Sunday, 27 September 2009


She is one of the most respected names in the modelling industry; but it is extraordinary to think how close Daria Werbowy came to never making it as a model at all.

Born in Poland in 1983, Daria moved to Canada with her family in 1987. Spotted by Toronto agency Susan J. Model and Talent Management in 1997, Daria’s first big break came when she was invited to sign with Elite Model Management in 2001.

Moving to New York, Werbowy began an exhausting round of go-sees with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry. Travelling across Europe, Daria did not find herself being welcomed with open arms. The response to her cool, feline features was lukewarm at best. Her Baltic-blue eyes and spare frame even provoked some to tell her that she would ‘never make it as a model.’

Left devastated by the experience, Daria decided to go home to Canada and rethink her entire career. Not only had the go-sees yielded nothing, but Daria’s first attempt at walking in a runway show came to an abrupt halt too. Her debut was scheduled to take place at New York Fashion Week, September 2001.

The effects of the terrorist attacks on the city are well-documented, and the fashion world was by no means immune. It was as if a switch had been flicked. The way fashion was viewed, and the way it viewed itself, changed overnight.

From that point onwards fashion became a little more considered. What was truly important? What really mattered? True, fashion would never move mountains politically speaking, but that is perhaps somewhat missing the point. Fashion may seem a frivolous exercise in vanity to some, but the importance in carrying on as normal cannot be overestimated. It sends out a message loud and clear: we are not that easily beaten.

Fashion became more balanced in its approach: a little nicer, a little kinder and very gradually, more inclusive. The boundaries of beauty, what was deemed beautiful, were re-classified.

