Sunday, 29 January 2012


Born in Poland on the 6th June 1977, Malgosia Bela is one of fashion’s longest-serving models.

With nearly 20 Vogue covers to date, and an international fragrance launch this Spring, Bela has bucked the trend of short-lived careers, remaining an active presence within the fashion industry, at an age where most models are long into their retirement.

Bela debuted in Paris Fashion Week in September 1998, aged 21. Appearing on the cover of Spanish Vogue a few months later, in early 1999 she was signed to represent Versace.

The label at the time was still easing into the transition of Donatella as Creative Director, after the murder of her brother Gianni in 1997. Donatella surprised many fashion insiders by taking to the business of fashion design far more quickly (and successfully) than anyone could have imagined.

The iconic Medusa head and bold, swirling prints made way for a more feminine turn-of-phrase, with goddess gowns pushing Versace as a red-carpet label. The S/S 1999 Versace campaign spread this concept further, pairing Malgosia with Carmen Kass, Frankie Rayder and Gisele Bundchen. All four models were photographed by Steven Meisel in uber-sexy, slinky gowns that were just begging for their moment on the red-carpet. This was Versace’s new era, and Donatella’s defining moment.

Looking at these adverts, it is clear just how far fashion can shift in the space of a few years. In 1999, fashion was all about full-on Millennium glamour – even boho got the luxury treatment at Gucci with wildly feathered jeans costing upwards of $3000. This was the age of fashion innocence, before world events changed our relationship with clothes for good. Versace’s polished groomed sophistication was at the apex of this movement: this was more than just looking expensive – it took real money to look like this. It is extraordinary to think that only 12 years later, the same label is collaborating with one of the biggest names on the high-street. During the course of Malgosia’s career, fashion really has come full circle.

In March 1999, Bela joined model Maggie Rizer on the cover of Italian Vogue. Following that with covers for French Vogue and Numero, Malgosia began to stack up some serious editorial experience. During the space of 12 months, she appeared on 9 magazine covers, plus spreads for French and Italian Vogue.

The following year, Malgosia took to the runway in earnest, with 46 shows in February 2000 and a mammoth 55 shows in September, including appearances for Balenciaga, Dior, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta.

Malgosia finally became that full model package in 2006 when she began to book major campaigns. She not only signed with Lanvin, Donna Karan, Louis Vuitton and Marc by Marc Jacobs, but she also began her long-standing association with Chloe. Appearing as the face of their A/W campaign, Bela was rapidly becoming a triple threat.

Adding Chanel Cosmetics to her campaign rota in 2009, Malgosia was still proving to be a strong candidate for catwalk in early 2010 when she walked in the S/S Givenchy Couture show at the age of 33. Bela became one of the faces of Givenchy’s autumn campaign, appearing alongside Mariacarla Boscono and Catherine McNeil. With more editorials for French, Japanese and Italian Vogue, Bela returned as the face of Chloe in 2011.

2011 proved to be a very good year for Malgosia, with more magazine covers including Turkish Vogue and campaigns for Nina Ricci and Iceberg. With back-to-back editorials for French Vogue in October and November, Bela ended the year on a high with an appearance in the 2012 Pirelli calendar. Shot by Mario Sorrenti, Bela models with the likes of Lara Stone, Joan Smalls, Natasha Poly and Saskia de Brauw. Pirelli has worked hard to turn-around the concept of the calendar nude, and the latest calendar presents some truly beautiful images.

Malgosia enters 2012 not with a whimper, but with a bang. With two huge campaigns already to her credit, this year promises to see Bela reach new heights. Modelling for Stella McCartney’s new fragrance, L.I.L.Y, Malgosia applies a lifetime of experience to a very important shoot. Named for Stella’s late mother, Linda McCartney, the perfume ad takes on an added poignancy and Bela models with great sensitivity. It is a brief that few younger models could manage successfully – it is in these moments, that Bela’s age becomes not a barrier, but an asset.

In her status as long-established, Malgosia certainly isn’t alone in the modelling industry. Like her peers, Mariacarla Boscono and Isabeli Fontana, she has continued to work well beyond the usual retirement age for an editorial model.

Those big names returning to the industry – Schiffer, Elson, McMenamy – have found themselves in-demand at the very highest levels of high-fashion. Claudia has worked regularly with Chanel and Kristen made a splash last year when she was featured on the cover of Italian Vogue.

