Born May 10th 1990, Karmen Pedaru’s career is testament to how paying your dues can really pay off.
Discovered in 2005 at a drama theatre in Tallinn, the Estonian-born model signed with NEXT Models the following year. Appearing for Teen Vogue in June 2006, Karmen debuted at Fashion Week that September, walking for Christopher Kane, Marni and Emporio Armani.
Skipping the February 2007 season, Pedaru returned to the runway in September 2007 opening the shows for Louise Gray and Biba. Also walking for Collette Dinnigan, Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney, Karmen’s stock was on the rise.
In February 2008, Karmen’s growing confidence on the runway was rewarded with a stellar season, appearing for Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs in New York, in addition to being picked to open shows for Dries van Noten and YSL in Paris.
Her breakout season was noted by the fashion press, with both www.models.com and www.style.com dubbing Karmen a top newcomer. Karmen’s success on the runway translated into credible editorial work, with a spread in Numero photographed by Greg Kadel, and a layout for V, shot by Mario Testino.
In July, Karmen made her debut on the couture catwalks, walking for Chanel, Givenchy, Valentino and Dior. Getting to model couture is an integral part of building that envy-inducing CV. The requirements for haute couture are very specific, but once you’re in, you’re in. The ‘look’ of a couture label tends to be more fixed than its ready-to-wear counterpart. Couture forms the ‘essence’ of the brand, so some elements stay in place for nearly every collection, such as white for Chanel, and red for Valentino. Therefore the faces that wear these looks don’t have to be hired and dropped in such quick rotation. Couture doesn’t just build relationships with its clients; it builds lasting links with its models too. American model Karlie Kloss has been the face of Dior for the past two years because she is one of Galliano’s couture favourites. This has led to Karlie becoming one of the most in-demand models working today. Couture is very much a niche market: corner it, and the search for work becomes that little bit easier.
Karmen experienced this domino effect for herself in September 2008 when she was photographed for Numero magazine by Karl Lagerfeld, just a few months after her debut on the catwalk for Chanel Couture.
The couture connection continued with a shoot for Italian Vogue. Karmen, photographed by Miles Aldridge, appeared in Valentino Couture. A deceptively simple shoot, the heavily-worked couture demanded a focussed performance. It would be a tough ask for a more established model, but Karmen’s quietly assured performance showed the industry she was ready to take on more.
Her ready-to-wear season in September was another triumph, with opening show honours from DKNY, Jonathan Saunders and Rue du Mail. Closing the show for Nicole Farhi and Temperley in London, Pedaru also walked for Alberta Ferretti, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Isabel Marant, Proenza Schouler and Roberto Cavalli – a truly eclectic mix of blue-chip and cutting-edge labels that have come to form the basis of Pedaru’s career.
In early 2009 she was announced as the face of Missoni’s diffusion label and was photographed for the D&G spring campaign by Mario Testino. Following another couture season in January, it was announced that Karmen would become the first model to represent the Derek Lam label in a campaign, to be shot by Solve Sundsbo.
Pedaru walked again in the Autumn / Winter couture season in July, adding Armani Prive to her list of credits. Ending the year with a blockbuster RTW season, and the Autumn / Winter cover of French Revue de Modes, 2010 would manage to eclipse the extraordinary run of success Karmen found in 2009.
In February’s A/W 2010 season, Pedaru signed up for an incredible 55 shows. She opened shows for Tommy Hilfiger, Alberta Ferretti, Dries van Noten and Burberry. Karmen’s placing as the opener (and closer) of the Burberry show would prove to be a pivotal moment in her career. Christopher Bailey’s take on aviator chic proved to be the defining image of the season. Karmen’s photo cropped up time and again in the press, and as the season gathered accolades as one of the best for a decade, Pedaru’s photo became one of the important fashion images of the year.
Karmen’s profile unsurprisingly went through the roof, with editorials for French and Italian Vogue in April; the cover of Japanese Numero in June and the announcement in late summer that Pedaru would become the face of Emporio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo.
Topping the year off with another 55 show season in September, Karmen got a chance to show what she’d learned in the past 12 months with an editorial for French Vogue called ‘Bal Masque’.
