Born in Denmark, 17-year-old Caroline Brasch Nielsen began her career in 2010, signing with Elite, one of the largest modelling agencies in the world.
Despite having a career that has yet to hit the two-year mark, Nielsen is a model who has already learned to think big. Debuting in Paris Fashion Week, she opened the Autumn / Winter 2010 show for Valentino, also walking for Balenciaga, Chanel, Givenchy, Miu Miu and YSL. Unsurprisingly, her impressive catwalk CV caught the eye of website www.models.com that featured her as a Top 10 Newcomer.
Two months later, Caroline was shooting an editorial for Italian Vogue. Working with photographer Steven Meisel, as far as modelling rites of passage go, this is the classic, star-making ritual. With Meisel’s ability to cherry-pick modelling talent, Caroline starting her editorial career with Italian Vogue was to prove a highly significant move.
A magazine also with a reputation for spotting great model potential, Nielsen’s next assignment was with French Vogue. Shooting ‘Country Club’, Nielsen experienced first-hand the magazine’s penchant for launching new models into the deep end of the editorial experience.
Her ability to remain cool under pressure placed her at an advantage when she undertook her first couture season in July. Closing the show for Valentino, Nielsen also appeared for Elie Saab and Chanel.
Caroline’s developing links with Valentino couldn’t have been better timed. After Valentino himself retired in 2008, its re-launch under new creative direction began somewhat shakily, but finally found its feet with Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli at the helm.
No-one has done glamour more perfectly than Valentino, and the handing over of the reins meant a rethink of the whole brand. Maria and Pier kept the sophistication, but brought in a girlish softness that has scored highly with young Hollywood. In previous years, Valentino was perceived a red-carpet label strictly for grown-ups. You rarely saw anyone under 30 wearing the gowns. If the label was to progress, it needed to address this oversight.
Valentino’s enthusiasm for Caroline is not accidental. Her delicate, fresh modernity makes her a perfect fit for the brand’s new look. Still catering to the glamour crowd, the label invites younger fashion fans to participate in the Valentino experience. Light-as-air tulle replaces silk-satin, polka dots instead of sequins; the intelligent application of modernity combined with a respect for the legacy Valentino created, has ensured that this label doesn’t become lost to a new generation of fashion-savvy girls.
Caroline’s affinity with luxury labels continued when she was selected to appear in the A/W Balenciaga ad campaign along with Meghan Collison, Mirte Maas, Stella Tennant and Karen Elson. The quietly-directional series of images is made all the more astonishing when you consider that up to this point, Caroline had been modelling for a period of months, not years.
In September, Nielsen got dual editorial honours for Russian Vogue and Dazed & Confused. With an eponymously-titled editorial in the mix, Caroline was hitting every standard required to make it from good model to great. That same month, she experienced her busiest season to date, clocking up appearances in 60 shows.
These were not just ordinary appearances, but Nielsen managed to open shows for Narciso Rodriguez, Thakoon, Alberta Ferretti and Nina Ricci. Closing the show for Herve Leger, Giambattista Valli, The Row and Valentino, Caroline’s runway celebrity has been well and truly established.
Nielsen walked in every show of note, including Marc Jacobs’ technicolour homage to Seventies New York, and Prada’s show of swirls and stripes that came to define the season. Nielsen’s start in the modelling industry wasn’t just about hype – her ability to command attention was rapidly becoming a highly-valued commodity. Caroline wasn’t only adapting at will, transforming into the perfect Prada girl, but she was immersing herself in every runway look and editorial. It is this quality that has taken Caroline so quickly from ingénue to star. The good model gets there too, but the model with potential for greatness, makes the transition at break-neck pace.
2010 ended with Nielsen emerging as one of the faces to watch. Still only 9 months into her career, Caroline had become one of fashion’s most bookable girls. Entering 2011, it was announced that Nielsen would be fronting campaigns for both Marc Jacobs and Valentino. The Marc Jacobs campaign represented a spectacular coup for Nielsen: it was one of the seminal looks of the Spring / Summer season, and Marc’s ‘Seventies Show’ was awash with tropical colour played out on an urban scale. It was flirty, playful, evocative and hard to miss.
