Sunday, 19 July 2009


Four years may be a long time in politics, but in the world of fashion – it’s even longer.

From 2005 to 2009, the world has turned on a dime, and the fashion world has had little choice but to change and adapt to circumstance. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the career of model Sasha Pivovarova.

Born in 1985, Sasha’s career in modelling began in 2005 when a photographer friend introduced her to IMG. Just a few months later, Pivovarova was making her debut at the Prada show in Milan.

Sasha, born and bred in Russia, built on her grand beginnings and steadily began the ascent to the top of the fashion world. Opening and closing shows for designers as varied as Preen, Balenciaga and Chloe, Pivovarova also worked with top photographers Steven Meisel and Patrick Demarchelier, shooting Vogue covers for France, Italy, Britain and Japan.

Her start in the modelling industry, with Prada, yielded results when the design house signed her up for an exclusive three-year contract. She also scored another first when she walked for Prada at six consecutive shows. Sasha modelled their ready-to-wear fashion along with eyewear and perfume. The relationship between model and brand set, Sasha was the face of Prada.

Sasha’s incredible success was not an isolated incident, but belonged to a wave of East-European and Russian models who invaded the fashion industry. Spear-headed by Daria Werbowy, the girls from the far side of Europe were (and continue to be) in huge demand.

Pivovarova, along with Natasha Poly and Natalia Vodianova, formed a charm offensive on the fashion industry. Their brand of beauty – aristocratic features paired with a definitive editorial edge – left the fashion world helpless to resist. Mastering both sides of the coin – having a strong, editorial look equally matched with conventional, knockout beauty – provided designers with the best of both worlds. These girls married a sense of the exotic with the familiar, and that Baltic beauty was what kept getting Sasha booked over and over again: it worked within designers’ comfort zones and produced a portfolio worthy of envy.

This glamour age in modelling coincided with our own ‘boom ‘era. It may have been short-lived, but high-end brands were doing well, and luxury brands were doing even better. No-one thought the worse of a celebrity for laying down serious cash for a must-have handbag. No-one had heard of the term ‘credit crunch’, simply because it hadn’t been invented yet. There was no need: everyone was doing just fine.

Fashion’s love affair with Russia was not just directed at the models it was producing. As the good times continued the number of affluent Russians ready to spend sky-rocketed. This meant a golden time for luxury and designer goods. Billionaires were buying designer goods in huge quantities, making Russia a key market for high-end fashion. For the first time, Russians were buying the fashion as well as starring in its runway shows and campaigns.

The celebration of decadence and luxury continued as Sasha scored a contract with Armani – another brand that translated particularly well in Moscow. Sasha’s career could not have been riding much higher: she was the model of choice for editorial shoots as well as raking in big bucks for big-name campaigns and endorsements. It was, in essence, the career models dream about when starting out in the industry.

But in 2008, the economic bubble burst. The property market collapsed, consumers lost confidence and the luxuries market seemed more than a little shaky.

An ordinary model might have quaked at the prospect of losing contracts. But Pivovarova was made of sterner stuff. With that quintessentially Russian toughness, Sasha held her nerve – and more crucially – kept her cool. She kept an open-mind too and found that the work did not disappear: it merely changed focus.

The high-end brands concentrated less on ready-to-wear (because, let’s face it, the first thing that goes in any budget-trim is the £3,000 coat), and re-shifted their priorities to the fashion consumables: accessories, cosmetics and perfume.

Where Sasha had advertised Prada dresses, she now advertised its perfume, which went on to do rather well. Her selling savvy transferred effortlessly to the smaller items, because she understood that selling a product (regardless of its price) relies on a model’s ability to sell a dream. A pair of sunglasses isn’t just two lenses and a frame: they are a gateway into another world.

Sasha’s easy-to-read beauty played well to the cosmetics and fragrance market. Her flawless skin and perfectly-set features ensured that if someone couldn’t afford an Armani evening gown, they would definitely be tempted to purchase a lipstick. After all, no-one stops buying lipstick, no matter how bad things seem to get. This seismic shift in marketing luxury is what has saved many designer names from going under in the worst recession since the 1930’s. They go with what people can realistically afford, and sell them the aspiration of luxury in a way that doesn’t pander or patronise. Those who have used this strategy have made millions.

