Sunday, 21 June 2009


Just when you think you have fashion all figured out, it has a habit of going and changing on you. It’s all part of its charm.

For the past two years, the high fliers of the modelling industry have been faces who pack a punch. Edgy, confrontational and even controversial, these faces are unforgettable and dynamic.
They lend an age of cool to any designers’ clothes, and it is their personality, rather than versatility, that sells. But fashion operates in cycles (or seasons if you prefer), and every face has a shelf-life.

In March 2007, a teenage girl from Utah was discovered by an agency scout whilst out shopping with her family. Six months later, Ali Stephens (now signed with Elite) made her debut at the Spring / Summer Prada show in Milan. To put it into perspective, it is the equivalent of winning an Oscar for your first film role.

Stephens was an instant hit, and a very new look for the industry. She was 16 years old, tall, lean and classically beautiful.

Previously, Ali (born in Salt Lake City in 1991), who had spent all of her energies in winning cross-country competitions for her school, and thinking about which college to apply to, found herself, after a chance encounter at a mall, at the epicentre of a fashion frenzy.

Designers were immediately struck by Stephens’ fresh-faced look and clamoured to sign her up for shows. Just two years on from being discovered, Ali can now claim Chanel, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Nina Ricci and Miu Miu among her catwalk credits. Appropriately for a runner, Ali Stephens has taken the fashion world at phenomenal speed.

Using her skills as a cross-country champion, Stephens learned the ropes quickly and overtook her competitors. She now excels – the girl who was once a self-confessed fashion novice now cites Balmain and Alexander Wang as her favourite designers. Knowing the industry is vital for succeeding in it, and an important lesson Ali learned fast. Fashion-literacy is something no model can afford to be without.

Ali’s popularity among designers is attributable to her versatile look. Rolling out high-profile campaigns for design houses as prestigious as Calvin Klein, Chloe, Missoni and Prada Sport, shows that Ali’s strength is moulding her image to whatever the brand requires. It is Modelling 101, but perversely, the hardest principle to master with any degree of success. To be truly versatile is not just down to genetic blessings (although it doesn’t hurt), it goes hand-in-hand with hard work: perseverance and listening to what a client wants. Ali makes every campaign shoot work because she is believable and equally convincing in each ‘role’.

That dedication to getting it right is why she gets re-booked time after time. Ali is part of a wave of models that team edge with effortless beauty to embody the best of both worlds. Ali Stephens is the Classic American who outperforms them all – she taps into the aesthetic of clean-cut, all-American girl who is transformed by a gown or a pair of sunglasses into something entirely new.
It is this transformative effect, the tomboy-to-fashion-princess moment that is at the core of what makes fashion compelling. Fashion, when it’s right, can change the way we feel about ourselves, and that transition spells magic.

For the industry now struggling to maintain consumer interest, it is this pull that keeps costumers coming back for more. The addictive quality of ‘who can I be today?’ is hard to beat, even in tough times like these.

Stephens’ ability to shift from dreamy-eyed ingĂ©nue to Label Mabel shows that her career is secure. She can adapt herself to any trend, past, present or future.

When fashion refers to the term ‘All-American’, it conjures up images of bronzed skin, athletic build and frankly excellent teeth. It is bold, winning and practically impossible to resist. Chalk it up to the current wave of nostalgia for the quietly-assured sophistication of models like Christy Turlington (who herself is experiencing a career second act at the moment), or the fact that America finally has everyone on-side again for the first time in nearly a decade, but the popularity of girls like Ali Stephens is not by chance.

Ali’s look harks back to the classic American model, very much of value during the late Eighties and early Nineties. A girl like Ali sells product not by shock value, but providing a timely reminder that fashion is about making women feel beautiful. There is something to be said for a model that is not a trend-setter, but a trend-interpreter. She shows us how it can be done, and this, going beyond all the hype and window-dressing, is what designers crave most of all.

