BENTON HARBOR — It was a trip of a lifetime for two Benton Harbor women, who traveled to Paris a month ago for Paris Fashion Week.

“It was an amazing trip. A dream come true,” said Benton Harbor designer Candace Caldwell, who owns Bod’e Beauty Bar & Boutique at 100 W. Main St., where she showcases her brand, Bod’e Exotica. “It’s still surreal because I feel like I’ve waited for it all of my life. Everything that I’ve worked hard for, just seeing it manifest in that form was almost miraculous. ... I never thought I would have this opportunity.”

Since the trip, Caldwell said she’s been invited to several other fashion shows, including Beverly Hills Fashion Week, Dubai Fashion Week and the Cannes Film Festival. 

“I dream big and continue to chase it and this is what can manifest from it. And being able to share it with another young woman from the community, the high school, that was fulfilling to me as well,” she said. “I’ve always been into giving back and philanthropy.”

Part of her giving back was creating the Bod’e Dolls, a group of 15 young women she mentors in different aspects of the fashion world, including modeling and make-up.

She took with her one of her Bod’e Dolls, Benton Harbor High School senior Ammicia Coates, who modeled clothing for several designers in Paris.

“She got a range of exposure with multiple collections,” she said.

Caldwell said she hopes to take more young women with her to future fashion shows. But being allowed to bring one of her own models is a rarity, she said. Usually, only professional models from the modeling agency are allowed on the runway.

Coates said she loved the trip and can’t wait to start her modeling career after she graduates from high school in June.

Coates said she was surprised when other designers in Paris asked her to model their clothing.

“When I got there, designers were pulling me and asking, ‘Can you try this on for me and see if you can fit in it?’” she said. “The next thing you know, I was walking for seven designers.”

She said she had no problem fitting in with the models.

“I had to walk down the runway a couple of times to get the feeling of how to walk and work the clothes, because it was different types of garments that I was wearing,” she said.

Caldwell was given the chance to show her designs in Paris because she was being mentored by Carmin Muhammad of Hammond, Ind., owner and designer of Al-Nisa, a modest fashion brand for women. Caldwell was one of three designers Muhammad took with her to Paris.

Caldwell said she’s ready to take her business a step further and plans to create the B Agency, where she will mentor future models.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege