Sunday, 28 March 2010


Born in Denmark on October 18th 1987, Freja Beha is fashion’s favourite tomboy.

Freja burst onto the fashion scene after being discovered by a modelling scout at the age of 15. The agent, who was driving past Freja in a taxi, immediately spotted her potential and in 2004, Freja signed with top agency IMG.

Freja’s career started off small: fitting in modelling assignments during her school holidays, but in February 2005, her career went stratospheric when she debuted at Milan Fashion Week. Appearing in the Prada show, she was also picked to not only walk in but open the Miu Miu show – it was an extraordinary honour for a newcomer.

Prada shows have a history of nurturing new model talent, and Freja became a fashion hit as she became the face of Jil Sander and label-of-the-moment, Balenciaga.

In February 2006, Freja was booked for an astonishing 64 runway shows, including Balmain, Cacharel, Calvin Klein, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Prada and YSL. This overwhelming seal of approval from the world’s foremost design talent was just the beginning of an incredible year.

Freja had a summer cover of V magazine, sharing cover-girl duty with Gemma Ward and Daria Werbowy. In June, Freja appeared in an Italian Vogue editorial, photographed by Nathaniel Goldberg, and in August, landed the cover of Numero. She also did a slew of A/W campaigns, including Balenciaga, H&M, ck Calvin Klein, Gap, and Pringle of Scotland. Ending 2006 with an editorial for W magazine, 2007 saw Freja hit two major career landmarks, becoming the face of Chanel and signing a fragrance contract with Calvin Klein.

The year began with an editorial for French Vogue (shot by Mario Testino), and a strong show season in February, walking for Alexander McQueen, Celine, Dries Van Note, Fendi, Lanvin, Missoni, Proenza Schouler, Sonia Rykiel and Zac Posen among others. Freja’s stint as the face of Chanel also got underway, with a cover of Numero magazine shot by Karl Lagerfeld, and runway duty at the Chanel Couture show in July.

Her popularity continued to soar as she was signed for a Chloe campaign, and the campaign for the new ‘Gucci’ fragrance, alongside Natasha Poly and Raquel Zimmermann. It was not what you would expect from someone that up till now had been tagged as the new androgynous model. The girl who was excelling in representing Calvin Klein was also convincing as the super-feminine, golden girl in the Gucci advert.

September’s show season demonstrated again how adept Freja was at moulding herself to a designer’s aesthetic. Her runway appearances ranged from Dior, Burberry, Fendi and Etro to Preen, Sophia Kokosalaki and Marni. These are all design houses with very specific points of view, and Freja was ably representing them all. Beha was fashion’s latest crush, and the infatuation continued into 2008, when Freja replaced Doutzen Kroes as the face of Italian label Gianfranco Ferre.

2009 was to be Freja’s year for editorial work. In March, she did a Numero editorial (photographed by Karl Lagerfeld); July it was Japanese Vogue; in August an appearance in British Vogue; Freja fitted in editorials for V, British Vogue and Russian Vogue during show season, and in October Freja worked for W, Numero and German Vogue. In December Freja took her place in the now-famous Twitter-inspired editorial by Steven Meisel in Italian Vogue.

2010 is already shaping up to be another brilliant year for Beha, with a stellar show season under her belt (including appearances for Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, Jil Sander, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, and YSL). Freja shot an editorial for Italian Vogue in January, and landed the cover in March, with news hitting this week that Freja will be joining Abbey Lee in representing Chanel, fronting its Autumn / Winter 2010 campaign. Five years on, Freja’s hold on the fashion industry shows no signs of letting up. Considering that Freja’s androgynous features should have caused her problems, especially starting her career at a time where the glamour-girl look was at its most popular, she has made it the very centre of the industry by being extra-ordinary.

A criticism often levelled at the fashion industry is that it doesn’t celebrate diversity quite as much as it should. But the career of a model like Freja Beha should be enough evidence to convince us that the exact opposite is true. Fashion, if you look closely enough, is built on the premise that different is good, and unique is even better.

