Are Model Collaborations the New Designer Collaborations?

Models are no longer simply the faces of capsule collections for many brands, they're the ones designing them.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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Models are no longer simply the faces of capsule collections for many brands, they're the ones designing them.
L to R: Frame Denim, RVCA, Planet Blue, THVM

L to R: Frame Denim, RVCA, Planet Blue, THVM

Whether or not you’re a model fan girl like a few of us are here at Fashionista, you’re probably more familiar with the industry’s most ubiquitous girls than you think. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon.

When I first started working in fashion, I made a conscious effort to learn the names of the models I would see over and over again in editorials and ad campaigns, because at the time, they were often seen but rarely heard. This was before the wonderful world of social media had exploded, which many of today’s top models use to showcase their personalities and, perhaps more importantly, build their own booming brands.

As part of that brand-building, models are now putting their own stamp on the very products that they are hired to sell: clothing and accessories. Over the last couple of years, both popular and indie labels at both ends of the market have looked to the business-savvy stunners to collaborate on capsule collections, and it’s happening with such frequency that there might be more model collaborations on the market currently than those with designers or artists.

The trend started off slowly—back in 2007, Kate Moss collaborated with high-street brand Topshop on a small collection, and she just released her latest range for the London-based retailer in April. In 2012,  Agyness Deyn released a highly-publicized shoe collaboration with Doc Marten’s that was a fitting representation of her personal style. 

Photo: Coco Rocha for Baublebar

Photo: Coco Rocha for Baublebar

Since then, the number of models-turned-designers have multiplied. Warby Parker just announced that it will release a line of frames designed by Karlie Kloss—who also released a range of jeans for tall women with Frame Denim last year. California-based surf and skate brand RVCA has a history of teaming up with models: In 2009 and 2010, it partnered with Erin Wasson on a number of collections that were met with mixed reviews, and this year it turned to Texas native Ashley Smith for a collegiate-inspired range of ready-to-wear.

The self-branding experts who are the Victoria's Secret Angels are among the most popular when it comes to co-designing collections. Lily Aldridge has designed a range for Velvet by Graham and Spencer for two seasons. Alessandra Ambrosio, Coachella lover, translated her love for bohemian, music festival style into a collection of her own in partnership with Planet Blue. Most recently, Behati Prinsloo—whose off-duty style is widely documented—released a collaboration of denim, tanks and tees with Los Angeles-based brand THVM.

Models spend a huge chunk of their workdays around clothing, so it seems natural that they'd have an eye for how things fit and drape on the body. "Behati has great ideas and was very hands-on in the creative process, so her personality really comes through," THVM designers Brian Kim and Olga Nazarova said in a release about the collaboration with the model. "With this collection, you get to take a little bit of Behati home with you."

Even the luxury sector has gotten involved, and Cara Delevingne has worked with Mulberry on a collection of handbags. She's teased on social media (to her 5 million Instagram followers) that she has even more to come with the British heritage brand.

It makes sense that labels are racing to work with these beautiful ladies: Not only do they guarantee a fabulous lookbook, but many of them also have online followings (aside from Twitter, Instagram, they often have fan sites and Tumblrs dedicated to documenting their every move) that reach millions. Not bad for free advertising. Thanks to the world of social media, fans now feel like they know the girls on a more personal level, and having a piece designed by their favorite model helps them to further connect.

However, while the model-off-duty style that these ladies have made famous is, for the most part, casual, it's still very aspirational: Their style works because, well, they're models. Everything looks great on them. So, while the pieces they design will undoubtedly work for them, that's not necessarily the case for the average customer.

The fact that collaborations like Aldridge's, Deyn's and Wasson's stretched across many seasons—and a quick glance at Net-a-Porter's stock of Kloss's "Forever Karlie" denim collection shows that most sizes are sold out—suggests that, much like most things these ladies attach their faces to, the pieces are selling. Are you buying?