Having just one type of model in favour seemed wasteful and short-sighted. The fashion world took stock: what else was out there? It was this change in thinking that would become crucial to the success of Daria Werbowy.
This willingness to embrace diversity was all Daria needed to succeed. After returning to Canada, Daria rethought her position on modelling. It was too early to throw in the towel. Making the decision to try again, Werbowy made a call to IMG and headed back to New York in 2003.
Three days later, she was walking in a Marc Jacobs show, and just a week after that, Daria found herself doing a shoot for Prada with photographer Steven Meisel. Daria’s moment had arrived. The following years were a whirlwind of runways, editorials, covers and campaigns. To list them all is a dizzying process. It is staggering to think that one person could achieve so much in such a short space of time, but Daria did.
In July, August and October 2003, Daria appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue. The most high-fashion of all the Vogues, landing the cover is the most coveted honour a model can hope for. To land three in one year is simply an extraordinary achievement.
In October 2003, Daria walked in runway shows for designers Jil Sander, Chloe and Alessandro dell’Acqua among others. After many false starts, Werbowy had finally found her stride. The success she encountered over the next few years was carried by its own momentum. In 2004, she renewed her contract with Prada, cementing a connection with the fashion brand that led to her becoming the face of its first ever fragrance.
Shot by Ridley Scott’s daughter Jordan, the television commercial for the fragrance was a landmark in how perfume was marketed. Painstakingly shot across several locations, the advert became a mini-film, watched by thousands on YouTube.
Daria was now the face of Prada perfume. One of the most anticipated beauty launches in modern history, fashion’s worst kept secret was finally out, with Daria’s face on billboards across Europe and America. In December 2004, Daria was put on the cover of ‘W’ magazine, heralded as ‘Fashion’s Newest It Girl’. This wasn’t exactly news for the fashion crowd, but this was Werbowy’s debut, introducing her to the public.
Any hopes of remaining anonymous were quashed in 2005 when Daria was named the face of Missoni and Chanel. Daria was also selected to appear in an YSL campaign, shot by Juergen Teller. These were all big names; any lingering doubts that Werbowy might not have the ‘right look’ for the major players of the fashion world were firmly kicked into touch.
In February 2005, Daria became a record-breaker, setting a new world record for opening and closing the most runway shows in one season. This was an incredible accomplishment. Daria’s ultra-blendable look, the thing that had refused her entry into the fashion just three years earlier, was now allowing her to set the standard for everyone else. Opening and closing 12 shows, Daria was now the face of the moment. Her delicate, Eastern-European face worked so well for any look a design house might require, she found herself in constant demand.
In November, she signed a contract with French beauty brand Lancome, an affiliation that continues to this day. In 2006, she renewed her contracts with Chanel and Missoni, and in 2007, became the face of Lancome’s fragrance ‘Hypnose’. All this work made Daria a very rich girl. In July 2007, she was named the 9th highest-earning model, with an estimated income of $3.5 million. In April 2008, that figure rose to $3.8 million.
In late 2007, Werbowy became the face for prestige labels Valentino and Hermes. With both labels possessing an extraordinary pedigree, this seal of approval from the more conservative end of the fashion spectrum meant a great deal. Daria was no longer just a fashion face. She was part of the establishment.
Nearly seven years into her career, Daria can still beat newcomers to those lucrative contracts and editorials, which pays testament to her enduring appeal. She is not a big name; ‘Werbowy’ lacks the instant kudos of a Deyn or a Moss. But that doesn’t matter. Every success she has attained, every editorial, cover and campaign, has been on the strength of her modelling alone.
That strikingly-original face has made her both rich and respected – not a bad combination. In the modelling world, her enviable career is the pinnacle every new model aspires to. For a girl who was once told she’d never make it in the industry, Daria has proven herself to be one of the most consistent talents working today.
What Daria’s incredible career tells us is the importance of timing. The rejection she experienced in 2001 was not wholly personal, but simply a reflection of what was happening at the time, both in fashion and the world beyond it.
By making the choice to give modelling another shot, Daria was returning to a very different fashion world than the one she left. Everything post 9/11 had changed, and priorities shifted. Fashion was opening up to the idea of new possibilities, and Daria was absolutely in the right place at the right time.
Hard work and persistence certainly play their part in making a great model, but where Daria succeeded was her realisation that while rejection is never easy, it is rarely personal. Daria wasn’t turned down because she wasn’t good enough (she has ample evidence to the contrary), but because the fashion world wasn’t ready for her yet.
Success is a thing that can be measured, but failure is more of a relative term. By that I mean that failure is only failing to the point where you allow it to defeat you. There is no shame in losing out – Daria’s career hit the skids in 2001 and by 2004, she had appeared on three Italian Vogue covers: in modelling terms, the very definition of success.
Her subtle, Polish features which were once so out of step are now a perfect fit. But Daria’s success can be pinned down to something more tangible than plain good luck. She is in fact a model who is solidly tutored in the basics of modelling. She has learned the hard way not to rely on her looks alone. Werbowy has cultivated a signature runway walk that is distinctive but not obtrusive. She has an instinctive empathy with designers, moulding herself to their vision.
She may no longer have to prove herself, but Daria is consistent in producing beautiful, striking images and a runway presence that doubles as a masterclass. She is more involved in being a model, than acting the part for the tabloids. For Daria, the work is the motivation. She came so close to not making it, that slacking simply isn’t her style.
Werbowy is the best kind of role model the modelling industry currently has. Focused, dependable and hard-working, these are not bad things to be. The cover tries, the unbroken runway record, the amazing rota of photographers Daria now counts as friends. None of this would have happened without Daria’s own determination to succeed. That drive to succeed and flourish, more than anything else, is the single most important attribute a model can possess. Forget the face, the body or the walk. Without self-belief, it all counts for nothing.
Sometimes the fashion industry does get it wrong. Daria didn’t experience immediate career gratification on her signing with Elite, and that failure is what has moulded her character on and off the runway. It was failure that sent her back to Canada, which compelled her to return to New York two years later, and it is that failure that has created one of the most successful and enduring careers in modelling history.


Sunday, 13 September 2009


Born on Christmas Day 1968, Helena Christensen had an early start in modelling, landing her first job at the age of 9. The camera’s fascination with her classic Danish features started there and then, but few would guess that Helena would make a name for herself as the model who gave it all up for a life behind the lens.

Helena Christensen’s route into fashion wasn’t particularly straightforward. In 1986, she took part in, and won, the Miss Denmark beauty contest. Helena’s win wasn’t enough to secure her attention from the people who could ignite her career. She made the critical decision to leave Copenhagen and head for Paris.

