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  • Amy Guilford

Local twins get a second opportunity of a lifetime

Three years ago, I shared the story of Erin and Alyssa Hengesbach’s “once in a lifetime experience.” The identical twin sisters had been discovered by New York City fashion designer Marc Jacobs following their annual trip to the Twins Day Festival. They were whisked away to the Big Apple and Hollywood to shoot a fashion campaign and become the hero image of the Marc Jacobs brand. It was a fascinating experience for the notoriously shy pair who felt much more comfortable remaining in their small circle than meeting new people. The sisters not only returned home with a great story, but they were also greeted with tremendous support from the community and began to develop a newfound sense of confidence in themselves.

The excitement of the experience began to die down in the months following, and the sisters returned to their normal hobbies and favorite past times. When they aren’t road tripping across the country in search of the perfect donut, they can typically be spotted outdoors biking and roller blading around town. To date, their adventures have landed them in 48 of the 50 states. While they had intended to make Alaska and Hawaii their next big trip, they would instead add Milan, Italy to their passport booklet.

The message came in like the last one. Erin received a direct message on Instagram from a Gucci casting director. Again, with a sense of urgency they were asked to drop everything and fly to Milan for Fashion Week. There was no way of knowing at that time just how big of a deal this was, but they would quickly find out. After gaining expedited passports and jetting off to Europe they found themselves in a foreign land at the mercy and direction of the world-renowned Italian fashion label.

Sleep-deprived and hungry, they were driven to the Gucci hub where they immediately began to grasp the significance of the event and venue. Security was tight and a signed NDA was required. As they looked around at the 100+ pairs of identical twins, they quickly realized this was another twins’ campaign – and it was to be kept top secret. In fact, it wouldn’t be revealed even to the audience until the final moments of the runway show.

The easiest way to describe the casting experience is to compare it to reality TV show, where contestants are one by one voted off the island and sent home until the last person standing wins the prize. While Erin and Alyssa were “street cast” i.e.: not represented by a modeling agency, the majority in attendance were professional models – and this was the biggest opportunity of their careers. The process began with casting photos, followed by clothing fittings, hair, makeup, and walking practice. It was a brutal procedure as everyone desperately wanted to make it to the next round and were heartbroken when they were told they would not advance. As the days progressed, the twins’ nervousness grew. They feared getting so far and not being able to experience the ultimate prize – walking in a Gucci fashion show on the Milan runway. Three days after stepping off the plane, Erin received the confirmation email they had been waiting for. They were in!

Sixty-eight sets of identical twins began preparing for the big show. Alyssa was number 57A and Erin 57B. Their outfits were hung backstage and the instructions for hair, makeup and nails simply read “natural”. They were the minority that did not undergo a transformation but were instead instructed to embrace their natural beauty. In fact, their hair went untouched after being directed to not wash it for two days. Their footwear is what provided them the greatest relief – combat boots rather than stilettos.

Following long, rigorous rehearsals, the big day finally arrived. Nervous energy buzzed backstage as all the twins parted ways to separate sides of a wall that divided the runway. The show started late as celebrities posed for photos prior to taking their seats. Familiar faces only previously seen onscreen began to appear, the most noticeable being Jessica Chastain and Julia Garner. As the music began to play and the booming voice of the narrator sounded, the long line of models began to walk alone in a singular fashion. The audience did not realize that there was another side to the runway. From each vantage point, it simply appeared that sixty-eight individual models were present. Following the initial stroll down the runway the models looped back around backstage and clasped hands with their twin in preparation for the dramatic and emotional reveal. As the center wall began to lift from the runway, the pairs walked once again, this time hand in hand with the mirror image of themselves.

Described as both the scariest yet most thrilling experience of their lives, Erin and Alyssa beamed with pride and excitement immediately following the show. They quickly began checking their phones and were ecstatic reading messages from family and friends who had been watching the show live on Instagram.

While they had to return their outfits, they didn’t leave empty handed. They purchased local swag and souvenirs and took in the memorable landmarks. During their moments of downtime, they rode the metro to their favorite landmark – a stunning cathedral called the Duomo, di Milano. From there they walked all through the city eating gelato and taking in breathtaking sites such as Arco della Pace and Castello Sforzesco. They were not interested in trying the local cuisine, they instead dined at some of their American favorites – Five Guys, McDonalds, and KFC. Although they were living the high life in Italy, they still preferred the simple pleasures from back home.

I had the opportunity to sit with Erin and Alyssa following both of their incredible experiences. It was noticeable to me in the second interview just how much they had grown, both in confidence and communication. When asked what made them the proudest, the response was simple “that we did it and enjoyed it.” Those closest to them had worried they would be too shy or nervous to enjoy the moment. But unlike the quiet caterpillars that once felt safest in their familiar cocoon, they emerged on the scene of an international fashion show, spread their wings like butterflies and revealed to the world the power of their natural strength and beauty.

Watch the full Gucci Twinsburg runway show here:


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