Sunday, 31 January 2010

MODEL PROFILES: HILARY RHODA

Born April 6th 1987, American model Hilary Rhoda is a classic beauty with a high-fashion twist.

Growing up in Maryland, Rhoda’s first love was sports. Active in lacrosse, tennis and field-hockey, Rhoda’s athletic childhood didn’t translate into modelling aspirations until 2004.

Aged 17, Rhoda was taken to Washington by her mother, after hearing an advert for an open call on local radio. The trip to Washington proved productive, as Rhoda signed with IMG Models in 2005, modelling part-time until her graduation.

Later that year, Hilary graduated from high-school and moved to New York to take on a full-time modelling career. It did not take long for Rhoda to make her presence felt.

In September 2005, Hilary was hand-picked to appear in the Balenciaga show by Nicolas Ghesquiere. The phenomenal booking had a snowball effect on Hilary’s career. In October, she opened the Valentino show and walked for Rochas, YSL, Chanel, Lanvin, Hermes and Rodarte. For a runway rookie, it was an astounding achievement.

2006 brought new challenges, as Hilary was cast in the Spring / Summer Balenciaga ad campaign. Her striking features, with those heavy brows, made Hilary a stand-out. The brand singled her out as the girl most representative of the Balenciaga look, and in the series of photos that comprised their campaign, Hilary was given the only solo shot.

In June, she opened the Balenciaga show in Paris and also landed her first cover of Italian Vogue. Rhoda’s cover try was captured by Steven Meisel. An old-hand at spotting new model talent, a photo-shoot with the legendary Meisel has become almost a rite of passage for models destined to hit the big-time.

In September 2006, Rhoda scored her second Italian Vogue cover, also shot by Meisel. September was a busy month as show season got underway. Rhoda walked for names that represent some of the best design talent in the world: Chanel, Derek Lam, Zac Posen, Chloe, John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. It was a dizzying roll-call of designers all eager to work with Rhoda. With Rhoda’s career trajectory, there was no such thing as a slow burn. Just a year after being signed to IMG, Rhoda was working with the very best designers and photographers.

Unsurprisingly, the fashion press took note and http://www.models.com/ named her as one of their Top 10 Faces. Rhoda’s compelling blend of classic beauty and editorial edge made her a perfect catch for every designer. Like 80’s modelling titan Linda Evangelista, Rhoda had mastered the art of being a fashion chameleon.

In 2007, Rhoda became the face for Donna Karan and Givenchy, also signing a cosmetics and fragrance deal with Estee Lauder. In February, she made it onto the cover of Italian Vogue for a third time. This time, posing with friend Coco Rocha, Hilary was photographed again by Steven Meisel. As much a taste-maker as a photographer, Meisel clearly saw something in Rhoda that set her ahead of the pack.

In May 2007, Rocha and Rhoda joined forces with a group of models including Raquel Zimmermann, Agyness Deyn and Caroline Trentini to form the seminal cover of American Vogue. Entitled ‘The World’s Next Top Models’, the cover introduced the girls to the public, and Rhoda’s career, already doing well enough under its own momentum, steamed ahead to the next level.

She landed a campaign for Italian label DSquared2 with Raquel Zimmermann and Caroline Trentini, and became a face for Valentino along with Gemma Ward and Daria Werbowy.

2008 saw Rhoda undertake a glut of photographic work, including a campaign for Belstaff (photographed by Steven Meisel), plus editorials for Numero, Harper’s Bazaar, German Vogue and Dazed & Confused. She also appeared in the campaign launching Estee Lauder’s new fragrance, and replaced Angelina Jolie as the face of clothing brand St. John.

In 2009, Rhoda capped off a series of amazing bookings with an appearance in the Sports Illustrated magazine, the famous swimsuit edition. With space at a premium, pages of this world-famous magazine are normally reserved for the more familiar names. The fact that the magazine felt confident enough to place Rhoda alongside better-known names speaks volumes about her standing within the industry. She had made it to the core of mainstream publishing by being the most in-demand editorial beauty in the business.

