Sunday, 12 September 2010


Born in Melbourne on June 12th 1987, Abbey Lee Kershaw is a modern take on the oldest standard of the modelling industry: the girl who can do it all.

Abbey’s career began in 2004 when she won the Girlfriend & Cover Girl model search in her native Australia.

The contest, which had discovered
Catherine McNeil just the year before, struck gold again when it launched Abbey into the fashion industry.

Moving to Sydney in 2005, Abbey began to model locally, picking up European ad campaigns for H&M and Levi’s. But a switch of agency in 2007 saw Abbey move from Sydney to New York. Her unique look got her noticed immediately, when the influential website named her fashion’s ‘next superstar’.

The proclamation sent a message loud and clear to the fashion industry, and 2008 began with a runway season that ensured Kershaw’s status as a noteworthy up-and-comer. Opening shows for Givenchy and closing the Rodarte show, Abbey walked for every important designer including Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Valentino. It was an incredible start, and dubbed Abbey a Top 10 Newcomer.

Kershaw hit another modelling benchmark in April when she scored her first Vogue editorial for Chinese Vogue. She also landed not one but two campaigns for D&G, both photographed by Mario Testino. In July, Kershaw joined her fellow D&G model, Alice Burdeu, for a feature in Australian Vogue. Pairing up with Stephanie Carta, Alice and Abbey were drawn as Australian Vogue’s newest and brightest talents. Both had their careers launched by winning modelling contests, but both girls were now proving themselves genuine talents.

Abbey won two of her biggest campaigns during the summer of 2008, photographed by Steven Meisel for CK Jeans and landing the Autumn / Winter Gucci commercial alongside British model Lily Donaldson. In September, Kershaw achieved two career firsts in one month, when she got an editorial booking for Italian Vogue and the cover of Australian Vogue.

For all her achievements, Kershaw was still a relatively new face, and the show season that autumn was a reminder that the daunting pace of international modelling can even phase models that are at the top of their game.

Walking for designers Diane Von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang, Matthew Williamson and Peter Som, Abbey took an unexpected tumble during the Rodarte show, and in October, fainted whilst taking part in the Alexander McQueen show. The season packs in a lot, and being tough enough to cope with moving from New York, to London, to Paris and Milan all within the space of a month, is no small ask.

But Abbey’s runway glitch didn’t stop her career trajectory when she was asked to appear in the Victoria’s Secret runway show. The brand has a history of cherry-picking the best of runway talent and bringing them to the attention of the general public. Like model Eniko Mihalik, Kershaw was a strong choice for the brand, matching high-fashion credentials with a sultriness that was commercial dynamite. Her year finished with blue-chip editorials for Italian Vogue and W, but 2009 saw Abbey take her career to the next level.

Renewing her contract with Gucci, she replaced Taryn Davidson as the face of See by Chloe. She also signed a contract to be the representative of ‘Flora’, the new Gucci fragrance.

Surrounded by a field of flowers, Abbey’s ethereal performance perfectly evoked the fragrance and captured a mood of sun-soaked femininity. It was mission accomplished, and ‘Flora’ became a huge best-seller for Gucci. The brand got a stunning commercial, and Abbey’s name (and face) got a whole lot more familiar.

Her work for Gucci flung Abbey square into the spotlight, with her second cover of Australian Vogue, a cover for Numero plus editorials for i-D, Harper’s Bazaar, Dazed & Confused and Italian Vogue. The slew of covetable bookings summed up Abbey’s mastery of cutting-edge fashion, tempered with a sensuality that injected her pictures with a commercial edge. Suddenly editorial and commercial didn’t seem like such disparate ideas; Abbey made doing both look easy.

Kershaw wowed again in August, undertaking an editorial for Japanese Vogue, photographed by Terry Richardson, demonstrating the art of doing sultry without the sleaze. In high-fashion, it’s sometimes a fine line between the two, but once it’s crossed, it’s obvious to everyone. Kershaw’s ability to make high-fashion images that are brimming with sexuality but in a way that doesn’t isolate the magazine’s core audience is a rare find, even in today’s industry where being able to smoulder on demand is a given for most top models.

