Thursday, 31 December 2009


Born December 4th 1973, Tyra Banks has become one of the biggest names in fashion. A truly modern woman, Banks has made her name in modelling and television, bringing the two together to form one of the most successful reality television franchises in history.

A career made of firsts; Tyra signed with Elite Model Management aged 17. Banks’ modelling career began in Paris, when during her first week in the fashion capital; she wowed so many designers that she booked a (then unprecedented) 25 shows – a record for a newcomer.

She became the first black model to feature on the covers of GQ and Sports Illustrated magazines, and only the third African-American model to secure a cosmetics contract. The contract was with Cover Girl, an affiliation that continues to this day with Tyra’s show America’s Next Top Model.

One of the most sought after faces of the Nineties, Tyra was a consistent presence in magazine editorials and did campaigns for brands as diverse as Ralph Lauren and H&M, plus runway duty for designers Bill Blass, Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Yves Saint Laurent. Banks also scored numerous magazine covers ranging from Cosmopolitan, Elle, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. In 1997, she received the VH1 award for Supermodel of the Year, and in the same year, became the first ever African-American to grace the cover of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

If Tyra’s career had stopped at this point, there would be plenty to discuss. Her pro-active barrier-breaking paved the way for girls like Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dunn. Banks bridged the gap between commercial and high-fashion like few other models: her work with lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret made her a household name in America, while still commanding respect in the world of high-fashion.

Nearing the end of her own modelling career, Banks began to examine what else was on offer. She did some television and film work, and found her interest in television re-ignited (she had initially planned, before modelling, to go to university to study television production). Tyra came up with the idea of merging her two passions: television and fashion. She would create her own reality show. The concept would be simple: ordinary girls from across America would have the opportunity to audition for the show and a small group would be selected to travel to New York to live and work as models. They would go on photo-shoots, participate in challenges, and every week, one hopeful would be eliminated. The process would be repeated until there was only one girl left: America’s Next Top Model.

The first series (or cycle) was aired in 2003 on a small television network in the States. It was an unexpected hit, and Tyra suddenly found herself in great demand. In 2005, she made the decision to officially retire from modelling to concentrate on her television career, and we all know what happened next.

America’s Next Top Model became more than a successful reality show, it became a phenomenon. Watched in 170 countries, the format was shipped out to 17 countries that now hold their own respective model searches. Many of the contestants have found success, including Alice Burdeu (winner of Australia’s Next Top Model series 2) who has become a favourite on the runways of Europe and New York, walking for the biggest names in fashion, including Marc Jacobs, Lanvin and Alexander McQueen.

The show has captured the imagination of the public and the desire to see the next series shows no signs of slowing down. Six years on, with the 13th cycle due to air in the UK this January, ANTM is still hot property and there are few other shows that can make such a claim.
The real triumph of the show is what it has done for modelling’s PR. Previous to the show, modelling was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a closed book, but Tyra’s idea to overcome this was to explode myths and break down stereotypes, proving that when it comes to high fashion, the only thing to fear is fear itself. Knocking sideways the idea that models are invariably blue-eyed blondes, the public’s fashion education began in earnest.

You will now be hard-pressed to find a fashion-conscious teenager that doesn’t know the meaning of ‘editorial’. The exploration of the fashion industry, from the inside out, proved to be the show’s calling card. The viewer was given privileged access to what goes on at a photo-shoot, taking an in-depth look at the respective roles of the stylist, photographer and creative director, seeing how they work with a model to create an image. It did modelling a tremendous service in showing that fashion is first and foremost a business.

It also shows the (decidedly unglamorous but very necessary) process of go-sees - another term every teenager is now familiar with. Contestants during every series are expected to visit designers, giving them a real flavour of the day-to-day business of a working model. By attempting to replicate the real-life model experience as closely as possible, Tyra educated both the contestants and the viewers in how fashion really operates.

The show also educated aspiring models as to what the fashion industry wants, and despite its ever-changing perimeters, the essential wish-list stays the same: versatility, personality and an unforgettable walk. Even now, these are non-negotiable if a model wants to make the transition to supermodel.

The secret to the show’s success is that it doesn’t just want to find the next big thing, but a model that can, like Tyra, do it all. A few years ago, the idea of a model that commands the runway, does print work and campaigns, all with equal aplomb, was seen as unrealistic. But Tyra’s insistence on finding girls who could be all-rounders has paid off. Post-recession, the fashion world is looking for ways to pull in more revenue, and the models that are doing well are those who are triple threats.