Marni, Prada, Versace & Chloe: all these names have history, and more than that, a design philosophy. What you might see on a Prada catwalk you might not necessarily expect to see at Versace. Fashion doesn’t just celebrate diversity because it’s the ethical thing to do, it needs it to survive. Making yourself stand out from the competition is how labels like Prada and Versace become global brands. This is exactly what Freja has done. Her ability to morph into other ‘characters’: the Prada librarian, the Versace siren, is what makes the Beha brand so desirable.

Freja is by definition the polar opposite of models like Catherine McNeil and Raquel Zimmermann: while her comfort zone is a vest and a pair of jeans, she pulls off girlie so well she made it as one of the ‘Gucci’ fragrance girls. Doing arch-glam on a par with Natasha Poly? This is Beha going well beyond her comfort zone. Freja’s ability to flow between super-feminine Alberta Ferretti and Calvin Klein’s minimal chic is more than a strategy to succeed: it’s a response to fashion moving the goalposts.

In the 1990’s, things were a whole lot simpler. If you modelled, you tended to specialise. Androgynous models worked for designers like Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein, the girlie-girls did bodice-ripping, headline-grabbing Versace. Quirky models like Kristen McMenamy built entire careers on not looking like the girl next door.

But with the advent of Kate Moss, the stakes got raised. To specialise was no longer enough – you had to become an all-rounder. Designers now wanted models that could embody all facets of fashion, from the too-cool-for-school aesthetic of Jil Sander to Karl Lagerfeld’s latest vision for Chanel.

Lucky for Freja, she understands the importance of being bookable: no-one wants to hire a model who’s so entrenched in their own personal style that they can’t step into someone else’s Jimmy Choos. Freja’s success comes down to more than having a photographable face or couture-perfect physique: it’s about putting personal image aside and being that salesperson. On a very real level, hiring the right model for a campaign can mean the difference between survival and disaster.

Personality is no longer seen as an add-on: making that personal connection is fundamental to any brand’s success. Freja’s dress-down charm makes sure that whatever she is selling, it’s meaningful and relatable. How else can you feel about someone who high-fives fellow model Coco Rocha during a 2007 Sonia Rykiel runway show?

The blend of masculine and feminine that Freja represents is what makes fashion so exciting. Following the onslaught of image consultants, a concept lifted straight from corporate America, the fact that fashion is becoming more multi-faceted, is nothing short of a glorious rebellion against the notion of ‘dress to impress’. Looking at the range of trends available on the high street this summer shows just how many fashion personalities are on offer. Sports Luxe, Florals, Parisenne Chic – it’s no longer a case of one trend suits all.

In previous years, Freja would have been sidelined in avant-garde fashion, but she and other models like her are scooping some of the best work because they understand how fashion is evolving. Fashion is no longer about wearing the ‘right’ labels or carrying this season’s ‘it bag’.

The modern concept of style is moving towards a point where being fashionable is less about copying a catwalk look verbatim, and more about freedom of self-expression. Models like Freja represent an easier, more relaxed attitude to style, image and fashion where the only prerequisites are personality and individuality. Image is no longer about detail, but the big picture. Forget impressing others - what do you want to tell the world today?

Whether it’s Freja for Gucci or Jamie Dochert for Lanvin, fashion’s infatuation with the tomboy refuses to go away – it’s lead to fashion tossing out the rulebook and what’s being written in its place is something fresh, bold and daring - pitch perfect for the new decade.


Sunday, 21 March 2010


Born 20th March 1989, Catherine McNeil is an Australian model who has made retro beauty a must-have for contemporary fashion.

Catherine’s career started in 2003 when she won a local modelling contest. The contest, a collaboration between the Australian magazine ‘Girlfriend’, and the world-famous Cover Girl cosmetics brand, was launched in 1992, and has proved considerably successful: in addition to finding Catherine McNeil, top models Abbey Lee Kershaw and Alyssa Sutherland can also attribute their first big break to winning the competition.

