Can the Model of the Year change the face of fashion?
Here’s hoping that this year’s accolade, like last year’s, goes to someone wanting to set the agenda
Adut Akech, the model who was raised in a Kenyan refugee camp, couldn’t have had a more different upbringing to her friend and colleague Kaia Gerber, the Malibu-born daughter of supermodel Cindy Crawford and businessman Rande Gerber. Yet there they were, both walking in the same Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week, and here they are, both nominated for the model of the year accolade at the Fashion Awards.
Akech and Gerber are joined by Bella Hadid, Winnie Harlow and Adwoa Aboah in this year’s list of finalists, with the winner being announced on December 10, as the British Fashion Council and Swarovski welcome some 4,000 guests to London’s Royal Albert Hall for the Oscars of the British fashion calendar.
Dozens of awards will be presented on the night, to household brands such as Prada or Burberry, as well as industry newcomers (will Matty Bovan or Richard Quinn win the emerging talent gong?) But the prize that typically attracts the most attention on social media is the one that honours the models.
Each year the award is a marker of who’s actually doing quite well in the world of modelling. It is to celebrate “the global impact of a model, male or female, who over the last 12 months has dominated the industry,” the British Fashion Council says. A man, notably, has never won.
It’s also considered a yardstick of the times. After the first Model of the Year award went to Kate Moss in 2001, the accolade has become a supermodel-maker and a crowning, of sorts, for whoever the It girl of the year may have been.
Typically the model with rock star parents and an inherited reputation might get a head start – it can certainly seem like someone is everywhere when the tabloids pick up on a “daughter of” who has come of age, even if it was actually someone more low key that landed the lion’s share of the modelling contracts.
Georgia May Jagger (daughter of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall) won after her breakthrough year in 2009; Cara Delevingne (daughter of property developer Charles Delevingne and socialite Pandora Delevingne) truly was on every billboard in both 2012 and 2014 when she won. Instagram power and online personality had become important in the equation, too. More followers began to mean more jobs, and more market share meant more accolades and recognition. Simple.
But Adwoa’s win last year changed the narrative, slightly. Up against both Hadid sisters, Bella and Gigi (the daughters of US property developer Mohamed Hadid and reality television star Yolanda Foster who today have social media followings of 20 and 43.8 million people respectively), as well as Winnie Harlow who had found fame on television series America’s Next Top Model, and Kaia Gerber who had just secured top bookings in her debut season, Adwoa’s story was markedly different.
The daughter of photography agent Camilla Lowther and location scout Charles Aboah, she had some established art-world connections, but she stood out on her own thanks to the online community she created for young women called Gurls Talk, and her campaign work around mental health issues. Adwoa had secured her first British Vogue cover for December 2017, editor Edward Enninful’s debut, so when the Fashion Awards happened that month, she won, despite having a tiny fan base when compared to her competitors.
Adut, like Adwoa, is someone with an interesting story to tell. She was born in a refugee camp in South Sudan, raised in Kenya’s Kakuma camp, and moved with her family, including five siblings, to Adelaide, Australia, when she was seven years old. She now lives in New York, has walked in couture shows for Valentino and Dior in Paris, and has modeled for American Vogue. Her goal is to earn a business degree and open schools in her native South Sudan, she says.
Modelling is a world that can pluck girls from obscurity or find them at a fancy party because the agent knew their mum. Here’s hoping that this year’s accolade, like last year’s, goes to someone wanting to set the agenda and change the industry in the year ahead, rather than a look back at who was the dominant party girl of the year that was.
– © The Daily Telegraph