Friday, May 6, 2011

Le freak - c'est chic

I recently came across this fantastic editorial shot in the iconic Hotel Chelsea, New York by Steven Meisel. It features his muse, supermodel Kristen McMenamy.
Kristen McMenamy was one of the waif-like, uncoventional beauties who became huge back in the 90's. With her distinctive, non conformist good looks, Kristen, Stella Tennant and Karen Elson were the androgynous, angular, gazelle-like creatures at odds with their Amazonian counterparts Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford. Model Maven and Ford Models founder Eileen Ford told her that she would need major plastic surgery if she were ever going to succeed as a model. Thankfully, Kristen ignored this advice and was determined to prove her wrong. Her motivation, tenacity and striking looks propelled her into the realm of Haute Couture, Avant Garde model. "Since I couldn't conform and look like the girl next door, I decided to go the opposite way and be a weirdo. Jobs happened right away." People Magazine, April 19, 1993. Kristen appeared in the famous 'Grunge and Glory' shoot in 1992 with Naomi Campbell and Nadja Auermann, and the following year she shaved off her eye-brows to further entrench her other-worldly, standout look.

'Grunge and Glory' shot by Steven Meisel, American Vogue 1992

Kristen is not only beautiful but renowned for her quick wit and positive, empowering attitude. "I am defining a new feminine beauty, but only because everyone is beautiful," she says. "The fashion industry and the media dictate the way girls feel about themselves, even though 99.999 percent of the world doesn't look like Cindy Crawford, doesn't have the perfect shape."
In July 2009, Steven Miesel shot Kristen for a Vogue Italia issue entitled "The Legend," dedicated entirely to her. Now married to photographer Miles Aldridge, 46 year old mother of 3 Kristen with her long grey locks is more in demand than ever, rocking a bikini on the cover of Vogue, collaborating with Steven Meisel on several recent editorials and closing the Spring Summer 2011 Chanel show as the bride (an in-joke - Karl walked Kristen down the aisle at her wedding wedding to Miles 13 years ago). "The only reason I hope I'm the new definition of beauty is because I represent the individual. I represent being happy with who you are"
Die Neue Diva, by Max Vadukul for German Vogue 1995

Plein Fard, Vogue Paris December 1995 by Miles Aldridge

Kristen and Linda Evangelista by Arthur Elgort

Nadja Auermann and Kristen by Richard Avedon, Versace Campaign 1995

Helmut Newton Absolut Vodka ad, 1995

By Paolo Roversi for Vogue Italia, September 2010

Karen Elson, now also a successful musician married to Jack White (click here for a cool Jack & Karen shoot), was picked on and shunned as a pale, skinny school girl growing up in Bolton, England. “I wasn’t the model type,” Karen insists. “At school I got harassed so badly for being too tall, too thin, too pale—too everything that has gotten me where I am now, which is quite ironic.” It was on her 18th birthday that photographer Stephen Meisel talked her into shaving off her eyebrows. “It was a strong image. No one had ever seen it before, and it catapulted me into this whole new realm. It was a catalyst,” Next she cut off her long hair and with encouragement from fellow model Christina Hendricks, dyed it from mouse-brown to bright tangerine-red. This startling new look caught the fashion world's attention. Jean Paul Gaultier fell in love with her, dubbing her 'Le Freak', and her new new look landed her the cover of Vogue Italia in 1997, and the attention of the fashion world.