Catherine’s modelling career started small, with two years spent in Australia working on ad campaigns and magazine shoots, and it wasn’t until 2006 that McNeil went to New York to have a meeting with agency NEXT.

Immediately impressed, NEXT signed McNeil and sent her to Paris to meet photographer Mario Testino. The photographer liked Catherine so much that he signed to her an exclusive 6-month contract, photographing her for French and British Vogue.

McNeil’s career began in earnest when she undertook her debut show season in February 2007. Having Testino’s seal of approval, she had a home-field advantage, and McNeil made an equally lasting impression on designers, snagging shows for Balmain, Dior, Costume National, Fendi, Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf. In addition to this, McNeil was asked to headline for Alexander McQueen, Missoni, Givenchy and Alessandro Dell’Acqua.

McNeil’s affiliation with Mario Testino continued throughout the year, with Catherine landing the cover of French Vogue (shot by Testino) and a slew of campaign work for D&G, Hugo Boss and Donna Karan, again all photographed by Testino.

Her runway season that September was equally dazzling, including show opener duty for Zac Posen, Carolina Herrera, Thakoon and Preen, with appearances for Chanel, Derek Lam, Gucci, Isabel Marant, Miu Miu, Rag & Bone, Rodarte and Versace. If McNeil was the hottest model-of-the-moment, her CV certainly proved it: she was working with some of the greatest design talent fashion had to offer.

In December, Catherine did an editorial for French Vogue (photographed by Mario Sorrenti), and in early 2008 Catherine worked with him again, this time for the French Vogue calendar. She also appeared in the 2008 Pirelli Calendar, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. Shooting a calendar for a tyre company may seem a surprising choice for a model of McNeil’s calibre, but the decision is not so left-field as you might think. Pirelli has worked hard in recent years to revitalise itself with a serious image overhaul. By hiring some of the top names in fashion, the concept of the Pirelli calendar has been remarketed for a new generation. Still sexy, but with a touch of high-fashion cool, it used the same technique as Victoria’s Secret, and with the same knockout effect.

To prove the point that she could do it all, Catherine went on to have a highly successful couture season, including Chanel, Dior, Lacroix and Givenchy. No model gets to the heady heights of couture without laying the groundwork first, and Catherine’s prep work had now been done. She was not just a fashion girl; she was a model on the rise.

In February 2008, Catherine did editorials for French and American Vogue, plus a cover for Numero magazine. Her influence in show season continued, with McNeil being asked to close shows for Belstaff, Hermes and MaxMara, with additional appearances for designers such as Alexander Wang, Bill Blass, Dries Van Noten, Halston, Herve Leger, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Valentino.

April was a particularly busy month with McNeil shooting her second cover of Numero, and scoring her first cover for Australian Vogue. Fitting in a tremendous amount of editorial and runway work for the remainder of the year, 2008 ended well when Catherine landed another cover of Australian Vogue in November. In December she then worked again with Mario Testino to create an editorial for American Vogue where she featured in a retro-styled shoot alongside ‘Mad Men’ actor Jon Hamm. The 50’s influence played to McNeil’s strengths perfectly, allowing her to channel old-school glamour with contemporary fashion.

However comfortable McNeil appeared in doing retro shoots, she was still very much fashion’s latest it-girl, becoming the face of the Louis Vuitton Cruise campaign in 2009, plus appearing alongside Claudia Schiffer for a Dolce & Gabbana Resort ad, photographed by Steven Klein.
Catherine also landed a significant campaign when she was exclusively signed to represent the new fragrance by Narciso Rodriguez. Already known for his mastery of minimalism, Rodriguez had experienced earlier success with his self-named fragrance and his second try, ‘Essence’, became a worldwide hit shortly after its release in early 2009. A deliberate play on Rodriguez’s fashion philosophy; the clean, modern feel to the campaign was tempered by Catherine’s sensuality, making the perfume, the designer and the model a winning combination.

