Sunday, 30 September 2012


Born on February 21 1994, Maria Bradley signed with Chicago-based agency Factor Models in 2011. Aged 17, Bradley undertook her first major runway season that September, with a select group of designers including Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler, Tommy Hilfiger and Versace.

An individual booking with any of these designers would represent a highly significant achievement for a new model. Collectively, this debut of less than 10 shows may be small, but it’s perfectly formed. Maria walked in the Balenciaga and Versace shows as exclusives – an affirmative nod from two of the biggest, most influential names in fashion.

Leaning more towards the edgier side of fashion’s spectrum, Maria’s success with Balenciaga is understandable, but her booking with Versace is perhaps more of a surprise. Traditionally aligned with high glamour, Versace has recently undergone an image revolution, with its campaign this time last year fronted by super-edgy model Saskia de Brauw. Taking the ultimate glamour-girl label in a whole new direction, coupled with Christopher Kane’s effortlessly cool work at Versus, this Italian powerhouse has toughened up. Compare its campaigns of ten years ago to its latest signing, Elza Luijendijk and it shows how a major label progresses and evolves.

In late 2011, Maria also signed with DNA Models, based in New York. In January 2012, she made her debut for British magazine, ‘Dazed & Confused’. Following that with an appearance in British Vogue, Bradley’s editorial looks were already translating well.

In February 2012, Bradley experienced her first runway season as a ‘must-have’ girl. Clocking up an amazing 50 shows, she worked with heritage brands to blockbuster labels including Chanel, Donna Karan, Gareth Pugh, Helmut Lang, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Rag & Bone, Sportmax, Valentino, Victoria Beckham and YSL.

This roster of bookings has all the hallmarks of belonging to a long-established model. Virtually every design ‘niche’ is represented here, and it’s partly down to Maria’s androgynous looks. Once considered a niche in itself, androgynous models now have the advantage of working in a much more fluid fashion industry. Her features make her ideal for all kinds of work – with a bit of styling she is ready for the high-living glamour of a Michael Kors show; stripped back, she is spot-on for the minimal aesthetic of Helmut Lang.

In March, Maria returned to the editorial circuit again, this time appearing in cult magazine, i-D.  Photographed by Amy Troost, the spread was named ‘Don’t Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen’. Taken directly from the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s single ‘Born This Way’, Maria modelled warrior-woman, tough-as-nails fashion.

In May, Maria took to the runway, this time for resort season. Appearing in resort (or cruise) shows for Jonathan Saunders, Reed Krakoff, Narciso Rodriguez and Alexander Wang, the highlight of the Resort 2013 season was undoubtedly Chanel’s show held at Versailles. Maria modelled in this show, in which Karl Lagerfeld indulged his taste for high-drama. With the models styled in pastels and hi-top trainers, Lagerfeld worked with the classic Chanel dichotomy of masculine and feminine. Scoring serious column inches for its lavish production values, Chanel Cruise is as much an event as the main ready-to-wear shows.

The following month, Bradley made her inaugural appearance for W. Modelling for ‘City Slickers’, an editorial photographed by Craig McDean, Maria modelled the summer trend, sports-luxe. Maria exuded confidence in this shoot, no doubt explained by the fact that her hobbies include football, ski-ing, cross-country running and basketball. In this shoot, Bradley does not need to fake it: her enthusiasm for sport makes her a natural.

Repeated bookings with clients are one way of telling whether you’re on the right track, and Bradley’s career is studded with examples of clients coming back for more. Bradley returned again to the pages of W in July, and in the same month, she returned to ‘Dazed & Confused’, modelling with Prada’s latest it-girl, Katryn Kruger.

In August, Maria shot her third editorial for W magazine, this time in a portrait series called ‘Natural Selection’. Focusing on fashion’s new-season obsession with texture, Bradley worked with models Ophelie Rupp, Ondria Hardin, Jeneil Williams and Laura Kampman.

September’s RTW season saw Maria return to the runway, this time walking for Peter Som, Tommy Hilfiger, Thakoon, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, Belstaff, Vera Wang, Diesel, Michael Kors, Reed Krakoff, Proenza Schouler and Christopher Kane. Look closely, and you’ll see just how many of these names Bradley has already worked for.