When interviewed by Vogue for the May 2007 cover, Rhoda candidly spoke about her own beauty. Already compared to fashion icon Brooke Shields, she saw her look as being ‘older’ in comparison to her peers; something that harked back to the mega-watt glamour of the Eighties.
While it is true that Hilary’s look is strikingly similar to Shields, her ability to morph into any brand’s vision of beauty makes Rhoda absolutely contemporary.

Like Linda Evangelista, Hilary Rhoda’s selling point is her chameleon-like ability to transform. Take another look at some of her runway and campaign credits: Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Victoria’s Secret, Zara and Abercrombie & Fitch. Each label has a unique identity, and Hilary has successfully represented them all.

Her range of campaign and runway work shows that she isn’t limited to one viewpoint. Her beauty, far from being old-fashioned, sets her at the heart of the fashion industry. Those trademark brows made her memorable during the early days, but they stopped her from becoming an archetype of bland beauty when her career really took off. What sets you apart makes you interesting, and no-one embodies this principle better than Hilary Rhoda. Her ability to move from ultra-edgy Balenciaga to brands like Estee Lauder shows how fashion embraces beauty that is off the beaten track.

Big-budget brands like Estee Lauder also love girls like Hilary because they lend an authenticity to their products. A lipstick on Hilary is not just a cosmetic – it becomes something covetable and high-fashion just by association.

What is interesting about Rhoda’s career is how it marks fashion’s shifting obsessions. In the space of five years, the industry has gone from routinely hiring the best faces in Hollywood, to appreciating the wealth of modelling talent on offer. In 2008, Hilary replaced Angelina Jolie as the face of St. John, and she continues to model for Estee Lauder’s ‘Sensuous’ fragrance, sharing equal page space with actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Fashion’s love affair with models has re-ignited, and it is down to the consistently high standards set by models like Rhoda. An actress can certainly grab attention for a label, but can she handle the complex blend of worldly sophistication and sensuality required for a designer like Cavalli? Acting the part is one thing, but models have, and always will have, the advantage as it’s what they do for a living. It’s not a bolt-on in-between films; it’s the focus of their entire career. Models, the great ones, know fashion inside-out. They inhabit that world completely, and the fashion world has come to realise that when it comes to mastering a designer’s complex remit, skill trumps dazzle every time.

This year’s campaigns show how the fashion industry has gone back to its roots. There’s hardly a celebrity name to be found: Hannah Holman for Marc Jacobs, Karlie Kloss for Dior, Hermes and Aquascutum; Kasia Struss for Alberta Ferretti, Jamie Bochert for Lanvin and Lindsay Wixson for Miu Miu. To anyone unfamiliar with the current fashion circuit, there’s barely a recognisable name on that list, but that isn’t the point. It’s not all about celebrity anymore – fashion’s moved on, and so have we. The recession has seen less emphasis on big-label kudos and more of a leaning towards cultivating a personal style. There’s no longer a sense of shame attached to not being able to afford the latest pair of Miu Miu blackbird shoes. Fashion right now is about blending – designer, high-street or vintage – what you can afford is irrelevant. It’s not what’s in your wardrobe, but how you wear it that counts.

A really great model can clean up in times like these: designers don’t want a pre-packaged celebrity with her own image and agenda – they need a blank slate, a model that can be all things to all women. Rhoda fills that purpose beautifully.

If you were in any doubt about how sharply fashion has done a 360, just look at Balenciaga. Every fashion house has its girl in Hollywood: an actress who is loyal to the label and calls on them for public appearances. Dior has Marion Cotillard, Chanel has Nicole Kidman, and Balenciaga has Jennifer Connelly. Google a picture of Jennifer, and look at those eyebrows: remind you of anyone?