This tide-change has been a slow process, but it neatly coincides with the Gucci generation growing up. The women who wore those $3000 feathered jeans are not so willing to let go of the fashion reins 10 years on. This generation are responsible for a large proportion of high-fashion purchases (both instore and online), and fashion houses ignore them at their peril.

This concentration of spending power has focused the fashion industry’s attention on the issue of age. There’s still plenty to entice younger consumers, but there is a discernible slice of the fashion market now aimed squarely at older fashion fans. It’s not just traditional labels (such as Donna Karan or Michael Kors), but newer design influences such as Reed Krakoff and Haider Ackerman that are providing real style options for the over-40’s.

This is nothing short of smart planning, because an ageing population (and one that is living for longer) places new demands on the fashion industry. As the Gucci generation ages, they will be the test case for how well fashion ages with them. But we don’t even have to wait that long, because in as little as 20 years, the typical ‘look’ of a pensioner will vary radically from our current view of sartorial old age, as the Baby Boomers (those born in the 1950’s), reach their Seventies and beyond.

As our expectations grow, this will undoubtedly affect the faces that are hired to represent labels. Just as many cosmetic brands have realised that selling anti-ageing skincare by using a model barely out of her teens is counter-productive, so fashion will adjust its long-term view in selling high-fashion.

It’s already being seen in new face, Kati Nescher. The German model, already a star of the latest Louis Vuitton campaign, is starting her career at the age of 27. Nescher, despite having a good five years on most models, is being touted as the face of 2012. Classically beautiful and already a dab hand at top-level campaigns, Nescher perhaps is the face of things to come.

With a career still on the rise, Malgosia’s body of work is a perfect example of how a modelling career can be extended, be made more sustainable, rather than a short, bright burst of creativity.

As fashion finds its feet in providing style to an older population, this could have dramatic (and positive) implications for all models. It is entirely possible that in the future we will be discussing models’ careers in terms of decades, rather than years. As the potential for spending on fashion increases, a 50-year-old could have more industry clout than her teenage daughter. The whole balance of consumer power could switch, seeing older customers (with more disposable cash) calling the shots.

Far from being prescriptive, this ageing generation, raised on high-fashion in its high-octane, aspirational phase, will want to continue exploring new trends beyond middle age and well into old age.

To sell to this generation, older models will have to become the norm, not rare cases like Bela and Fontana. It is possible to envisage models like Nescher working into their 40’s and 50’s as standard. It could transform the modelling industry for good, making a career as a model a long-term prospect rather than a job with an expiry date. Age, once seen as the bugbear of the fashion industry, could well become its saviour.


Sunday, 22 January 2012


Born in Holland on the 14th January 1992, Nimue Smit is one of fashion’s best-kept secrets. A familiar face in campaigns from Chloe and Prada to Marc Jacobs and Topshop, Nimue joins a new wave of models who are changing the way we look at fashion.

Nimue signed with Women Management in 2008, debuting in Fashion Week that September. She made waves when Miu Miu signed her to walk in their show as an exclusive, and her only other bookings were with Marni and Miu Miu’s mother label, Prada. It may have been a very select season, but the quality of Nimue’s first bookings were strong indicators of where her career would lead.

Smit’s small but perfectly formed debut got the attention of the fashion press when that October she was profiled by as a Top 10 Newcomer. Nimue went from small start to huge impact in early 2009 when it was announced that she would become one of the faces of the newest Prada campaign. A play on the theme of evolution, the images featured tons of snakeskin and those notoriously difficult 6” heels that challenged even the most practised runway model; it was one of Prada’s best collections. Nimue featured alongside Sigrid Agren, Viktoriya Sasonkina and Toni Garrn to make light work of Prada’s densely cerebral concept.

Also booking the Spring / Summer campaign for Topshop, Nimue had another big moment in January when she appeared in her first editorial for Italian Vogue. ‘Form Function’ takes Prada’s collection as a springboard to examine the concept of layering – in a way that only Italian Vogue can do. Nimue joined fellow newbies Karlie Kloss and Sessilee Lopez in tackling the magazine’s unique viewpoint. All three models excelled – and it is no surprise that both Lopez and Kloss have gone on to become major names within the industry.

Nimue’s editorial debut sent her career into overdrive, with three more editorial appearances in February. Modelling for Numero, Dazed & Confused and British Vogue, the snowball effect continued, with Nimue having her first major RTW season in February. Walking in 39 shows, the following month labelled Smit a rising star.

In March, Nimue took to the pages of Italian Vogue again with an editorial photographed by Paolo Roversi. ‘The Power of White’ was an all-couture shoot, featuring nothing but white designs. The hazy, dream-like images are at the very highest level of high-fashion, and Nimue’s performance in this editorial is nothing short of extraordinary.