Maria’s editorial career took a step up this month, with an appearance scheduled for the October issue of Russian Vogue. ‘Dark Side’, photographed by Ben Toms, sees Maria transform for a beauty shoot that showcases the minimal make-up that’s bang on trend for this autumn. Re-writing the rules on the berry tones usually favoured for this season, this neutral take on autumn beauty is a breath of fresh air. A perfect complement to this season’s decadence; this make-up is low on effort, but delivers full-on impact. Bradley is an ideal choice for this type of shoot, with a very modern type of beauty just right for modelling a very modern type of make-up.

With Bradley now celebrating a year in the modelling world, a sign of just how far she has come in 12 months arrives in the form of bona-fide industry approval. Bradley can now claim to be one of a very elite group of new models, labelled as stars of the future by She joins successful newcomers including current Prada campaign girl Madison Headrick, British beauties Lara Mullen and Rosie Tapner and Givenchy campaign favourite, Dutch model Stef van der Laan.

What is noticeable about the popular website’s list is just how many of these new faces are unashamedly editorial. Having cross-over potential used to be modelling’s Holy Grail; girls who could book Victoria’s Secret as well as Chanel Couture. But, as ever, fashion loves to change its mind. The new season campaign for Givenchy is a textbook case in point in that it is 100% directional in tone. The bold, uncompromising image looks more like a spread for Italian Vogue than a traditional campaign. This isn’t about maintaining a consumer-friendly brand, rather more creating a strong, core identity. In short, Givenchy is marking its territory. A strong, memorable campaign means a boost in sales and good sales mean survival for another year. The face that has to front this, of course, cannot be anything but extraordinary. Brands are clamouring for these newer faces, the faces that aren’t the safe choice by any definition.  This new season is seeing a tide change in how labels are representing themselves: out with familiarity, in with beauty that’s as challenging as it is beguiling.

Maria Bradley joins models such as Madison Headrick and Stef van der Laan to become a ‘statement face’. Bradley can adapt, and brilliantly, but at heart, she is a model squarely focused on the androgynous end of the fashion market. It is here where the greatest revolutions are taking place: androgyny is no longer limited to a fashion sidebar, but it has become the modern industry’s greatest asset. In other words, true versatility.

Bradley’s great run of editorial and runway work is just the precursor to a longer, even more successful career. Bradley is the ideal candidate for future campaigns that will take their lead from Givenchy. Faces that will not only sell, but persuade at a deeper level – it’s only a matter of time before Maria becomes the rising star every label must have.


Sunday, 16 September 2012


Born on November 4th 1988, Chicago native Ava Smith signed with Elite New York in 2005 aged 17. Boasting a family history with connections to Ireland, France, Germany, England and Lithuania, Ava’s career got off to a suitably global start with an editorial for Russian Vogue. Following that with a British Vogue editorial in February 2006, and a Benetton campaign in 2007, Ava had an auspicious beginning to her modelling career. But within a few years, the bookings began to taper off, and in 2009 Ava decided to take a break from modelling, returning to education. 

Two years later, Ava returned to modelling in late 2011, with Smith signing with Wilhelmina, a top American agency.  Now aged 23, Smith’s career hit the reset button. 

Viewed by clients as a ‘new girl’, even though she had previous editorial and campaign experience, Smith played the new-girl card with great skill. Wowing designers hiring for Fashion Week, Ava returned to the runway in September 2011, with appearances for David Koma, DKNY, Erdem, Helmut Lang, Holly Fulton, Hussein Chalayan, Mary Katrantzou, Ohne Titel, Peter Pilotto and Thierry Mugler. It was a nice mix of big brands and niche designers, with Ava appearing in several notable shows including Mary Katrantzou’s knockout show at London Fashion Week. 

Ava filled the next few months with editorial work, including a spread for ‘Black Book’, focusing on work-wear. But in February 2012, Ava returned to the Fashion Week circuit, this time making an incredible impact.