By using aspirational models like Stephens and Turlington, fashion is tapping into the desire to create, not compromise. No-one feels threatened or offended by the Turlington-brand of beauty: it creates desire in male consumers, but does not alienate the woman looking to make a luxury purchase. For any client, this is a win-win situation, which explains why this look keeps reappearing with every new generation of models. In selling terms, Stephens’ look is both reliable and consistent in achieving sales, and that is something everybody wants.

If she wants, Ali can have a career as long-lived as Christy Turlington and Erin Wasson. Whatever else is happening in fashion, this type of look will always be in favour, and therefore, in demand. Stephens’ career, already well-starred, will sprint ahead over the next five years, while other, more ‘of the moment’ faces may stall as the whims of fashion change against them.

From fashion-unknown to the top of everybody’s ‘must have’ list within the space of two years, Stephens has proved herself the ready successor to Turlington. Her success is down to more than good timing, or plain good luck. With her willingness to learn, and learn fast, Ali Stephens is part of a generation of girls who are smart, timeless and headed straight for the top.


Sunday, 14 June 2009


Born Lesley Hornby in 1949, and discovered in 1966, Twiggy is the perfect example of how the right model at the right time can act as a catalyst to create an entirely new brand of culture.

Sixteen-year-old Twiggy’s spare frame and sharp, bird-like features meant that her ascent into modelling stardom was not an easy one. Fashion had very particular ideas about what constituted beauty, and Twiggy, in no uncertain terms, did not meet those ideals.

After the Second World War, while the fashion world took stock, Paris grabbed the reins and became the fashion capital of the world. Christian Dior created an entirely new kind of womenswear. Dubbed the ‘New Look’, the emphasis was on fiercely drawn-in waists, full skirts and exquisite tailoring. It was an intentionally lady-like look that spoke of refinement and afternoon tea at the Savoy. Its elegance was a deliberate attempt to separate Dior from the ‘make-do-and-mend’ era of the 1940’s. Luxury was key.

To go with his vision, Dior needed elegant and refined models to show off his designs to their best advantage. Many of the ‘models’ he ended up using were high-society girls and heiresses – the girls who were modelling his clothes would be on first-name terms with the women who would end up purchasing them. Never had the line between model and consumer been so thinly drawn.
Dior’s supremely poised girls were the real deal, but they were not professional models in the contemporary sense of the word. Dior was willing to sacrifice grace for good breeding.
The ‘New Look’ was a sensation – it made Paris the undisputed fashion capital, and Dior a legend. If fashion had stayed here, our perception of what fashion is, and what is does for us, would be very different – but the true constant of fashion is change. As the Sixties rolled around, the corseted Dior Look began to lose its lustre. It was time for a revolution.

Twiggy’s year was 1966. After being discovered by Nigel Davies, she was persuaded to chop off her hair and a brave new look was born. On advice, she changed her name, and chose ‘Twiggy’, her childhood nickname. She then undertook a small photo shoot with photographer Barry Lategan – an event that would not only change her life, but have an enormous impact on the world at large.

The bold, black and white images were a revelation: uncompromising, high-fashion and quirky. Twiggy’s cropped hair and drawn-on eyelashes gave her a startling, bird-like quality. Her slim, androgynous body was in absolute contrast to the Dior classic hourglass shape.

Twiggy’s thoroughly modern look swept the UK. The Sixties were an unprecedented period of transformation: people wanted to embrace change in whatever form they found it. The post-war hangover mood of the 1950’s was shaken off and in its place was a mood of possibility – anything and everything was permissible.

The most striking changes were taking place in popular culture: the end of the 1950’s brought with it the advent of rock’n’roll. Elvis Presley was the King-in-training, and the modern teenager was born.

It is now hard to imagine, but before the Fifties, the cultural concept of the teenager did not exist. The sweeping rock’n’roll movement brought with it a new identity for young people to cling to: it was rebellion, sex appeal and individuality – for the first time, teenagers had their own definitions of music and style. They no longer dressed like their parents.

