One of the best-known names in the fashion industry, Raquel Zimmermann has made a career out of being the ultimate ‘go-to’ girl.
Known in fashion circles as the body that can wear any trend, Raquel (born May 6th 1983) is another modelling success story straight from Brazil.
Discovered at age 14 in Porto Alegre, Zimmermann’s career took shape in February 2000 when she debuted in Paris at the Spring / Summer Chanel and Valentino shows.
An instant hit on the runway, Raquel’s striking presence lead to early success. Signing a contract with Dior cosmetics in 2001, Zimmermann appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue in November 2002, photographed by Steven Meisel. A whizz at spotting new model talent, Meisel took to Raquel, photographing her again for Escada in 2004.
In December 2002, Raquel landed her first spot walking for Victoria’s Secret. Still a relatively new face on the runway circuit, Raquel may have seemed a surprising choice, but it became clear to everyone watching that she had definite cross-over appeal. Standing at 5’10”, Zimmermann’s body was perfectly proportioned for anything fashion could throw at it.
Committing to a second Victoria’s Secret show in 2005, that same year also saw Zimmermann sign up for campaigns with Gucci and Hermes, ending the year with the cover of Japanese Harper’s Bazaar.
2006 saw Raquel’s third Victoria’s Secret appearance, plus runway duty for Viktor & Rolf. This affiliation with the design duo reaped major rewards when Raquel was announced as the face of Viktor & Rolf’s collaboration with H&M.
The success continued in 2007 when Raquel replaced Angela Lindvall as the face of Fendi. She also became a Chloe girl, fronting campaigns with Trish Goff and Anja Rubik.
May 2007 was a very good month for Raquel when the latest edition of US Vogue hit the newsstands. Steven Meisel’s now-iconic cover named Raquel as one of the world’s next top supermodels. A transformative experience for everyone involved, the impact of that cover turned editorial girls like Coco Rocha and Agyness Deyn into fashion superstars. It didn’t harm Zimmermann’s career either. 2007 ended with a major fragrance contract with Gucci and a campaign for Italian label DSquared2. The Gucci fragrance commercial was shot by ‘Blue Velvet’ director David Lynch, and Raquel’s connection with the super-brand continued into show season, closing the Spring / Summer Gucci show along with appearances for Rodarte, Proenza Schouler and Alexander McQueen.
In December 2007, Raquel had her ‘can-wear-anything’ mantra put to the test, when she was photographed for W magazine, wearing a rat-infested coat designed by Gareth Pugh. The image, captured by Craig McDean, proved once and for all that Zimmermann was the ultimate clothes-horse.
Accolades followed in 2008, as modelling website http://www.models.com/ named Raquel their no. 1 model, overtaking established name Gemma Ward. Raquel’s unique blend of sexuality and fashion know-how was becoming something everyone in the fashion industry wanted a piece of.
Her 2008 runway schedule showed just how far Zimmermann had come. In February she opened the Stella McCartney show and closed the Oscar de la Renta and Chanel shows. In September, she opened shows for Zac Posen and Alexander Wang, closing shows for PHI, Christopher Kane and Stella McCartney. It is a roll-call of the best and brightest of modern design talent. After years of strictly-editorial girls ruling the runways, fashion had fallen back in love with the sex-bomb.
The following year, as the fashion world endeavoured to respond to consumers’ desire for wearable luxury, Raquel’s popularity began to soar with the more traditional labels, walking for Hermes, Loewe and Valentino in February 2009. As the credit crunch began to bite, Raquel’s ability to switch from sex-bomb to sophisticate worked in her favour.
Becoming the face of Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta, Raquel landed four Vogue covers in the space of a year. The final cover was for Brazilian Vogue, a fitting conclusion to the decade for a girl who had conquered the fashion world.
Zimmermann’s enduring appeal is representative of a new breed of model that has redefined how fashion interprets sexuality. Never choosing the obvious route, even the most daring of Zimmermann’s work is underpinned with knowledge of fashion’s past and present.
This is what separates fashion from the world of men’s magazines. Even looking at a GQ shoot, the difference between that and a Vogue lingerie shoot can be subtle, but you know instantly which is which, and that’s all down to how the model tells the story. Modelling, in its finest moments, is all a matter of interpretation.
Zimmermann’s take on sensuality has meant that she can do editorial work, including couture, and then shift to flat-out sex appeal for a Gucci campaign and never look uncomfortable or out of place. This technique owes a great debt to models like Elle McPherson and Janice Dickinson. Teaming a fashion-friendly body with a face capable of registering any emotion, McPherson and Dickinson, no matter how heady the mix of sex and fashion got, never forgot that to create a successful photograph, there couldn’t be a disconnect between the face and the body. To get it right, both had to work in perfect harmony.
Like McPherson, Zimmermann has successfully transferred her look across every aspect of the fashion business. No-one wants a model that is a one-note wonder, and Zimmermann continues to enthral the fashion industry because she can offer absolute versatility. That is why Raquel has continued to excel long after most models retire: quite simply she is one of the best multi-taskers in the business.
Raquel possesses the couture sensibility necessary to carry off fashion’s grandest designs, but she is not cornered in that high-fashion world. Putting aside the fads for quirky, off-centre looks, what repeatedly scores in fashion is a body that can wear anything: no trend is too big or overwhelming. Raquel’s perfect frame, capped off with the couture-perfect height, means that for her, there are no limits.
Raquel’s look is sex appeal tailor-made for the 21st century. A world away from the plastic-fantastic era of Botox and acrylic nails, Zimmermann’s strength is all about what lies underneath. Her genetic good fortune may have got her foot in the door, but staying at the top required Zimmermann to learn how to manage her sensuality: it shines through every picture, whether it is a French Baroque couture shoot or a fun, graffiti editorial with Mario Testino. It enhances the picture, but never gets in the way.
Raquel’s success, particularly in haute couture, has defined her career from fellow Brazilian, Gisele Bundchen. Trying to follow the toughest act in modelling history was always going to be a non-starter for any new model. Zimmermann did the smart thing and played up her couture-ready body and the fashion world eagerly took the bait.
The hard work done by models like Elle McPherson and Cindy Crawford has meant that fashion consequently reads ‘sex-bomb’ in a much more sophisticated way. Raquel’s appearances for brands like Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana are all about the grown-up bombshell. This modern interpretation of what is ‘sexy’ has redefined who can sell what. By blurring the boundaries, Zimmermann can work for designers who aren’t normally known for their love of va-va-voom. This change of pace, something that has really taken off during the recession, means that sex appeal in the fashion industry has become something quieter, more controlled – but undeniably powerful.
As fashion edges into a new decade, it has made a decision to rethink the big ideas. Models like Raquel Zimmermann are changing pre-conceptions about what a model can do, and there is no longer a set idea about how a brand might represent ‘sexy’ or ‘editorial’. Raquel’s sex appeal always tells a story, and like Crawford, McPherson and Dickinson, Zimmermann has mastered the art of making sexy cool.
A tour de force at breathing personality into couture, Zimmermann may be under the public’s radar, but in fashion, nobody does it better.