Appearing in 55 shows, Smith walked for Balmain, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Celine, Dolce & Gabbana, Dries Van Noten, Elie Saab, Fendi, Giambattista Valli, Givenchy, Gucci, Hermes, Isabel Marant, Issa, Marchesa, Missoni, Nina Ricci, Preen, Rochas, Thakoon, Valentino and YSL. A runway call sheet of this standard would be a striking achievement for any model, but the triumph is made all the more extraordinary by Ava’s years out of the spotlight. Smith may have been a returning face, rather than a new one, but her youthful, feminine looks made her highly covetable for a huge range of shows – and the fashion world just couldn’t get enough.

In Spring 2012, Ava returned to campaign work with a lookbook for H&M’s Autumn / Winter collection and a spread for – a shoot photographed by Matthew Rolston, a photographer who will be familiar to viewers of ‘America’s Next Top Model’. 

In June, Ava booked another high-fashion editorial, this time with magazine ‘Dazed & Confused’. Photographed by Daniel Jackson, and working with new models Codie Young and Madison Headrick, ‘Through a Scanner Darkly’, saw Ava channel her inner maverick in black and white face-paints. It is the sort of booking that challenges newer models: these shoots demand work that colours outside the lines, and there are no comforting frames of reference here: just bold strokes of creativity. Ava’s early successes clearly gave her a confidence to tackle these shoots: her performance here is cool, calm and directional. 

Ava got another opportunity to test her runway skills in July, appearing for Couture Week. Walking for Armani Prive, Atelier Versace, Giambattista Valli and Valentino, Ava returned to her high-fashion roots, proving why she was picked to appear in Russian and British Vogue so early on in her career. Defying every industry prediction, haute couture has only expanded over the past four years, and with this, comes further opportunities for models to work at the highest levels in fashion. If you can handle couture, you can handle anything.

Smith’s affiliation with couture paid serious dividends with her first appearance in Italian Vogue. Appearing in the August issue, Ava modelled with Kate King and Jasmine Tookes. With all three models retro-styled in beehives and mauve lipstick, the spread is a fun vibrant look at all the forthcoming trends. With Ava also appearing in a behind-the-scenes video accompanying the shoot, this was a great debut with the Italian heavyweight; setting the standard for Ava’s future bookings.

With August spent working the Resort 2013 collections, Ava is now becoming a major player for the Autumn / Winter season. Appearing in this month’s issue of Harper’s Bazaar, in an editorial photographed by Sebastian Kim, she works this season’s bold androgyny. Smith is transformed in trouser-suits and slicked-back hair. Trouser-suits have been languishing in fashion’s back catalogue for a few years, but their resurgence this season sees them take on a more colourful form. With geometric prints from Prada and Louis Vuitton, the wildness of the print is tempered by the severity of the cut. Fashion loves a dichotomy, and this year’s trouser-suits may look joyfully decadent – but underneath, they’re all business.

Also scoring a campaign with Burberry Black Label, Ava models the collection with Benjamin Eidem. Wearing classic, highly wearable pieces, it’s clear that the big message of the season is the return of femininity.  With ornate, beautiful pieces getting all the limelight, if the fabrics don’t seduce you, the styling will. Even urban-chic staples such as leather leggings have got a feminine upgrade, with Michael Kors showing a muted version of the urban classic, perfect for teaming up with knitwear or printed blouses.
Feminine may be back, but it has edge: we saw an explosion of girlishness in the S/S collections, but six months on, the initial idea has been refined. If you couldn’t swallow the sugary-sweetness of Louis Vuitton’s broderie anglaise dresses, going the feminine route this autumn is all about creating a decadent, sensual experience. You really should look as good as you feel.

Ava’s next campaign hiring comes courtesy of Topshop. The store, when selecting models for its campaigns, usually hires up-and-comers. This year, Ava joins Laura Kampman (fresh from her campaign triumph with Balenciaga); Melissa Stasiuk and Moa Aberg. Despite having at least five years on most new models, Ava’s look reads as youthful, vibrant and current. In other words, perfect for Topshop. 

With fashion turning its attention from done-and-dusted Autumn, and onto Spring 2013, Ava has already begun racking up the catwalk credits at New York Fashion Week. With over 20 appearances including Jason Wu, Peter Som, Rag & Bone, Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung, Victoria Beckham, Donna Karan,  Tory Burch, Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein, this catwalk season is already shaping up to be one of Ava’s best. With appearances yet to come in London, Paris and Milan, Smith looks set to beat her own record.

