Her catwalk debut took place in September 2010, with Saner debuting at both Milan and Paris Fashion Week. She opened the Valentino show, and appeared in shows for Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy and Chanel.
Julia’s impact on the runway was immediate. At 5’11”, Saner was ideal catwalk material. Her win at Elite brought her to the attention of designers, but award or not, Saner still had to prove her abilities on the runway just like every other new model. Luckily for Julia, she and the runway appeared to be the perfect match.
In January 2011, she appeared in her first couture season, closing the Valentino show and walking in the Elie Saab, Chanel, Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier shows. Valentino’s infatuation with the new model was rubber-stamped in when it was announced that she would become the face of its newest campaign, along with Caroline Brasch Nielsen and Freja Beha Erichsen.
The revamp of the Italian label meant hiring fresh, new faces – faces that could lend themselves to the uber-feminine designs of the ready-to-wear line as well as the more challenging silhouettes of the couture collection. Julia proved to be particularly useful for Valentino, with strong features handling the camera beautifully, her memorable face making her both avant-garde and reassuringly classic.
Her runway success translated into editorial work, with spreads in Numero and American Vogue in February. Saner showed off her high-fashion skills in ‘Labyrinthe’, a typical Numero shoot with complex angles and challenging poses. It was a very technical shoot – photographing high-fashion this way can lean towards parody if care isn’t taken. The result was an editorial packed with bold ideas, but performed with subtlety. It was just right.
Her second editorial that month was the Spring / Summer preview in American Vogue. The ‘Gangs of New York’ spread featured every model of note, and Julia got the title page, a huge honour for any model, let alone one who had only been working for six months. With her first cover in March (Italian Marie Claire), Julia also scored another career high with an editorial for Italian Vogue, called ‘Wasted Luxury’.
The editorial saw Julia working with models Saskia de Brauw and Milou Van Groesen. Photographed by Steven Meisel, this editorial was a brilliant reminder of why everyone in the fashion industry looks to Italian Vogue.
Heavily ornate, eccentrically styled with kooky accessories and clashing prints, this was hyper-fashion at its best. It was all in the execution: with Meisel behind the lens, the shoot was kept restrained but purposeful. Looking at the images, you can’t help but rest on details: gold-leaf embossed on a pair of trousers, metallic pleated collars.
The focus is on the beauty of the individual pieces, making this editorial far more user-friendly than you might expect. This isn’t eccentricity for its own sake, but exploring ways of presenting beautiful things. Italian Vogue actively strives to find new solutions to this oldest of problems – keeping the desire alive for brave new fashion. The path more travelled can often seem like a lot less hassle. But it’s the job of Italian Vogue to keep us interested in what’s next; asking us to change our perceptions of what is fashionable and beautiful. No easy task, but when it comes to sartorial persuasion, no-one does it better than Italian Vogue.
With appearances in German and Japanese Vogue in May, Julia appeared in June’s Turkish Vogue, in an editorial named ‘Disniz Dan Biri’. Exuding colour and texture, Julia takes to the street markets to shoot a fashion travelogue that evokes the excitement and unfamiliarity of experiencing different cultures.
It is interesting to note just how many fashion shoots take place on location. It’s not just making the clothes look even better against a stunning backdrop: like travel, fashion broadens the mind. Seen from a fresh perspective, editorials push us to see fashion differently too, encouraging us to try a new shape, a new colour. Fashion has a habit of surprising us, but these editorials offer up the idea that sometimes we should take control, and surprise ourselves.
Julia’s career continues to go from strength to strength in the final months of 2011, with three campaign signings. The first, with Mulberry, sees Julia join forces with Taitana Cotliar in a series of typically bohemian and eccentric images. A success already, the bright leather satchels and pleated skirts featured are visibly making an impact on our buying habits for this autumn.