2009 also brought a considerable amount of editorial work, with Catherine doing fashion spreads for Harper’s Bazaar, V, American and French Vogue in March; Numero, V and i-D in May; German Vogue in August; Australian Vogue in September and finally, Italian Vogue in October.
Catherine’s star continues to rise in 2010, with an already stacked season under her belt, walking for Blumarine, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney and Prada. Catherine’s appearance in the noteworthy A/W 2010 Prada show especially got the press talking. This season’s Prada show was awash with not only new modelling talent (Barbara Palvin, Samantha Gradoville) but had a few surprises in store. Joining Catherine on the catwalk were Victoria’s Secret favourites Miranda Kerr, Doutzen Kroes and Alessandra Ambrosio.

Sporting retro beehives and pinafore dresses, the look was a million miles away from the uber-glamour of Victoria’s Secret, but this collusion of curves with high fashion was no token gesture. Catherine McNeil’s vintage beauty was ideally situated to the Prada show. Walking the line between the Victoria’s Secret girls and the new model talent, she bridged high-fashion with romance, and if there’s one thing the fashion crowd love more than novelty, its romance.

We often tend to think of high-fashion as having a singular template of beauty, but when made a closer study, the fashion world is more accommodating than we think – as well as Catherine McNeil, there’s room for the ultra-edgy look of Kasia Struss; the glossy girl-next-door (a speciality of Miranda Kerr & Doutzen Kroes); the quirky, youthful appeal of Karlie Kloss and Caroline Trentini, while blondes get represented by models like Hannah Holman and Anja Rubik.
Despite having that retro sensibility that works so well in themed shoots and runways, Catherine McNeil is still very much a contemporary face. The new feminine, as celebrated by Prada, is something more than a passing trend – it is marking a new way forward. Just taking a brief look at some of the runway hits over the past season points to the fact that no matter where you look, fashion’s embracing its feminine side.

This season’s Prada girl wears 50’s Riviera prints that are so authentic it is easy to imagine them being worn by Grace Kelly whilst engaging Cary Grant in a filmic game of cat and mouse. Florals are given the 5-star treatment by Erdem and for this autumn, style-leader Marc Jacobs has given us a collection of keeper-classics that will make it to the top of any stylish girl’s wish-list.

In times of deep uncertainty, it doesn’t take much to figure out that something comforting and familiar is always going to be a sales-winner. The go-to references of modern retro: strong, classic shapes with soft colours and prints piece together a look that’s as timeless as it is fashion-forward.

By going back to fashion’s past, the industry is securing its future, but more than being a cynical money-making exercise, this new venture into fashion’s back catalogue is an attempt to reconnect with the (considerable) group of style consumers who won’t be doing tribal or sports-luxe this season. Prada’s highly vocal celebration of femininity proves that trends don’t just end with hemlines. With the best will in the world, having a must-have trend on your hands doesn’t necessarily mean victory at the tills. Selling a trend takes more than buzz: personal connection still counts and classic beauty connects across the board.

This new look appeals to the girl whose fashion icons are not just Grace Kelly or Bettie Page, she also rates Paloma Faith and SJP in her softer red-carpet moments. Its feminine made modern: flounces are tempered with a chunky heel; a summer coat is off-set with a low-slung messy ponytail. This fresh take on old-fashioned glamour is what makes Catherine McNeil such a hot ticket.

By appealing to a whole new demographic, fashion is doing more than trying to claw its way out of recession. Recovery is about confidence as much as the balance sheet and this array of heaven-sent fashion has shown that the industry is finally getting its mojo back. Having faces like Catherine McNeil for inspiration is convincing designers that style doesn’t have to be an either / or situation between modern and retro: it can, like Catherine, be a beautiful blend of both. By making retro-fashion relevant, the fashion world is finally letting its inner beauty show, and it really is the start of something new.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Natasha Poly is modelling’s newest superstar. In an age where the word ‘supermodel’ is strictly off limits, Natasha is raising the bar for a whole new generation of modelling talent.