Ava’s continuing success is testament to the virtue of waiting it out, playing the long game. First signed at the age of 17, Smith’s early career gave every indication that she would work solidly through the rest of her teens and into her twenties.

It is not altogether clear why Smith’s look failed to resonate with other clients after her bookings with Russian and British Vogue. It’s a sobering thought, but even if you have all the right qualities to be a top model, your look may not be right for the time, and there is no magic fix for that problem. But tastes change, and fashion is by its nature, always changing. Ava did the smart thing by taking a break from the modelling world and then trying her luck again two years later. Those years made a huge difference: Ava hadn’t dramatically changed – but the industry had.

In 2009, the industry was still reeling from the economic meltdown of 2008. Simply put, the industry had not yet devised a successful strategy to cope and fashion houses went to their default positions. Easily relatable, recognisable faces were in demand. Quirky, new, unfamiliar faces – not so much.

By 2011, the dust had settled and the coping strategy that was revealed to be most effective was not to go with the familiar, that sartorial safety blanket, but to create fashion that was creatively and commercially high-risk. Instead of sticking to comfort-classics, fashion branched out. Whether it was experimentation with print, colour or shape, fashion once more prided itself on its glorious failures as much as its sure-fire hits. It turns out that we didn’t need familiar clothes to reassure us: we wanted choice, talent and great design. We wanted to be inspired.

It is this new era that Ava now belongs to, and it explains why she is again at the top of every designer’s wish list. She is a model who can work right at the heart of high-fashion because her look corresponds so beautifully with what is being created. A perfect blend of editorial femininity, Smith has had to be patient for her big moment, but it’s been well worth the wait.


Sunday, 9 September 2012


Born on 12th July 1995, Norwegian model Erjona Ala made her debut in the modelling industry at the age of 15. Competing in the International Elite Model Look contest in 2010, she narrowly missed out on first place, coming in as the runner-up. However, Erjona still caught the attention of the industry, signing with Ford Models the following year. 

She made her catwalk debut in March 2011, walking in the Balenciaga show as an exclusive – an incredible honour for a newcomer. Her spot in the Balenciaga show made her an automatic standout: featured Ala as their ‘model of the week’ as a result.

In June, Erjona modelled in resort shows for Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Louis Vuitton and Proenza Schouler. She made her couture debut the following month, walking in the Autumn / Winter show for Alaia Couture. But her big runway moment came in September, when she appeared in a mammoth 65 shows. She opened shows for Monique Lhuillier, Cynthia Rowley, Clements Riberio, Margaret Howell, Marios Schwab, Temperley and Haider Ackermann. She also scored closing spots with Sonia Rykiel and Thakoon.

For a model just months into her career, a season of this magnitude is still a rarity in an industry where a reputation can take years to build. Not only did Erjona walk in some of the biggest shows of the season, she was selected to open and close several high-prestige shows. Erjona’s look proved a winner on the runway circuit, neither leaning too strongly in either direction of editorial edge or mainstream glamour. It helps explain why Erjona would appeal to designers with aesthetic viewpoints as different as Monique Lhuillier and Marios Schwab. When a model’s look ‘connects’ with designers on this level, the effect tends to be incendiary. Like her peers Lara Mullen and Romee Strijd, Erjona has made her reputation, not through covers or campaigns, but the catwalk. Even in an increasingly digital age, the continuing importance of the catwalk should not be overlooked. 

With fashion undergoing a virtual reset every six months, a successful show creates its own momentum: the fabulous Gucci collection for Autumn / Winter 2012 created a huge stir on its debut in February, and its profile has been steadily growing over the past few months, culminating in an amazing cover spread for Italian Vogue. The catwalk still sets the pace: with campaigns, editorials and blogs relying on what comes down the runway. The magic of seeing a great collection coming down a runway in real time hasn’t lost its appeal. 

Erjona’s career then bridged out into editorial work, with a major spread in W magazine’s October issue. ‘Sects and the City’, photographed by Craig McDean, was a series of group shots featuring different fashion ‘sects’. Erjona modelled with Milou van Groesen, Ming Xi, Jess Gold and Cole Mohr in Twenties-style glamour, pre-empting the launch of Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby’ (due for release next year). Erjona becomes a dead ringer for screen siren Louise Brooks, in a severe bob, floor-length gown and pearls. 