Fashion in the Sixties became democratised. Along with the popularisation of casual fabrics like leather and denim (made desirable by film stars such as Marlon Brando and James Dean), fashion became cheaper and more readily available. Fashion brands sprang up on the high street, but one did not need a double-barrelled surname to gain access to an atelier. Brands like ‘Biba’ produced high-fashion looks for pocket-money prices: fashion was now available to everyone.

This wave of democracy held up Twiggy as the gold standard: before her, there had never been a working-class supermodel. She was the everyday girl who became the face of the Sixties, and the class barrier (within the fashion world anyway) was broken for good.

Twiggy’s unique selling point was her youthfulness. Her body suited perfectly the A-line dresses and miniskirts created by designers such as Mary Quant. For the first time in fashion history, the teenage body was held up as the ideal. Twiggy’s strongly androgynous look paved the way for models like Linda Evangelista and Agyness Deyn – girls for whom femininity is not served straight up, but with a twist. Twiggy’s gauche, knock-kneed appeal made fashion young again, right at the point where it was in danger of retreating into permanent middle-age.

Twiggy’s most enduring legacy (in a career that has spanned four decades), is the kick-start she gave to modern fashion – models would look very different today if it were not for Twiggy. Her long-limbed, fashion-friendly body became the new ideal. Twiggy’s debut into fashion was a celebration of originality, and Dior’s ‘New Look’ made way for the new look – something that possessed major staying power.

Twiggy’s charm offensive on the fashion industry, taking it very much by surprise, brought the concept of ‘model’ centre stage. Before her arrival, fashion had been guilty of taking itself too seriously. She imbibed the colourful new fashions with personality – much debate has been centred on Twiggy’s ultra-slim figure, but the fact remains that she would not have been half as successful if she had not learned early on that a good model is more than a clothes hanger.

The difference between her and the 50’s Dior models is clear-cut. They gave the ‘New Look’ an air of sophistication, but Twiggy gave 60’s fashion her body and soul. Her wit and exuberance are what gives the Lategan images their punch. A great photographer, a great model and a great idea created a moment of magic that still, even 40 years on, has the power to charm and bewitch. It is this collaborative spirit that best sums up what the Sixties were all about, and why Twiggy’s images continue to inspire us today.

The best fashion moments arrive when they are least expected. No-one expected Twiggy’s notoriety to last beyond a month, but her impact on culture, fashion and modelling has been insurmountable. She changed the way we think about beauty and made fashion fall in love with the awkward, gangly girls. There is always room for the polished and poised, but Twiggy taught the world of fashion that the unexpected can create something truly wonderful.

If fashion equals youth, Twiggy is the answer.


Sunday, 7 June 2009


Gisele Bundchen is a model who has made a fortune from bringing glamour back to the catwalk.
Born in Brazil in 1980, after being scouted at a shopping mall in 1994, Gisele made her high-fashion debut on the July 1999 edition of Vogue. The accompanying editorial spread dubbed her keynote appearance as ‘The Return of the Sexy Model.’
Up until that point, fashion had been greatly preoccupied with finding models who embodied the notion of ‘extreme beauty’: models who, in real life, would not necessarily be considered conventionally beautiful, but who possessed a quality of other-worldliness, something that worked particularly well alongside the extreme shapes and silhouettes that were popular within the world of couture fashion at the time.
The fashion world’s preoccupation with ‘oddness’ was in a part a reaction to the storm of controversy over the perceived ‘heroin chic’ trend. Very slim models were in favour, with Kate Moss’ Calvin Klein ads still in circulation. In the popular consciousness, models could not have been further away from the image of the girl-next-door.
Where fashion leads, modelling must follow, and agencies were struggling to find the next new face that would ignite the fashion world, and baffle the public. What was deemed fashionable, and what was considered to be beautiful, had never been further apart.
By the end of the Nineties, the models who worked the most were not conventionally beautiful, and completely unknown to anyone beyond the immediate perimeters of the fashion industry. The decade that had begun with a George Michael music video featuring supermodels Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, had come full circle. Models were no longer celebrities: the era of the supermodel appeared to be at an end.