Born in Russia on July 12 1985, Natasha’s success was far from overnight. She began modelling in 2000, but it wasn’t until February 2004 that she experienced a breakthrough.

Working across Europe, Poly got booked for the Autumn / Winter show season. Signing up for 54 shows, Poly’s big moment included appearances for Balenciaga, Chloe, Gucci, Peter Som, Sonia Rykiel and Vera Wang. Her strongly-defined features wowed the industry: Natalia Vodianova and Daria Werbowy were already making waves, and Poly would soon find herself joined by Sasha Pivovarova. The fashion world couldn’t get enough of what Eastern-Europe had to offer.

In May 2004, Poly landed the cover of French Vogue and another in June. In December, she scored her third Vogue cover of the year, this time doing cover-try duty for Australian Vogue. Poly may have been the epitome of Slavic chic, but her blonde-with-attitude beauty had no problem translating to other continents. 2004 was a whirlwind of a year, but there was no doubt about it - Natasha was a hit.

In 2005, Poly featured alongside other Eastern-European models for a Vanity Fair spread called ‘Slavs of Fashion: The New Beauties’. The overwhelming popularity of girls like Poly represented a new modelling phenomenon, mixing the familiar (tall, blonde and gorgeous) with a hint of old-world exoticism.

November brought Poly another cover of French Vogue and her first appearance in the Victoria’s Secret show. At this point, Natasha was very much a high-fashion lynchpin, but her Slavic look easily crossed over into the more commercial arena of lingerie modelling. Poly’s ability to shift from couture to lingerie (even when it’s televised and broadcast to millions) marked her out as a fashion multi-tasker. Everyone loves a versatile model, but with Poly, the transition was seamless.

The New Year started off well for Natasha. Landing a campaign for Ralph Lauren with fellow Russian Valentina Zelyaeva, Poly had a brilliant S/S show season, doing runway for Balmain, Givenchy, Lanvin, Luella, Proenza Schouler, Valentino and Zac Posen. In March, she scored another cover of French Vogue and an editorial in Numero magazine, photographed by Camilla Akrans.

2007 presented Poly with another career high, when she signed a fragrance contract with Gucci. The fragrance, also called ‘Gucci’, had a TV advert directed by David Lynch. Poly, in a floor-length, gold lame gown, danced to the Blondie hit ‘Heart of Glass’. The advert was hedonistic charm at its best. The antithesis to the clean, minimalist fragrances flooding the market, ‘Gucci’ stood out and the shot of Poly curled up with an enormous bottle of the stuff made the perfume an international hit. Poly was not just fashion’s it-girl; she was connecting with the public too. Natasha’s iconic Gucci-girl image became a byword for modern glamour. Gucci agreed too, renewing her contract in 2008.

January 2008 began with news that Natasha would appear in the next Pirelli calendar, to be shot by Mario Sorrenti. Poly returned to her high-fashion roots in February, with a stellar season. She opened shows for designers such as Derek Lam, Belstaff, Gucci, Moschino and Isabel Marant, and closed shows for Herve Leger, Temperley, Balmain and Dries van Noten. The girl from Russia had gone well and truly global.

In April 2008, French Vogue paid homage to their favourite Russian by dubbing her a ‘top model’. Poly’s successes continued to pour in with a Russian Vogue in July dedicated entirely to her, and in August she scored a second consecutive cover of Russian Vogue, photographed by Terry Richardson.

