Sunday, 22 November 2009


Born September 10th 1988, Coco Rocha has secured her reputation on her ability to merge avant-garde with commercial.

Raised in Canada, but of Irish, Welsh and Russian descent, Rocha holds a unique place in modelling history. Combining modern athleticism with unique features that manage to be timeless, Coco represents the best of both worlds.

In 2002, Coco Rocha was discovered by agent Charles Stuart at an Irish dancing contest in Vancouver. Rocha had never previously considered a career in fashion, but she signed with Elite, and began to discover her value in the fashion world.

Rocha’s career started slowly but began to take off in 2006. Her first major breakthrough was appearing in a Balenciaga ad campaign. Wearing oversized platform wedges and a bowler hat, Rocha’s arrival on the fashion scene set the tone for the rest of her career: quirky, original and unexpected.

Her next notable assignment was a shoot with Steven Meisel for Dolce & Gabbana. Famous for being a ‘hit-maker’ in the fashion industry, Meisel has a gift for spotting new model talent. After working with Rocha, Meisel immediately rated her as a model that was worth watching. Website was of the same opinion later that year when they named Coco their ‘rising star’.

The body of 2006 was a collective of great experiences for Rocha. An Italian Vogue editorial with Gemma Ward; a spot in the Chanel Couture runway show and additional shows for Vera Wang and Balenciaga. Coco topped off a brilliant year with an editorial in French Vogue, shot by legendary photographer Terry Richardson.

2007 would prove to be a seminal year for Rocha. Beginning the year by renewing her contract with Balenciaga, Coco also signed up to do a campaign for Lanvin. In February, Rocha achieved two Vogue covers in the same month, posing on the cover of Italian Vogue with Hilary Rhoda, plus an additional cover for Japanese Vogue with Russian model Sasha Pivovarova.

By themselves, these are noteworthy achievements, but in every great model’s career, there is a moment, a tipping point where everything falls into place. This moment came for Rocha in April 2007. She was booked to appear in the Jean Paul Gaultier runway show. Gaultier, charmed by the Canadian, found out about her dancing background and insisted she open and close the show. But Coco wasn’t to walk down the runway: she had to dance it.

Coco’s exuberant bursts of Irish dancing caused a sensation. Anna Wintour dubbed it ‘The Coco Moment’, and Rocha had arrived. The ‘moment’ lasted beyond the initial rush of publicity and translated into very real accolades. The next month, Rocha was featured on the cover of American Vogue. The theme of the cover was already decided: the world’s next supermodels.

Coco was in rarefied company. She shared the cover with Caroline Trentini, Raquel Zimmermann, Sasha Pivovarova, Chanel Iman, Jessica Stam, Hilary Rhoda and Agyness Deyn. Two years ago, these names were specialist knowledge only. Two years on, every one of these names evokes a face, an image and a glittering career. Vogue’s star-spotting was absolutely on the money.

On paper, the concept of Coco as a model should never have worked. Her years of dance training, while doing great things for her posture, should’ve worked against her. Contrary to popular belief, dancers don’t usually make good models, as their training forces them to resist the broken-down, angular poses required to model some of the extreme silhouettes in contemporary fashion.

But Coco took the best of her dance training and channelled it into the requirements of modelling. Applying an intelligent approach to movement, Coco’s popularity with photographers and editors boiled down to her ability to create shapes and lines for the camera.

Look at Coco’s body of work and you will see in her photos that she is a mistress of movement, providing a masterclass in how to create photos that are visually dynamic. Her energy, applied with restraint where needed, translates brilliantly onto film. Rocha is a rare breed: a dancer whose skills adds to, rather than impedes, the modelling package.

In September 2007, she opened a Chanel runway show, scoring the ultimate ‘insider’ job. If you are hired by Lagerfeld, you must be doing something right. In 2008, Coco was photographed for the famous Pirelli calendar by Patrick Demarchelier, and featured in a US Vogue editorial, dressed as famous cartoon characters. Who better to interpret Catwoman and Poison Ivy? Coco managed a difficult task with wit and verve, while still keeping the overall tone fashion-friendly.

Coco’s versatile face made her useable for commercial projects as well as the high-fashion fun. In 2009, she became the face of DeBeers diamonds and has a long-running series of campaigns with YSL skincare and fragrance, plus clothing campaigns for designers as diverse as Zac Posen and Liz Claiborne.

This disparity explains what makes Coco so in demand. She bridges the gap between the worlds of mainstream fashion and the avant-garde. Look again at the list of girls featured on the 2007 ‘Supermodels’ Vogue cover. The list shows how fashion’s take on beauty has shifted over the years. Girls like Agyness, Jessica, Coco and Sasha would’ve been sidelined in the Nineties as purely avant-garde faces.

Over a decade ago, as a model you were either positioned by your agency as an edgy, avant-garde girl or glamour personified. The careers of models such as Stella Tennant and Kristen McMenamy in the 1990s were sharply defined from those of more mainstream girls like Niki Taylor and Christy Turlington. Stella and Kristen did couture, Niki and Christy sold lipstick. Tastes for models would come and go: one year, it was all about the quirky, androgynous models, the next, fashion would celebrate classic beauties. What Coco and her peers represent is a departure from this idea that beauty has to be one thing or the other to be relevant. It has instead been replaced with a merging of the two ideals. Beauty can be just as sellable when it is off-centre, as it is in a Valentino gown.

The idea that a quirky-looking model could be editorial and commercial is something that has only truly evolved through this past decade. The complex requirements of a label like Balenciaga makes certain demands of a model, but now the mid-range labels, and even high-street brands are beginning to catch up.

Retail branding in the same decade has not just had an overhaul; it has been rewritten from scratch. High-street brands such as Reiss, Gap and All Saints are marketing themselves with the same level of sophistication as the designer names, because this is what the consumer now expects. Shopping isn’t just about the clothes you leave the store with; it’s about the whole experience. From the decor to the sales staff, the bar has been visibly raised and those stores doing well are outperforming their competitors because they have embraced everything high-fashion has to offer, including its models. Coco has secured so many contracts with brands on the high street because she offers a taste of high-fashion beauty that is both editorial and relatable.

Coco‘s quirky, off-beat appeal has seen her working with everyone from Gareth Pugh to Gap. Conservative designers love her, legends like Meisel and Wintour are fascinated by her. There is never a sense, in looking at Coco’s career, that there is a place where she doesn’t belong.
Models like Coco represent the future of modelling because they are the very definition of versatility. Seeing someone like Coco succeed shows how fashion has worked, actively and consciously, to become more inclusive to models that fall between the extremes of ‘quirky’ and ‘classic’. Coco’s amazing run of success has paved the way for new models such as Karlie Kloss, who has just signed a deal with Dior. The new girl personified by Coco is avant-garde, and she is establishment: part of the fabric of fashion, she is here to stay. Quirky isn’t a passing phase anymore.


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