Take a look at the names of the moment – models like Lara Stone, Agyness Deyn, Chanel Iman and Karlie Kloss. Lara has shot campaigns for Hudson Jeans and is now the Spring / Summer face of Versace; Chanel walked her first Victoria’s Secret runway earlier this month, and Karlie is about to appear in a campaign for Dior. Between them they have sold everything from cut-price cashmere to lingerie, and this is the way ahead. Limiting yourself to one branch of modelling means limiting your money-making potential, and these days, no-one can afford to be elitist.

The decision to allow the public to see the process behind the image was a canny move on the part of Banks. Even though we have seen so much of what goes on behind the scenes, the magic is not lost. The transformative ability to turn an ordinary girl into a goddess with the help of lighting, styling and airbrushing still manages to draw us in. Fashion is no longer just about the polished, finished product.

It is this very process that keeps us watching America’s Next Top Model. Over a decade spent working in the industry has given Banks an insight into fashion is that both knowing and forgiving. Banks has re-aligned people’s expectations of the fashion industry. Fashion is about standing out, not fitting in, and America’s Next Top Model cracks the myth that fashion is about conformity: it consistently celebrates the unusual, the edgy and the editorial.

Tyra’s pet project has transformed the way we see the modelling industry, changing it from a spectator sport to something far more approachable. It’s more than entertainment – it’s given modelling a whole new level of respect. Blowing apart the notion that modelling is for simpletons, the show ardently proves that posing for the camera, as with any skill, is harder than it looks.

In less than twenty years, Tyra’s career has gone from ingĂ©nue, to entrepreneur, to media mogul. In 2005, she launched her own talk-show, aimed at young women, and can now count herself as one the most successful models of her generation, with an estimated income of $23 million in 2008 alone.

With news breaking this week that Tyra is to cancel her talk show but continue working with ANTM and foster new projects, where her career goes from here is anyone’s guess. Having left an indelible mark on the modelling world, she has made her fortune by preparing the next generation of models for the challenges that are already being faced by the fashion industry. Far from being out of touch, Banks understands very clearly where modelling and fashion are headed, and what is for certain, is that somehow, somewhere, she will continue to be a part of it.


Sunday, 20 December 2009


Born 11th June 1985, Anja Rubik’s success stems from fashion’s ability to turn a classic beauty into a very modern commodity.

Anja, born in Poland, took an active interest in modelling from early childhood. At the age of 15, she decided to pursue the goal of becoming a model and took part in a local modelling contest. This would prove to be a pivotal decision: there Anja was spotted by a Parisian agency that immediately recognised her potential.

Anja’s debut into the fashion world marked her from the outset as someone to be reckoned with. She debuted at the A/W shows in Paris, walking for Givenchy, Rochas and Nina Ricci. A hit with Paris, Rubik moved to New York two years later to pursue modelling full-time.

Success came quickly for Rubik. In February 2003, she appeared in the A/W shows for Burberry, Jil Sander and Stella McCartney: all names that can seriously boost a girl’s portfolio.

With naming her the rising star of 2005, Rubik landed contracts with Emporio Armani and Emanuel Ungaro. In the autumn of 2005, she became the face of the Jimmy Choo brand and walked S/S runways for Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Proenza Schouler.

In 2006, Anja’s career went supernova when she signed a contract with cosmetics giant Estee Lauder. If Rubik needed proof that her career was moving in the right direction, this was the moment that did it. A long-established beauty brand, to sign up Anja (at that point still relatively unknown) was a gamble, but one they clearly felt justified in taking.

With a campaign shoot in Alaska for all-American label Tommy Hilfiger, Rubik capped off an amazing year with 50 runway appearances including couture shows for Dior, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and Valentino. Being selected for a couture show is the one of the highest accolades a model can receive, and with Anja’s popularity continuing to grow in Paris, the demand for the face that merged the best of commercial and editorial also showed few signs of letting-up.

With eight Vogue covers to date, Anja Rubik has become one of the top beauty faces working in fashion today. In addition to her numerous fragrance, beauty and eyewear contracts, Anja has walked runway for every notable designer, ranging from Dolce & Gabbana to Loewe, Vera Wang, Thakoon and Gareth Pugh.

Classic beauty, like the little black dress, never really goes out of fashion, and like the LBD, Anja’s look is one that will always be in style. Anja’s list of credits bear testament to the fact that there is always a place in fashion for beauty. Whatever fads come and go, classic beauty finds favour in the fashion industry because it is creates immediate style shorthand by utilising pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. The blue-eyed blonde continues to fascinate because the look is loved by designers, used over and over again by advertisers to sell virtually any product, and directors such as Hitchcock dedicated much of their careers to exploring our obsession with the blonde.

