Before celebrities replaced supermodels as popculture icons, high fashion was synonymous with “high profile.” As ubiquitous on the red carpet as on the runway, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour generated more headlines for their romantic entanglements – and diva-like behaviour – than their designer endorsements. But the new generation of supermodels, led by Canadian Coco Rocha, is the polar opposite: hard-working, freshfaced and surprisingly attitude-free. On the last afternoon of New York’s fall fashion week – a gruelling eight days of back-to-back shows during which most models subsist on caffeine and adrenalin – Rocha not only calls me promptly at 3:00 p.m. but she'[s also as bubbly as a glass of Veuve Clicquot. “I remember you!” she says, and I actually believe her. We first met in Paris last year, when she made her debut as the face of elle, Yves Saint Laurent’s newest fragrance. Then, although friendly, she seemed shy – and still in awe of her new-found fame. A year later, there’s no sign of her earlier reticence.

Discovered by Vancouver agent Charles Stuart five years ago at a local Irish-dancing competition – a skill she reprised for Jean Paul Gaultier’s fall 2007 collection – Rocha turns 20 this year and is model-of-the-moment on the catwalk. Besides YSL, she has appeared in campaigns for Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Dior and Lanvin. But she’s quick to point out that her job is not easy, especially during the spring and fall shows. “You have to be on cue all the time,” she explains. “Sometimes you feel like‘Oh, my goodness, how am I going to bear another day?’ [But] no one wants a model who is annoying and grouchy.”

Besides her piercing blue eyes and trademark pout, there’s no doubt that her professionalism is partly why Rocha is a designer favourite. Another reason, surely, is her lack of pretension. “I’m all about being myself,” she says. “If you have to act, then there’s something wrong. I can’t stand fake anything – even fake handbags!” She insists that this laid-back attitude is common to Canadian models in particular.“We come into this not expecting anything from it – we’re just here to have fun.” This is a sharp contrast to her counterparts from less-privileged nations, says Rocha. The stakes are higher for them because they often enter the modelling business with the goal of making a lot of money for their families. “I’m not saying that the Europeans have horrible lives or anything, but [they have] a lot of pressure from home to make it in the industry.”Raised in suburban Richmond, B.C. – where her parents worked in the airline industry – Rocha was more interested in dancing than fashion when she started working with photographer Steven Meisel in 2005. “I didn’t know who he was,” she says. “Only later did I realize that it was actually a really big deal.” She credits him with jump-starting her career; soon after wrapping a shoot with him in L.A., she took part in fashion weeks in New York, Milan and Paris, where she was pegged as the “new girl” to watch. Now, walking the runway has become routine. “It’s funny that you get used to it,” she says. “At the last show, there was a new girl. It was [only] her third show this season, and she was nervous about how she should walk. And there’s me, saying ‘Okay, let’s do this!’”

Not that the fashion world has lost its lustre. Rocha is passionate about both up-and-coming labels, like Rag & Bone and Derek Lam, and the designers she calls the “great masters”: “I like Nicolas [Ghesquire] from Balenciaga – each collection is always better than the last – and Gaultier, because of his personality. He makes everyone so happy.” Other perks that come with being a fashion model – such as international travel – are appealing too. “We don’t see Paris, Milan or London as tourists,” says Rocha. “What we get to see is almost like the underground [of a city]. We see how everything works, how the fashion industry is, and we go to dinners, functions and parties. No one would ever experience it the way we do.”

So how does Rocha stay grounded when she leads such a charmed life? She often travels with her mother or a close childhood friend -“It’s really nice to havesomeone [with me] who isn’t associated with fashion”- and keeps a low profile in her personal life.“I’m not a party girl. I’d rather be at home.” Still, it’shard to shake the supermodel aura when she spends time in B.C. “I can talk to my friends at home about my problems, but then they’ll turn around and say‘Yeah, my day [working] at Starbucks wasn’t so great, so stop complaining!’” It’s that kind of reality check that helps keep the glamorous photo shoots and weekly first-class flights in perspective. “I haven’t taken [this] for granted,” she says. “I’m really thankful for what I have right now, and I’ll continue to do this as long as I can.”