07/10/2013 05:04 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadian Style Icons: Coco Rocha

Today, she's renowned as one of the most popular models in the world, but it wasn't so long ago that Coco Rocha was the lanky girl from B.C. who landed the runways of Paris and New York. I sat down with Coco to get some of her thoughts on style.

Canadian Style Icons is a bi-weekly column authored by Daniel Eckler, serial entrepreneur and founder of Piccsy.

When you talk about Canadian style icons, Coco Rocha is one of the first names on your list. Today, she's renowned as one of the most popular models in the world, but it wasn't so long ago that we remember her as the lanky girl from B.C. who landed the runways of Paris and New York.

We all know the story by now -- Rocha was discovered at an Irish dance competition, then whisked away to the world of high fashion. But it's not as if every new model gets to walk down the runways for Marc Jacobs. No, Rocha made a name for herself by being versatile, easy to get along with and hard-working, in an industry when all three can sometimes come in short supply. For the first few months of her career, Rocha worked tirelessly, doing catalog modeling in Asia -- dozens of shoots in a day, and putting in work learning the ins and outs of the industry. So when Vogue Italia came calling, she was more than ready.

Photographer Steven Meisel was the one shooting that cover, and he saw something unique in her. Since then, she's grown to become one of the world's top models, seen everywhere from Banana Republic ads, to walking the runway for names like Chanel, Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier.

What's the secret to her success? It's impossible to say, but even the most hardened critic must admit that in every interview she does, you get the feeling that there's no pretense to her. What you see is what you get, and there's no wall of reserve like with so many people in the upper echelons of fashion. She's a model that's got both feet firmly planted on the ground. That feeling is reinforced when you see her tumblr and Twitter accounts, which are filled with shout outs to friends and family rather than any kind of automated promotional noise.

Fast-forward seven years and she's now the high watermark for Canadian fashion. Rocha has given something for Canadian women to look at, and aspire to -- not just in terms of fashion, but in terms of social conscience too. Rocha has put herself in the firing line by speaking out against the use of child models, and the high prevalence of eating disorders in the fashion industry. Outside of the world of fashion, she's also been active in the fight against human trafficking with Senhoa, and worked to bring supplies to the still-recovering Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Canada could hardly ask for a better role model.

Read on below for Coco's thoughts on style...

What is your definition of style? And good style?

Having good style really just means having a decisive eye and being able to put things together in an aesthetically pleasing manner. It's not a matter of spending a lot of money and throwing it all together. Fashion can be bought, but style cannot.

How do you describe your style?

I'm not a slave to labels or trends. If it looks right for me then I'll wear it. My clothes are an eclectic mix of high and low fashion. I have some lovely designer pieces that were given to me by the designers themselves and I've also collected some really unusual vintage pieces from various parts of the globe that have a long history. I think it's important to wear clothing that means something to you and so I always try to make sure I'm wearing at least one item that has a personal meaning to me.

What makes someone a style icon?

I feel like the term "style icon" is given out far to liberally these days. Some new starlet borrows a haute couture dress and all of a sudden she's an overnight style icon. To me, true style icons have been few and far between. Elizabeth Taylor comes to mind. I never got to meet her while she was alive, but she is one of those people I have always admired in terms of her sense of style. During her day, she was the most glamorous woman in the world at a time when we didn't have celebrity stylists picking every piece of clothing. A few years back I went to an auction of her clothing and was in awe of her collection. I mean, after 10 years as a model I have seen some amazing collections but literally my mouth was on the floor. I actually bought a Givenchy jumpsuit she had owned in the '80s. It is such a crazy amazing piece, the perfect example of a piece that tells an interesting story.

How do you describe Canadian style?

For a small population, Canada has always had a very strong and vibrant style. So many great designers either came from Canada or still live there. I think about Dean and Dan of Dsquared, Todd Lynn and Greta Constantine, all of whom I admire greatly. I think the fashion magazines in Canada are working at a beautiful international level also. I've always had a great relationship with Flare, Fashion and Elle.

Photo gallery Coco Rocha's Style Evolution See Gallery