Fashion has come full circle, and its change of heart could not have come at a better time for the modelling industry. But as the world emerges from recession, the fashion industry has a chance to re-assess its priorities. The age of the supermodel may have ended with Linda Evangelista, but the good news for models like Hilary is that rather than being an after-thought, models are again becoming part of the creative process. Separating models from celebrities has served double duty - to be successful as a model no longer requires a famous name. With models emerging as the clear winners this season, the decline in using celebrities to front campaigns is evidence that fashion is once again taking models – and what they do – seriously.

To go from all-American classic to avant-garde contemporary in the blink of an eye takes skill, and it is something Rhoda has in abundance. Regardless of where fashion goes next, the ability to be truly versatile will never go out of style.




HELEN TOPE

Sunday, 24 January 2010

MODEL PROFILES: CLAUDIA SCHIFFER

Quite simply one of the most famous faces in the world, Claudia Schiffer marks an indelible place in modelling history.

Discovered in a German nightclub at the age of 17, Schiffer’s rate of progress into the heart of the fashion industry was astounding. Charming Karl Lagerfeld during her first time in Paris, Claudia was modelling for Chanel Haute Couture by the time she was 20.

Born in Rheinberg, Germany, on August 25th 1970, Claudia Schiffer grew fast – by age 16 Claudia was already 5’ 11”. Her height meant that for the shy teenager, blending into the background was not an option.

This innate ability to stand out in a crowd changed Claudia’s life in 1987 when she was discovered by Metropolitan Agency boss Michel Levaton. That same year, Claudia abandoned her plans to become a lawyer, and flew to Paris to pursue modelling.

In 1989, Claudia was propelled to stardom by becoming the face of Guess? Jeans. Her look, quite different from that of Crawford, Evangelista and Campbell, was widely feted in the press. Dubbed the ‘new Bardot’, after film icon Brigitte Bardot, the impact on Claudia’s career was nothing short of incendiary.

Catapulted to the top, Schiffer began working with the biggest names in fashion. In August and November 1990 she fronted the cover of American Vogue, having already scored the cover of Italian Vogue in March. Photographed by Steven Meisel, Claudia’s high-fashion credits rapidly began to build. By 1995, she had posed for over 100 magazine covers from across the world. In 1992, she was the American Vogue cover girl four times, landing the spot in April, May, June and September. Claudia did campaigns with Chanel and Escada, also representing Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino.

To list every one of Claudia’s credits would be an exhaustive process. After Kate Moss, Claudia was one of the most sought-after faces of the Nineties. Making cameo appearances in cult films like ‘Wayne’s World’ cemented her as a celebrity too. Like her predecessor Cindy Crawford, Claudia’s looks appealed to both men and women, and Claudia was determined to make the best of it.

The ‘supermodel’ phenomenon reached new heights when Claudia teamed up with friends Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Elle McPherson to launch the opening of the ‘Fashion Cafe’ in 1996. A restaurant built around the concept of fashion, the venture did not connect with the public, and the cafe closed in 1998.

The era of commanding $10,000 a day (at least) was coming to an end. With new quirky girls like Kristen McMenamy enthralling the industry, the notion of ‘supermodel’ seemed out of step with popular culture. High-octane glamour didn’t translate to a generation of teenagers wedded to their flannel shirts. Some did well out of the Grunge era, but as models like Kate Moss rocketed; Schiffer found her career momentum beginning to slow.

In these quieter years, Claudia’s personal life blossomed, marrying film producer and director Matthew Vaughn, becoming a mother to son Caspar in 2003 and daughter Clementine in 2004.
Claudia’s professional career, with just a few campaigns here and there, seemed to be on the downturn. But as her children became ready to go to school, Claudia began to do the school-run with them in Notting Hill. Naturally the presence of a supermodel standing outside the school gates would attract some attention, but Claudia’s relaxed and stylish approach to school-run dressing sparked media frenzy.

Claudia’s ability to wear classic shapes and pair them with newer trends had magazine editors clamouring to run how-to guides for their readers who wanted a piece of the Schiffer style for themselves. A new style icon was born.