Abbey teamed up with Terry Richardson again for the A/W issue of Purple, and in November made her second appearance for Victoria’s Secret. She finished off the year with covers for Numero and Dazed & Confused, and in January 2010 started the year (and decade) off with a bang, by being chosen to close the Chanel Couture show.

In February, Kershaw had a massive show season, opening shows for Michael Kors and closing shows for John Rocha and Gareth Pugh. Her other appearances included Alberta Ferretti, Balmain, Burberry, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Jason Wu, Prada, Stella McCartney and Versace. Every aspect of fashion is represented in this list. From Prada’s take on 50’s chic, to Burberry’s urban aviator, Abbey was a face that found favour with every brand in the business.

Kershaw’s biggest break however came during the early part of the summer, when it was announced that she would be replacing Claudia Schiffer as one of the faces of Chanel. Joining Freha Beha, the campaign has become one of the key images of a season already packed with highlights.

Her calendar for the rest of the year looks to be following the same pattern, with campaigns also announced for Anna Sui, Mulberry, Jaegar, Calvin Klein and H&M, plus a campaign video for Alexander Wang.

What makes Abbey so in-demand is her ability to marry up the separate parts of her fashion personality. A self-confessed bohemian at heart, Abbey combines her own personal tastes with avant-garde, sex-kitten and cover-girl and makes each facet work. Many models thrive on specialising, whether that speciality is being ‘quirky’, ‘sexy’, or just plain editorial, but Abbey manages to juggle all the different aspects of fashion, and do them equal justice.

Kershaw is probably closest in spirit to supermodels like Helena Christensen and Cindy Crawford. They, like Abbey, were able at the height of their careers to mix editorial, high-fashion work with more populist bookings like Victoria’s Secret. Versatility is famously one of the most requested of model attributes, but true versatility, being able to conquer every corner of the industry and not lose credibility, is something that’s much harder to pin down.

Where Abbey stands out from her peers is her potential to become, like Crawford, a name that sells anything; not indiscriminately, but absolutely. It’s often been said that a return to the supermodels of the 1990’s is unlikely, but if anyone can get the ball rolling, it’s Kershaw.

Paparazzi pictures of her shooting the A/W Chanel campaign in New York were splashed across media websites across the globe. Just a fleeting glimpse of her on the streets of New York created a stir and made headlines. If we are truly in an anti-supermodel era, this kind of attention is nothing short of extraordinary.

It’s unusual to find a model who can look approachable but still wow in a Chanel Couture show, and that’s why Abbey excels on every point. Her features lend her an appeal that’s hard to find in today’s raft of top models. They are highly skilled, and hard-working, but Abbey’s career will continue to grow because she takes the best of the supermodel era and mixes it with the contemporary work ethic of modelling today. There’s no room for egos on set anymore, and the girl who works hardest is the one who gets re-booked. Names still matter of course, but getting the right result matters a whole lot more.

It’s a much fairer modelling landscape that the one Christensen and Crawford found themselves in 20 years ago. Meritocracy – the process of selection based purely on skill – has made the fashion world a much more beautiful place to be. It allows plus-size icon Crystal Renn to walk runway for Jean Paul Gaultier, and editorial favourite Coco Rocha to shoot campaigns for Rimmel. There’s no guesswork in terms of hiring faces to represent brands: quite simply, the best girl wins.

This age of equality has allowed Abbey to flourish, not just as a fashion name, but as a growing presence in popular culture too. Access to runway shows is virtually immediate thanks to live streaming, and computer wizardry and promotional videos are fleshing out the world of 2D campaigns. The high-fashion experience is becoming a very real presence in the virtual world, where the lines between commercial and high-fashion are becoming ever more blurred.

Fashion’s future is becoming dependent on whether we will be persuaded to embrace an industry where anything goes. With faces like Abbey leading the way, that persuasion feels like an increasingly easy sell.


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