In the mid-Eighties, Paris was the undisputed champion of the fashion world. Milan was in the process of falling in love with a young designer called Gianni Versace, and London was experiencing a lull in the post-punk era, where power-dressing didn’t really sit that well with its reputation for ground-breaking, button-pressing fashion. If you were serious about having a career in fashion, on any level, it was quite simple: you moved to Paris.

The city stood on its heritage (the Chanel two-piece suit was being revived at this time by affluent Americans keen for a piece of European chic), and the thrill of the new, supplied by Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent. Paris was unrivalled for its energy, creativity and excitement.

Helena arrived in Paris, but it took another three years before she would be discovered. Photographer Friedemann Hauss has that claim, calling her a ‘natural’ in terms of modelling ability. A year later, she appeared on the cover of British Vogue.

1991 was especially noteworthy for Helena’s career. Never someone who believed in being conventional, Helena began her career by taking part in a beauty pageant, and in 1991, her next big move was to co-star in a music video.

Music videos had been around since the late Seventies, but it was in the Eighties that the true power of the video to crystallise an artist’s image was fully realised (think of Michael Jackson’s video for ‘Thriller’). Budgets during the late Eighties and early Nineties increased significantly, with record companies hiring stylists to dress their artists and make everything that little more polished. But Chris Isaak’s record company had more in mind for their artist’s video than some hair gel and a wind machine.

The video was directed by legendary photographer Herb Ritts. Shot entirely in black and white, ‘Wicked Game’ was a smouldering epic and was a hit around the world. Sensual and dreamily hypnotic, Isaak and Christensen took the music video to a whole new level. The end result was beautiful, sophisticated and shot with the care and attention to detail of a high-fashion editorial. As with Kate Moss’ iconic shoot for Calvin Klein, the ‘Wicked Game’ video propelled Helena to international stardom. She made the transition, virtually overnight, from fashion girl to pop culture icon.