In 2007, Claudia’s career sparked back to life. Renewed interest in her led to seriously prestigious campaigns. In autumn 2007, she appeared in the Salvatore Ferragamo campaign after landing the cover of French Vogue in August.

Claudia’s return to high fashion was made official in 2008 when Karl Lagerfeld named her the new face of Chanel, 18 years after she had first walked in his couture show. As comebacks go, this was truly extraordinary.

The offers of work continued to flood in as Claudia joined fellow Nineties icons Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour for the Louis Vuitton ad campaign. June and July 2008 saw back-to-back covers of Spanish and German Vogue, and in May, Schiffer attended the Costume Institute Gala in New York. Her plus-one was fashion legend Valentino. 2009 followed suit with editorials for French and Italian Vogue, and Claudia at the end of the year became the face of YSL.

This return to the spotlight was more than fashion allowing its former ‘Bardot’ one last curtain call. Claudia’s return to modelling is in part down to her perseverance, but more significantly, it can be attributed to the renaissance of the blonde.

The revival of blue-eyed blondes in the modelling industry is a response to advertisers’ demand for wholesome, reassuring faces. Even with projects that are ostensibly high fashion, many models who find themselves in this bracket are seldom out of work.

Social commentators have prescribed this shift down to simple economics: advertisers want a time-tested formula to sell their product. The last thing anybody wants to do in a recession is take unnecessary risks and getting a blue-eyed blonde model to represent your brand is the safest bet of all.

In this climate, the buzz surrounding new girls Dorith Mous and Hannah Holman is not unexpected. Models like Schiffer, Raquel Zimmermann, Lily Donaldson and Toni Garn are all scooping the major ad campaigns including Chanel, Fendi, Prada, Marc Jacobs and Versace. If fashion’s big guns all want blue-eyed blondes, this is more than mere coincidence.

Everyone, regardless of where they stand in terms of personal likes or dislikes, responds favourably to blondes. It is the thrill of the exotic: in a society increasingly dominated by brunettes, blonde represents something beyond the ordinary and everyday. That kind of association is what has big brands clamouring for Schiffer. With her already-established celebrity status, Schiffer is well-placed to revive any flagging brand. A good model equals great buzz, but a great model like Schiffer? Her degree of influence is immeasurable, because she brings together the best of fashion and celebrity.

It is no accident that Claudia’s return to the epicentre of high-fashion has been so celebrated. Whatever she is selling, Schiffer has favourably altered the bottom line of any product she represents. Advertisers want models with wide-ranging appeal, and no-one meets that brief better than Claudia.

Claudia’s second wind is more than a passing nostalgia for 90’s supermodels; she embodies a type of perennial beauty like Christy Turlington. Claudia’s strength is that she doesn’t belong to a particular decade or trend, which is why she can slot so easily into current campaigns for Chanel and YSL without missing a beat. Not being tied to a particular look, Schiffer has blended in by standing out.

A true fashion veteran, Claudia Schiffer has made longevity an art form. Her return to high fashion is about more than just good timing. If Schiffer was an average model, her career would have fizzled out years ago. But her doe-eyed sex appeal paired with an ability to be authentic and credible has proved an irresistible combination. Luck has certainly played its part in Claudia’s career, but it is hard work that has kept her on the radar.

Not afraid to take lower-prestige campaigns during the quieter periods of her career, Schiffer’s resolve to stay on the fashion map indicates someone with backbone. Out of all the supermodels who have recently returned to favour Claudia’s comeback feels a little more permanent, because she has every intention of sticking around. With Schiffer, there are no Plan B’s, no clothing range or lifestyle brand. There is only Plan A.

With an astonishing back catalogue of work, Claudia Schiffer is probably the most misunderstood of fashion personalities. She was the sex-kitten of the Nineties, the girl who nearly married a magician and now the poster-girl for stylish mums everywhere. But her latest reincarnation is perhaps truest to the woman herself. The uber-groomed blonde basking in the spotlight in the latest Ferragamo advert – that is the real Claudia. There is a real tenacity to Schiffer that is liable to be overlooked, but beneath the clich├ęs and misinterpretation, there is a model of surprising depth and versatility.

