When Kelsey Merritt moved to New York City from the Philippines in 2017 to pursue modeling, she had big dreams. But she exceeded them by booking the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show out of the gate.
“I can’t believe I’m making my runway debut there!” Merritt, now 21, said during her photo shoot for The Post. “I feel like I won a beauty pageant.”
She will strut her stuff on the catwalk alongside runway legends such as Adriana Lima, Behati Prinsloo and Taylor Hill at the annual Victoria’s Secret show this Sunday in Manhattan. (The event will air Dec. 2 on ABC.)
Merritt has come along way from her humble beginnings. Born and raised in Pampanga, a province northwest of Manila, she grew up in a tightly-knit household with three siblings. Her father works in real estate, while her mother is a housewife. Merritt’s first job was working at a local coffee shop when she was 15. Around that time, she saw some of her friends going to open casting calls for models and decided to give it a shot.
“I wasn’t even with a signed agency, I’d just go to open calls and I’d book runway jobs, then I started doing editorials and it just grew from there,” she said. “At 15 [years old], that was a pretty big deal.”
But modeling didn’t stop her from pursuing her education. Merritt studied advertising at Ateneo University, one of the most prestigious schools in the Philippines. Because her first language was Filipino, she was nervous about speaking English with her classmates.
“I was insecure because [my classmates] were so posh,” Merritt said. “I was never comfortable. Whenever I spoke Filipino, they’d talk back to me in English . . . I was a little embarrassed about my English because of my accent, but [now I know] there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
In 2015 she was scouted via Instagram by a Wilhelmina executive who asked her to fly out to New York for four months. She ended up booking gigs like Vera Wang and was photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, all while also juggling her studies.
“I had no idea how big of a deal [Demarchelier] was” at first, she admitted of the then-regular Vogue contributor. (Earlier this year, publisher Condé Nast said it would no longer work with the photographer after he was accused by several models of sexual misconduct.)
But once she found out, “that put it in perspective,” she said — essentially, that’s when she realized she could make a full-time career out of modeling.
Upon graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 2017, Merritt moved to New York full time. Soon, she caught the eye of Victoria’s Secret, where she was cast for two catalog shoots and asked to audition for the big fashion show.
Merritt admitted she was all nerves after the tryout — but she left it up to a higher power.
“I went to church and prayed,” she recalled. “I said, ‘This is all in your hands now.’ ”
When the model got word that she made the cut, she was over the moon. “Victoria’s Secret is such a big deal in the Philippines,” she said. “So I feel like this was something I could give back to [Filipinos].”
And Merritt, who now lives in Chelsea, also found love in the States. She’s currently dating two-time Olympic swimmer Conor Dwyer, 29. While she is coy about sharing too many details of their relationship, the stunner said she is “happy.”
Right now, she’s busy preparing for the show. For the past two months, Merritt has cut sugar from her diet and works out seven days a week, often twice a day.
“Every single model will tell you it’s their dream job,” she said of the Victoria’s Secret show. “The roster of girls is just the best of the best, and to be part of that is just — you feel like you made it.”