Her new-found fame won Helena entry into the upper echelons of the Paris fashion world. Following the video, Helena was booked by Karl Lagerfeld and photographer Peter Lindbergh. Her name now established, Helena’s modelling career really took off. Working for everyone from Bill Blass to Versace, Helena Christensen’s runway career leaned towards the European and classic-American labels. Using her timeless features and languid sensuality, Helena became one of the most recognisable faces in the business.
Returning to film, Helena also made a cameo appearance in Robert Altman’s 1994 film ‘Pret a Porter’. A satire on the eccentricities of the fashion industry, Helena became the face (and body) of the film, appearing on film posters, draped in nothing else but a feather boa.
Helena’s effortless ability to smoulder in front of the camera was put to the ultimate test in 1996 when she was asked to be one of the first Victoria’s Secret ‘signature angels’, along with Tyra Banks, Rebecca Romijn, Stephanie Seymour and Karen Mulder. Featuring in the world-famous lingerie catalogue and television commercials broadcast across the US, Helena Christensen’s career trajectory could not have aimed any higher. Earning her fashion stripes on the runway, and bolstering that income with high-profile campaigns, Helena’s career made her, along with Kate Moss, one of the faces of the Nineties. This success made Helena’s next move all the more baffling. In 1999, she co-founded Nylon magazine with Michael Neumann and announced that she would be officially retiring from the catwalk.
Only the year before, Helena had walked in runway shows for Dior, Chloe, Helmut Lang and Dries Van Noten. This was not a model losing her touch; Helena was at the very peak of her career.
The fashion world was left stunned by the decision, but to Helena, it made perfect sense. Her motivation in pursuing a modelling career was never about money or fame. Helena was focused not on achievement for its own sake, but what felt important and valuable. Many may have thought differently, but as far as Helena was concerned, there never was a ‘Christensen brand’.
Her decision to call time on a career that many would have stuck with while the going was so good, took tremendous courage. Making the choice to move on and try something new, signposted that Helena was not afraid to go down the path less travelled. As the fashion world moved into a phase of using younger models who possessed an ethereal, Pre-Raphaelite quality (such as Lily Donaldson, Gemma Ward and Lily Cole), Helena’s decision to bow out suddenly seemed quite smart.
In the next few years, Helena Christensen delved into her budding interest in photography, which ended up taking her back to where she started. Continuing to work on Nylon, Helena also learnt the trade of taking a good photograph. Developing a keen eye for composition, Helena immersed herself in the world behind the lens.
In 2007, Helena announced that she would exhibit a collection of her photographs, ‘A Quiet Life’ in Amsterdam. Helena’s series of quiet but searching portraits and landscapes struck a chord with the art community. This wasn’t a model at play – this was someone deadly serious about creating images that matter.
The fashion world hadn’t forgotten about her either. That same year she was asked to make a brief return to the catwalk for the 60th anniversary Dior Couture show. In March 2008, her two loves of fashion and photography collided when she was asked to shoot an editorial with model Valentina Zelyaeva for Spanish Vogue. Since then, her photographs have also appeared in Marie Claire and Elle.
Helena’s work follows the theatre principle that actors make the best directors. Her insight into how a photograph is composed, and knowledge of what it takes to get that image, has placed her uniquely within the world of fashion photography. Her astutely observed images settle the argument, once and for all, that a model (especially if she is successful) cannot purse an intellectual cause.
By walking away from her career at its height, Helena Christensen earned the respect of the fashion establishment. Although it is governed by pounds and pence, the fashion industry loves nothing more than a good romance, and there is nothing more beguiling than the idea of a top-of-her-game model that leaves it all for a life behind the camera.
Though officially retired from the catwalk, Christensen has returned to modelling on and off, including editorials for Harper’s Bazaar, French and Italian Vogue.
Fashion has remained in love with Helena Christensen not because she left for the right reasons, but because she wasn’t tempted to stay for the wrong ones. By following the path that most interests her; Helena Christensen has forged a unique place in modelling history. Now in her forties, she still features on the covers of publications such as Instyle, Elle and GQ, indicating how little her appeal has abated over the years.
Helena’s greatest achievements have come about when no-one else was looking. No-one expected the Danish model with the smouldering gaze to become such a success beyond the immediate perimeters of modelling. Nylon continues to flourish with Helena as its editor, and with another photography exhibition scheduled for 2010 at Tokyo’s NEXUS Gallery, Helena shows no signs of slowing down. Never ruled by the bottom line, the unexpected quality to her career is the thing that motivates her: that roaming sensibility is what keeps Helena moving on, and moving forward.


Sunday, 6 September 2009


Some careers are born by design, others by good fortune. Agyness Deyn was not born Agyness Deyn, but through a series of events the girl from Littleborough, who once worked in a chippy, became an internationally acclaimed model.

The girl who professes herself to be ‘happier mixing with [her] small circle of friends’ than attending fashion parties, is now at the epicentre of contemporary fashion. Agyness is part of a group of friends – designers, models, collaborators – who have grabbed the reins of modern fashion. When you can count designers like Henry Holland and Gareth Pugh as personal friends, the term ‘outsider’ no longer applies.

Everything about Agyness is the result of reflection and change. Deyn was born Laura Hollins in Littleborough, 1983, and only thought of changing her name when deciding to pursue a modelling career. Consulting her mother’s friend, who specialised in numerology, she was advised to change Laura to Agnes. Laura took the advice and further altered Agnes to the more unusual (and memorable) Agyness. The strategy, while unorthodox, paid off.

Agyness’ second piece of good fortune came when she was working in a fish and chip shop in 1998. The up-and-coming designer Henry Holland was a regular, met Agyness and the two immediately bonded over their love of fashion. Agyness was even scouted by a modelling agency rep whilst out shopping with Henry in Kentish Town. She signed with Select and began runway work in September 2006, modelling for Marc Jacobs’ diffusion line, plus cutting edge designers Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen.

Her runway debut, which already had her marked as someone outside the norm (even in fashion terms) was confirmed when, in November 2006, Deyn appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue sporting a bleached, cropped pixie-cut. Making that bold decision to change her image so drastically put Agyness on the map. But as with Twiggy forty years before, a hair cut is never just a hair cut.

