Born in the Netherlands on April 8th 1988, Milou van Groesen signed with Women Management in 2008.
Making an immediate impact, Milou was named ‘model of the week’ by www.models.com in April 2008. Switching to Supreme Management in mid-2008, she made her ready-to-wear debut that September, walking for designers such as Vera Wang.
2009 began with editorial work for Japanese Numero and Dazed & Confused, and Milou made her third agency move, signing up with NEXT Models. In the same year, Milou made her big campaign debut, appearing in the Autumn / Winter H&M campaign, appearing with her friend (and emerging new talent), Tao Okamoto. H&M has been one of the first (and best) at embracing fashion’s new international age. Featuring models of numerous nationalities are H&M’s calling card, making each campaign series feel vibrant and current. High-fashion’s drive to woo their newest, affluent customers from around the globe follows on from what retail chains like H&M and Benetton have known for years: diversity sells.
In early 2010, Milou made what would become a career-changing decision. Bleaching her hair and chopping it into a mullet, van Groesen completely transformed. Stepping away from the comfort zone of her long, blonde hair was a brave move for a model that could still be ranked as a newcomer. The change was significant: google any pre-2010 shots of Milou and she is hard to recognise.
The idea of personal transformation as a route to success is still potent within the modelling industry. Fifty years after Twiggy’s gamine crop made her a legend, the idea that a simple change of style can have a seismic effect on your career remains beguiling, and every now and then, another model is added to that very select list. Milou joins the likes of Agyness Deyn who form a small band of models that transformed their prospects virtually overnight. Van Groesen re-emerged in October 2010 to Paris Fashion Week acclaim, opening the S/S Balenciaga show. A new image and agency DNA propelled van Groesen onto the fast track.
In February 2011, Milou was photographed for French Vogue, appearing on the cover of i-D as well. She made her debut for Italian Vogue in March, photographed by Steven Meisel. The editorial, ‘Wasted Luxury’ proved to be a career-defining moment not only for van Groesen but newcomer Saskia de Brauw. Eccentrically styled, this was a shoot designed to make waves. The beautiful detailing of the clothes paired with the element of whimsy in the accessories was quintessential Italian Vogue: daring, unconventional but beautiful. Van Groesen, also appearing in the March issue’s beauty supplement with Julia Nobis, was now one of fashion’s hottest names.
Van Groesen nailed her first Vogue cover a month later, appearing for Japanese Vogue. Modelling with Bambi Northwood Blyth and Fei Fei Sun, this cover was a celebration of fashion’s newest and greatest talents.
The heady pace of Milou’s ascent continued through 2011 with an appearance in i-D and Chinese Vogue. The credits grew even weightier in Autumn, with the announcement that Milou would join Carla Gebhart, Liya Kebede and Juliane Gruner to become the face of Balenciaga’s latest campaign.
Finishing the year with editorials for W and Interview, Milou again reprised her star turn for H&M’s series of winter campaigns. The last editorial of 2011 for Milou was also one of the most meaningful. Photographed by V magazine, van Groesen posed with models also signed by DNA Models. Appearing alongside Anna de Riyk, Dree Hemingway, Emily Baker, Raquel Zimmermann and Siri Tollerod, it was quite clear why van Groesen had found a home with this agency. An agency that houses an eclectic mix of faces from the ultra-feminine Zimmermann to the super-edgy de Brauw, it is clear that DNA has no limits when it comes to beauty: DNA’s refusal to define itself as an ‘editorial’ or ‘classic beauty’ agency has been wholly to Milou’s advantage.
The backing of her agency, and their ability to see van Groesen not just as an edgy, editorial face, is one of the factors contributing to Milou’s biggest signing to date. This Spring, Milou becomes the face of Giorgio Armani. Already having made waves with its previous campaign face, Nimue Smit, the Italian label decided to defy convention again and go with someone entirely unexpected. In this campaign, Milou oozes a cool intelligence, becoming the essence of modern beauty. It is a great campaign that rewrites the rules on androgyny not being flexible enough to incorporate mainstream ideas of beauty. Milou, in this campaign, is very much her own woman but still exudes a sophistication that is pure Armani. Milou is by turns, seductive, enigmatic and feminine. She may have been a left-field choice, but this campaign has proved itself a definitive moment for both label and model.
Milou’s second big moment in this season’s rota of campaigns sees her appearing in Balenciaga’s Resort video. Directed by Steven Meisel, the video also features Jamie Bochert, Miranda Kerr, Zuzanna Bijoch and Louis Vuitton favourite, Nyasha Matonhodze. The repetitive theme of the video borrows from art-house cinema as readily as the pulsating music reminds us of Hitchcock’s nightmarish vision of modern America. A bold, off-centre choice in a season packed with girlish detail, this campaign confirms Balenciaga’s reputation as the thinking girl’s label.
Always dubbed as one of fashion’s androgynous girls, Milou’s career does not hang on a pivotal ‘what if?’ moment. If van Groesen had never gone for that bold haircut, she would still have made it to the highest levels of fashion. Watching her in the Balenciaga video and her confident performance for the Armani campaign, it is self-evident that van Groesen never lacked talent, and would have always become a success.
Her career speaks of a fashion industry that has learned to use beauty in a whole new way: androgyny is no longer permanent and fixed, but something that can break away and move into other areas of fashion. Milou’s work for Armani is a compelling argument of how androgyny can be not only flexible, but influential. The latest campaign invites us to rewire our opinions on a much-loved label. It remains a byword for tailored elegance, but the decision to hire Milou means that Armani now competes on an ideological level with the big hitters of fashion’s avant-garde.
The idea of transformation – the almost fairytale like way in which a model can change overnight from unknown to ingénue – is still one that captivates us. But Milou’s dazzling career is attributable not to a haircut, but to her growing sense of self-belief. Her haircut made have left her with nowhere to hide (it’s hard to imagine anything more visible than a peroxide crop), but this gave van Groesen the freedom to become the kind of model she always wanted to be. The act of transformation which should have pigeon-holed Milou into a career with purely edgy, editorial credits – has widened her horizons with campaigns and editorials that are defiantly, gloriously at odds with her image.
Milou’s transformation did not take place in the salon chair, but at a much earlier point. Her refusal to let her image dictate her career has made her a star: a career rich with credits from every corner of the industry was clearly always Milou’s intention. With bookings from H&M to Armani, van Groesen is well on her way to becoming fashion’s renaissance woman.