Sunday, 23 August 2009


Born in 1986, Jessica Stam headlines a chorus of new models who are rapidly re-defining the term ‘supermodel’.

Jessica, a Canada native, was famously discovered in 2001 by modelling agent Michele Miller. Stam and her family were on their way home from an amusement park and stopped off at a coffee shop. This is where Miller spotted Stam and immediately recognised someone with serious modelling potential.

A year later, Stam took part in, and won, the LA Model Look contest. Her win secured interest from the fashion industry, and Stam became a bona fide fashion girl, working with photographer Steven Meisel who was so impressed, he dubbed her his muse. With a nod of approval from one of the world’s top fashion photographers, Jessica ended up opening the A/W Miu Miu show in Paris. Five years on, Stam still refers to it as the label that started her career.

Stam’s name went supersonic in 2005, with the announcement that Marc Jacobs would be launching a handbag called ‘The Stam’. An honour usually reserved for pop-culture icons, the Stam bag became an immediate fashion hit. The elegant quilted design with a chain draped from the handles became a contemporary classic, with the high-street stores clamouring to make their own version and bask in some of the reflected glory. More importantly for Jessica, it made her surname recognisable, even if many had trouble putting a face to the name.

Stam’s career was at an all-time high, with Jessica landing campaigns for companies as diverse as Giorgio Armani and H&M. At both ends of the fashion spectrum, Jessica was making an impact. But beyond the industry itself, Stam was relatively unknown. To be this famous within the fashion world, but virtually a stranger to the world at large, was crossing into new territory.
The fashion world had been used to models staking fame on a global scale: Evangelista, Turlington and Campbell were celebrities first, and models second. The term ‘supermodel’ coined in the Eighties, was applied to any model that was recognisable by one name. If I say ‘Cindy’, it is impossible to not follow with ‘Crawford’.

Models, right up until the early Nineties, if they were famous, they were very famous indeed. They routinely shot magazine covers – not celebrities as is now commonplace. Actresses made movies, models did the modelling. But with the advent of celebrity culture in the late Nineties, cover girls found themselves sidelined in favour of singers and actresses. No-one was being offered $10,000 to get out of bed and if they did, they were smart enough to keep quiet about it. The age of the supermodel was over.

However many campaigns Jessica managed to rack up, she remained a nameless face in the pages of a magazine. Her lucrative beauty and fragrance campaigns were, and remain, a speciality but Stam was still unknown to the public.

This state of affairs changed in November 2006, when Jessica was asked to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The highly-publicised fashion event, broadcast yearly on U.S television, showcases the lingerie mega-brand by means of a famously sultry catwalk show that is watched by millions at home and millions more on the Internet.

Its popularity is incredible for a fashion event, and acts as a platform for models who might not ordinarily work the editorial circuit. Connected with names such as Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks, Victoria’s Secret has a degree of influence that cannot be overestimated. Being asked to walk in the show was a watershed moment. Jessica had an opportunity to make herself a visible presence – no longer a nameless fashion girl, but to become a modelling superstar.

Stam, in the moment she stepped onto the Victoria’s Secret runway, made her crossover from high fashion to the mainstream. Her approachably pretty face was perfect for the brand, and that stomping, editorial walk helped lend the lingerie a little high fashion cache too. The success of Stam’s appearance cemented the brand’s determination to use not only curvier models, but to celebrate the best and brightest of modelling talent working today.

It did Jessica’s career no harm either. People who had heard of (or even owned) the Marc Jacobs Stam bag could now confidently put a face to the name, and those who hadn’t were now introduced to what the fashion world had to offer.

With this success to push her forward, Stam’s progression became an irresistible force. In 2007, she became the face of Christian Dior and jewellers Bulgari, and opened the Valentino Couture show in Paris.

Stam’s career trajectory – from the truly cutting edge to the (fashion) girl-next-door - shows just how modelling has changed during the intervening years since supermodels were last considered cultural currency.

