PORTUGUESE, Dutch, Russian, English, South African, Latvian, Mandarin, Belarusian, Korean ... so many languages can be overheard backstage on the international runway circuit, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a travelling United Nations fashion summit. Once barely audible in this model polyglot, a specific English accent with an abrasive nasal twang is starting to reach critical mass.
It’s coming from Australians, nearly 30 of whom walked in the autumn 2011 show season in New York, London, Milan and Paris in February and March. More often than not, they walked in the same shows with at least one or two compatriots. Karl Lagerfeld cast five at Chanel in Paris; Giles Deacon cast eight at his show in London. Australian models suddenly find themselves very much in demand.
Abbey Lee Kershaw and Miranda Kerr are currently ranked world numbers five and six by New York-based website models.com, the unofficial industry authority. As distinct from Forbes’ annual Top Earning Models list, which placed Kerr as the world’s ninth highest-paid clotheshorse last year, earning $US4million, models.com calibrates its Top 50 Women rankings via covers, editorial visibility, campaigns and show bookings. Catherine McNeil is ranked No 24 and Sudanese-born Ajak Deng just debuted at No 39. And hot on their heels, season after season, is a cadre of newcomers with the “It” factor.
According to models.com co-founder and editorial director Wayne Sterling, so many top models are emerging from Australia and now also New Zealand – with 17-year-old Kiwi Emily Baker widely viewed as autumn 2011’s top newcomer, grabbing 60 of its biggest shows – that Australasia has emerged as a top three scouting market alongside Russia and The Netherlands. “It’s been building for two years now, somewhere around the emergence of Catherine McNeil and Abbey Lee, but I think this Fall/Winter 2011 season is where it became a trend with major traction,” says Sterling.
What’s so appealing about the Antipodeans? Being low-maintenance apparently tops the list of their positive attributes. “Everybody wants beautiful girls who are slim but [who are also] healthy, outgoing and easy to work with,” notes Sterling. “Australian girls are not bitches,” says Stephen Lee, an Australian agent at Next Model Management in New York. “It’s [this attitude of] ‘I’m not going to kill anyone.’ There’s not the sense of desperation that was almost formidable with the eastern Europeans.”
“The girls have a very natural beauty and ease about them, along with an incredible sense of confidence and wry humour. They are always a joy to be around and very professional,” echoes Francisco Costa, women’s creative director of Calvin Klein Collection, who has cast Kershaw, Gemma Ward, Julia Nobis, Codie Young, Baker and fellow Kiwi Jessica Clarke. Kershaw also appears with Deng and Bambi Northwood-Blyth in the new ck One campaign and Sydneysider Jack Vanderhart was booked as an exclusive for Calvin Klein’s recent men’s show in New York.
“Australia is becoming a big player, there’s going to be a lot more than just the flavour over the next year or two,” says New York casting director James Scully, whose clients include Oscar de la Renta, Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Tom Ford. “For a while we had Brazil, then Russia, then eastern Europe. It seems to be that a lot of the newer girls are coming from Australia and, to be quite honest, I’m happier with these girls because they’re older and they’re healthier than, or they appear to be healthier than, the girls who were coming from eastern Europe.
“A lot of girls from other countries don’t speak English. A lot of them start too young, whereas I feel like when you get girls from Australia, they’re a lot more finished. There is a different attitude. Every country has their kind of plusses and I find that Australian girls do definitely have a relaxed manner, which makes them easier to work with.”
From blue-eyed blondes a la Kershaw to Sudanese gazelles like Deng, multi-ethnic bombshells in the
form of Kerr, Megan Gale and Jessica Gomes to the androgynous Andrej Pejic (the Bosnian-born sensation who has proved himself equally adept at modelling menswear and womenswear), another factor by which it seems Australians distinguish themselves is that, unlike some other model nationalities, you can actually tell them apart.
“After doing this for a million years, I can tell the minute a girl walks through the door where she’s from,” says Scully. “A lot of the times the Australian girls pretty much throw me off. If they don’t open their mouths I don’t necessarily know where they come from”.