Nowhere is this ongoing obsession more evident than in Anja’s signing with Chloe. The signature fragrance for the French label, only launched in 2008, feels far more established, but the campaign, introduced to the fragrance industry in late 2007, featured Anja alongside actors Chloe Sevigny and Clemence Poesy. The trio, simply styled, represented a very fresh, modern slant on femininity. Deliberately underworked, Chloe’s brand of new femininity has been so successful that the fragrance can already claim modern classic status.

Luxurious and aspirational, but striking the crucial balance between cool and allure, the success of the perfume has proved that the reported demise of the print ad is somewhat premature. By adopting a clear-headed approach to marketing, its subdued glamour has made the fragrance a worldwide hit, ensuring that not just the fashion literate have heard of Chloe.

By hiring Rubik as the only model to front the brand, Chloe cleverly tapped into Anja’s accessible and easily identifiable beauty. No previous knowledge of fashion required: anyone can look at a Chloe advert and understand the connection between model and product. Anja is the perfect match for Chloe because she herself represents a modern femininity that has nothing to do with flounces or frills. It dials into a simpler aesthetic: something that is refreshing in an age where even reality TV contestants are groomed to within an inch of their lives.

Anja’s reputation rests on her ability to make elegance approachable. Ice-cool hauteur isn’t in vogue anymore: advertisers can’t afford to alienate consumers, and the models who are doing well right now are the ones who can tell a story in a single frame. Being relatable isn’t the same as being over-commercial or not high fashion. Making that link with the person buying the magazine or passing the billboard is a skill and one definitely worth cultivating.

High-fashion and beauty have not always been synonymous, but Anja, with her impressive CV of covers, editorials and runway credits, clearly operates within the realm of high-fashion, but is still recognisably beautiful in the contemporary sense of the word. Being ‘pretty’ used to be a distinct disadvantage if you wanted to get taken seriously, but not anymore. The respective successes of models like Lara Stone and Jessica Stam show that fashion has widened its own horizons to allow faces like Anja to not only work in the modelling industry, but to succeed and excel.

Faces like Anja get the attention that they do because they simply don’t come around that often. Finding that lucky mix of genetics that permits Anja to be equally convincing in couture as she is in a Gap commercial is a rarity even in the modelling world where outstanding beauty is par for the course.

Its rarity is what makes beauty so desirable. Everybody wants it; and those who do have it are the subject of intrigue, fascination and envy. It’s still, even in these times of shaky finances, the most potent form of currency we have. Anja’s extraordinary body of work shows that, whatever is on fashion’s agenda, beauty takes pride of place. It not only sells magazine covers and bottles of perfume, but it sells the promise of something better than we already have, and at the end of the day, that is what fashion is all about. A face that represents the ultimate in versatility, Anja Rubik is well on the way to becoming one of the most formidable forces in fashion history.


Sunday, 13 December 2009


Carmen Kass has been a visible presence on the world’s runways for over a decade.

Born in Estonia, 1978, Kass is working (and working hard) at an age where most models are getting comfortable with the idea of being retired. But Kass is still commanding attention, with current campaigns including Michael Kors, Narciso Rodriguez and Max Factor.

To be relevant for this long, and without the backing of a media empire, takes some doing. Truly a ‘model’s model’, Kass is well regarded within the industry, and still maintains a steady balance of editorial print work with runway appearances. Her longevity has endured because Kass delivers impact on all fronts. Most models have a leaning towards a particular medium, or actively prefer print work (editorials and covers) to runway, but Kass is uniquely placed because she is equally strong at both disciplines.

Kass was discovered in 1992 by an Italian modelling scout. Travelling through Estonia, the scout stopped off at a supermarket and discovered 14-year-old Carmen.

In 1996, Kass moved to Milan (and then Paris) to pursue a modelling career. She did not have to wait long for success, as in September the following year she found herself walking in runway shows for Chanel and Versace. Not a bad start by anyone’s standards.

Her career blossomed, with fragrance contracts from Dior in 2000, a Pirelli calendar shoot in 2001 and several runway credits including Givenchy, Balmain, Marni, Oscar de la Renta and Valentino Couture.

It became self-evident very early on in Kass’ career that she would make an indelible mark on the runway. Her walk, once seen never forgotten, quickly became her signature. The stride that embodied confidence and sensuality was a fashion crowd-pleaser in the years before the Brazilian stomp became the industry standard.

Hired to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2002, Carmen (at that point not well known outside fashion circles) worked the runway with effortless aplomb. Kass, not necessarily the most commercially beautiful, stormed the show and was consequently signed up for the next show in 2003. Hiring Kass was a gamble for the lingerie brand, but it was a decision that paid off and explains why they are so keen to hire new names, their latest recruits including Chanel Iman and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley.

