Sunday, 31 January 2010


Born April 6th 1987, American model Hilary Rhoda is a classic beauty with a high-fashion twist.

Growing up in Maryland, Rhoda’s first love was sports. Active in lacrosse, tennis and field-hockey, Rhoda’s athletic childhood didn’t translate into modelling aspirations until 2004.

Aged 17, Rhoda was taken to Washington by her mother, after hearing an advert for an open call on local radio. The trip to Washington proved productive, as Rhoda signed with IMG Models in 2005, modelling part-time until her graduation.

Later that year, Hilary graduated from high-school and moved to New York to take on a full-time modelling career. It did not take long for Rhoda to make her presence felt.

In September 2005, Hilary was hand-picked to appear in the Balenciaga show by Nicolas Ghesquiere. The phenomenal booking had a snowball effect on Hilary’s career. In October, she opened the Valentino show and walked for Rochas, YSL, Chanel, Lanvin, Hermes and Rodarte. For a runway rookie, it was an astounding achievement.

2006 brought new challenges, as Hilary was cast in the Spring / Summer Balenciaga ad campaign. Her striking features, with those heavy brows, made Hilary a stand-out. The brand singled her out as the girl most representative of the Balenciaga look, and in the series of photos that comprised their campaign, Hilary was given the only solo shot.

In June, she opened the Balenciaga show in Paris and also landed her first cover of Italian Vogue. Rhoda’s cover try was captured by Steven Meisel. An old-hand at spotting new model talent, a photo-shoot with the legendary Meisel has become almost a rite of passage for models destined to hit the big-time.

In September 2006, Rhoda scored her second Italian Vogue cover, also shot by Meisel. September was a busy month as show season got underway. Rhoda walked for names that represent some of the best design talent in the world: Chanel, Derek Lam, Zac Posen, Chloe, John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. It was a dizzying roll-call of designers all eager to work with Rhoda. With Rhoda’s career trajectory, there was no such thing as a slow burn. Just a year after being signed to IMG, Rhoda was working with the very best designers and photographers.

Unsurprisingly, the fashion press took note and named her as one of their Top 10 Faces. Rhoda’s compelling blend of classic beauty and editorial edge made her a perfect catch for every designer. Like 80’s modelling titan Linda Evangelista, Rhoda had mastered the art of being a fashion chameleon.

In 2007, Rhoda became the face for Donna Karan and Givenchy, also signing a cosmetics and fragrance deal with Estee Lauder. In February, she made it onto the cover of Italian Vogue for a third time. This time, posing with friend Coco Rocha, Hilary was photographed again by Steven Meisel. As much a taste-maker as a photographer, Meisel clearly saw something in Rhoda that set her ahead of the pack.

In May 2007, Rocha and Rhoda joined forces with a group of models including Raquel Zimmermann, Agyness Deyn and Caroline Trentini to form the seminal cover of American Vogue. Entitled ‘The World’s Next Top Models’, the cover introduced the girls to the public, and Rhoda’s career, already doing well enough under its own momentum, steamed ahead to the next level.

She landed a campaign for Italian label DSquared2 with Raquel Zimmermann and Caroline Trentini, and became a face for Valentino along with Gemma Ward and Daria Werbowy.

2008 saw Rhoda undertake a glut of photographic work, including a campaign for Belstaff (photographed by Steven Meisel), plus editorials for Numero, Harper’s Bazaar, German Vogue and Dazed & Confused. She also appeared in the campaign launching Estee Lauder’s new fragrance, and replaced Angelina Jolie as the face of clothing brand St. John.

In 2009, Rhoda capped off a series of amazing bookings with an appearance in the Sports Illustrated magazine, the famous swimsuit edition. With space at a premium, pages of this world-famous magazine are normally reserved for the more familiar names. The fact that the magazine felt confident enough to place Rhoda alongside better-known names speaks volumes about her standing within the industry. She had made it to the core of mainstream publishing by being the most in-demand editorial beauty in the business.

When interviewed by Vogue for the May 2007 cover, Rhoda candidly spoke about her own beauty. Already compared to fashion icon Brooke Shields, she saw her look as being ‘older’ in comparison to her peers; something that harked back to the mega-watt glamour of the Eighties.
While it is true that Hilary’s look is strikingly similar to Shields, her ability to morph into any brand’s vision of beauty makes Rhoda absolutely contemporary.