Smit’s clear ability to model haute couture led to her first couture season in July, walking for Valentino. Starts in couture don’t get much better, and Nimue’s delicate features proved the perfect foil for Valentino’s ultra-feminine designs.

Landing two high-profile Autumn / Winter campaigns (Alberta Ferretti and See by Chloe), Nimue’s star was rising fast. Her appearance in Italian Vogue’s September issue saw her develop even further. ‘Dream of a Dress’, with Paolo Roversi as photographer, was a special, one-of-a-kind couture shoot featuring Toni Garrn, Heidi Mount, Jourdan Dunn and Rose Cordero.

Using newly-revamped labels such as Givenchy Couture, this shoot is the type that Italian Vogue excels at; putting couture at the centre of the fashion experience - not portrayed as something merely exclusive. Showing grand clothes in creative, exciting ways, Italian Vogue goes a long way in terms of taking the fear out of couture, encouraging us to appreciate it without feeling automatically excluded.

Ending 2009 with another successful RTW show, Nimue’s standing within the fashion industry took a giant step up in early 2010 when she became the face of Giorgio Armani. Wearing a blue satin dress and black, bobbed hair, Nimue ushers in the new era of Armani. The label, previously seen as the cornerstone of conservative elegance, has undergone a revitalisation thanks to Giorgio’s launch of couture line, Armani Prive. Initially a scheme that was to be Armani’s pet project, Prive has become a tour de force in the world of haute couture, with that element of unbridled creativity that so neatly defines couture actively creeping into the Armani RTW lines. The label’s once predictable nature has given way to a freshness and vitality that makes us feel like we are seeing Armani for the very first time. Nimue’s edgy, high-fashion face would have once seemed out of step with Armani, but now her hiring seems like the obvious choice.

Nimue’s hard-to-ignore booking with Armani got her noticed all over again, and in September 2010 she appeared in over 50 shows, appearing for designers such as Lanvin, Sonia Rykiel, Calvin Klein, Jason Wu and Rodarte.

2011 saw Nimue switch from Parisian greats to London icons when she was signed by British label Mulberry to appear in their latest campaign. Working with Lindsey Wixson, the ‘indoor garden’ campaign was one of Mulberry’s strongest. Achingly pretty with chrysanthemums in shades of pastel, Mulberry’s theme of using oversized props started here – and is still regularly used, up to and including this current season.

Returning to Paris in January for couture season, Nimue made her editorial debut for American Vogue the following month. ‘Gangs of New York’ was a mammoth preview of Spring / Summer trends with Nimue appearing in modern neutrals by Donna Karan.

With two years’ experience behind her, Nimue continued to be a strong runway hire with a 45-show season in February. Filling the body of the year with editorial work for Spanish Vogue, Numero and Harper’s Bazaar, in late 2011 Nimue decided to switch agencies and move to NEXT Models. Already housing top names such as Anja Rubik, Caroline Brasch Nielsen and Kendra Spears, Nimue’s move to NEXT was the precursor to another great runway season in September, with Smit walking in 50 shows. Appearing in some of the most important shows of the season – Marc Jacobs, Rodarte, Jonathan Saunders – Nimue is securing her position as one of fashion’s go-to girls when it comes to interpreting the avant-garde. Although fashion may be exploring its softer side this season, there is still plenty of room for left-field thinking. Mary Katrantzou continued to impress with a collection based on ancient porcelain patterns and Rodarte brought a new poignancy and depth to prairie chic.

Contemporary fashion isn’t stuck for ideas and to present these new concepts as clearly as possible, designers need models who can translate. Nimue, as a regular fixture on the world’s runways, has become one of the industry’s most relied-upon models when it comes to fashion on the front line.

Even during the recession, where commercial faces flourished, Nimue has actively progressed from newcomer to rising star. Armed with a face that sits her squarely in the edgy category, Nimue has modelled for some of the largest brands in the business, transforming the way we think about them. Just as her game-changing appearance for Armani showed the Italian label’s willingness to explore its darker side, her softly winsome role for Mulberry injected the campaign with warmth and verve that has since become its signature.

The idea of matching a model’s look to a particular aspect of fashion is slowly giving way to a more democratic selection process. In short, if you have the skills, you get the job. It is this that may have inspired Armani to hire Smit in the first place – and the knock-on effect has seen the label branch out in terms of who it hires for campaigns. Their latest signing, Milou van Groesen, is another surprising choice. She doesn’t automatically suggest Italian relaxed elegance, but the sharp tailoring and blunted lines of the campaign turn a classic fashion concept on its head, bringing Armani bang up to date.