If you remain unconvinced that Schiffer’s career is anything other than being in the right place at the right time, consider this. Schiffer holds the world record for the most magazine covers in modelling history. Recent estimation puts the count at over 700 covers. This is not success by chance, but by design.

Twenty years on from her discovery, Schiffer’s standard as one of the most recognisable models in the world remains quietly, but firmly, assured.

HELEN TOPE

Sunday, 17 January 2010

MODEL PROFILES: RAQUEL ZIMMERMANN

One of the best-known names in the fashion industry, Raquel Zimmermann has made a career out of being the ultimate ‘go-to’ girl.

Known in fashion circles as the body that can wear any trend, Raquel (born May 6th 1983) is another modelling success story straight from Brazil.

Discovered at age 14 in Porto Alegre, Zimmermann’s career took shape in February 2000 when she debuted in Paris at the Spring / Summer Chanel and Valentino shows.

An instant hit on the runway, Raquel’s striking presence lead to early success. Signing a contract with Dior cosmetics in 2001, Zimmermann appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue in November 2002, photographed by Steven Meisel. A whizz at spotting new model talent, Meisel took to Raquel, photographing her again for Escada in 2004.

In December 2002, Raquel landed her first spot walking for Victoria’s Secret. Still a relatively new face on the runway circuit, Raquel may have seemed a surprising choice, but it became clear to everyone watching that she had definite cross-over appeal. Standing at 5’10”, Zimmermann’s body was perfectly proportioned for anything fashion could throw at it.

Committing to a second Victoria’s Secret show in 2005, that same year also saw Zimmermann sign up for campaigns with Gucci and Hermes, ending the year with the cover of Japanese Harper’s Bazaar.

2006 saw Raquel’s third Victoria’s Secret appearance, plus runway duty for Viktor & Rolf. This affiliation with the design duo reaped major rewards when Raquel was announced as the face of Viktor & Rolf’s collaboration with H&M.

The success continued in 2007 when Raquel replaced Angela Lindvall as the face of Fendi. She also became a Chloe girl, fronting campaigns with Trish Goff and Anja Rubik.

May 2007 was a very good month for Raquel when the latest edition of US Vogue hit the newsstands. Steven Meisel’s now-iconic cover named Raquel as one of the world’s next top supermodels. A transformative experience for everyone involved, the impact of that cover turned editorial girls like Coco Rocha and Agyness Deyn into fashion superstars. It didn’t harm Zimmermann’s career either. 2007 ended with a major fragrance contract with Gucci and a campaign for Italian label DSquared2. The Gucci fragrance commercial was shot by ‘Blue Velvet’ director David Lynch, and Raquel’s connection with the super-brand continued into show season, closing the Spring / Summer Gucci show along with appearances for Rodarte, Proenza Schouler and Alexander McQueen.

In December 2007, Raquel had her ‘can-wear-anything’ mantra put to the test, when she was photographed for W magazine, wearing a rat-infested coat designed by Gareth Pugh. The image, captured by Craig McDean, proved once and for all that Zimmermann was the ultimate clothes-horse.

Accolades followed in 2008, as modelling website http://www.models.com/ named Raquel their no. 1 model, overtaking established name Gemma Ward. Raquel’s unique blend of sexuality and fashion know-how was becoming something everyone in the fashion industry wanted a piece of.

Her 2008 runway schedule showed just how far Zimmermann had come. In February she opened the Stella McCartney show and closed the Oscar de la Renta and Chanel shows. In September, she opened shows for Zac Posen and Alexander Wang, closing shows for PHI, Christopher Kane and Stella McCartney. It is a roll-call of the best and brightest of modern design talent. After years of strictly-editorial girls ruling the runways, fashion had fallen back in love with the sex-bomb.

