Born in Norway on the 15th of September 1986, Iselin Steiro began her career when she was scouted whilst Xmas shopping in London.
Discovered in 1999, Steiro debuted at Fashion Week in September 2003, walking for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Prada. Her career though did not take off properly until 2005. Many models find themselves suddenly in favour when fashions change, and Iselin’s rise is a perfect example of case in point.
Steiro’s strong features meant that she would have to sit out the decade’s brief infatuation with chocolate-box, Pre-Raphaelite beauty. Models like Lily Cole and Gemma Ward excelled during this time, but girls like Steiro – still beautiful, but a little off-centre – had to wait their turn.
Iselin’s moment came in February 2005, when she became the face of the season. Picked by designers Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Chloe, Louis Vuitton, Missoni, Proenza Schouler and Rochas to appear in their runway shows, Steiro’s off-beat appeal came into its own.
Editorials for W and Harper’s Bazaar followed, plus campaigns for Benetton, Jill Stuart and Hugo Boss. But it wasn’t until autumn that Iselin’s ability to do quirky glamour really paid off. Photographed by Steven Klein, she got a major contract with D&G, working alongside Hye Park and Vlada Roslyakova. Followed by an Autumn / Winter campaign for Roberto Cavalli, Iselin’s strengths as a model were finally being realised.
In February 2006, Iselin took the opening spot at the Calvin Klein show. This honour, previously taken by Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova for the past seven shows, was nothing short of a changing of the guard. Fashion’s aesthetic was visibly starting to shift from ultra-feminine shapes and colours, to a darker, altogether more avant-garde mood.
With more challenging silhouettes being touted as the norm, the industry needed models to match. Iselin’s brief was to make these new shapes look wearable. In 2006, tulip skirts and ankle-length cigarette pants were deemed to be at fashion’s absolute edge of wearability: only the bravest gave them a go. Four years on, we think of them as modern essentials.
Iselin’s status as the newest high-fashion favourite soared. She was chosen to be the face of Gucci in their 85th anniversary campaign and appeared in the Balenciaga Spring / Summer ad with Hilary Rhoda. In August, Iselin finally landed the cover of Italian Vogue. Shot by Steven Meisel, it was an affirmation from the very heart of the industry.
As fashion moved towards more urbanised looks with tough-girl details like exposed zips, leather and lashings of black, Iselin’s bookings increased. She shot the A/W campaign for Gucci (shot by Craig McDean); closed the September show for Gucci in Milan and picked up an editorial with Meisel for Italian Vogue.
2007 saw Iselin’s career pick up pace with a cover of Elle in March and a confirmation early in the year that Steiro had been chosen to be the new face of Valentino. Iselin’s ability to do arch-elegance, glamour with a slant, made her the first choice for designers across the globe. In addition to signing contracts with TSE and Blumarine, Steiro scored editorials with French, Italian and American Vogue. Her career was at an absolute high. It was at this point that Iselin made the decision to walk away from it all.
At the height of her career, Iselin made the decision to temporarily shelve modelling and return to education, enrolling at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. After completing her studies, Steiro returned to the fashion industry in April 2008, and her return was heralded by none other than French Vogue.
During Steiro’s time away, the fashion perspective had shifted even more in her favour. The loose, free-flowing shapes still being shown had disappeared entirely, making way for body-conscious, editorial – even sculptural – shapes, not just in couture, but now a regular feature of ready-to-wear. These bold style statements needed a model that could pull them off and not get lost in the most avant-garde designs. Steiro’s return could not have been better-timed.
Signed up for autumn campaigns for Mulberry and Missoni, Iselin made a triumphant return to the runway in September, walking for Chanel, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Stella McCartney.
In 2009, Iselin became the face of Lanvin. The campaign shoot, featuring Iselin in a series of draped dresses, was the brainchild of Lanvin creative director Alber Elbaz. The use of intricate pleats and folds in Lanvin’s designs would usually be more of a couture feature, but Elbaz was introducing a couture sensibility to ready-to-wear garments. Detail was the way forward, and Steiro’s performance as Lanvin’s hedonistic muse, pushed the message even harder. She made the dresses look young and directional but without being daunting. It was lustworthy fashion at its best, and with Iselin’s help, Lanvin became the label of choice for Young Hollywood, joining Marc Jacobs and Chanel as red-carpet must haves.
The following year, Iselin got a highly-coveted place in the 2010 Balenciaga campaign. Like Lanvin, this label was rediscovered when its newly-hired creative director Nicolas Ghesquière utilised his futuristic vision to make Balenciaga a byword for cutting-edge chic. Turning Balenciaga into a fashion house that not only champions trends, but kick-starts them, Iselin was brought in to take part in their Spring / Summer campaign with modelling newcomers Mirte Maas, Lisanne de Jong and Patricia van der Vliet.
True to form, the campaign was a quirky play on perspective and proportion that made for an instant standout image. Defiantly different, Steven Meisel’s Photoshop-collage was a hit. The advert became a major talking point, putting Balenciaga (and its models) front and centre of that season’s crop of campaigns.
Shooting back-to-back editorials for Italian Vogue in January and February, Iselin’s bookings for show season continued to dazzle and surprise. This wasn’t a case of a former top-model being given her dues; this was a model being booked by virtue of her own merits. In addition to walking for brands like Chloe and Hermes, Steiro was asked to appear on the runway for youth-led labels like Miu Miu and The Row. The fact that Iselin is still being requested for shows that would ordinarily be populated by models nearly 10 years her junior, is in direct opposition to the theory that fashion doesn’t value longevity; Steiro’s career is ample evidence to the contrary. When a model is this great, they get to stick around.
It should be no surprise that Iselin has such an avid interest in architecture: when a model has the right angles and proportions, the result is both contemporary and timeless, and that’s where Steiro fits in. She is both of-the-moment and classic because she is the kind of model that outstrips fads or trends. Iselin continues to work in today’s fashion climate as she did back in 2003 because she arrives as a blank canvas, a super-structure onto which designers, photographer and stylists can project their ideas.
Steiro brings an intelligence that understands fashion on a level that has very little to do with collating the most magazine covers or scoring column inches. Now fashion is leaning towards a pared-back, stripped-down aesthetic, Iselin will continue to do well because she is exactly the sort of model that’s required right now: no ego, no entourage, just an ability to get on with the assignment.
Iselin’s true appeal lies in her off-centre beauty that shifts and changes to fashion’s whim. Like her friend, fellow model Anna Jagodzinska, her rough-edged beauty can dial up the glamour when required, but there’s a quirky slant to that glamour that makes you look twice, and that’s exactly what you want for a big-budget, high-stakes campaign.
The forerunner for models like Hannah Holman and Siri Tollerod, Iselin’s career is the blueprint for models entering the industry. It’s no longer enough to just love fashion. If you want to be relevant, and stay that way, ignore the call of the limelight. It’s time to look at modelling from an entirely fresh perspective.