In March 2012, Erjona scooped the cover of British magazine ‘Dazed & Confused’. Photographed by Roe Ethridge, the ‘2012: if it’s not exciting, you’re not doing it properly’ issue, featured Erjona surrounded by banks of flowers, channelling 1980’s androgyny in washed denim. Erjona also appeared in their Spring / Summer season preview. Modelling luxury sportswear, Erjona worked the trend that, after two summers spent on the sidelines, is now feeling the love. With Team GB grabbing the golds, sportswear feels less niche and more on-trend. Erjona proved ahead of the curve, giving the sportswear a sleek sophistication; moving it away from its track and field associations to a more urban, fashion-led look. 

Erjona went ultra high-fashion in June with a spread for Bon magazine. Photographed by Marcus Ohlsson, ‘Television / Night Vision’, is right at fashion’s sharp end, establishing Erjona’s ability to work a complex shoot where themes are densely-layered and the model’s performance has to respond in kind. Erjona proved a brilliant choice for this shoot, with her looks easily lending themselves to such a premise. It often takes years for a model to be able to perform at this level – Erjona coolly handled the pressure, proving she could even take on fashion’s toughest assignments.

Her CV of edgy editorial and catwalk bookings paid off in June when it was announced that she would form part of the Autumn / Winter Louis Vuitton campaign. Photographed by Steven Meisel, Erjona joined Elena Bartels, Hedvig Palm, Julia Nobis, Marie Piovesan and Ros Georgiou. Posing in a train carriage, the models manage the blend of retro and modern that sums up the look of Vuitton.

Moving on from his blockbuster Spring / Summer collection, Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs returns to his quirky roots this winter with clothes trimmed in burgundy, with models clutching leopard-print totes. They are classic colours and prints, but given the Jacobs treatment: everything is fringed, furred or otherwise embellished. The idea of excess is at the centre of the Autumn / Winter season. Taking on a more-is-more approach, designers are adopting decadent fabrics such as velvet, fur and brocade to suggest wealth and a feeling of plenty. While some commentators have given the Louis Vuitton collection (and campaign) mixed reviews, this ad represents the core values for the coming season. The collection may be divisive, but in terms of what it says about fashion for the rest of 2012, it is impossible to ignore. For Erjona, the booking was nothing less than a stunning coup.

The most recent booking on Erjona’s CV rivals the Vuitton ad in terms of covetability, with Ala appearing on the July cover of Italian Vogue. If this wasn't enough of a score, the July issue also features a first look at the international collections - and Erjona was invited to the party. 

How Italian Vogue presents the collections for the upcoming season sets the bar for the rest of the fashion industry: much imitated, but never bettered, Italian Vogue still remains the benchmark in terms of editorial: it is an important and highly prized booking for any model to get. Photographed again by Steven Meisel, Erjona takes to the cover with Julia Nobis, Lida Fox, Mackenzie Drazan and Vanessa Axente. All dressed in dark chiffon gowns from Gucci, this fold-out cover has a supernatural, gothic theme at its heart. Italian Vogue’s message is clear: embellishment and luxury may be the focus, but they are not the same animals they were five years ago. This time, the playground of luxury has a macabre feel: the models are ‘at play’: on swings, on bikes, but the effect is anything but playful. Here, luxury is not something easy-going and uncomplicated: the right to continue making this kind of fashion has been hard-won. Fashion has come through the eye of a financial storm, but emerges as a different industry. The ideas are back, but our notions of decadence and glamour have changed and matured. Gucci’s darkly seductive collection is glamour with a twist, and has made a major impact, both in terms of editorial and appearances on the red-carpet. But Gucci is not this season’s lone wolf: every designer this season has contributed to the new breed of glamour – still beautiful, just a little older and a little wiser. 

Gucci deftly taps into the zeitgeist this season, and for a model, there’s no better collection to hitch your wagon to. Erjona’s association with Gucci – and the cover of Italian Vogue – has cemented her reputation as one of fashion’s rising stars. A choice booking for both catwalk and editorial, Erjona’s star is not just on the ascent, superstardom is within touching distance. In the space of just two years, Erjona has gone from runner-up to fashion’s front runner.