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: www.models.com 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.