Despite Stam’s diverse range of campaigns, her fame is nowhere near the all-encompassing nature of Cindy Crawford’s, or Linda Evangelista’s. But instead of pursuing fame to even greater heights, Stam has thrived on this life, half in the shadows and half in the spotlight.
Stam represents the new-world vision of what a supermodel should be. A chameleon rather than a celebrity, Jessica has been so successful in crossing over to the mainstream without losing her edgy fashion credentials, that it has become obvious that the notion of the ultra-visible, ultra-famous supermodel is outdated and irrelevant.

The term ‘supermodel’ had to be re-defined for the new celebrity age. If models couldn’t out-perform celebrities, they had one more ace to play. They used their anonymity to become true fashion chameleons, adapting to any campaign or any designer’s vision. They went back to Modelling Basics – and the strategy worked. They did what celebrities couldn’t: they became someone other than themselves. Not hemmed in by their own image or ego, the creative possibilities were endless.

Stam’s success has ushered in a new, more discreet brand of supermodel. She is professional, competent and acutely aware of what the fashion industry wants - the type of insight that can only come from someone who is an insider themselves. Creating characters, a mood or a moment on camera is what models do. The subtle nuances of a good model are unattainable by a celebrity, however comfortable they may be in front of a camera. The reason why Jessica remains so in demand is because, first and foremost, modelling is a skill – some people fake it well, but possessing that instinct to create a magical moment on film is something that cannot be replicated, no matter how good the actress.

Celebrities may well have cornered the market in boosting magazine sales, but girls like Jessica are on a fundamental level, keeping the modelling industry alive, simply by being good at their job. Stam is part of a new generation who are carrying the torch for high-end fashion and all it represents. It is no coincidence that the fashion world has, within the past five years, turned its back on ‘bling’, preferring to embrace the softer side of sartorial: tailoring, elegant and timeless chic. Trends still come and go, but not with the clockwork ferocity they once did. Fashion is looking for something, and someone, that will last. There is a lot to be said for the model that is in it for the work, not the ego boost. The clothes-horse girls of the fashion industry are its lifeblood: they are ultra-adaptable, hard-working and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Unlike their celebrity counterparts, Jessica and her peers are less concerned with their image, than getting on and getting the job done – no tantrums and no excuses.


Sunday, 16 August 2009


In the world of modelling, there is perfection, and then there is Christy Turlington.

Born in 1969, Turlington turned 40 this year, and her career shows no signs of slowing down. Scoring new contracts for A/W 09 campaigns with Bally, Escada, YSL and cosmetic brand Maybelline, Turlington is living proof that there is mileage in good bones.

After being discovered whilst horseback riding with her sister, Christy began modelling aged 14. She graduated from high school a few years later, moved to New York and began modelling full-time.

One of the world’s most successful supermodels, with a career spanning two decades, Turlington is the embodiment of modern, classic beauty. Her perfectly proportioned face, with its equally balanced and symmetrical features, is unusual even for the modelling world, and this is what has kept her in demand.

Her face, as rare as a flawless diamond, is the reason Christy is so embedded in popular culture. Along with Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen, Christy is part of that exclusive club of models who are known well beyond the perimeters of the modelling industry.

Christy’s look is clean-cut American, but her dark eyes and winning smile are from her mother, who was born in El Salvador. Turlington’s look is classic with traces of the exotic – a map of America itself.

Her perfect features pitch her square-centre of the modelling industry. Sandwiched between the catalogue crowd and the edgy, editorial girls, Turlington’s classic appeal is anything but mediocre. Christy has consistently outperformed every passing whim the fashion industry has for the quirky and unusual. When the dust settles, and the mood passes, the fashion world once again wants that clean-cut modern face that can sell anything, without a preconceived image or media-fuelled reputation getting in the way.

Turlington’s brand of beauty remains covetable because it goes with any trend, any season and any designer. To prove it, Christy has a CV that is the envy of every working model. Her ready-to-wear and couture catwalk credits include Chanel, Prada, Balenciaga, Dior Haute Couture and Atelier Versace, plus a famously successful collaboration with godfather of American cool, Calvin Klein. Pairing Turlington with Klein’s sleek, minimalist designs proved massively profitable, not least of which was Christy’s series of iconic campaigns for the ‘Eternity’ fragrance.

