Birds of a feather flock together, as they say, and it’s true for close friends Bella and Kendall Jenner (one of the world’s highest-paid models). ‘Gigi and I started getting close when we began modelling, but Bella and I were actually really good friends since high school, and hung out every day before either of us started working,’ Kendall said in a podcast for photographer Mario Testino’s website. ‘It’s just funny because a lot of people don’t know that Bella and I have been friends for, like, five or six years.’
And speaking of the other Hadid sister, it just goes to show that good looks are as much about good genes as good jeans, as we see a plethora of sibling models who are turning magazine covers into their own family photo albums. From Bella and Gigi and oh-so-cool intergenerational duo Kate and Lottie Moss, to Victoria’s Secret regulars Lily and Ruby Aldridge, and fashion editorial trendsetters Cara and Poppy Delevingne, siblings are taking over. Sure, their now-recognisable last names, glamorous families and ballooning social media accounts have helped them glide up the career ladder, but they also illustrate how a supportive sibling in a sometimes isolating industry can be the secret to success. And as for Adwoa and Kesewa Aboah, well, they’re far too busy modelling for the biggest names in fashion while challenging the norms that the industry has dictated for so many years to let a little thing like jealousy get in their way.
A decade ago, Vanity Fair rightly asked why all the top models were coming out of Eastern Europe. Ten years later, the picture couldn’t be more different. As our defi nition of beauty shifts to fit a global world, models with mixed heritage and exotic backgrounds are taking the international catwalks by storm. Take Brazilian Aira Ferreira, for example, who has captivated those ultra-American designers such as Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Tory Burch (where she was the show closer) with her slanted eyes, razor-blade cheekbones and cappuccino-coloured skin.
But nowhere is this newfound acceptance of diversity more apparent than in Halima Aden, who manages to break the mould each time she steps on the catwalk. First capturing our attention at the AW17 Yeezy presentation in a camel coat, high heels and a jet-black hijab, the world couldn’t look away from this imposingly glamorous Muslim model.
Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, Halima moved to the US at the age of six and in high school decided to apply for the Miss Minnesota competition. But there was one problem: the swimming-costume round. Halima’s interpretation of Islam is one that places emphasis on dressing modestly, and to her surprise, not only the organisers of Miss Minnesota, but later also the entire international fashion industry has accepted and celebrated those beliefs. And while Asian models such as Liu Wen were embraced by the international industry, it took a while for mixed-race women to follow, and it’s only recently that African faces have graced the number of magazine covers and ramps they deserve.
This year, for the first time in history, more than 25% of the models used in the SS17 season in Europe and the US were women of colour. Imade Ogbewi walked for Alessandro Michele in Gucci Cruise 2018 and was given one of the most extravagant dresses of the collection. Another Nigerian model making waves is Elizabeth Ayodele. Already hired by Fendi, Miu Miu and Yves Saint Laurent, she was recently shot by Mario Testino for Vogue. But after winning Africa’s Next Top Model, it is Ugandan model Aamito Lagum who has been thrust most fully into the spotlight.
Winnie Harlow is another model known for changing perceptions of what modern beauty is. She is the first successful model with vitiligo – a condition that causes some parts of the skin to lose pigment. ‘People will say things like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so brave for going out and being yourself” and I’m like, “No, I’m not brave, I’m confident,”’ she said in a documentary for the BBC. And then there’s plus-size model Ashley Graham, who is winning at Instagram. While she may not have the highest number of followers, hers is one of the most interactive accounts in the fashion industry, garnering more positive responses under her shots than almost any other model.
This is a testimony to the extent to which Ashley’s fans see her as a role model, and specifically someone who can challenge the long-held idea that only one body shape can be beautiful. Ashley has posted hundreds of Instagram shots of her size-18 body in all its natural glory under the hashtag #beautybeyondsize. ‘I would never retouch cellulite, because the point is to make women feel better, not worse, about themselves,’ she says.
Following in her wake is Candice Huffine, who is categorised as a plus-size model, despite having a similar body shape to most women in the UK and SA. And after a slow start, constantly battling to lose weight to fi t in with prevailing ideals of beauty, she accepted her larger body type – and within months was shooting with Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia.
Candice Swanepoel paved the way for the South African wave of models with the face of an angel and a body that launched a million teenage fantasies. Last year she came eighth in the Forbes top-earning models list, due in part to her mega-contract with Victoria’s Secret. Following in her footsteps is Ansolet Rossouw. This time last year, Ansolet was captain of a netball team at her school in Bloemfontein. Fast forward 12 months and the 16-year-old is one of the most-talked-about models, walking for everyone from Dolce&Gabbana to Valentino. Discovered on Instagram by a scout who spotted her unique beauty amid a sea of uniformed schoolgirls, she is even managing to keep up her netball practice in Via Montenapoleone
Another local to watch is Nina Milner, who has already been profiled by US Vogue thanks to her work with New York design guru Alexander Wang, who has asked Nina to walk in all four of his latest shows. An artist, actress and model, she uses her fashion success to travel around the world and have extraordinary experiences.
Also collecting designers like they’re pieces of candy is Alexandra Binaris, who signed up with Elite Paris on her very first day in the industry, and who has walked for everyone from Louis Vuitton and Chanel to Jean Paul Gaultier. Like Nina, she is a former actress who has used her experience of inhabiting another character to allow her to cope with the glare of the catwalk and the stresses of rising to the top of the fashion industry.
Summer Thompson was out and about in the Mother City, campaigning for Habitat for Humanity, when she was spotted by renowned photographer Gavin O’Neill, giving her her big break before signing with Wilhelmina International in NYC where she now lives.
It’s no surprise that casting agents in Milan, Paris and London schedule a trip to South Africa at least once a year – the international fashion industry is starting to suspect we’ve put something in the water. They may be right.