‘The most beautiful girl in the world’: Who are they kidding?
Thylane Blondeau is all grown up (well, nearly; she’ll be 18 next year) ... and she has 2.4m Instagram acolytes
Almost eight years ago, Vogue Paris ran a fashion spread featuring, among others, a 10-year-old girl: heavily made-up and dressed in gold stilettos, Thylane Blondeau gazed into the camera, looking for all the world like a model twice her age.
The shoot sparked a controversy far beyond French shores – in the UK and US, a debate about the sexualisation of children ensued and, amid the furore, Blondeau’s mother closed down her daughter’s fan page on Facebook.
Today, Blondeau is all grown up (well, nearly; she’ll be 18 next year) and the idea of browsing through pictures of children has become somewhat normalised. Visit Instagram and you’ll find photo after photo dissecting the fashion choices of Harper Beckham (aged seven) and Blue Ivy Carter (aged six), while 13-month-old Alexis Olympia Ohanian has already amassed almost 500,000 fans, along with her own Vogue cover shoot with her mother, Serena Williams.
Inappropriate? Disturbing? Creepy? All these words were used to describe the Vogue Paris shoot; yet Blondeau’s story, seen through the prism of today’s digital culture, feels less outré than it might have previously.
It began when she was only three years old and, walking down the Champs-Elysées with her mother, was approached by a scout for Jean-Paul Gaultier to model for him the next day.
“My mum said, ‘No, she’s not with an agency, she can’t do this’,” says Blondeau. “Jean Paul Gaultier said, ‘She has to be there tomorrow.’ So Mum was like, ‘Why not?’”
Through this improbable chance encounter, the course of Blondeau’s life was changed. The daughter of Véronika Loubry, a French television presenter and fashion designer, and Patrick Blondeau, a retired French footballer, she began, at this tender age, a successful and occasionally controversial modelling career, becoming an ambassador for L’Oréal Paris on her 16th birthday.
She doesn’t remember walking for Gaultier, aged three, but does she recall what happened when she was six? After appearing in Vogue Enfants, she was dubbed “the most beautiful girl in the world”, an epithet used to describe her in media outlets around the world. “When you’re small, you don’t really pay attention,” she shrugs. “People are like, ‘you know, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world,’ and you’re like, ‘I’m not, I’m just playing with my iPad.’ Even today, people are like, ‘you are the most beautiful girl,’ and I’m like, ‘no, I’m still not, I’m just a human being, a teenager.’”
Sitting in a curtained-off area of the bar at a five-star hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, she appears nonchalant, sharing the demeanor and linguistic tics of many other 17-year-olds. Where she differs, however, is in her dizzying career trajectory and extraordinary social media following. If influence on Instagram is the ultimate modern marker of success, then Blondeau, with her 2.4m followers, is riding high.
It was on the picture-sharing site (where else?) that, at the start of last month, she announced a new venture to her fans. “After working more than one year for you guys, HEAVEN MAY CLOTHING (my brand) is coming out really soon!!” she wrote excitedly in a post that was “liked” almost 73,000 times by her ready-made market.
The Heaven May publicity man sitting in on our interview is keenly aware of their buying power: “The collection is only sold online, just to have this direct contact with Thylane’s fans,” he says.
It’s like a pop star bringing out a perfume, but updated for a Generation Z audience that thrives on the sense of unmediated connection with its icons that only social media can give.
The collection itself is typical of Blondeau’s casual look. Today she is dressed head to toe in Heaven May items: black biker boots, combat trousers and black hoodie. “If I feel it, I feel it,” she says, elliptically, of her style.
The name of her new fashion label is taken from two of her middle names, while the pieces are designed to meet the requirements of her own wardrobe. “I’m travelling a lot so I just want clothes you can wear all the time; comfortable clothes. I’m a teenager, so it’s all about hoodies, pants and jogging [bottoms].”
Her generation tends to favour casual clothes over smart. “Yeah exactly,” she agrees. “You can go to a club with sweatpants and just a crop top.” Not that she has much time for clubbing herself, she admits.
She speaks fluent English, with a mid-Atlantic drawl, which she attributes to her many US friends. Although currently based near St Tropez, she also has a home in Kensington High Street (“Brooklyn Beckham lives next to my house; he’s a good friend of mine”) and would eventually like to move to London.
So, what about that Vogue Paris shoot itself? I have barely raised the subject before I am politely, swiftly shut down. Okay, then what about the decision earlier this year by Vogue publisher Conde Nast to stop working with models under 18? No, sadly she can’t talk about that either. But steer her on to the size zero debate and she’s happy to speak with defiance. “I don’t want to be skinny,” Blondeau says firmly. “Even if people are like, ‘she’s not that skinny, she can’t do this show,’ I’m just like, ‘Okay, fine, I’m not going to do that show.’ I’m not going to be skinny and not eat for them. If I want to eat, I can eat. I eat burgers. I’m not going to change this ever.”
If it sounds like an admirably offbeat message for a model, it’s one that’s very much in keeping with the body positivity movement thriving online, where Blondeau has built up her following. Even offline the tide is changing: France’s top fashion houses pledged last year to stop using not just underage but also underweight models in catwalk shows and advertising campaigns. A step forward, yes, but taken, ironically, against the backdrop of proliferating images of children on social media.
Blondeau’s own take is optimistic: “I think it’s personality first now,” she says. “Beauty inside and outside.”
Being a “digital beauty native” (in L’Oréal’s words), she reads all the comments she receives beneath her pictures and “I try to respond to everyone, but it’s kind of difficult.”
Meanwhile, she is continuing her education via home-schooling, completing homework “in the Uber or [on] planes or at the airport.”
It’s a strange life, perhaps, but one she’s apparently grown used to. “It’s really not difficult [growing up in the spotlight],” she insists. “If you’re surrounded by good people, your life is going to be great.”
With so much experience already racked up before she has even reached adulthood, where does this child star see herself in 10 years’ time? Her reply is heartachingly simple: “I just want to be happy and do what I like,” she says. “If I still want to be a model, I [will] model, and [do] acting. But I want to be happy first.”
– © The Daily Telegraph