Her success has been analysed in countless interviews and features, but essentially it can be boiled down to one simple point: Christy’s face (and image) represent the basic principle of modelling. Designers want a flawless base that presents, rather than competes with, their clothes.

In the best possible sense, Turlington is a blank canvas on which editors, stylists and designers can project their ideas. Turlington can turn her hand to anything in the fashion sphere, from high fashion editorials, to bringing out that warm, welcoming smile to persuade women to buy a tube of lipstick. With another American Vogue cover recently under her belt, it is clear that the fashion industry is by no means losing interest.

In modelling, experiencing a career ‘second act’ is rare, usually an honour reserved for models that have paid their dues. Turlington’s new phase coincides with fashion’s rekindled love affair with all things Eighties, including its models.

With contracts from Chanel to Escada, open any fashion magazine and it’s as if Christy never went away. Returning to modelling after a career break spent furthering her education at NYU and Columbia University, her resurgence is about more than a nostalgic fashion industry paying lip-service to a once-great career.

Christy’s gravity-defying bone structure has made her comeback totally credible. Advertisers wanting sell lipstick to consumers over 40 can use her, but she can still go toe-to-toe with the younger girls. Not aligning herself with any particular trend has meant that Turlington is able to slot back into modelling like she never left in the first place.

The term ‘classic’ often gets a bad rap in fashion circles (a little too safe), but when it comes to modelling, classic beauty lasts the course long after the fads have gone. When Yves Saint Laurent said that ‘fashions fade, but style is eternal’, he could have very easily been talking about Christy Turlington.

Once part of the modelling trinity (Turlington, Campbell and Evangelista), Turlington found the level of fame induced by her popularity a double-edged sword. It brought her work, and plenty of it, but she had no enthusiasm for the fame game itself, disliking intensely the tag ‘supermodel’ and everything it stood for. The expectation of acting like a diva sat uneasily with Christy, who preferred being ‘the nice girl’, even picking up after herself at runway shows and hanging clothes back on rails when she was done.

It is therefore not surprising that Christy chose to take a break at the very height of her career. Aged 25, Turlington took a sabbatical and went to New York University to study art history. The move baffled industry insiders, but to Christy, who had been modelling since her teens, it made perfect sense. She was on a search to find meaning and purpose in her life.

She found it. Inspired by the Russian and Islamic religious paintings she studied during art history classes, Turlington transferred to a Comparative Religion course. Exploring different types of spirituality showed Turlington, in her own words, ‘how we are all connected. It was an awakening for me on so many levels.’

Her search for meaning, as she returned to modelling after graduation, came full circle in 2005 when she was asked to become the ambassador for humanitarian organisation CARE. Now undertaking a Masters in Public Health at Columbia University, Christy’s enthusiasm for this cause is self-evident in every interview she gives.

On her return to modelling in her late thirties, it is striking to see how Christy’s newer photo shoots differ from her earlier work. Look closer, beneath the make-up and thousand-dollar clothes, and you will see a woman who is at the forefront of a new age where caring is no longer seen as the soft option.

Her photographs, while absolutely beautiful, have always been about something extra. It is not a chilly, aloof kind of beauty that keeps us looking at Christy. She has brought knowledge and experience with her which takes a fashion shoot beyond the pedestrian. The former art history student is now creating art herself.

Christy has always done things differently, and when she chose to return to modelling, she did so on her own terms. Christy has become her own woman in the intervening years, and as a result, has become a better model.

Not many careers enjoy second acts, but Christy found favour again because she is using what she has learnt to make fashion more meaningful. In a recession age, the pursuit of meaning beyond the dazzle of a brilliant career is longer seen as pretentious. It is becoming essential.

By not compromising who she is, Christy has become not only one of the world’s leading models, but a real life role-model - and there is nothing more beautiful than that.

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.