Sasha has profited from this about-turn in her career by going with new opportunities and making the most of them. She has since the downturn worked for mid-range brands such as Gap and Zara, and now has an exclusive contract with skincare brand, Biotherm. By using models of Pivovarova’s standard, these firms are showing that they understand how to sell a product to a cash-strapped public and still stay in business. They use the best faces available, because with them, they bring the memory of better and more affluent times. More than ever before, models are not selling a tube of lipstick or a bottle of perfume: they are selling the idea of hope.

Sasha’s career has gone on from strength to strength, not just because of her extraordinary beauty, but because she kept an open mind and adapted herself to new opportunities. Many models would consider going from Gucci to Gap a bit of a step-down, but Pivovarova has been smart about lending her modelling kudos to these brands and both model and company have succeeded where others have notably failed.
Almost five years into a phenomenal career, Sasha is looking to the future. Having maintained an interest in art, she is developing her talent and has already exhibited in New York and Paris, with some of her work even featuring in French Vogue.

Whether she chooses to continue with fashion, or concentrate on art, what is for certain is that she has conquered the fashion world completely. She has been the face of luxury and the selling point of populist brands and accomplished both with impeccable style. Whatever the future holds next for Sasha, like the best military general, she knows that whatever has been done, there is always more to accomplish: it is a smart philosophy to live by, both now and for the times to come.


Sunday, 12 July 2009


Although not a name well known beyond the immediate fashion circle, Alice Burdeu is one of the rare success stories to come out of the reality TV show franchise, ‘America’s Next Top Model’.
The programme, devised by former supermodel Tyra Banks, has been so hugely successful that a number of countries across the world have adopted the format for themselves.

Alice Burdeu, born in 1988, auditioned for Cycle 3 of ‘Australia’s Next Top Model’ in 2007. At 5’ 11” she towered over her competitors. She looked conspicuously out of place – her (newly-dyed) red hair and alabaster skin marked her out immediately as someone different – and someone worth watching.

Despite her painfully shy demeanour, Burdeu produced a body of work that was in a different league. In person, she appeared awkward and bashful, but on film she became bold, daring and in terms of fashion edge, completely on-target.

Burdeu made it to the final and won – Alice was an obvious winner, but she was given some crucial advice by the judges. Her look would not suffice for Australian companies wanting upbeat, sun kissed girls to promote their products. Alice’s future was in New York. She took the advice and travelled to America. She impressed Elite Model Management so much they signed her up immediately.

Six months later, Alice debuted at New York Fashion Week. Her list of catwalk credits proved she was no slow-burner. Straight out of the gate, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Marchesa all booked Burdeu. For any working model, it would be impressive – but for an absolute beginner, it was an extraordinary coup.

The advice she had been given was absolutely right. Her delicate, editorial look of pale skin and a shock of red hair which looked so out of place on ANTM was a perfect fit for high fashion.

Following New York Fashion Week, the successes began to mount up. Burdeu took part in a D&G campaign shot by Mario Testino, scored 3 Australian Vogue covers and a multi-page editorial spread with British Elle. She became the face of Blumarine Resort, and won another ad campaign (this time with Sonia Rykiel). Getting noticed by the fashion press, Alice was profiled in as a rising star, with capping off the year by naming her one of their Top 10 newcomers to the industry.

This heady whirl of achievement is dazzling, but is all the more surprising considering Burdeu’s background. Eleven seasons in, the original ‘’America’s Next Top Model’ has, to date, failed to produce a model of Burdeu’s calibre.

The reasons for this disparity are not entirely straightforward. The fashion world has seemed reluctant to take on previous winners, with many being forced to branch out into acting or presenting in order to get noticed. Maybe there was an assumption that if someone needed the springboard of a television show, they couldn’t be up to much as a model.

Burdeu wrong-footed this assumption from the get-go: her editorial look propelled her to the top of the industry. However, Burdeu has made it to the top because she is both the exception and exceptional.