Deyn’s incredible new look made her unmissable: the peroxide crop was exciting and fresh, something that ran counter to the ultra-feminine, doll-like look that was in favour at the time. Harder and tougher, it was something that went perfectly with the neon bright, Eighties-influenced clothes being produced by designers such as Richard Nicoll. Deyn’s attempt to get herself noticed could not have been better timed.

Her haircut, combined with her love of British fashion, nurtured as a result of her friendship with Henry Holland, made Agyness a startling presence both on the runway and in real life. Teaming her cropped hair with boyish, urban separates and eclectic accessories made Agyness eminently watchable.

Her own personal style, something that grew organically from her radical change in image, became a regular feature in fashion magazines. Her trilby hats worn with Wayfarer sunglasses made a vital connection not just with the fashion press, but more crucially, with the British public.

Her look, merging the best of designer and high-street fashion, became an inspiration for teenagers across the country. Girls began to crop and bleach their hair to match Deyn’s. The cool yet casual look played perfectly to fashion-conscious students of both sexes who were looking for something with more personality than a hoodie and a pair of jeans. Deyn rapidly became a taste-maker: whatever she wore, however she wore it, it was profiled, studied and copied. Through her personal style, Agyness Deyn connected with an entire generation in a way that few other contemporary models have managed.

Born in the dying days of the New-Romantic movement, Deyn’s punk-inspired look owes a great debt to Vivienne Westwood’s work during the late Seventies and progression into the early Eighties. The wild excess, tempered with a very real awareness of design and fashion history, is a British tradition that has translated to street fashion across the globe.

The mix of rebellion and high fashion that is embedded in Deyn’s look has formed a whole new level of street style, quite separate from the label-led sportswear trend. Whereas many fashion watchers presumed that the age of influence ended with Kate Moss, Deyn’s unique homage to street fashion has secured a revival of interest in the industry.

Deyn forms part of a later generation than Moss who came to modelling already equipped with an awareness of how modern media works. Deyn entered the industry with an understanding of the link between the popular press (tabloids and broadsheets) and the more traditional fashion media. Once absolutely divisable, it is now commonplace to find a tabloid devoting at least a page to a fashion story on a daily basis.

Previously scorned for its ‘outlandish’ and ‘unwearable’ creations, fashion receives a kinder deal as newspapers, eager to boost their own sales, have sharpened their approach to fashion journalism. They report fashion events with the same attention once reserved for domestic politics.

Fashion now sells papers on its own intrinsic merits, rather than on a dated notion of ‘shock value’. It is taken much more seriously, because the public have made that personal connection with what they wear, and what it says about them, and that connection has been bridged by people like Deyn.

Agyness’ triumph can be summed up in terms of how she has made street icon and fashion icon one and the same. Working with the best of British avant-garde design talent such as Gareth Pugh and landing campaigns for established labels like Burberry and Hugo Boss, proves that Deyn is the ultimate chameleon.

Deyn has, within the space of three years, become an unrivalled influence in contemporary street fashion. She has successfully challenged our pre-conceptions about what constitutes everyday style. Her commitment to transforming herself into one of the fashion world’s top players shows how, even early on, Agyness was prepared to take personal responsibility for her own career. To become one of fashion’s most recognisable faces takes more than self-belief.
It took tremendous nerve, but by having the guts to change her look when it wasn’t delivering the results she wanted, Agyness became one of fashion’s elite by rebranding her own image into something more daring and fashion-forward.

While everything from her hair to her name may be manufactured, it is important to see Deyn’s progress as something that did not happen merely as the result of wishful thinking. She took charge of her own success by turning herself (physically and emotionally) into the model she wanted to become. Marketing is as much about perusading yourself that you belong as convincing others of the fact.

In the short term, Deyn’s immediate legacy will be her extraordinary influence on street fashion.
But what will endure is her willingness and determination to craft her own future, leading us away from the notion that people who have succeeded have done so because they let success happen to them. It may not be the name on her birth certificate, but Agyness has built a name for herself in the fashion world that is synonymous with style and influence, and not being afraid to take a risk right at the moment when it counts the most.