Lily Cole, Gemma Ward, Gisele Bundchen, Daria Werbowy and Karen Elson
"French Twists" by Annie Leibovitz
US Vogue, May 2004
It's been a long time since I've been excited about a new crop of interesting faces in the modelling world - the sort that captivate my attention in every editorial, breathe that 'something special' into every picture and leave an indelible impression on each designer's runway - enhancing the appeal, rather than detracting from the clothes, and never fading into the wallpaper as yet another nameless, adderall-popping clothes horse with an interchangable face and name that ends in 'ova'.
Outside the fashion bubble, no one but anorexics in search for their thinspiration du jour really cares about the mannequins hired to sell clothes and dreams to the masses through Vogue-tinted glasses (not unless they are in a Victoria's Secret flesh parade, anyway). But there's something I've always found fascinating about them, in the same manner I am intrigued by actors who lead elusive lives, away from the tabloid eye. The mystique lends them charm, and a certain transformative quality - the ability to be celluloid or editorial and runway chameleons, and sell a fantasy; fiction that suspends your disbelief because while Cate Blanchett is selling you Queen Elizabeth, and Sasha Pivovarova is selling you a flapper-era fairy tale illustrated in Giorgio Armani and Rodarte by Steven Meisel, you're not thinking about the last time you saw headlines about her sex tape with a washed up one-hit-wonder because all things given, outside the fashion world, she's still an anonymous model - these headlines and salacious stories don't exist. That anonymity lends so many good editorial models a transformative quality that sucks you into the pages of a spread like "Memoirs" by Peter Lindbergh for Vogue Italia. I loved Kate Moss in the 90s, when she was such a chameleon. But once her drug infamy and rock star boyfriends began to precede her actual work, that charm vanished.
Growing up in the 90s, it was Christy Turlington, Karen Mulder, Tasha Tilberg, Kristina Semenovskaya, Kirsty Hume, Ling Tan, Milla Jovovich, Linda Evangelista and early Kate Moss. I still have the magazine I shamelessly pilfered from my doctor's waiting room when I was 12 because my mother wouldn't let me spend $40 on an overpriced import periodical. Yet, I knew it had to be mine because within its glossy pages, Christy Turlington had just convinced me that the $25,000 Vera Wang she was swathed in was to be my wedding gown one day. The five-minute commercial breaks on television were only worth sitting through because of the Levi's 'Spaceman' ads with Kristina Semenovskaya as the ethereal black-haired alien - an exotic creature who propelled the product into a far more interesting sphere than it actually deserved. And Ling Tan - the Malaysian Chinese model who shot to fame in Paris and New York, hawked a strain of traditional Asian beauty that had fallen out of popularity within Asia itself, not unlike the Hye Parks and Daul Kims of today.
Then, I discovered the old guard - the ones before 'my time': Twiggy, Penelope Tree, Veruschka von Lehndorff and Iman. I had a special affection for Twiggy, who was short and 'Asian-sized'. The West seemed to believe she was shockingly thin. Here, her size and stature were the norm, and far easier for an adolescent Asian girl, such as myself, to relate to, in contrast to the curvacious 90s bombshells (Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and their ilk) plastered on the covers of magazines - an ideal attainable only through breast implants and stilts. Twiggy was petite. For once, I could say to myself, "That might be how that dress would sit on me." She sold me on the 1960s mod look - the cut of dresses, and the short hems that made the legs of tiny girls seem to stretch on forever; the Biba and Mary Quant aesthetic, and Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian frocks.
Veruschka von Lehndorff
I think the last era of models I was truly intrigued by was the alien/elfin doll period that catapulted Gemma Ward, Jessica Stam, Sasha Pivovarova, Vlada Roslyakova, Lily Donaldson, Coco Rocha, Caroline Trentini, Lily Cole and Heather Marks to the top... some more so than others, I suppose. I also liked quite a few of those one step before them - Natalia Vodianova, Karen Elson and Polina Kouklina, in particular. Some said that they all looked too similar, but it was a whimsical aesthetic that I, personally, found pleasing, so I wasn't complaining. These days, once in a blue moon, someone interesting to me will pop up, like Ranya Mordanova or Nimue Smit. The girls like Addison Gill, Monika 'Jac' Jagaciak and Ginta Lapina also make me thankful that classic beauty isn't completely dead in high fashion, and Edita Vilkeviciute is great proof that it's not just 15-year-old waifs playing dress-up in $100,000 Balenciaga leggings who can sell luxury to the middle-aged women who can actually afford it. Aside from a few exceptions though, it's a shame that a lot of the new faces just blend into a sea of blank, charmless clothes hangers you wouldn't look twice at on the streets. I like the escapism, imagination and flights of fancy that separate the world of couture and high fashion from a commercial chain store catalogue, but at times, it's hard to be pulled into the world when the primary players in a story have less charisma than a scone. It almost seems that the failing economy has induced a depression-era gloom that has caused the industry to deprive itself of otherworldliness and transcendental beauty, and become overrun with dour-faced, unexceptional clones.
Some of my favourites from recent(ish) times:
Jac (Monika Jagaciak)
Imogen Morris Clarke
I used to confuse Imogen with Angelika Kocheva and Daria Strokous all the time, but the above picture sold me.
Freja Beha Erichsen
I'm a bit on the fence about Anna S. She has incredibly unique bone structure and works a lot of pictures, but I'm not a fan of the extreme orange tan she sports half the time.
Abbey Lee Kershaw