The strength of Kass’ walk helped her forge connections with designers: she opened and closed the Oscar de la Renta shows for Autumn & Winter, and Spring & Summer 2002, doing exactly the same for Roland Mouret’s shows in 2005. Her walk took her to the heart of couture, walking for Givenchy, Valentino and Versace, plus additional catwalk credits with names such as Gucci, Carolina Herrera and Yves Saint Laurent. In 2004, it was reported that she was now able to command $200,000 for every catwalk appearance. Clearly designers considered it money well spent.

In 2006, Carmen entered the ‘campaign’ phase of her career, signing contracts with DSquared, Michael Kors and Chloe, and in 2007, landing 10 campaigns in 1 year including Versace, Gap, Ferragamo and, once again, Michael Kors.

Her affinity with the Michael Kors label continues to this day, as Kass remains the face of his fragrances, as well as opening and closing his catwalk shows in 2008 and opening the Spring & Summer 2010 show in New York just this September. Also walking for designers such as Isabel Marant, Balmain and Proenza Schouler, it is astonishing to think that Kass is still working with the best of the cutting-edge designers 12 years after her catwalk debut.

Her ongoing popularity isn’t hard to analyse. Notoriously difficult to replicate, Carmen’s walk defies interpretation. A good walk may be an advantage for any model, but a great walk really does last forever.

Imbibing clothes with personality while keeping them the area of focus, is the most difficult part of runway modelling (after mastering the heels). A model’s job is to give a designer’s vision a sense of identity and purpose on the runway so buyers and editors can assess the collection and crucially who would be its potential customer. To get an idea of how to pitch a designer’s work to their reader or customer, the coal-face of the fashion industry has to be able to recognise, at a glance, who the designer is really designing for. Fashion is about fantasy, yes, but at the end of the day, fantasy doesn’t pay the bills. Having a great model that understands this is the best asset a designer can have. Carmen Kass, with that cool, analytical brain, understands very clearly the fiscal connection between fantasy and reality. One feeds the other, and together they form a coherent brand for the designer. Knowing your customer is as crucial as having a sartorial point of view. Trying to survive without either is virtually impossible.

A competent walker will always find work, but someone who really makes their walk a part of themselves will see the benefits. Carmen is so well-loved because she is a true original: there is no-one else like her. She is not a headline-grabbing ‘classic beauty’, but her look has stayed the distance because it is versatile, and unique.

The importance of the runway walk is once again front row and centre with new kid Karlie Kloss. The American model has wowed the fashion circuit with her controversial ‘death stare’ swagger. Like Carmen, Karlie’s fame is attributed to her ability to imbue any designer’s collection with personality and character. Such is her popularity online; that a video of her giving a runway tutorial claims over 45,000 hits. Now with a fragrance contract with Marc Jacobs to her credit, Karlie is hitting the big-time and looks destined to follow in Carmen’s footsteps, racking up 64 shows in autumn 2008. Whether Karlie’s ascent would have happened so quickly without that devastating sucker-punch of a walk is impossible to gauge, but it proves that a seriously good walk can still take you places in the fashion world.

What is fascinating is how interest in fashion has not only developed, but diversified. There is a definite shift of attention towards the ‘live’ element of fashion: its runway shows. With facilities like YouTube, having a pass to Bryant Park is no longer required to see the latest shows.

Virtually all the major players of Spring & Summer 2010 are already available to view online.
Done right, runway shows can be miniature pieces of theatre, with the big names really putting in the hours to make a truly memorable show. Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Prada all make the effort to produce a show that will be talked about as much as the clothes. Again, its fantasy paired with reality: pitching a dream to sell a jacket. What’s more, it works.

Prada’s pre-historic theme with models teetering on 6” heels; any Alexander McQueen show of the past 5 years, and Marc Jacobs taking us on a guided tour of American fashion history. These moments become markers in fashion’s progress because, unlike theatre, we can re-play and re-visit them on demand. They become as much of the fashion experience as buying a copy of Vogue or visiting a boutique. Technology is fusing fashion to the next decade, and where it goes from here – well, you can’t help but get excited by the possibilities.

Just when you thought fashion had lost the personal touch, it has found a way to make itself accessible. In the next decade, the challenge will be pursuing this line of thought. Designers are realising the power created by making that one-on-one connection, and the return to favour of models that exhibit guile and daring on the catwalk is no accident. Aloof and abrupt just doesn’t cut it anymore. We want personality and wit but most of all, we want to be entertained.