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 http://www.elleuk.com/ 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.