Debuting where most models reach their peak, Swedish-born Elsa Sylvan has made avant-garde fashion her speciality.
Born on January 23rd 1987, Elsa was discovered at ‘Grona Lund’ (a fair park in Stockholm) and began her modelling career in 2006, signing with DNA Management, New York. In October that same year, she debuted at the Givenchy show in Paris and in February 2007 walked the Autumn / Winter shows for Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen.
In addition to this extraordinary start, she opened the A/W show for Comme des Garcons, and made appearances for Ben de Lisi, Amanda Wakeley, Blumarine, Erdem, Giles Deacon and Max Mara. This trail-blazing start got the attention of major fashion brands, with Elsa scoring campaign slots for Benetton and Sportmax.
In September, she made the cover of Swedish Elle, and it was a first that would shape and define her career. Elsa’s strong, editorial features found her naturally leaning towards cutting-edge design, and this in turn made her popular with the European editions of such magazines as Marie Claire, Elle and Vogue who saw in Elsa the perfect mannequin to master tricky avant-garde. In the same month, she also landed her first editorial with Italian Elle, photographed by Marc De Groot, and in October she was featured in the 20th anniversary cover of Italian Elle. Sylvan had made her mark.
In October, she walked Spring / Summer shows for Akris, Lanvin, Nina Ricci and Vivienne Westwood, plus appearances for Comme des Garcons, Costume National, Kenzo, Wunderkind and Yohji Yamamoto.
Elsa followed this with a Spring / Summer season walking the couture shows in January 2008, appearing for Chanel, Christian Lacroix, Givenchy and Valentino. More editorial work followed. In March, she worked for British Harper’s Bazaar; April and May saw back-to-back editorial appearances in Numero and an editorial for W, photographed by Craig McDean, was set for June.
Elsa also began to feature on campaign directors’ wish-lists, winning a spot with Calvin Klein Jeans modelling alongside Ali Stephens and Toni Garrn, and a solo spot for UK fashion firm, French Connection. In the same way that Jourdan Dunn brought editorial prestige to Topshop, Elsa’s edgy powerhouse shots bought French Connection serious respect.
Elsa skipped runway duty at New York and Milan, but emerged in October as one of Paris Fashion Week’s most in-demand girls. Walking for Balenciaga, Chloe, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, Elsa was landing the type of work most models dream of getting, and still the best was yet to come.
Appearing in Italian Marie Claire in November and Italian Elle in December, 2009 brought high-status signings for Elsa with a campaign for D&G (shot by Mario Testino), and a guest-spot with Balenciaga. February’s show season saw Elsa walking for Gucci, Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Alberta Ferretti, closing showings for Balenciaga and Yohji Yamamoto. Sylvan may have been landing major campaigns, but her affinity with avant-garde fashion continued to flourish.
Elsa scored a career first in August, with an editorial for French Vogue. Shot by legendary photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, it was a watershed moment for Sylvan. Her performance for French Vogue subsequently got her a booking for Brazilian Vogue. Shot by Stephane Gallois, it was a glamorously surreal homage to the work of Lanvin. This was the sort of work that Elsa was born to do: fashion with a creative edge proved to be the perfect fit.
2010 has already seen Elsa’s career hit new heights. In January, she walked in the couture shows for Chanel, Valentino and Armani Prive, and in March she worked with Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott to shoot another editorial for W. The editorial, called ‘After Hours’ was a night-time shoot where Elsa got to work with a clutch of modelling’s brightest new talents; Katie Fogarty, Hannah Holman and Lindsey Wixson.
In May, Sylvan worked for German Vogue, getting the opportunity to work alongside established names such as Cato Van Ee, Irina Kulikova and Aline Weber, plus Prada favourite Joan Smalls. The beauty editorial shoot by Patrick Demarchelier, showcased Elsa’s ability to do tough, up-close-and-personal beauty shots. In a spread that features everyone putting their best face forward, Elsa shines out as the epitome of a very modern blonde.
Elsa also landed a campaign that will undoubtedly take her career onto another level. Chosen especially for the project, Elsa is set to become the campaign girl for Zac Posen’s range of clothing for American budget-store, Target. Highly covetable, Zac’s clothing range has been the subject of hype and excitement across America: think of how much press the H&M range by Stella McCartney generated and you’ll understand what the fuss is about. Photographed in the collection’s statement piece, the price point may be low, but the finish of the campaign is glossy and expensive. Replace the name ‘Target’ with any designer label and no-one would think twice. It may prove to be Elsa’s most canny career move to date.
Working every strand of the fashion business from the multi-platform advertising of America’s budget brands, to the increasingly rarefied world of Parisian haute couture, Sylvan is truly a model for all seasons. Her ability to inject an editorial, high-fashion sensibility into every shoot (no matter who’s paying the bill), is what will make her name to watch over the coming years.
Elsa, as you can see from her CV, is no ordinary blonde model. She falls into the same camp as Hannah Holman and Hanne Gaby Odiele. Edgy blondes – the ones who don’t have to fake it – are hard to come by. A face that can do the most challenging of editorial work and anchor it in some sense of glamour is a particularly rare find, even in modelling.
The popularity of blonde models during the recession has been well-documented, with articles being written on how and why light-haired models are given preference when it comes to hiring for campaigns and high-profile editorial work. It’s been said that the reason is very simple: we equate blonde with beauty and in times of crisis, no advertiser wants to take a risk with a look that’s difficult to read. But our obsession with blonde models goes back further than that, and to understand why blonde has been so popular, you need to go back to the roots.
In the Seventies, one blonde ruled supreme. The glossy glamour of model Jerry Hall served as a visual template for the next generation of models. The luxurious mane of hair and the uber-confidence that made Hall a star is an image so ingrained in popular culture that if you ask anyone uninitiated into current fashion to describe what a model typically looks like, ‘blue-eyed blonde’ will be at the top of their list.
As a marketing concept, it is still alluring. The recent pictures of Raquel Zimmermann strutting down the Chloe catwalk are in every sense an homage to Seventies glamour and sophistication. But look elsewhere at the runway shots for Autumn / Winter 2010 and you will see a slightly different take on the blonde phenomenon.
Marc Jacobs’ runway was heavily populated with blonde models, but they underplayed the bombshell card with geeky glasses and oversized camel coats. It is a significant development, as where Marc Jacobs leads, the rest of the fashion world tends to follow. The bombshells will always be there, but fashion is heading to a quieter, more reflective place. The recession has taken down many names from Luella Bartley to Veronique Branquinho, and as the dust settles, the mood is just as defiant, but everything from the shade of lipstick to the new mid-heel is about a quiet, studious sophistication.
From Marc Jacobs’ library chicks to Prada’s modest Fifties silhouettes, fashion is playing the same song but in a minor key. Once seen as the safe option, blonde is having a renaissance and it’s finally embracing its dark side. The Marc Jacobs runway slouch is best paired with avant-garde labels, not 5-inch heels and a champagne cocktail.
Being hyper-groomed is no longer seen as contemporary: just look at Twilight's Kristen Stewart and her approach to red carpet dressing. Mixing Converse with Proenza Schouler would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but Stewart's image is the polar opposite of the classic starlet and it is something that an entire generation are responding to.
This emphasis on unfinished glamour is what will ensure Elsa's career continues to expand, and the responsibility for shaping a new definition of beauty that’s both relevant and relatable, lies with models like her.
From cultural references as diverse as Disney, to the dark art of Lempicka and the glamour age of Hollywood, blonde has been a blanket term for modern beauty. But clichés don't look good on anyone, and blonde's sunny side is finally being eclipsed by a new wave of models that are gloriously, and fashionably, complex.