Sunday, 5 December 2010


Born 6th June 1993, Swedish-born Frida Gustavsson has, in the space of two years, become one of fashion’s most wanted.

Frida began modelling at the age of 15, moving to Japan the same year to pursue a career. Signing with IMG in 2009, Frida began her runway career in earnest, booking spots with Elie Saab and being picked to open the Valentino Couture show – an extraordinary honour for a newcomer.

Her connection with Valentino resurfaced in September, when Frida did her first editorial with Italian Vogue. Photographed in head-to-toe couture, Frida’s debut on the international fashion stage singled her out immediately as no run-of-the-mill model.

The impact of the editorial was confirmed when Frida secured ready-to-wear bookings with Carolina Herrera, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Rodarte and Lanvin. Her super-stellar arrival, including closing spots for Just Cavalli and Gareth Pugh, put Frida firmly in the fashion spotlight. Both and subsequently featured Gustavsson as a Top 10 Newcomer.

January 2010 began with another couture season, with appearances for Valentino, plus Armani Prive, Elie Saab, Dior and Chanel, with additional editorial work for W and Italian Vogue. But Frida’s next RTW season would prove to be a monster hit.

Opening shows for Sophia Kokosalaki and Costume National, Frida’s mega season featured over 70 appearances ranging from Phillip Lim, Burberry and Chanel to Louis Vuitton, Rag & Bone, Thakoon and Versace.

Frida was in every show of note in a season filled with hit after hit, becoming an indispensable feature of Fashion Week, from Burberry’s aviator chic to Louis Vuitton’s glamorous retake on Fifties style. Frida’s astonishing run of success continued to grow, with her first international cover in May. Appearing for German Vogue and shot by Greg Kadel, the end result was both glamorous and enigmatic. With half her face obscured, Frida’s performance was pure modern retro. Referencing models from the 1940’s and 50’s, the cover could almost be from the archives, but it managed to be both classically appealing and absolutely contemporary. It’s hard to handle retro shoots as the aim is to evoke vintage, rather than directly copy it, but the tone struck by Gustavsson and Kadel was note-perfect.

Frida also made her debut in American Vogue in May, and in July, covered couture season, walking for Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Armani Prive and, again, Valentino. Gustavsson’s reliability on the runway had eventually translated into some lucrative campaign work, with Frida impressively landing a spot as the face of Marc Jacobs’s fragrance, Daisy.

Her next bookings for runway (Spring / Summer 2011), included prestigious opening spots for Anna Sui, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Lanvin. Also scoring a finale spot with new designer Prabal Gurung, Frida’s bookings included appearances for every major design house. Frida rounded out the year with editorials for French, American and British Vogue, and as couture season begins again in January, Gustavsson’s career trajectory is set to transform this fashion favourite into a force to be reckoned with.

The glory may be heaped on the campaign girls, but success in runway should never be underestimated. Frida’s success hasn’t rested on face-time with the public. It’s unlikely that anyone outside the fashion world (or not an avid follower), would be able to identify her with any degree of success. But fashion’s multi-discipline arena allows to models to find and develop their own strengths. While undoubtedly talented at editorial, and with cover and campaign work beginning to rack up, Frida’s true strength has been to master the very core of modelling: runway.

It is easy to forget, but runway remains for designers the most important aspect of their career. Twice a year designers submit their ready-to-wear collections to be scrutinised by the fashion world. Runway, more than any campaign, is a calling-card, telling us where the designer wants to take their vision not just now or for the next six months; it is a projection of their game plan; the designer they ultimately want to become.

A ‘good’ collection becomes part of the fashion experience, drip-feeding hem lengths and colour combinations down to the high-street, but a ‘great’ collection forms its own style language. Prada made us fall in love with the humble bowling bag; Karl Lagerfeld’s modernising of the Chanel tweed jacket made it a wardrobe essential and Marc Jacobs gave grunge a glamour makeover, transforming it into the urban uniform worn across the world.

A runway collection that has true impact does more than raise a designer’s profile: getting it right – and that includes hiring the best models – can make the difference between a designer being moderately successful and becoming a legend. When your name and your label become interchangeable, you’re definitely doing something right.

Frida is part of a select group of models that hold a unique influence. Fashion may love star power, but it loves consistency more. Frida’s face may not have the immediacy of a Lindsey Wixson or a Jessica Stam, but she – and models like her – form the backbone of the fashion business.

Frida’s runway CV features some of the most hotly-tipped talents to emerge in a decade. Designers like Prabal Gurung and Mary Katrantzou hire Frida because she is an established name that comes without the baggage normally associated with a star turn. She can fully commit to any vision, any sartorial point of view, and make it believable. For a new designer, wanting to make their mark, it’s an easy sell.

Frida’s power as a top runway model is made even clearer when it comes to couture. Standing at just over 5’9”, Gustavsson is nearly two inches shorter than the industry standard for couture, where models normally peak at 5’11”.

It is highly unusual for a model under 5’10” to get any couture bookings, simply because the often complex and dramatic designs demand height. The fact that Frida routinely appears on some of the best couture runways in the world, points to her ability to understand high-fashion. Models at this level aren’t just glorified clothes-hangers; they’re interpreters.

Translating a designer’s vision into something beautiful and, crucially, covetable is a task that falls to the model who is required to take something that could in the wrong hands become costume, and instead take it to a level where clothes become poetry. Runway modelling, at its best, works when the model truly knows and appreciates high-fashion.

Her appearance in the final collection by Alexander McQueen earlier this year, shows how much a part of the community she is; the collection was left incomplete by McQueen’s death in February, with only 16 completed looks to showcase, only 7 models were required. Frida was selected to form part of this group, along with Iris Strubegger, Tanya Dziahileva, Polina Kasina and Karlie Kloss.

With all eyes on this final tribute to the designer, Frida was part of a history-making moment, and in fashion, those tend to be few and far between. When everything is focused on the here and now, those rare moments, where fashion steps back and takes a breath, leave a mark that is indelible.

Girls like Frida are the life-blood of high fashion. Strip away the hype and the glamour, and what’s left is a core group of models who are there because they respect high-fashion. Frida has created a space for herself in the fashion world by virtue of her genuine love for fashion, because fashion evolves not just on ideas but relationships too. A model that gets it, the lure of designer fashion, not as a status symbol, but for its own intrinsic worth, is a model who will always be in favour. It’s as simple as that.


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