going to make anything out of myself, I can’t be a prima donna. It’s not productive.”
While he never expected this to be his career, Roberts is going with what life has brought him. He says he’s beginning to develop plans for the future.
“I always have a Plan B, but I’ll take this as far as I can take it. I love to work hard, I love the travel, so I’ll keep taking that and I’ll see where it goes. I could be a model, but people also leverage this platform to do more significant things and I’d like to do that.
“That’s kind of the next step, to build something that goes alongside of it so I can do some modelling and some other stuff, but I don’t want to speak about the details. I like to show by my actions and have the proof, rather than spew a bunch of stuff I don’t have factual evidence for.”
Liz Bell says the sky is the limit for Roberts — as a man, she says he has decades left to his career, if all goes well.
“His big goals should be for campaigns: fragrance companies, cosmetics, Christian Dior, men’s cologne campaigns… that’s where the money is, in hair and skin products,” she says.
“What you need is be able to evolve. It’s about branding, becoming your own brand. And he has always been interested in doing that.”
While Roberts builds his career, the industry is of course looking for the Next Big Thing.
And Bell says another Castlegar youth could be that It person.
“If anyone in Castlegar wants to get into the industry, they should contact us,” says Bell. “That’s where everybody comes from, from little towns all over B.C.
“All our models are Canadians, British Columbians. If you look at our website, most every model you see there, no matter how famous, all came from here.
“They started out as a regular person on the street.”
Roberts agrees. He says local young people can do it. But he does have a warning too.
“Know what you are doing, be cognizant of it, and get an agent you trust,” he says. “I would not be doing it without my relationship with Liz Bell. She’s important to the process. She’s honest with me. There are people who won’t be honest with you, believe me. So that’s important to have.”
But he agrees being from Castlegar is no detriment to being a star in the globe’s fashion capitals.
“I think the whole small-town mentality does take you a long way in modelling,” he says. “Small-town people are humble, they like to work hard, but they also believe in themselves, and that cool confidence is a big part of it.”