Born in Belarus in 1991, Tanya Dziahileva had an early start in modelling. Signed to an agency at the age of 14, her debut on the Spring / Summer 2006 catwalk saw her appear for Prada, Chloe, Chanel and Alexander McQueen.
Tanya’s launch into high-fashion continued with editorial work for British Vogue in February 2006 and a campaign for Hugo Boss featuring Tanya with Agyness Deyn. Both models were a telling choice for the brand; Deyn had just broken into the industry herself, with her unique street style and peroxide hair already making waves.
Aged 15, Tanya scored her first major solo campaign when she became the face of YSL, photographed by Juergen Teller. Normally such a high-profile booking would daunt even an experienced model, but Tanya handled the pressure and expectation like a seasoned professional.
2007 saw even greater success, with Tanya booking a campaign for Lanvin, photographed by the legendary Steven Meisel. If Tanya felt nerves, she didn’t show them – and within months she had also secured a fragrance contract with Nina Ricci and became the face of the Michael Kors brand, replacing Carmen Kass.
The model-switch represented a key change in fashion’s tastes. Michael Kors, a label synonymous with American luxury chic, Tanya was not the most obvious choice, but her hiring was a sign that fashion was already beginning to shed the idea of a certain type of model for a certain type of campaign.
Tanya’s first runway season of 2007 saw her walking in shows for Alberta Ferretti, Calvin Klein, Chloe, Dior, Givenchy, Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler, Vera Wang and Zac Posen. Her booking sheet was a smattering of newly-formed design houses, such as Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen, plus more established labels like Oscar de la Renta and Givenchy.
But her breakout season came in September when she was hired for 71 shows. She was also picked to open the Versace show, and closed four shows including Phillip Lim, Celine and Valentino. Incredible as these achievements were for a model that was only 16 years old, 2008 would ultimately be Tanya’s blockbuster year. She landed two major campaigns; one with Anja Rubik and Maryna Linchuk for DSquared, and the second with global brand Ralph Lauren.
Tanya’s growing status as one to watch was cemented further when she booked over 70 shows for February 2008. The same month, she got her first cover, with Russian Vogue. The seal of approval from Vogue took Tanya’s career to the next level, getting her bookings in the couture shows in July. Standing at 5’ 11”, Tanya was height-perfect for couture and made appearances for Armani Prive, Dior and Valentino.
Couture’s reputation for being notoriously tricky to model is well-founded, but Tanya’s body of runway experience meant her debut in Paris was earned fair and square. Far from being elitist, haute couture is probably the fairest sector of the industry when it comes to hiring: ability wins over hype every time. Couture modelling requires a level of skill beyond ready-to-wear, with models being asked to effectively play a character – whether that’s giving Armani’s space-age glamour gowns a touch of gravity, or embodying John Galliano’s haughty equestrian fantasy. Haute Couture is a hybrid of fashion meets theatre, and Tanya disproves the myth that having a memorable face means you can’t be adaptable.
In August, Tanya did her first major editorial with U.S Vogue, shot by Steven Meisel, followed by a slot in Japanese Vogue and a feature in Russian Vogue where Tanya was dubbed a ‘top model’. Russian Vogue has a particularly good track record of recognising model talent: their decision to devote an entire issue to Natasha Poly launched her career into the stratosphere.
Tanya’s runway season in September was further proof that if a top model needs to be versatile, she met that requirement in spades. Opening and closing shows for Elie Saab and Yohji Yamamoto, Tanya’s ability to morph from one aesthetic to another couldn’t be clearer: it’s hard to think of two designers more different than Saab and Yamamoto. Saab’s reputation as a perfector of red-carpet glamour and Yamamoto’s clean, post-modern vision make them direct opposites, but Tanya’s keenly-honed runway skills meant she booked appearances for both.
September ’09 saw Tanya skip New York, London and Milan Fashion Weeks, concentrating solely on Paris with bookings for Alexander McQueen, Dior, Hussein Chalayan and Lanvin. But her experience of dealing with challenging catwalk was tested to its limit in March 2010 when she was asked to participate in a runway show, housing the final collection by Alexander McQueen, only a month after his sudden death. Part of a select group of seven models, the resulting show was subdued, but the work, stunning.
