Sunday, 9 August 2009


Known almost entirely for her signature walk, Karlie Kloss is part of a sartorial revolution introducing high fashion to a whole new audience.

Born in 1992, Karlie Kloss is one of the youngest models working today. Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Karlie’s first love was ballet. Modelling did not even factor as a prospective career until she was discovered at a charity fashion show in St. Louis. In 2007, she signed with Elite Model Management before moving to NEXT in 2008.

Already confident in terms of movement, Karlie’s age proved not to be the barrier you might expect. She made an immediate and striking impact as she began to book jobs as a runway model.

Instead of imitating the girls-of-the-moment, Karlie walked her own way. Casting her eye line down, Karlie’s walk became an evocative, swaying motion coupled with what has now been dubbed ‘the death stare’.

Karlie’s decision to do things differently paid off: that small tilt of the head ensured that Karlie’s eyes locked with the photographers recording every show. The effect was mean, moody and gloriously menacing. Karlie turned her walk into a performance, creating an incredible and unforgettable catwalk presence.

Karlie’s rebellious swagger soon got everybody’s attention. Bookings for runway shows increased, and Kloss found herself being requested for ad campaigns and fashion editorials around the world. She rapidly became a favourite with designers, working for Chloe, Viktor & Rolf, Marni, Pringle and Marc Jacobs.

Only two years into her career, Karlie has become part of the fashion landscape, appearing in publications across the globe, and her arrival could not have been better timed. Fashion has always been infatuated with youth, but this time round, it taps into something darker, off-centre and with bite.

Karlie and her peers (Ali Michael, Jourdan Dunn, Imogen Morris-Clarke) are fashion’s obsession with the teenager reinterpreted for the 21st century. They are cool and edgy – that’s a given – but more importantly, they are authentic. Being actual teenagers, they are primed for showing high fashion how to do attitude and make it current. Karlie’s Neo-Gothic presence on the catwalk ties in beautifully with the ‘Twilight’ frenzy that is informing many high fashion trends this season. Her enigmatic stare, is unnerving and soulful, and something that would send most vampires scurrying into their crypt.

Fashion needs new faces to keep it inspired and Karlie’s face is proving particularly inspirational. Working for the top designers in the world, she is imbibing their designs with a dose of real-life teen spirit. Karlie’s good fortune can also be attributed to how teenagers are now choosing to interact with the fashion world.

A few years ago, most teenagers (barring the privileged), had very limited access to the world of high fashion. Magazines and advertisers, while using models in their late teens, aimed their efforts at the ready-to-spend market of 20-30 year olds. Still young enough to want that ‘cool’ factor, but old enough to have the means to finance it.

Teenagers’ fashion was largely limited to urban street styles and sportswear. Even with mega-brands such as Topshop, teenage fashion was failing to connect with the design influences affecting the rest of the high street. As it was out of financial reach, it was assumed that teenagers would not be interested in what Oscar de la Renta was producing this season.

This assumption was blown out of the water with the introduction of ‘Teen Vogue’ in 2003. A partner to the world-renowned fashion bible, this magazine took on a bold mission statement: it introduced high fashion to a teenage audience.

The success was immediate and resounding. Teenagers soaked up the new cutting-edge concept: it was sophisticated, but still fun. Engaging with a generation left cold by traditional fashion media, it was a palpable hit.

Pitching high fashion to teenagers in a way that didn’t patronise or preach had a massive rolling effect. Teenagers became far more fashion-literate: not just learning the big names such as Dior or Gucci, but more avant-garde designers such as Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen.
Their new-found enthusiasm spilled over into the virtual world: blogs, message boards and Twitter provided teenagers with a means to express their deepest fashion desires. Fashion went underground. What teenagers have done with their fashion knowledge is to take it away from mainstream culture and elevate its participants (mainly models) to cult status.

The teens who know their Marchesa from their Missoni are using the internet to not only find out more about their favourite models, but to share information with others. This generation is becoming as familiar with Ali Stephens and Rachael Rutt, as the previous generation were with Sonic Youth and Kurt Cobain.

The latest models to make a mark on the industry are becoming celebrities, but in a very different way to their predecessors. Whereas names like Evangelista, Campbell and Turlington became famous when they went mainstream (landing notable cosmetic campaigns), this generation is becoming famous precisely because they are under the radar. Karlie and her peers are acting as style ambassadors, making fashion fun, exciting and relevant.

The virtual world is rapidly becoming responsible for shaping teenagers’ perceptions of the real world. Being online provides a safe, democratic space in which to sit, think and evaluate. What do I think of this? Do I like it? Do I hate it? But far from being a device that separates and isolates, the internet is proving to be invaluable in bringing like-minded people together. It is a tool that will ultimately transform the way we interact with the fashion world, and the way it connects with us.

Karlie’s star is on the rise because she embraces this new concept of celebrity, even making videos for YouTube, demonstrating that famous walk and making high-end fashion more accessible.

In these times, fashion knows that it cannot afford to lose supporters, and now footage of catwalk shows is readily available to view online. You have a front-row seat to the most influential designers on the planet – no sneaking into Bryant Park necessary.

Being more inclusive has proved a success, and letting people in (especially the young; the potential buyers, editors and designers of the future), will end up being crucial to the survival of the fashion industry.

Karlie’s dynamic approach to runway (which would have corrected by an agency 10 years ago), shows how the industry is attempting to move forward and try new things. By allowing Karlie to go against the grain, she has gone to the top of the industry. Her selling point, that unique intensity and drama will ensure her career continues to flourish well beyond this decade. It is an important lesson for anyone wanting to make it to the ‘the top’. If you want to stand out, don’t blend in.

Karlie’s success shows us that fashion is no longer out of touch and out of reach. By welcoming the brave and the new, the fashion world is proving that it is willing to include the people who will shape its future. Whether it’s Karlie packing an emotional punch on the runway, or a fashion magazine stepping up to the challenges of a new century, fashion is all about being on the inside – a concept every teenager is familiar with.


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