In September, Russian Vogue also hailed her as a top model, and as if to prove this point, Natasha had one of her best show seasons. Walking in 54 shows, Poly headlined for Matthew Williamson, Preen, Blumarine, Roberto Cavalli and Stella McCartney. The year closed with the cover of i-D, photographed by Emma Summerton, and 2009 began with an Italian Vogue – Steven Meisel editorial with fellow model Sessilee Lopez.

2009 was a good campaign year for Poly, continuing her affiliation with Gucci, plus ads for Blumarine, Missoni and Calvin Klein Jeans. With a strong RTW and couture season behind her, Natasha did editorials for French and Russian Vogue in August. But her greatest moment came in September, when Muse magazine dedicated their entire issue to the Poly phenomenon.

With contributors such as Ricardo Tisci, Jeff Koons and Terry Richardson, it was a timely nod to Natasha’s extraordinary influence on the fashion industry. Doing everything from haute couture to beachwear, at a time where the term ‘supermodel’ seemed self-indulgent and outdated, Poly was reinventing it for the next generation.

In December ’09, Poly appeared with several other top models in a Twitter-inspired editorial photographed by Steven Meisel. A witty take on the growing role networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have in our day-to-day lives, it was the most literal indication yet of fashion’s emerging relationship with technology.

2010 marks ten years in the business for Poly, and as we move into a new decade, the career of someone as prolific as Natasha Poly serves as comment on how we see the term ‘supermodel’. If Poly had been working 20 years ago, she would have easily joined the ranks of Evangelista and Campbell. Her body of work, astonishing as it is, is still not enough to warrant that label today. It has not just fallen out of favour; the phrase has become a piece of fashion history, perhaps never to be revived. After all, if Poly can’t do it, it begs the question: who can?

Kate Moss is probably the last model who can legitimately refer to herself as a supermodel, and the birth of her career, the early 1990’s, is the last time we see models being treated as celebrities.

As the cult of celebrity accelerated during the Nineties, models were sidelined into runway and editorial work, while the pulling power of names like Aniston carried magazine sales. How did this happen? Well, if models could be celebrities, what was to stop celebrities becoming models? However noteworthy an up-and-coming model, she simply couldn’t compete with the star power of Hollywood’s A-list.

So the modelling industry had to get creative. They went to their strengths: editorial, editorial, editorial. The modelling world reminded designers and editors that when it comes to selling high-fashion, the tricky stuff, there are some assignments best left to the professionals.

As a result, the landscape of the modelling industry now looks very different. The faces can be just as familiar, but the names are not so easy to place. The basic terms of what constitutes a supermodel remain the same: high visibility, presence and punch. But that high-octane celebrity attached to names like Evangelista and Crawford has gone for good. What’s left is a raft of models like Poly, including Rocha, Rubik, Deyn and Kloss who are mastering the runways, campaigns and editorials.

Poly’s appearance in the famous ‘Twitter’ Italian Vogue editorial in December 2009 is a prime example of how we see models differently. A model’s contact with the public used to be a series of carefully-orchestrated, PR-driven appearances. This has now given way to round-the-clock Tweets on your laptop. We can now get glimpses of models – Jessica Stam and Chanel Iman are two particularly avid Twitterers – that are gloriously unedited and unsupervised. We feel that we ‘know’ today’s supermodels better, because that personal connection is more immediate: it feels more real.

It’s hard to see a future where fashion returns to the rarefied, exclusive realm it inhabited before the recession. The front row experience is no longer reserved for editors and celebrities and bloggers can freely comment on a runway show or red carpet as it happens. When everyone has a voice, it doesn’t always make for balanced debate, but this equality potentially means the most radical shake-up in decades, and the fashion world definitely seems to have got the memo that a more inclusive industry is a richer one, both aesthetically and economically.

So what we have lost is nothing to what we have gained. In losing the model-as-celebrity, we’ve now gained a generation of girls like Natasha Poly who are the faces of a fashion revolution. A new breed of top model that represents the latest – and bravest – fashion age: it’s fashion minus the ego, and it hasn’t come a moment too soon.