As we move into 2012, Nimue’s progress will be fascinating to watch. A front-runner at the S/S shows in September, it’s clear that designers consider her not only relevant, but downright exciting. Nimue’s status as a model that can help transform the way we look at long-established brands will make her well-placed to take advantage of fashion’s rapidly shifting landscape. As Armani comes into sleek, edgy focus and Mulberry trades on its sense of fun, the face of fashion increasingly alters as new designers join the party. Nimue’s ability to help us see old labels in a new light, makes Smit not only contemporary, but a completely new type of model altogether.


Sunday, 15 January 2012


Born in Russia on the 25th of September 1990, Daria Strokous signed with IMG in 2007. She made her catwalk debut the same year, appearing in shows for Prada and Marni.

Joining names such as Natasha Poly and Natalia Vodianova, Daria became the latest in a group of Eastern-European models who were taking the fashion industry by storm. Dubbed by as one of the ‘IMG Power Generation’, this modelling cartel emerged at the same time as new pockets of wealth began to appear across the globe. Including Daria’s native Russia, while others talked of recession, the new leagues of super-rich were consuming high-fashion in seriously high numbers.

This new group of fashion consumers would not only prove important in years to come, but downright crucial in maintaining high-fashion’s survival. Daria, by association, saw her star begin to rise.

Appearing for Prada Sport in 2008, Strokous began what would become a long-standing relationship with the label Jil Sander when she closed their Autumn / Winter show in February.

In March 2008, she landed on the cover of Russian Harper’s Bazaar. Appearing with other Russian models, the cover celebrated what was already an established phenomenon. Its effect is felt even now, with groups of models still making it big: France, Holland, America and Australia have all seen their home-grown talent succeed on the international stage.

Daria began carving a multi-platform career, with her first couture show in July. Walking for Givenchy, it was a perfect first move into the world of haute couture, and within a year, she was able to add Elie Saab, Armani Prive and Valentino to her CV.

Leaving IMG in 2009 and signing with Women Management, Strokous moved into the next phase of her career with a huge ready-to-wear season that September. Closing the Spring / Summer Marni show, she also walked for Bottega Veneta, Louise Goldin, Nina Ricci and Versus. Appearing in shows for several new designers, Strokous made important – and lasting – connections.

Her runway success translated into campaign bookings, and in early 2010, Strokous was announced as one of the faces of D&G. Daria also appeared in her first editorial for Italian Vogue, appearing in the now-famous Steven Meisel shoot, ‘Runway’. Featuring every model of note, Strokous worked alongside established faces, echoing Meisel’s philosophy of giving new talents extraordinary opportunities to excel.

The Italian Vogue effect showed in Daria’s next RTW season, which added Gareth Pugh, Fendi, Jason Wu, Marc Jacobs and Prabal Gurung to Strokous’ list of credits. Mixing the classic labels with the avant-garde, Strokous had clearly staked her claim to be noticed.

May 2010 saw Daria take to the cover of Italian Vogue. Sharing the honours with Kirsi Pyrhonen, the cover, ‘Top Glam’, was a show-stopper. Choosing to frame the models off-centre and in profile, photographer Steven Meisel broke the cardinal rules of magazine covers, but the result was visually arresting. Quite literally a sideways glance at how high-fashion interprets glamour, this cover put Daria in a different league.

Sure enough, in Autumn 2010, Daria became one of the faces of the latest Prada campaign. If ever there was a good time to become a Prada girl, this was it. The headline-grabbing collection was designed for (and required) a whole new kind of woman. The retro look, with curve-enhancing dresses and cats-eye glasses, got everyone’s attention. For a label that does sensuality in a minor key, this look threw the fashion world a serious curveball. If you thought you knew Prada, this collection challenged you on every point.

Following the campaigns with a slew of editorial work, 2011 began on a high for Daria as she became the face for Jil Sander. The Spring / Summer campaign was quintessential Jil Sander: bright, modern and clean. Strokous proved perfect for this campaign, as this fashion requires a studied calm which Daria visibly masters. The skill in mastering this fashion genre is in recognising that even simple designs have large intent. High fashion trades on big ideas and in minimalist fashion, what’s left out is just as important as what remains. For the model that has to take this look and pique our interest, the crucial factor is in realising that on the page, lack of action does not mean lack of energy.