In January, she scored more couture appearances, working in Paris for Elie Saab, Valentino, Dior and Chanel. It is not hard to figure why the couture houses took to Nielsen. Her adeptness at interpreting a look made her a natural at modelling couture. If ready-to-wear is all about the hard sell, what really counts in Paris is how couture makes you feel. Without that act of seduction on the runway, the collection will fail to have an impact on changing our dressing habits, whether it’s a new hem-length or a bold new colour.
Caroline took those lessons from couture and applied them to one of the most demanding shoots in the fashion repertoire: the beauty close-up. Shooting ‘A Vision of Colour’ for the March edition of Japanese Vogue, this was a postmodern exploration of summer brights. Modelling extreme beauty is a tricky business, as you run the risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer level of artistry involved. Caroline excelled in this editorial, bringing a depth to a subject that could very easily tip over into sugary confection. With no diversionary tactics in play, Caroline’s performance tempers the sweetness, making this shoot a multi-colour feast for the eyes.
Nielsen’s ability at handling challenging work was utilised throughout the year with editorials for W, Numero, Russian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Each one was a test of Caroline’s skills, from W’s ‘Against Nature’ shoot to Harper Bazaar’s youthful, punky spin on ladylike pastels.
Her August shoot for Numero, ‘Cap d’Antibes’, saw Caroline take her interpretative skills to the next level. Moody, strong and sultry – the shoot is a potential game-changer for Nielsen, showing future clients that she is ready and willing to handle fashion’s darker hues. Followed by an editorial for i-d magazine, Caroline is capping the year as she started it: with high-profile campaigns.
Signed again for Valentino’s A/W ad, the campaign showcases texture from the snakeskin boots to the blurred camera tricks, giving the resulting images a dreamy, otherworldly quality. Bridging Valentino’s gift for elegance with modern production values, the label sells us exquisite fashion that is both timeless and contemporary.
As Nielsen’s affiliation with Valentino continues, her ability to exist in two camps, classic and editorial, endows her with that elusive quality; being all things to all designers. Whereas some models are blessed with genetics that place them squarely in one sector, Caroline joins the select list of models who work without limits.
Appearing in ads for fashion houses as diverse as Valentino and Balenciaga, Caroline’s talent for booking campaigns, good ones, at this early stage of her career, marks her out as a very modern money girl. The term refers to any model capable of transforming a label’s fortunes simply by association. If you can raise a brand’s profile from also-ran to must-have, you’re definitely a money girl.
Many of the money girls of the past have been some of modelling’s biggest names: Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen count among the industry’s most influential models: financially, artistically and globally.
The campaign faces of today – Arizona Muse, Raquel Zimmermann – may not be household names like Schiffer or Crawford, but the ‘money girl’ isn’t being phased out, just re-assessed for the 21st century. The persuasive selling techniques are just the same, but the sell isn’t about celebrity, but high-fashion prestige.
The campaign draws you in by stealth. The latest ads for Mulberry, for example, don't trade on big names, but the anonymity of the models make it much easier (and inviting) to imagine yourself in the gloriously eccentric world of Mulberry. They may not have fame on their side, but these new money girls definitely have the x-factor. Rather than relying on star draws, the latest campaigns are putting the fashion first. The model is, in the nicest possible sense, a placeholder for us, the consumer.
It makes our connection with high-fashion much more immediate. At a time where every sale counts, breaking down the barriers people feel when it comes to purchasing a big-ticket item is crucial. How the campaign does this is to remind us what makes the luxury brand so special: the design, the craftsmanship, the feeling that you own an original. That feeling of exclusivity is still high-fashion’s ace up its expertly-stitched sleeve. We are powerless to resist.
Driving this desire for uniqueness are models like Caroline, who will go on to join the raft of new money girls transforming the way high-fashion is sold. With these girls in charge, buying high-fashion becomes an inclusive experience, not a daunting one. It will be an investment that will keep you, and the fashion industry, coming back for more.