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The New Aesthetic

Fashion is in the throes of a full-scale casting revolution. Meet the models shaking up beauty ideals and bringing a new spirit of inclusivity to the runways

Taken from the Autumn 2015 issue of Dazed:

Perhaps it goes without saying: fashion is the mirror through which society’s tastes are reflected. If you want to understand the mood of the moment, you need look no further than the runways. Ideas about art, politics, sex and creativity are laid bare on the catwalk, but no subject is explored as rigorously as beauty. More than being emblematic of fashion trends, models represent shifts in what we find appealing as a culture. The right face at the right time can be transgressive, challenging long-held concepts and awakening us to the potential of something new and bold.

The current model brood is distinctive and appealingly free from the constraints of perfection. Look beyond reality television- spawned superstars such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, and the newest faces to pique fashion’s interest aren’t selfie-ready glamour girls. They’re more likely to be described as unusual, odd or eccentric. Some have been bullied for their looks, while others are surprised to find themselves embraced by fashion. Among those pictured here, you’ll find precocious vloggers, budding musicians and otherwise normal teens who, over the past year, have risen to become key figures on runways and in editorials.

As a Pennsylvania high school tennis star, Molly Bair used her long limbs and extreme height to further her athletic goals, but on the runway for Dior and Chanel, her extreme proportions and elfin features provide a welcome touch of surrealism. Despite the 17-year-old’s attention-grabbing looks, modelling was the furthest thing from Bair’s mind growing up: “I honestly didn’t know any models when I was younger. I loved playing tennis, people-watching and going out with my homies.”

Spotted at a flea market and signed shortly after, Bair has been captivating the industry since her debut on Proenza Schouler’s SS15 runway, working with fashion heavyweights like Steven Meisel and Karl Lagerfeld. Though her polarising allure has been the subject of both online debate and real-world awe, Bair credits her success in part to her generation’s ability to accept difference: “We are the generation who are beginning to understand how to embrace our own and others’ uniqueness in looks and personalities.”

Lineisy Montero can’t help but giggle when asked to comment on her generation’s aesthetics. “Why do they always ask me this?” she exclaims, before giving a wide grin. Montero has fielded the question more than most due to the impact her own look has had on casting. As one of the few black models to appear on Prada’s runway, Montero’s short afro – a change from the straight styles frequently adopted by her predecessors – taps into the zeitgeist. With the natural hair revolution a hot topic online, Montero’s style caused a sensation. The ensuing buzz may have propelled Montero into the spotlight, but it’s her down-to-earth charm that keeps her there. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Montero never considered a career in fashion, but getting scouted opened her up to new experiences. “I was sad, nervous and excited as I didn’t know what to expect and had never travelled outside of the DR before,” she says. Since then, designers from Alexander Wang to Jonathan Anderson have responded to her innate elegance, and she’s landed a spot in the latest Prada campaign. Given her dainty features, Montero could be considered a classic beauty, but there’s a gamine charm that makes her stand out. For her part, Montero’s views on beauty all relate back to personality. “For me, beauty is being you. It’s in the way you carry yourself and how you treat others. Being loving, being thoughtful of others – that’s what makes someone beautiful.”

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New Aesthetic Roe Ethridge
Varya Shutova wears all clothes Miu Miu, mouthpiece Sascha Nordmeyer, earrings her ownPhotography Roe Ethridge, styling Robbie Spencer

This movement is emblematic of a wider shift, something 16-year-old Floridian teen Willow Hand is quick to recognise. “Social media has changed the game. People want to see who we are, not just how we look.” Indeed, the conversation about today’s key models is dominated by talk of social media. The ability to track and monetise fanbases has provided models with a renewed cachet. The public’s interest in them had waned in the post-supermodel generation – with the exception of the collective fervour over Victoria’s Secret’s vixen army. But the advent of tools like Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr, combined with the rise of online fashion communities, has sparked renewed interest in the women in front of the camera and placed new demands upon them. The internet’s endless appetite for information has transformed models into content creators who share their every move with a growing audience. It’s also given them the freedom to shape how they’re branded, centring their social channels around their interests and ideals rather than adhering to the vision provided by a photographer or publicist.

Although this shift has launched careers and changed the business as a whole, true success can’t be quantified by numbers. What matters more than ever is visual interest – standing out from the crowd and providing something that feels modern and new, be it an interesting online presence via offbeat Snapchats and Instagrams, or a compelling runway moment complete with strange poses or a peculiar gait. Opinions on beauty are ever-changing, but the appeal of a unique face never goes out of style. “It’s quite an honour,” says Pennsylvanian model Cierra Skye, “to be a part of such a wondrous time where different is seen as beautiful.” For those at the forefront of the new look, the experience is gratifying simply due to the acceptance that comes with it.

In cover image, Molly Bair wears shearling coat Louis Vuitton, magnifying glasses Kristina Cranfeld. Hair Esther Langham at Art + Commerce, models Anna Cleveland, Lineisy Montero and Yuan Bo Chao at Next, Amilna Estevão and Molly Bair at The Society, Kadri Vahersalu at Storm, Cierra Skye at One, Varya Shutova at Premier, Willow Hand at The Lions NYC, Rhiannon McConnell at Wilhelmina, set design Matt Jackson at Brydges Mackinney, light design Chris Bisagni, photographic assistant Will Englehardt, fashion assistants Patricia Machado, Louise Ford, hair assistant David Colvin, make-up assistants Kanako Takase, Mondo, Megumi Onishi, digital operator Travis Drennen, light design assistants Max Bernetz, John Trotter, casting Noah Shelley

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