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 www.amazon.com – 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.