Featuring alongside Anja Rubik and Dree Hemingway, the themes were sensuality, opulence and Parisian glamour. Each concept is tricky enough in itself, but a sultry shoot is a notoriously difficult balance to strike. There’s an absolute (but subtle) line between making a statement and edging over into lads’ mag territory. The almost-mathematical precision in getting it right without sacrificing the mood of the editorial requires a level of skill you can only acquire through experience. The shoot worked perfectly in keeping the pages of French Vogue strictly high-fashion.
Karmen’s career zig-zagged again with another campaign signing, but this time she was asked to appear for the autumn / winter collection for Gap. The quintessentially American label chose to focus on one of its best selling points: denim.
Gap’s series of adverts marketed different cuts of jeans (eg: straight, modern flare, skinny) and used a clutch of top models to sell the goods. The campaign’s emphasis on easy fashion, added a stroke of genius when Gap put names to the model faces which included Alana Zimmer, Anja Rubik, Catherine McNeill and Lily Donaldson. Putting their names to each campaign image made the models immediately more appealing, taking it beyond the usual pairing of model with product, creating a campaign that was a slam-dunk for the iconic brand.
Gap’s light bulb moment worked because there is a certain satisfaction in being able to put a name to a face. The Cindys, Naomis and Christys – the models of the Eighties who were more celebrity than mannequin – are a thing of the past. It’s still possible for models acquire a certain level of fame (Lara Stone for example), but for most models, the trade-off is being known on sight, but not by name. In an age where we know everything about celebrities from their shoe size to their favourite snack, it’s a curious state of affairs.
But this is set to change as our interest in fashion continues to grow. Ten years ago, finding a member of the public who could name the editor of French Vogue would have been a tall order. Ten years on, Carine Roitfeld’s dramatic departure from the magazine in 2010 made headlines across the world.
The models emerging today are working in an industry where the rules are now a work in progress. A large part of that change has been thanks to the internet. Access to fashion – the very latest news, editorials and shows – is now just a click away. This proximity has created a generation who are as familiar with Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane as they are with Topshop and Primark. It’s a generation who feel comfortable enough with the world of high-fashion to dissect the latest ideas, both with each other and the world at large. This willingness to engage in all things sartorial has turned the industry into something to be actively enjoyed, rather than regarded at a distance.
There are of course misgivings; when every opinion gets equal billing, figuring out what’s really worth your time can be difficult. But ultimately having too much information forces you to be selective. Being able to access everything gives you an immediate idea of what you like, what you don’t, and more importantly, why.
Making fashion a friendlier place to be has proved to be a touch of brilliance, because fashion is all about forming relationships. At the heart of this is the link between us, the consumer, and the model. If we don’t identify with the model, that dress, or that bag, won’t sell. The job of the model is to embody a designer’s ‘big idea’, whether that’s old-school sophistication or avant-garde sleekness, but in getting fashion’s finances back on track, the secret is to be relatable. The day of the uber-groomed supers has gone for a reason; we all want to indulge in that element of fantasy, but the post-recession fantasy is about the business of joy, not exclusion. Fashion’s getting back to the basics of why we buy what we buy: not just to feel part of a ‘club’, but to enjoy the act of choosing and wearing great clothes.
In light of this, the obvious choice would be to hire the money-maker faces. But the faces that are rising to the top aren’t just those starry one-in-a-million faces, but models that have got there through sheer hard work.
Karmen’s rise from ingénue to campaign girl is textbook when it comes to making the move from model to super; some are faces ‘of the moment’, slotting into a mood or look that gets everyone talking. Others make it by stealth, working for years and then suddenly making it big – Iselin Steiro is a perfect example of this. But Karmen falls into the third group: a solid but steady start, which blossoms into regular work on the world’s runway and editorial circuits.
Karmen’s transition from runway regular to the Spring 2011 face of Michael Kors and Gucci has been a process several years in the making, but Pedaru’s star power has lost none of its potency for it. There are some models that just have ‘it’ – that elusive modelling gene – but there’s something to be said for the grafters of the industry.
Karmen’s career will continue to flourish because her years of hard work have given her the skills of a supermodel, with the insight and intelligence needed to interpret fashion for a whole new generation.