She is a petite 5 ft. tall, not common in an industry that celebrates statuesque young women. She is based in Twinsburg, Ohio, rather than New York or L.A. And she is a childhood cancer survivor with Down syndrome. But none of this has not stopped Olivia DePiore from becoming a sought-after model who has graced the runways in Milan, Paris and New York.
Olivia, 23, who also goes by “Liv,” was raised by parents, Vicky and John, who never for a minute thought her diagnosis would in any way put limitations on her.
“Our motto,” said Vicky,” was “I think I can; I think I can,” the famous refrain from the childhood book “The Little Engine That Could.”
This can-do attitude came in handy when Olivia was diagnosed at age 6 with leukemia.
She spent about 2 and half years in treatment at Akron Children’s Showers Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders but fortunately has had no lasting effects from her chemotherapy.
“Our memories of that time are surprisingly good,” says Vicky. “We remember the upbeat nurses, Dr. [Donna] Patton with a lizard on her stethoscope, and all the specialists – from genetics to OT and PT – who helped us and had such a holistic approach.”
A few weeks ago, in appreciation of her childhood cancer caregivers who are now working through the Covid-19 pandemic, Olivia delivered colorful, embellished face masks to the Showers Center designed and sewn by Jackie Bertolette, who owns the model management agency Discovered! Model & Scouting Management (DMSM) and is editor of Haute Ohio Magazine.
It’s not an atypical philanthropic gesture. Since her diagnosis, the family has sponsored a team for Relay for Life each year, and has raised more than $100,00 for the American Cancer Society.
Olivia’s modeling career began 2 years ago when she was shopping for a homecoming dance dress and the shop owner invited her to model.
“I loved it,” says Olivia. “This was a way to tell my story and say ‘It’s okay to be different and to be nice too.’”
Soon Olivia began self learning about how to walk a runway and strike poses by watching YouTube videos.
Her parents thought it was a wonderful avenue to help Olivia improve her communications skills as she has a bit of stutter.
“It’s definitely helped improved her skills and exposed her to so many new experiences and places,” said Vicky.
Vicky said Olivia works hard, and is always open to new opportunities. But she has had the benefit of good timing. Now more than ever, the worlds of fashion and advertising are more committed than ever to diversity.
“You now see plus-size models, petite models, LGBTQ models,” said Vicky.
In other words, being petite, or being from Ohio, or having special needs has not closed doors as it may have in previous generations.
“I think companies realize the benefits of diversity,” Vicky added. “Keeping everything vanilla can be boring. Being inclusive may open you up to a whole new clientele.”
Olivia has also enjoyed opportunities in the pageant world and was crowned Ohio’s Miss Amazing Queen (Miss Division) last year.
Since her 2016 graduation from Twinsburg High School, she works two jobs, and also helps out in her parents’ restaurant, Nora, in Cleveland’s Little Italy.
When Olivia became represented by Jackie last year, modeling opportunities really began to open up.
She has appeared in Haute Ohio and has walked the runways during fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan.
“We were in Milan in February,” said Vicky. “We don’t speak Italian but, fortunately, one TV was broadcasting CNN in English so knew it was time to get home.” Northern Italy would soon be the second hardest hit area of the coronavirus pandemic outside of China with hospitals overwhelmed and the region going into a travel lockdown. Olivia was set to model at Dubai’s Fashion Week this month.
While much of the industry is on pause or opting for virtual fashion weeks, Olivia is still pursuing work closer to home. She will be featured in the summer issue of Haute Ohio Magazine and will soon be appearing in TV commercials for an airline and a mattress retailer. She is also taking acting lessons.
“I have just been there to guide her,” said Jackie, attributing Olivia’s success to her own hard work and determination.
“Olivia is exuberant,” she said. “She loves the camera, and I have seen the crowds respond so well to her. She makes people happy.”
She also credits Olivia and her parents with handling anything “negative” that comes their way – with only the utmost grace and positivity.
Jackie said Olivia has learned much on her own by watching other models, studying magazine images and watching videos. She is working with her on details such as posing at the end of runway walk and hitting the right facial expressions, but she believes she can be a “very sought-after model.”
“Her own limits are her own limits,” she said.