Her mournful, Isobel Archer-like quality has made her a favourite in Europe because she embodies that sensibility so completely that it is impossible to resist. Burdeu possesses the ability to seamlessly translate trends with intelligence and insight, and this instinct cannot be taught.
The fact that she has been, so early in her career, accepted into the fashion clan, makes it clear that a good model can be coached, but a great model cannot. Alice’s level of success shows that being a winner in real-life remains very much hit-and-miss. While it can be a rude awakening for some contestants, it is a reminder that the level of success Burdeu has achieved is a rare thing indeed.
ANTM is a television phenomenon, and has done a stellar job in opening up the modelling world to a much wider audience. Once a ‘closed book’, teenage girls know what a ‘go-see’ is, and what constitutes a good portfolio. While this knowledge can only be a good thing, ANTM has also changed the way people view the modelling business.
With a 12-week format, contestants compete against each other in a bid to win a 1-year modelling contract handed out at the end of the series. But while the prize is guaranteed, success is not.
Alice’s meteoric rise proves that the reality show can breed winners, but Burdeu succeeds where so many others have failed because she listened to her instincts. A quick study and willing to not only listen to advice but act on it, Burdeu’s star shines as brightly as it does, because she left the show knowing that a ‘success story’ does not end when the cameras stop rolling. To truly excel takes more than just ticking boxes. Ambition is not nearly enough.
As her demand continues to grow, it is probable that Burdeu’s link with the modelling contest will someday be forgotten. A hit in Paris, she is already working with the biggest names in the fashion world, clocking up runway miles for Lanvin, Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton.
The fashion industry‘s welcome to Alice was so immediate because they recognised something special. Burdeu’s awkward stance lends itself perfectly to high-fashion runway, and her bird-like features sit comfortably in what is considered beautiful right now. It is not a face that belongs on a sunscreen commercial, but an intriguing face that inspires more by giving away less. Fashion loves romance, and Alice has that magic – the indefinable something that engenders desire. She tells a story, and we want to know more.
Not resting on her laurels has ensured Burdeu her part in fashion’s future. She has taken the prize and won the game because, quite simply, she is the real deal.


Sunday, 5 July 2009


For many, Cindy Crawford was the face of the Eighties. Her sophisticated, sultry look ran against everything the decade represented, but in spite of that Crawford brought ‘sexy’ back to the modelling industry, and made curves big business.

Born in 1966, and discovered at the age of 16 by a local newspaper photographer, Cindy broke into the industry when she entered the Elite Model Look of the Year contest a year later. She did not win the competition, but Elite were so impressed by her potential, that they signed her up anyway.

Cindy’s inauguration into the fashion world coincided with the ‘boom’ years of the Eighties, where people had plenty of disposable cash, and were in a mood to spend.

Classic American designers like Ralph Lauren did especially well during this era: the ‘preppy’ look (think 1950’s college student) was especially popular and people were definitely willing to pay top dollar for it.

The craze for labels started here. In the 70’s, top fashion labels such as Halston were only worn (and known) by a select few. In the Eighties, all that changed. Advertising made high fashion visible, desirable and most importantly, attainable.

Labels became a second language both here and especially in America. They spoke of status and wealth, taste being a secondary concern at this point. All that mattered was wearing the ‘right’ labels. It was more a case of who you wore, rather than how you wore it. Which goes some way to explaining some of the sartorial delights you can see if you google Eighties fashion.

This is the world Cindy Crawford stepped into when she signed up with Elite. High-fashion at the time was devoting its energies to pursing the income of the glitz and glamour crowd, and as we know, the Eighties were all about excess.

Bouffant hair laden with hairspray, and heavy make-up, made catwalk models appear years older than they actually were. This allowed customers to envisage themselves in the clothes. Designers wanted their clothes to sell, and flattered their customers by making the models look like them.

It was a canny ploy. Everyone now wanted to look worldly and sophisticated, and the concept of natural beauty was left behind, as much a part of the discarded Seventies as tank-tops and T-Rex.

This pursuit of mannequin-like perfection meant that Cindy Crawford’s impact on the modelling scene was not immediate, as the industry did not fully appreciate what it was she had to offer.
Her now-trademark mole was airbrushed off many of her earliest photographs, including a cover for Vogue. Crawford has since admitted that at the time, she felt under pressure to conform and have the mole removed – to create that perfect blank canvas – but she stood her ground and the mole stayed.

At the time it was a small decision, but in terms of her career, absolutely pivotal. Cindy Crawford flew the flag for natural beauty and the mole saved her from getting lost in the crowd. The ‘imperfection’ made her stand out, and being remembered is half the battle in getting work within the modelling industry.