Tanya’s working relationship with the designer came full circle when she was asked to take part in an editorial for U.S Vogue. Called ‘Noble Farewell’, the layout showed Tanya and other models also featured in McQueen’s final runway show, wearing the collection and about to be packed away in crates, preserving McQueen’s work for all time.
It’s hard to fully gauge a designer’s worth during their lifetime, but the moving tribute paid by American Vogue was industry wide in its impact. Tanya’s final note of 2010 was another act of homage to McQueen. Fronting the September cover for Spanish Vogue, Tanya modelled one of Alexander’s now famous final looks. The heady baroque design was anchored by Tanya’s quiet and dignified gaze. No tricks required; this was modelling done so deftly that it looks like Tanya is doing nothing at all. A true sign of a top model is their ability to do more by doing less, and it’s a skill Tanya has mastered absolutely.
Her face has become one of the most recognised and recognisable in the industry, and even though her name is somewhat less familiar outside fashion circles, Tanya has become a supermodel by stealth. Her mix of quirky beauty and traditional supermodel traits sees Tanya competing – successfully – with newer models, even though her career is heading into its 6th year.
Tanya’s status as one of fashion’s most prized models has been hard-worn, with Tanya being catapulted into the spotlight when she was just 14. Acing an YSL campaign shoot at 15 years old is an extraordinary accomplishment. Her exhaustive body of work, featuring runway, editorials and campaigns with every major designer in the world, points to a model that thrives on hard work.
Tanya’s launch into the fashion world in 2005 came a decade after models Kristen McMenamy and Stella Tennant created a storm as faces that were ‘ugly / beautiful’. The mid-Nineties saw models appear whose look was unusual and challenging, a significant departure from the glamorous faces that populated the Eighties. Especially loved by European designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Paul Gaultier, public opinion was strongly divided. Many didn’t get the appeal of such faces, others saw it as further proof that ‘high fashion’ had very little to do with ‘real life’. As vague as both these concepts are, the willingness of fashion to make beautiful clothes just that little bit ugly, transformed the industry. This was fashion taking the blinkers off and looking out on a wider definition of beauty. Poses became more angular, less defined: supermodels like Tyra Banks and Kate Moss began to appear in editorials where their bodies were slumped and their eyes cast away from the camera. The guiding principles were awkward rather than poised, quirky rather than sunny.
These new ideas on how to present high-fashion trickled down through the industry with modelling agencies finding themselves not automatically looking for ‘money girls’ – the kind who sell perfume by the barrel-load – but girls who could not only do, but embody, one word: editorial. But as editorial took hold, everyone wanted a piece of the new look. The quirky girls began getting hired not just for the high-fashion jobs, but for everything. It was nothing short of a revolution.
Tanya, along with Agyness Deyn and Coco Rocha, has become one of the first quirky girls to get the big-budget, big-name campaigns that were normally reserved for more conventional beauty. But Tanya isn’t considered a token choice: she has become one of the leading faces of a generation that accepts diversity as the norm. What’s considered on-trend alters constantly, but faces like Tanya’s have changed fashion’s mind about what beauty really is, and that idea refuses to budge.
Tanya’s portfolio boasts the expected avant-garde shoots and campaigns, but she is also a cover girl several times over. With seven Vogue covers to date, Tanya’s career is part of a much larger success story for modelling in general. With current hot-ticket Joan Smalls just announced as the new face of Estee Lauder for 2011, widening the terms of beauty has allowed models from every ethnic background to not only enter the industry, but to get their shot at those big-name bookings.
This revolution started on the runway, and this embrace of every kind of beauty came full circle during Jason Wu’s show last September. Featuring models from European, Asian and African-American backgrounds, it is incredible to think that ten years ago; this gathering would have been unthinkable, simply because it would have been impossible. Finally, their faces fit.