Born on 5th August 1988, Kendra Spears is part of a growing group of models that are putting America back on top when it comes to producing globally-recognised talent.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Spears began attending Portland State University in 2007 to study sociology. In January 2008, Spears entered Ford’s Supermodel of the World competition. She didn’t win, but Ford was so impressed by her, she was signed with the agency anyway.
That September, Kendra made her international runway debut, walking in high-prestige shows such as Valentino, Lanvin, Gucci, L’Wren Scott and Costume National. Spears got her first cover try in December 2008, fronting the January issue of Italian Amica, with an editorial in Italian Flair the following month.
Kendra’s features made her a good fit for the Italian market, but her look began to garner attention at home. With a similar look, right down to the trademark mole, Kendra’s resemblance to modelling icon Cindy Crawford was unmissable.
Hype began to build around Spears – would Kendra’s looks take her into a global, highly lucrative career just like Crawford’s had done twenty years previously? Combining the vintage feel of an Eighties supermodel in a new face meant that Kendra’s profile was only set to get bigger.
In February 09, Spears added new designers to her runway credits, including Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, Nina Ricci, Prada and YSL. In March, www.style.com listed Spears as a star on the rise.
Kendra switched agencies in the Spring, making the move from Ford to Next. Changing agencies doesn’t normally make headlines, but on the 6th May, Ford Models sued Next for allegedly ‘poaching’ Spears. Kendra did not allow the controversy to break her focus and continued to work, being photographed for the Spring / Summer issue of Revue de Modes and the cover of British fashion bible Dazed & Confused in July. Kendra made her couture debut the same month, walking in the Autumn / Winter show for Givenchy.
But Spears’ biggest career coup came later that year when she was presented to the fashion industry as one of the faces of the new Prada campaign, featuring alongside Anna de Rijk and Julia Hafstrom.
Prada are known for taking chances on a new face when it comes to their runway shows, but campaigns are a much bigger gamble. Those images are in circulation for months, representing the brand’s ‘big idea’ for that season. Get the casting wrong, and it can spell disaster. But hiring a model that, up to this point, was untested when it came to campaigns was the type of move that could only come from Prada. The label known for risk-taking once again proved its reputation for picking talent. Sporting one of Prada’s most memorable looks, in frizzy hair and waders, Spears doesn’t look like a fish out of water, but completely at ease.
The Prada campaign had the desired effect in launching Spears into the big-time. In September, Teen Vogue featured Kendra as a rising star, and in the same month, Kendra got to open shows for Badgley Mischka and Diane Von Furstenberg. Also appearing for Alberta Ferretti, Cacharel, Calvin Klein, Derek Lam, Oscar de la Renta and Prada, Kendra was making her move from rising star to firmly established.
Closing out the year with a spot as W magazine’s ‘This Week’s Model’, January 2010 saw Kendra hit the cover of Chinese Vogue. Choosing to skip Fashion Week, Kendra padded out 2010 with editorial work, appearing for Japanese Vogue in February, Harper’s Bazaar in July and British and French Vogue in August. This wealth of photographic work proved to be beneficial for Spears when she landed the booking of a lifetime, appearing in the Calvin Klein White Label campaign.
Already experienced at handling a high-stakes campaign with Prada, Kendra was signed up to appear in the Autumn / Winter campaign. Matching the quintessential American ‘face’ with the label that most clearly defines American style, it was a win-win for both parties.
Forget the jeans and t-shirt, think American high-fashion and you find yourself thinking in the sartorial language Calvin Klein has created. Crisp clean lines executed in a palette of neutrals or blocks of bright, bold colour, it is the template of great American design: when in doubt, keep it simple. Klein’s influence may be vast but its effects can be most clearly seen close to home in the work of Michael Kors, Reed Krakoff and Jason Wu.
Modelling these clothes however is far from straightforward. Play it too low-key and you run the risk of fading into the background; overdo it and the whole effect of minimal chic is ruined. These clothes need more than a pulse, they need a character that’s in sympathy with what the designer is trying to achieve. Great modelling isn’t just about embodying a brand’s ideals; it’s about becoming their ideal customer.