As modelling jobs began to stack up, Crawford made a reputation for herself. Her curvy physique and dark features caught the attention of people outside the immediate fashion circle and created a stir in the wider media. She was a refreshing antidote to the 80’s mega-macho pop culture of cold beer, fast cars and beautiful women. A complete opposite to the coldly perfected faces in fashion, her fresh-faced beauty captured the public’s interest. Here was a model they could empathise with: someone who was warm and engaging, but still undeniably beautiful. The girl-next-door got an upgrade, as Crawford became a pin-up for teenage boys across the globe.

As her popularity grew, Crawford widened people’s perception of what sexy could be: a girl with beauty and brains, and unapologetic about having both? That was something new. She switched the idea of the ‘sexy American girl’ from a ditsy blonde bombshell to a sultry brunette ‘with brains and charm’, to quote US designer Michael Kors. Her image ran counter to every expectation, and her popularity soared because she was so different. People were ready for someone who was a non-conformist, and smart with it.
Expanding these horizons has been absolutely fundamental to the modelling industry, because if sexy only equals blonde hair and blue eyes – that’s a somewhat limited brief. Cindy was one of the first models to appeal equally to both men and women. Her unique mix of natural beauty and intelligent sex appeal made her a favourite with both.
Her success in the fashion world (including campaigns with Escada and Revlon, and covers with Vogue, W, Harpers Bazaar, Elle and Cosmopolitan) shows that she understood very clearly the difference in modelling for a predominantly female market, and modelling for a campaign specifically targeted at men. Her expertise in crafting her image towards a product, designer or campaign has been crucial to the development of modelling. Models like Tyra Banks and Gisele Bundchen owe a great debt to their predecessor.
As her name became better known, Crawford moved from fashion to television, as popular adverts (including one for Pepsi) proved that television couldn’t get enough of Cindy’s down-to-earth charm. She scored a lucrative job hosting MTV’s ‘House of Style’ from 1989 to 1995. The fashion news and features programme made contemporary fashion a visible presence in living rooms across the world. Cindy’s easy-going personality and natural flair in front of the camera ensured people stayed watching.
The popularity of the style show coincided with the era of the ‘supermodel’: a small, elect band of models who could command huge fees for just one day’s work. Cindy was part of that group, alongside Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. They were not just models; they were celebrities in their own right.
Their fame turned to notoriety when Linda Evangelista famously told an interviewer that she wouldn’t consider getting out of bed for anything less than $10,000. There is now some discussion as to whether Evangelista made that comment in jest, but its controversy sparked a backlash against these models. Where they actually worth the astronomical fees they commanded?
At this point, Cindy Crawford sidelined into more television and film work, allowing herself to quietly drop off the fashion radar. It was good timing on her part, as fashion lost interest in the ‘Supers’, and fell in love with a new generation of androgynous girls spear-headed by a newly-discovered Kate Moss. They were younger, but more importantly, as the 80’s economic bubble burst, they were cheaper.
As fashion moved on, Cindy Crawford developed her business acumen she had cultivated during an unusually long modelling career. Tailoring a skincare line and home furnishings brand, she devoted the next decade to doing what she did best: selling.
Cindy Crawford was one of the first models to ‘do it all’: modelling, acting, presenting and big business. Crawford was perceptive enough to take notice of what was going on around her, and not take success for granted. Her astute business sense and ability to openly evaluate her own strengths provided a stand-out business model for the next generation following her.
Fashion once sneered at the concept of ‘sex sells’, perceiving it be something low-rent and nothing to do with the rarefied world of haute couture. Now it is difficult to imagine the fashion world without it. From catwalks to editorials, a smouldering look now sells everything from sunglasses to face cream. Cindy proved that sex appeal could be something subtle and aspirational – something that would enhance high fashion rather than act as an unwelcome distraction.
Cindy Crawford also opened doors for models to be able to do ultra-sexy swimwear shoots, alongside more traditional modelling fare of beauty campaigns and couture shows. Crawford proved it is possible to do it all, and do it on your own terms.
By not conforming, Crawford created a new type of career that had a huge impact on the modelling industry itself. A model entering the market today does not have to pick and choose as to whether she can be sultry, or high-fashion. It is possible to pursue both avenues and retain your credibility.
Crawford altered our perceptions of what ‘sexy’ looks like, and did so while holding onto her intelligence and much-needed sense of humour. It has kept her in the public eye for more than 20 years, and her place within modelling history remains, and will be for the foreseeable future, undisputed and unrivalled.