The following year, as the fashion world endeavoured to respond to consumers’ desire for wearable luxury, Raquel’s popularity began to soar with the more traditional labels, walking for Hermes, Loewe and Valentino in February 2009. As the credit crunch began to bite, Raquel’s ability to switch from sex-bomb to sophisticate worked in her favour.

Becoming the face of Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta, Raquel landed four Vogue covers in the space of a year. The final cover was for Brazilian Vogue, a fitting conclusion to the decade for a girl who had conquered the fashion world.

Zimmermann’s enduring appeal is representative of a new breed of model that has redefined how fashion interprets sexuality. Never choosing the obvious route, even the most daring of Zimmermann’s work is underpinned with knowledge of fashion’s past and present.

This is what separates fashion from the world of men’s magazines. Even looking at a GQ shoot, the difference between that and a Vogue lingerie shoot can be subtle, but you know instantly which is which, and that’s all down to how the model tells the story. Modelling, in its finest moments, is all a matter of interpretation.

Zimmermann’s take on sensuality has meant that she can do editorial work, including couture, and then shift to flat-out sex appeal for a Gucci campaign and never look uncomfortable or out of place. This technique owes a great debt to models like Elle McPherson and Janice Dickinson. Teaming a fashion-friendly body with a face capable of registering any emotion, McPherson and Dickinson, no matter how heady the mix of sex and fashion got, never forgot that to create a successful photograph, there couldn’t be a disconnect between the face and the body. To get it right, both had to work in perfect harmony.

Like McPherson, Zimmermann has successfully transferred her look across every aspect of the fashion business. No-one wants a model that is a one-note wonder, and Zimmermann continues to enthral the fashion industry because she can offer absolute versatility. That is why Raquel has continued to excel long after most models retire: quite simply she is one of the best multi-taskers in the business.

Raquel possesses the couture sensibility necessary to carry off fashion’s grandest designs, but she is not cornered in that high-fashion world. Putting aside the fads for quirky, off-centre looks, what repeatedly scores in fashion is a body that can wear anything: no trend is too big or overwhelming. Raquel’s perfect frame, capped off with the couture-perfect height, means that for her, there are no limits.

Raquel’s look is sex appeal tailor-made for the 21st century. A world away from the plastic-fantastic era of Botox and acrylic nails, Zimmermann’s strength is all about what lies underneath. Her genetic good fortune may have got her foot in the door, but staying at the top required Zimmermann to learn how to manage her sensuality: it shines through every picture, whether it is a French Baroque couture shoot or a fun, graffiti editorial with Mario Testino. It enhances the picture, but never gets in the way.

Raquel’s success, particularly in haute couture, has defined her career from fellow Brazilian, Gisele Bundchen. Trying to follow the toughest act in modelling history was always going to be a non-starter for any new model. Zimmermann did the smart thing and played up her couture-ready body and the fashion world eagerly took the bait.

The hard work done by models like Elle McPherson and Cindy Crawford has meant that fashion consequently reads ‘sex-bomb’ in a much more sophisticated way. Raquel’s appearances for brands like Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana are all about the grown-up bombshell. This modern interpretation of what is ‘sexy’ has redefined who can sell what. By blurring the boundaries, Zimmermann can work for designers who aren’t normally known for their love of va-va-voom. This change of pace, something that has really taken off during the recession, means that sex appeal in the fashion industry has become something quieter, more controlled – but undeniably powerful.

As fashion edges into a new decade, it has made a decision to rethink the big ideas. Models like Raquel Zimmermann are changing pre-conceptions about what a model can do, and there is no longer a set idea about how a brand might represent ‘sexy’ or ‘editorial’. Raquel’s sex appeal always tells a story, and like Crawford, McPherson and Dickinson, Zimmermann has mastered the art of making sexy cool.

A tour de force at breathing personality into couture, Zimmermann may be under the public’s radar, but in fashion, nobody does it better.

HELEN TOPE