The Calvin Klein customer is an easy read; intelligent with sophisticated tastes but doesn’t take themselves too seriously. There are plenty of brands that offer the ‘wow’ factor, but the Calvin Klein customer at this level appreciates good design, but they don’t need their wardrobe to do the talking for them. The selling point of Calvin Klein is in the detail you don’t see.
Kendra’s success at translating Calvin Klein created more runway bookings, resulting in a 33-show season including Prada, Chanel, Fendi, Lanvin, Miu Miu, Stella McCartney and Roland Mouret.
Renewing her Calvin Klein contract in January 2011, Spears also got another blue-chip campaign signing with Diane Von Furstenberg. With Kendra’s ultra-feminine features, she was a perfect sell for the DVF name made on the back of those famous, and much copied, wrap dresses.
Spears also got asked to appear in the campaign for Etro, with Frida Gustavsson and Toni Garrn. The brand has come into its own this season with the resurgence of print for S/S 2011. Every label has its moment, where the feel of the season neatly dovetails with their look. With print and colour being an Etro speciality, this summer will see labels who favour the maximalist approach go super-stellar.
Kendra switched it up in January with a Japanese Vogue editorial named ‘The Legend of Simplicity’. Wearing simple designs, but endowing them with bags of personality, Spears took what she learned from working with Calvin Klein and used it to great effect.
With a body of work that’s visibly growing in diversity, Spears is proving to be more than just the American girl of the moment. Her latest campaign signings – Calvin Klein, DVF and Etro – are testament to how Kendra handles high-fashion. The requirements of a brand like Calvin Klein will be very different to those of Etro, but that’s entirely the point. A model that’s at home in eclectic, bohemian print as she is in clean, minimal lines understands that fashion is rarely pure and ever simple: each new trend taps into another. This kaleidoscopic effect of modern fashion means there is no such thing as an ‘absolute’ trend, untainted by fashion history or other cultural influences. Some designers’ tracks are easier to uncover: Gucci delves into the glamour power-surges of the past, and Miuccia Prada borrows references from Warhol to Baroque. One look at the Prada runway and it’s no surprise that Miuccia is one of the world’s most prolific art collectors.
Spears may have an undeniable resemblance to Cindy Crawford, but her career is proving to be anything but retro. The American model has moved from plain and simple concepts: the minimalist, the beach babe or the girl-next-door. Strip away these preconceived ideas about American beauty, and you get a generation of models that are a whole lot harder to figure out.
Fashion’s striving for a richness and individuality that is at odds with the industry as it was just a few decades ago. There’s no one ‘in’ colour or hem that’s the only fashionable length to be seen in. It was once stated that in the fashion industry, hemlines went up and down like the stock market. Good financial times in the 60’s brought us the mini-skirt. The economic woes of the 70’s saw ankle-grazing maxi skirts as the only way to go.
What does it say about us now when there are no hard and fast rules? Colour is back after a winter of neutrals, but no one shade takes precedence. As to hemlines, the choice as varied as denim cut-offs and maxi dresses, with midi skirts literally sitting somewhere in-between. If fashion’s a mirror, reflecting what’s going on all around us, is it about giving us choice or an unwillingness to commit – a fear of backing the wrong horse? From whatever angle you look at it, fashion has never been more interesting than it is right now. But this relaxing of the rules is good news for the modelling industry.
Assigning models is no longer a process of ticking boxes. A model with a tomboyish look and personal style can get seriously girlie for Chanel and a model with curves to die for can front a label that’s all about simple, no-nonsense lines. There’s a definite shift occurring in how we think about models. With the labels removed, everyone’s a potential perfect fit. Making assumptions about who can do what no longer works for the models making their way up the ladder. There’s a difference between being limited and exclusive: it may be small, but its effects are substantially felt.
Kendra’s old-school charm and her more-than-passing resemblance to Cindy Crawford has given her a head start in an industry where a little hype can take you a long way. But Kendra, like her peers (Karlie, Dree, Jacquelyn and Chanel) is on-target for a career that’s complex and undefinable, and all the more exciting for it.
The current generation of models are lucky because having fewer definitions means fewer limits. As fashion grapples with forming its new, post-recession identity, the models that are breaking into the industry are not only fresh and modern, but ready, willing and able to adapt. Meet the front line of fashion’s evolution.