Like Linda Evangelista, Hilary Rhoda’s selling point is her chameleon-like ability to transform. Take another look at some of her runway and campaign credits: Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Victoria’s Secret, Zara and Abercrombie & Fitch. Each label has a unique identity, and Hilary has successfully represented them all.

Her range of campaign and runway work shows that she isn’t limited to one viewpoint. Her beauty, far from being old-fashioned, sets her at the heart of the fashion industry. Those trademark brows made her memorable during the early days, but they stopped her from becoming an archetype of bland beauty when her career really took off. What sets you apart makes you interesting, and no-one embodies this principle better than Hilary Rhoda. Her ability to move from ultra-edgy Balenciaga to brands like Estee Lauder shows how fashion embraces beauty that is off the beaten track.

Big-budget brands like Estee Lauder also love girls like Hilary because they lend an authenticity to their products. A lipstick on Hilary is not just a cosmetic – it becomes something covetable and high-fashion just by association.

What is interesting about Rhoda’s career is how it marks fashion’s shifting obsessions. In the space of five years, the industry has gone from routinely hiring the best faces in Hollywood, to appreciating the wealth of modelling talent on offer. In 2008, Hilary replaced Angelina Jolie as the face of St. John, and she continues to model for Estee Lauder’s ‘Sensuous’ fragrance, sharing equal page space with actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Fashion’s love affair with models has re-ignited, and it is down to the consistently high standards set by models like Rhoda. An actress can certainly grab attention for a label, but can she handle the complex blend of worldly sophistication and sensuality required for a designer like Cavalli? Acting the part is one thing, but models have, and always will have, the advantage as it’s what they do for a living. It’s not a bolt-on in-between films; it’s the focus of their entire career. Models, the great ones, know fashion inside-out. They inhabit that world completely, and the fashion world has come to realise that when it comes to mastering a designer’s complex remit, skill trumps dazzle every time.

This year’s campaigns show how the fashion industry has gone back to its roots. There’s hardly a celebrity name to be found: Hannah Holman for Marc Jacobs, Karlie Kloss for Dior, Hermes and Aquascutum; Kasia Struss for Alberta Ferretti, Jamie Bochert for Lanvin and Lindsay Wixson for Miu Miu. To anyone unfamiliar with the current fashion circuit, there’s barely a recognisable name on that list, but that isn’t the point. It’s not all about celebrity anymore – fashion’s moved on, and so have we. The recession has seen less emphasis on big-label kudos and more of a leaning towards cultivating a personal style. There’s no longer a sense of shame attached to not being able to afford the latest pair of Miu Miu blackbird shoes. Fashion right now is about blending – designer, high-street or vintage – what you can afford is irrelevant. It’s not what’s in your wardrobe, but how you wear it that counts.

A really great model can clean up in times like these: designers don’t want a pre-packaged celebrity with her own image and agenda – they need a blank slate, a model that can be all things to all women. Rhoda fills that purpose beautifully.

If you were in any doubt about how sharply fashion has done a 360, just look at Balenciaga. Every fashion house has its girl in Hollywood: an actress who is loyal to the label and calls on them for public appearances. Dior has Marion Cotillard, Chanel has Nicole Kidman, and Balenciaga has Jennifer Connelly. Google a picture of Jennifer, and look at those eyebrows: remind you of anyone?

Fashion has come full circle, and its change of heart could not have come at a better time for the modelling industry. But as the world emerges from recession, the fashion industry has a chance to re-assess its priorities. The age of the supermodel may have ended with Linda Evangelista, but the good news for models like Hilary is that rather than being an after-thought, models are again becoming part of the creative process. Separating models from celebrities has served double duty - to be successful as a model no longer requires a famous name. With models emerging as the clear winners this season, the decline in using celebrities to front campaigns is evidence that fashion is once again taking models – and what they do – seriously.

To go from all-American classic to avant-garde contemporary in the blink of an eye takes skill, and it is something Rhoda has in abundance. Regardless of where fashion goes next, the ability to be truly versatile will never go out of style.


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