First cover by Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia 1997

"The British supermodel shocked the world with her unique look when she entered the fashion world at the age of 18 because she didn't look like her fellow peers and while she admits it was sometimes hard to take people's harsh opinions, she now knows it helped make her. She said: "It was all, 'You're the freak! You're the freak!' They would say, 'She's weird, she doesn't look normal. She's ugly.' Karen Elson is a professional shape-shifter. When Karl Lagerfeld cast her as the face of Chanel he called her 'a mixture of something from the Middle Ages and a mutant from another planet' - but that doesn't cover the half of it." Daily Telegraph.
Vogue Paris, 1997

Mert and Marcus for LOVE mgazine
Mert and Marcus, POP magazine 2005

By Solve Sundsbo
Photographed by David Sims & styled by Carine Roitfeld for Vogue Paris, 2007
Wigging out in American Vogue for David Sims, & styled by Grace Coddington 2010

Harper's Bazaar, October 2010
Karen clones in Red Alert in Vogue Italia by Steven Meisel, 2004

From the Evening Standard
Karen for Tom Ford by Steven Meisel

Stella Tennant is the rakish daughter Lady Emma Cavendish and grandmother the Duchess of Devonshire. With a pierced nasal septum (like a bull), Her unconventional look and attitude helped get her noticed. The nose ring was my act of rebellion. The hole hasn't closed so every now and again I put a safety pin through my nose to freak the children out. She sent some pics to an agent and was noticed by vogue writer Plum Sykes. The moment which rocketed her career was when she was photographed by Steven Meisel in 1992 in a feature, "Anglo-Saxon Attitude" for British Vogue, informally known as the 'London babes' shoot. At £80,000, it remains to this day the most expensive ever done at British Vogue. Stylist Isabella Blow was to source the models, with her brief was to find beautiful aristocratic English girls to inspire Meisel. The search for suitable was exhaustive, but Stella was made for it. The girls who made the final cut were Isabella's, Honor Fraser, designer Bella Freud, Isabella's new assistant Plum Sykes, and Stella Tennant.
"Stella's career was catapulted into orbit as a direct result of meeting Meisel, who immediately went on to use her on the cover of Italian Vogue. Soon after, Karl Lagerfeld announced Stella as the new face of Chanel, with a rumoured £1 million contract." Daily Mail, 2010.
Kristen, Linda and Stella, Vogue Italia 1993

I-D Mag covers 1994, 1995, 2001 and 2009
Vogue Italia 1995, 'Red & Red' by Walter Chin
Stella by David Sims for V Magazine, 2010

By Paolo Roversi for Vogue Italia, March 2010

These girls became muses for the inimitable Steven Meisel, the fashion photographer who shot to fame in the 90s. "I think pretty much all models have got hang-up about one thing or another. I have a huge hang-up about my looks. I was always the outcast growing up. When I first worked with him (Steven), he made me feel beautiful and comfortable. And there's this certain magic in that he makes you feel part of the team. He makes you feel as important as he is. - Kristen McMenamy, Vogue US, May 2009. Below, Stella and Karen feature in a tribute to Alexander McQueen - Alexander The Great by Steven Meisel, May 2011.
These gorgeous, strong and confident women are still fashion powerhouses despite initially being shunned for looking different. They have produced some of the most iconic, beautiful and stunning fashion photographs the world has ever seen. They are fashion chameleons who can effortlessly change their look from from geek to chic, gawky to gorgeous. Even now 20 years later, these veterans can still command the attention of the top fashion photographers and editors worldwide. They shook up the generic sterotype of a classic cookie-cutter beauty and paved the way for girls (and boys) who looked different - other-worldly, too thin, too big, too weird, too androgynous. Look at Andrej Pejic, Lady Gaga, Lea T, Devon Aoki, Gemma Ward, Isabella Blow, Sophie Dahl, Jenny Shimizu, Eleonoroa Bose, Jemma Kid, Crystal Renn, Marcel Castenmiller, An Oost. As a good friend of mine says - "Embrace the strange".


  1. That's amazing that Kristen McMenamy is still working it at 46 - she looks just the same as in her heyday too!

  2. I know, amazing how all those girls look so great and are so prolific right now!

  3. so many amazing photos in one post!

  4. Thanks Amourettee! Spent ages on this one, trying to capture the girls' amazing range of looks. And I Anglo Saxon Attitude Vogue editorial!

  5. Big fan of Stella Tennant. Love that she is not only still working but still headlining!

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