It’s all about the rising and the risen, from the three edgy femmes in the modelling industry and the talented Elizabeth Olsen to veteran Lily Aldridge and the stunning Fall-Winter ’15 offerings from fashion’s best. We’re going big and definitely not going home.
PRET - A - PORTER
What happens when you gather three of the modelling world’s rising faces? With their intense glare and dark, edgy allure, New York Model Management’s Sarah Brannon, Tess Hellfeuer and Chiharu Okunugi have cast a bewitching net over the fashion industry, leaving all of us wanting more.
here’s a reason behind Tess Hellfeuer’s optimism and her ability to “see a good thing in a bad thing.” When she was 16, Hellfeuer accidentally fell on a glass vase, cutting the tendons, nerves and arteries in one hand. “The two years that followed were not great,” says the German stunner. “I had lots of surgery and it wasn’t clear if the pain would go away or if I’d ever be able to use my hand again.” She eventually came out of the dark, with a renewed understanding of health and what it means to be grateful. “I wasn’t before, so I had to learn it.” Moving on from her injury, Hellfeuer then went on to walk for Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Marni and Fendi and front campaigns for Chloe, H&M and most recently, Shiseido’s Ever Bloom fragrance.
How did modelling begin for you?
It started very early. My mum told me that when I was three, I was crazy about dressing up. I was obsessed and didn’t want to leave the house without wearing at least two of my favourite dresses, pants, different shoes and a hat. I looked hilarious but my mum couldn’t say no to it because I would scream until I got my way! But modelling only became a reality when I applied to Place Models at 14 and subsequently flew to New York in 2013.
There are some who say that modelling is a tough life.
I find life tough in general! But I take it easy. It can be a really hard job, but I’ve always enjoyed and felt good doing it. It’s not tougher than yours!
What does it take to survive it then?
Passion and grace.
What do you have to say to models who’ve tried for many years without getting anywhere?
I believe in destiny. If it’s meant to be, then it will happen. In the industry, it’s all about something new, being extraordinary. If your type is wanted at that time, it’s great for you. If not, it’s still an experience and you should gracefully let go of the things that are not meant for you.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a model?
Huh, that’s a hard question, because today, tomorrow and even next week, I’ll be modelling. I can’t tell how my life would have developed if I weren’t a model. But right now, I feel like I would be travelling the world, taking in as much as possible.
You’ve met many big names in the industry. Who left the biggest impression?
Consuelo Castiglioni and her team at Marni. Whatever impression you get when talking to them is exactly what you see in the clothes. They are so successful but still so nice, passionate and down to earth.
What about your most memorable show?
Louis Vuitton’s Fall-Winter ’13 was crazy beautiful. The idea, the music, the collection. Everything matched 200 per cent!
If you could change one thing about the modelling industry, what would it be?
That no one will ever say to a tall, skinny and beautiful girl that she is too fat. This has happened to me before, but I could handle it. I did not change my body because I know I feel good, look good and work good. Some girls have gotten sick because they’ve been told to lose weight. I feel sorry for all of them; they don’t see reality anymore.
What’s one thing that surprised you about modelling?
It’s really small. You get the impression that it’s huge and it is, but there is an inner circle and you always see each other, all the time. It’s really nice.
You’re originally from Berlin, but you live in New York City now. Which are you more inclined to?
Obviously New York, I chose to live in the city. But my roots, my family and my oldest friends are in Berlin. I feel at home there and it is Berlin and its people that made me the person that I am in New York. New York is great and exciting, so much energy. There’s still so much I don’t know about it and there’s always a surprise around the corner.
What’s on the top of your bucket list?
On the top of the top is a trip on my own through India.
The Tokyo-native joins the ranks of a growing group of diverse faces who are giving traditional models a run for their money. Since being scouted at age 16 by her now-mother agency Satoru Japan, Okunugi has gone on to walk for a slew of the industry’s best, from Tom Ford to Peter Copping’s very first show for Oscar de la Renta. She’s also fronted campaigns for Celine, Dior, Stella McCartney and Chanel, which she describes as the “most memorable” of the lot.
You’re from Tokyo. Did you ever feel out of place there?
I didn’t when I was a student, but after I graduated from high school, I felt I wanted to go out of Japan and discover the world.
Are your parents conservative?