Mulberry remains one of the most influential labels working today. The ‘Alexa’ satchel saw copies spring up across the high street. Its success in re-defining vintage shapes has made Mulberry a highly competitive force in today’s fashion market. Its brand identity has rocketed in recent years, with the campaigns becoming the label’s calling card.
This season, Mulberry celebrates the British countryside with a series of images that are bold, quirky and unmistakable. Julia’s inclusion in this campaign has already raised her profile in the industry, taking her from runway favourite to campaign star.
Her next signing is with one of fashion’s newest – and hottest – names. Prabal Gurung has already been making waves, becoming a red-carpet must for stars who like their fashion served with an edge.
The last, with high-street chain Karen Millen, shows Julia’s ability to cross boundaries and defy definition. It’s an important asset for a model, but crucial for one who plans to become a fixture on the modern campaign circuit. Mulberry, Gurung and Millen represent three very different campaigns, but together they point to the career Julia will develop.
With a body that can handle the highest of high-fashion and a face built for mass appeal, Saner finds herself well-placed to offer the fashion industry the best of both worlds. She possesses a face that can make high-fashion look approachable, steering it to a new generation, but still satisfies the old-school, avant-garde leanings of the most edgy designers.
The idea that you can tailor a modelling approach to an individual brand or label is nothing new, but what is becoming clear is that it’s by no means set and dried as to which brand requires which approach. It’s not guaranteed that a high-street favourite will need a bright and breezy commercial face, no more than a high-fashion brand will require someone with serious fashion credentials.
With the gap closing between high-fashion and high-street, editorial and commercial modelling have come together to form a third approach, to answer a desire for a new level of sophistication that celebrates our growing fashion knowledge. Look at any of the large high-street stores, and their campaign images, dotted around the store and in the front window, are all using this new approach to create and generate sales.
H&M do minimal sophistication, keeping the clothes centre-stage; Topshop use fashion’s brightest new modelling talents to showcase their latest looks and Zara’s campaigns are a master-class in marketing, owing a debt to designers such as Jil Sander who work on the principle of keeping it simple.
What these brands have gained in sophistication they haven’t lost in populist appeal – many of them are more successful than ever. This shift isn’t just restricted to the British high street either: many high-fashion labels have been revising how they reach out to their customers. Mulberry’s campaigns have piqued mainstream interest, making their products as familiar as any high-street hit. Julia as the Mulberry girl is undeniably high-fashion, but there is an approachability in her performance that helps explain the label’s continuing success while its competitors falter.
While some labels thrive on the unfamiliar, and change their approach every season (such as Balenciaga), others have decided to stick to a formula that develops a sense of cohesion. Labels such as Chloe have streamlined their campaigns, making their dreamy, vintage-inspired images a trademark of their brand.
The idea of not taking yourself too seriously is also a winner for many brands, and has recently been adopted by French label Lanvin. With a campaign video available online, models Raquel Zimmermann and Karen Elson demonstrate some seriously camp dance moves, and the coup de theatre is Alber Elbaz himself joining in the fun. If Lanvin could ever be accused of being too serious, this video goes a long way to redressing the balance.
Just five years ago, these about-turns for such established labels would have seemed unthinkable, but in ensuring their survival, each brand is looking again at how it presents itself to the world. High-street and high-fashion are learning from each other, creating surprises and delights along the way.
What remains steadfast though, is the idea that a good campaign does the leg-work in developing a brand. It’s why designers and companies spend so much in creating that perfect first impression. Right now, fashion needs not just multi-taskers, but faces that go beyond trends; avant-garde, commercial and everything in-between. Breaking the rules in staging campaigns has resulted in a playing field where, quite frankly, anything is possible.
With a career still in its infancy, Julia has already demonstrated she can be that new kind of model that fashion so desperately needs. Her ability to cross boundaries is what will continue to define her career as fashion strives to prove it hasn’t lost its way, but is merely treading new ground. The path less travelled has never seemed so much fun.HELEN TOPE