Opening the A/W show for Jil Sander in February, Daria had one of her busiest seasons to date with over 50 shows. Her status as one of fashion’s brightest was confirmed in August when she took the cover of Russian Vogue. Daria modelled the feathered Prada coat from the latest collection, showing Russia’s undiluted taste for glamour was as buoyant as ever, even in the face of economic freefall.

In September, Daria undertook her biggest season to date with a mammoth 62 shows. Opening and closing the show for Jil Sander and appearing for many of the world’s most recognisable labels, Daria had now evolved into the modern definition of a top model.

The following month, Strokous appeared in the magazine ‘Interview’. Paying homage to the high-voltage A/W collection from Dolce & Gabbana, the featured pieces paid reverence to glamour, even referring to D&G’s roots in the process. Interview’s editorial, however, asked you to look closer. Even the famous emerald shift dress, packed with sequins, has an element of restraint (the long sleeves, the high neck) that hints at a new perspective on glamour. Everything is designed with a softness and subtlety: the colour offsets the sequins (in previous seasons almost exclusively shown in black), and texture balances luxurious finishes – feathers replacing fur. Dolce & Gabbana wasn’t alone in their pursuit of a softer elegance: Prada’s densely-feathered coat worn by Daria on the cover of Russian Vogue shouldn’t have read as luxe fashion – but it did. Even at Marc Jacobs, the skirts covered in huge pailettes are about celebrating design, not wealth. When Dolce & Gabbana rewrite their rules on glamour, larger forces are at work.

Daria moved into 2012 on a strong footing, with her second cover of Italian Vogue. Working again with Steven Meisel, the cover used shopping channel QVC as its inspiration. Playing off the slow-burn craftsmanship of couture against the rapid, eager consumption of fashion trends, the cover (and accompanying editorial) is a supremely witty take on fashion’s nose-to-tail attitude. This type of bold, satirical work could be well be the future for 2012 with Meisel displaying an impressive talent for pastiche.

Daria’s career in 2012 continues to see her at the forefront of high-fashion, with not one but three major campaigns for Spring. Appearing for Louis Vuitton, Jil Sander and Alberta Ferretti, Strokous moves deftly from the curiously noir-ish feel of the Jil Sander campaign to the gorgeous, pastel-infused confection of Louis Vuitton. An integral part of S/S 12 and within touching distance of the Top 10 in list of Top 50 Women, Daria is finally having her moment. A workhorse on the runway, she has steadily built an armoury of credits that make her not only well-respected, but unique.

Daria’s strength is her very modern versatility. Her latest run of campaigns allude to just how completely Strokous is able to transform. The Jil Sander and Louis Vuitton adverts couldn’t be more different, but she stars in both. A blue-eyed blonde that doesn’t fit the mould is always interesting; Daria is neither athletic amazon nor downright glamourpuss – but she has worked for Prada Sport and Russian Vogue. Her work with Juicy Couture shows that she isn’t strictly editorial either. With a substantial pedigree in couture, Strokous manages to be a fashion all-rounder, but still firmly individual.

Daria’s fluidity makes her a true asset in today’s industry where no-one quite knows what to expect next. The transition from urban warrior to sugar and space at Louis Vuitton has been fast enough to make your head spin. As times have got tougher, fashion has got sweeter: an outcome no-one was expecting.

Daria in theory should have joined the likes of Natasha Poly and Natalia Vodianova: Slavic icons that ooze glamour and sophistication. In every group of models that has come to dominate the industry, there has always been one that doesn’t quite fit. Alice Burdeu’s Pre-Raphaelite beauty looks out of place when compared to her sunkissed Australian peers; Charlotte Free is the odd-one-out in the group of young, clean-cut American models taking over the catwalk.

It’s Daria’s outsider quality that has finally brought her to the attention of fashion’s inner circle. There were some – like Jil Sander – who always knew it, but finally Strokous has clicked.

Models like Daria are becoming more visible, because they are able to work without being defined. Geography is always important but it does not have the last word. Minus the neat packaging, fashion has to rely on what a model has to offer beyond their place of birth: Daria is a prime example of what happens when a model is taken not on her proximity to greatness, but on the merits she achieves herself. The fashion industry is finally coming round to the idea of talents that may not be media heavyweights, but can pack a punch on the runway.

As ostentation in fashion gives way to something more meaningful, the transition from fevered accumulation to considered appreciation goes right across the board: leaving fashion with models that are not examples of exotica, but genuine rare finds.