05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT
At age 11, Beverly Peele was sent to etiquette school to learn, as her mother puts it, "how not to be klutzy." The lessons took. By the time she was 12, Peele's long-limbed grace had helped her win a pair of modeling competitions, and she was sashaying down Parisian runways for Versace, Dior and Azzedine Alaïa. On Seventh Avenue they labeled her the next Naomi Campbell
, but at Hawthorne High in South Central L.A. her nickname was C-note. "I always came to school with $100 bills," she explains.
G-note would be a more apt moniker for Peele these days. Now 18 and 6' tall, she commands up to $10,000 a day as a couture chameleon and print model, appearing regularly in Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar. "Beverly can become anything the photographer wants her to be," says Jennifer Berry, who books models for Elle, "and she has one of the best bodies in the business."
That wasn't always the case. "I didn't even have breasts when I started," Peele claims. "I had rosebuds." Even now, when she ties back her hair and hits the streets of her downtown Manhattan neighborhood in baggy pants, army jacket and Doc Martens, "people mistake me for a pretty boy." Still, "there's nothing I'd change about myself. I have a tiny nose, my lips are big enough, and I don't have much fat on my body, so I don't need to get it sucked out—at the moment. But ask me again when I'm 25."
In the meantime, ask Peele what she sees in her fiancé, Jeffrey Alexander, 30, an aspiring musician, and she responds with the tongue-tied eloquence of the enamored. "It's hard to say why I love him. He's just my man," she says. No wedding date has been set, but Peele confirms that she is pregnant with their first child, due in October.
If Peele sounds as if she lives in two worlds, it's a state she's accustomed to. Raised in an L.A. suburb with her two older brothers, she attended the inner-city high school where her mother is an associate principal. (Her dad is a law librarian.) "I'd say thing's like, 'Hey, dude, that's totally rad,' " she recalls of her first days at Hawthorne High, "and kids just looked at me and said, 'We don't talk like that here.' I learned to speak street so I wouldn't get beat up. I knew I had to fit in real fast, and I did." Peele still maintains a split personality. While working, "I'm in sexy clothes selling sex to 30-year-olds," she says, "but I bounce off the walls at home." After all, she explains, with a mix of urbanity and mock innocence, "I'm still just a kid, honey."