They always cheer me up and are extremely supportive, that really helps me when I’m away.
What would you have been if you weren’t a model?
I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it!
Do you see yourself having a long career in modelling?
Yes! I love what I do and I feel very blessed to have the career that I’ve had so far. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been so many, I have worked with some extremely talented teams and, of course, the travelling.
Is there someone you look up to in the industry?
Phoebe Philo of Celine is someone whom I’ve always admired.
You’re quite the beauty fanatic; tell us some of your secrets.
I always use organic stuff – facial cream, oil, massage oils, body creams. Sleep is very important!
You’ve been photographed by some of the industry’s best photographers. Who was the most memorable?
I couldn’t pick a favourite but there are definitely people who I’d love to work with – Harley Weir, Venetia Scott, Patrick Demarchelier – I honestly couldn’t choose!
Do you prefer being on the runway or in front of a camera?
The shows are so much fun as I’m with my friends and it’s a real rush walking down the catwalk, but I do love editorials as it’s a chance to be creative.
What’s the one thing people misunderstand about models?
That we don’t eat. I love food!
What’s on the top of your bucket list?
To see all the wonders of the world.
Dark-haired, a contrasting set of blue eyes and an explicable edge, Sarah Brannon is the undeniable “one to watch”. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Brannon’s official entry into high fashion began in the Spring-Summer ’15 season, and it’s only been up, up and up for the Southern model ever since. It was also then that she caught the eye of Alexander Wang, who eventually casted her in two shows and two stunning campaigns, officially crowning her a “Wang Girl”. Brannon was also most recently tapped to front Carven’s first campaign under Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud.
Would you say Alexander Wang gave you your big break?
I owe so much to Alexander Wang and Anita Bitton. I feel that had a massive part in launching my career and getting me out there. I feel I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I think hardwork got me to the campaign. I know Anita really believes in me, so she really pushed for the campaign. I’m so grateful to have had these wonderful people to really push me.
What’s it like being part of the “Wang Squad”?
It’s pretty cool. I mean, you’re known as a “Wang Girl”. You’re at castings and people are like, “Oh yeah, you’re a Wang Girl.” It makes me feel special, because there are so few of us.
Is there someone you look up to in the industry?
Brent Chua, a very close friend of mine who has opened up a lot of opportunities for me to learn about the industry. He allowed me to style my own cover that he shot. I helped assist in castings during men’s fashion week with him. He really pushes me to be my best and do as much as I can.
What about people you’re dying to work with?
Harley Weir or Lea Colombo. They have such an amazing eye for photography and I think their work is mind-blowing. It would be an honour to work with them.
You’re from Memphis. What’s the most Southern thing about you?
Hmm, maybe my accent, or that I have a whole zip-up camo bodysuit hanging in my closet for hunting, or drinking Natty Light.
New York City or Memphis, then?
That’s tough. Memphis doesn’t feel like home anymore. I love New York so much, I feel there will always be a place for me there, so I’d have to say New York over Memphis.
What would you change about the modelling industry?
I wish I could change the way marketing works; I hate that now you have to be famous to get work, whereas 15 years ago, it was vice versa. I wish modelling and the fashion industry were more creative, how clients and designers treat models. Some people in the industry act like royalty. I hate that I can’t sit down to have a conversation with a designer when I go for a job. I would change people’s perspectives and show them that everyone in this industry is important.
There are some models who climb the ladder very quickly while others try for years without getting very far.
I think the latter works differently for anyone. New girls come in one season, do every single show and then disappear, whereas some girls are not doing as much but are steadily working and making money. It’s different for everyone; you just have to be lucky and smart so you can use the latter properly to your advantage.
What are you doing when you’re away from the runways and cameras?
I’m trying to keep myself busy with more work. On the side, I assist with casting, styling and I take my own photos. At this moment, they’re just hobbies, and I am trying to learn more about this industry, to keep my mind busy and learn as much as I can now.
Where do you see yourself in five, ten years?
I see myself finishing up with modelling by 30, but staying in the fashion industry. I’ve been exploring a lot of different aspects of the industry recently – casting, styling, photography, assisting in shows and shooting new faces for practice. I’ve learned that I have to be wary of this right now because my main focus is modelling, I wouldn’t want clients to get confused. I need to establish my name as a model before I move on to bigger things.