Abuse Survivor Reunites with Tommy Hilfiger to 'Dress for Success' 30 Years After Modeling for Him (Exclusive)

“I’m living a dream,” Rose Audrey Clark, who credits Dress for Success with helping to turn her life around, exclusively tells PEOPLE

<p>Tyler Benson</p> Rose Audrey Clark (R) with Tommy Hilfiger and wife Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger

Tyler Benson

Rose Audrey Clark (R) with Tommy Hilfiger and wife Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger

As a young girl growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Rose Audrey Clark loved fashion magazines, pictures of glamorous gowns and colorful makeup ads.

“When I was only 4 years old I knew I was a girly girl who loved the color pink and wanted to be a model,” Clark, 44, tells PEOPLE exclusively.

The only child of a single mother also remembers the challenges of her impoverished life during those early days when she walked to school amid waves of brutal killings and gruesome gang riots.

“I saw cars set on fire,” she says. “The civil war down the street was often so bad we had to turn around and come home. Our level of poverty was so deep we wore donated clothing from the U.S.”

Related: Teen Who Drove 6 Hours to Shop for Prom Gifted $700 Dress by Store Owner: 'I Want People to Feel Good'

At the age of 6, Clark and her mother relocated to Miami before later moving to Delray Beach in Palm Beach County. Even though her working mother struggled to pay the rent, when Clark turned 14, she wanted to go to modeling school.

“Somehow I talked mom into letting me go to the Barbizon School of Modeling in West Palm Beach,” Clark says. “I took the train to classes on Saturday and loved it. The experience was amazing but there were periods of time when mom couldn’t pay the tuition. I was not asked to leave because they saw my potential."

For her 1994 Barbizon graduation, Tommy Hilfiger sponsored a runway fashion show. Clark wore a royal blue fitted gown with black heels, and had the time of her life. “I walked the runway and was so excited,” she recalls. “I got modeling offers in Paris and New York, but my mom said no because she couldn’t accompany me, and I was too young to go alone.”

Four years later, after her high school graduation, Clark entered the real estate business and worked her way up to become a licensed professional in south Florida. ”My initial reason for going into real estate was to give my mom a permanent home after so many years of struggling,” Clark says. “But I grew to love the industry — the building, construction, architecture and engineering. I did well before two abusive husbands dragged me down.”

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At 18, she married her first husband, the father of her two older daughters, Lydia Rose, 23, and Alysia, 20. “Initially, I thought he was a nice church going guy, but he hit me and was an unhappy person who didn’t share my go-getter ways,” says Clark. She never filed a complaint against him, choosing to just leave instead.

They divorced after six years. When she was in her mid 20s, she met her second husband, a handsome athlete ready for stardom, but then he got injured. “This made him angry, and his life turned bad," Clark says of the man, with whom she shares four children, Veronica, 17, Rosa, 15, Andre, 13, and Farad, 11.

Related: Woman to Run 285 Miles in a Wedding Dress to Raise Awareness for Narcissistic Domestic Abuse

Following one incident in 2011, a police report was filed, but on the day she was ready to file charges in court, she claims he threatened her, so she never went through with it. The domestic abuse allegation in the police report, which has been viewed by PEOPLE, was dismissed.

For years, she lived with abuse and even left several times, but her husband always found her and brought her and the kids back.

But one day, after she claims she awoke face down in a pool of blood, Clark and the children left for good, which depleted her finances and left them with no options for housing.

The trauma made her feel like a “failure,” as if she was “to blame” for the collapse of two marriages, and she experienced extreme depression.

“The children and I were forced to live in a green Toyota Sienna van in Palm Beach County’s dark alleys,” she says. “We were always aware people were watching us, trying to break into the car. We felt safest parking and sleeping in hotel lots and bathing in hotel bathrooms or at gas stations.”

Related: Angels of Skid Row: A Mom Turned the Tragedy of Her Son's Death Into a Lifeline for the Homeless

In 2023, the Boca Raton Housing Authority found them a hotel and referred her to Adopt-a-Family of the Palm Beaches. The caseworker sent her to Dress for Success Palm Beaches, a nonprofit which empowers women to achieve economic independence by dressing them for job interviews, and offering career coaching and mentoring, all for free.

Clark became part of the nonprofit’s “Road to Success” program last year. “Dress for Success embraced me, and helped turn my life around,” Clark says, elated that she just passed the test to reinstate her real estate license so she can go back to work.

<p>Tyler Benson</p> Tommy Hilfiger adds a fashion tweak for Rose Clark.

Tyler Benson

Tommy Hilfiger adds a fashion tweak for Rose Clark.

Pamela Buchmeyer, Clark’s volunteer mentor, tells PEOPLE that she is a lovely and intelligent woman who was born to be a mother. “Rose has faced some of the toughest challenges which life can muster and yet greets the day with grace, dignity and warmth,” she says. “This woman has moved mountains to ensure the health and safety of her children. It has been an honor, privilege and uplifting experience to mentor her.”

On March 15, at the Dress for Success Palm Beaches annual fundraising luncheon in West Palm Beach, Clark’s story will come alive and be recounted to the guests. But ahead of the big day, Hilfiger dressed Clark for success on Monday.

“Rose is driven and focused on lifting herself up,” says Hilfiger, who will be honored at the event with the nonprofit’s 2024 Style Icon award alongside his wife, Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger.

<p>Tyler Benson</p> Rose Clark, with expert advice from Tommy Hilfiger and Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger, chooses the dress and jewelry she’ll wear when she’s the featured client at the Dress for Success Palm Beaches’s annual fundraising luncheon.

Tyler Benson

Rose Clark, with expert advice from Tommy Hilfiger and Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger, chooses the dress and jewelry she’ll wear when she’s the featured client at the Dress for Success Palm Beaches’s annual fundraising luncheon.

“We’re styling her with the best fit and color so she looks great and feels comfortable. In a job interview, the first impression is key and goes a long way," the designer adds.

For her part, Clark is thrilled to reunite with Hilfiger. “I’m so excited for Tommy to dress me now with his great wife Dee,” she says. “I’m living a dream.”

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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