The discovery of Gisele quite literally prompted a new age in modelling. Her body type ran against everything that fashion was about, but it seemed that the fashion world (whether it realised it or not) was ready for a change.
Gisele was an instant hit, with repeat appearances on Vogue covers in November and December 1999 and January 2000. With such an emphatic seal of approval from the world’s leading fashion magazine, the fashion crowd leapt on the Bundchen bandwagon with abandon.
Gisele’s classically versatile look made her ideal for virtually every design house in the fashion industry. She walked every major runway in every Fashion Week around the globe, and completed ad campaigns for designers as diverse as Valentino, Missoni, Versace, Lanvin and Michael Kors.
The fashion world quickly came to realise that traditional beauty and sex appeal could be applied to any fashion equation. Previously seen as the modelling one-trick-pony, designers came round to the idea of beauty being versatile. You want smouldering sexuality? Done. Radiant, sunny charm to sell beachwear? Easy. Edgy, contemporary cool? Gisele’s brand of beauty worked here too.
Her huge popularity within the fashion world is easy enough to explain: she has everything a designer wants in a model. Tall, toned, curvy and oozing confidence, Bundchen is hugely successful because she is a (very) rare example of a model with no weak links. Many of the world’s most familiar faces have issues, whether it is a slightly prominent chin, a high forehead or being just that smidge too short. Everyone has something they like to hide from the camera’s discerning gaze.
The reason why Gisele took the industry by storm is her legendary physique – nothing is out of proportion, everything works in complete harmony. If symmetry is the golden standard by which all models are measured, Gisele’s classic feminine features suit any fashion viewpoint.
But it would be a mistake to assume that Gisele’s success is entirely down to those legs. Bundchen is the highest-earning supermodel in the world, with an estimated fortune of $150 million – and counting. However in demand you are, there are only so many catwalks you can walk down, and Vogue covers only appear once a month. Gisele has cleverly taken her popularity and multiplied it into cash by using her most valuable asset - her image.
Gisele has become the face of products well beyond the realm of the fashion industry. Her type of easy-to-read beauty translates to almost any product, and advertisers cannot get enough. Endorsements are what have secured Gisele her millions. Her long-standing contract with lingerie brand ‘Victoria’s Secret’ made her a small fortune, and the high profile of the brand helped Bundchen, in turn, become a household name. When most models are still only known by fashion insiders or media commentators, Bundchen (along with Kate Moss) has achieved a degree of celebrity: someone who has never picked up a fashion magazine in their life will be able to identify Gisele, or at the very least, recognise her face.
Gisele’s standing as the richest model on the planet has not only been boosted by her hefty portfolio, but has been assisted by her considerable business sense. She has developed a footwear line of flip-flops called ‘Ipanema – Gisele Bundchen’. Their success is such that they have even outsold the legendary brand ‘Havianas’ , making them the most popular range of flip-flops in the world. Gisele has taken her profile in the fashion world, and cannily applied some business know-how to make her fame work for her. Out of all the names currently working in the modelling industry, Bundchen understands most clearly the link between image and commerce. Her adaptability has made her extremely bankable, and it is this asset that Bundchen plays on best. If he were looking for the world’s most glamorous Apprentice, Sir Alan could do worse than give Gisele a call.
Gisele’s impact on the fashion world should not be under-estimated. Bundchen’s endlessly adaptable looks not only changed the modelling world, but the trajectory of modern fashion itself. By the end of the Nineties, it was time to leave grunge behind and side-step into something more glamorous and feminine. This sizeable shift is not entirely down to Gisele, but her arrival on the modelling scene could not have been better timed. Her launch onto the modelling scene cured fashion’s identity crisis – she inspired everyone on how to move forward.
Ten years on from her debut at Vogue, Gisele’s legacy is simply this: she has brought the power of beauty back to the core of the modelling industry. There is still a place for the unusual faces, but Bundchen’s timeless beauty reminds us that, if it is to succeed, fashion above all must engender desire. Beauty makes fashion glamorous, aspirational and fun, and in these tough times, that is exactly the approach fashion should be taking.