BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor will be well-represented in France in less than two weeks during Paris Fashion Week.

Benton Harbor High School senior Ammicia Coates, 17, is traveling to the fashion capital of the world to model for 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.

“I’m super excited,” said Caldwell, a 1996 graduate of Benton Harbor High School. “And I’m so excited to take (Coates) with me. It’s a blessing.”

They are attending the event thanks to Carmin Muhammad of Hammond, Ind., owner and designer of Al-Nisa, a modest fashion brand for women.

Muhammad said this is the second time the founder of Sommet de la Mode has invited her to the Paris show.

“Paris Fashion Week is one of the most iconic, major fashion week events in the world,” she said. “It really sets the tone for designers in terms of what’s coming out. This is where everyone goes to find out what the look is for the next season.”

She said she wanted to share the opportunity with other up-and-coming designers.

“I was invited, and I was sharing with the founder of that fashion week that I had discovered some really awesome and talented designers,” she said. “I said I would really love to be able to make them part of my delegation.”

The organizers agreed once they looked over photos of Caldwell’s work. In addition, Muhammad said two other designers joining her delegation are from Atlanta and Dallas.

“For me to be someone to help other individuals who have dreams of one day being in a place like this is so really, really wonderful. I’m excited about the experience.” she said. “I’m excited about them being right in the pulse of everything that is happening from a fashion perspective. They’ll see a lot of people. The energy there – it’s magical.”

Muhammad said it will be a whirlwind trip, with them traveling to Paris on Sept. 29, participating in the show Oct. 1 and then speaking to other fashion designers and people in the business before returning Oct. 4. 

“These young ladies are really being given an opportunity that people dream about all over the world,” she said. “... I hope and pray that I will be able to continue to invite young designers like Candace, young models like Ammicia, to be a part of these events because these are phenomenal events, and they are definitely something that can help propel their careers to the next level.”

Caldwell said having her designs showcased in Paris is a dream come true, but she never thought that would happen after she moved back to Benton Harbor.

After graduating from Bauder College in Atlanta with a fashion design degree, she said she stayed in Atlanta for more than 15 years and worked in the cosmetics industry, where she managed multi-million dollar stores for MAC and Clinique cosmetics.

“That allowed me to get off into make-up artistry and was another way to exercise my creativity,” she said.

Caldwell moved back to Michigan when her mother, Joyce Hardin, became ill. And when an opportunity in Detroit didn’t work out, she said she moved back to Benton Harbor and opened her business about three years ago, with help from Cornerstone Alliance.

Caldwell said Muhammad called her after seeing a prom dress she had designed for a client.

“That’s the miracle in the story for me,” she said. “It’s almost like it was destined this way. ... And I’ve gone through several things and experienced so much since I’ve been in this area that I feel that it has strengthened me more than I probably would have received in a major metropolitan area.”

Coates said she met Caldwell when she was 14 and went to her to get her make-up done for her junior high prom.

“I fell in love with Candace doing my make-up,” she said. “I won’t let any other make-up artist touch my face.”

Then Caldwell asked her to model her clothing during a fashion show called Braids Beats & Brunch a couple of weeks ago in Benton Harbor that featured Caldwell’s fashions and hair done by Abisayo Muhammad, owner of Abisayo’s Beautiful Braiding Boutique.

“I just love walking in heels,” Coates said. “And when I modeled for Candace at the fashion show, it was unexpected that I was going to get invited to go to Paris with her.”

Caldwell said she wanted Muhammad to see Coates in action modeling her clothing before inviting her to Paris.

Coates said all of her teachers have been very supportive of her taking time off to model clothing in Paris.

“I’m going to finish school, but I’m also going to take the opportunity when I can,” said Coates, who plans to attend Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., after graduating from high school.

Caldwell said Coates is one of her 15 Bod’e Dolls – young women she mentors from surrounding communities.

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