From Young Versace to French Vogue: the meteoric rise of Kaia Gerber

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At just 17 years old, Kaia Gerber is one of the youngest models ever to grace the cover of Vogue Paris – and yet her October 2018 shoot is far from her debut for the illustrious institution. She first appeared alongside supermodel mother Cindy Crawford (one of the 1990s’ revered ‘Big Five’) for the April 2016 edition, at the delicate age of just 14 years old; so how did such a young starlet secure her place as fashion’s latest it-girl?

The second child of nightlife mogul Rande Gerber and model royalty Cindy Crawford, Kaia Gerber quickly joined the ranks of Georgia May Jagger, Iris Law, and Lily Rose Depp as the new generation of models inherently destined for glory. The brunette beauty landed her first job at the age of ten years old, posing in the first ad campaign for Young Versace, the kids line dreamed up by Italian designer Donatella Versace. Whilst paparazzi photos captured Gerber as the fresh-faced, playful child that she was in everyday life, the cameras of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott transformed her into a self-assured, charming young muse.

Fast-forward a few years to 2015, and a 13 year-old Gerber gazes demurely out of a teen Vogue cover, framed by a flowing mane of soft brown hair. The likeness between her and her mother is unmistakable; Kaia’s enchanting stare and delicate features are unquestionably reminiscent of the endless magazine covers and ad campaigns that made Crawford a household name. You’d be forgiven for imagining Gerber as a conceited, narcissistic child; the accompanying interview, however, paints a picture of a warm, bubbly teenager, with interests ranging from creative writing to acting, literature to hip-hop dancing.

It was not until 2017, however, that Gerber truly started her journey towards catwalk domination, as she made her runway debut for Raf Simons’ inaugural Fall collection for Calvin Klein. The collection drew inspiration from classic office-wear pieces, and the refined, chic designs perfectly suited Gerber’s elegant frame. Having made her mark on the world stage, she was quickly snapped up by some of the most renowned global fashion houses, and booked labels from Chanel, to Prada, to Alexander Wang for Spring 2018 Fashion Week.

With three Vogue Paris covers under her belt, a campaign for Marc Jacobs’ quintessential Daisy fragrance, and an ever-expanding catalogue of runway triumphs, it’s hard to imagine how Gerber can continue to surpass her own accomplishments. Most recently, she has tried her hand on the other side of the design process, releasing a capsule collection with Chanel veteran Karl Lagerfeld, christened Karl Lagerfeld x Kaia. The line sees Gerber bring a fresh, sporty style to Lagerfeld’s more classic, Parisian aesthetic – following hot on the heels of Tommy Hilfiger’s innovative collaboration with fellow model Gigi Hadid.

A CV full of accolades of such magnitude at such a young age is certainly an impressive feat, however; Gerber’s success is also undeniably symptomatic of one of the main issues with today’s modeling industry; namely, the growing preference for ‘celebrity’ models whose names are as lucrative as their talents. Just a couple of months ago, reality star-turned-supermodel Kendall Jenner, who recently surpassed Gisele Bündchen as the world’s highest-paid model, was widely criticised for an interview where she appeared to mock the intense and difficult work load of being a full-time model, undertaken by her peers. Many saw the remark as indicative of Jenner’s celebrity privilege, being able to pick and choose the jobs that best boost her image, as opposed to having to truly work hard to be noticed within the industry.

In a similar way, Gerber undoubtedly benefits from the high profile of her parents – after all, how many 10-year olds can you name who made their modeling debut for one of the world’s most famous fashion houses? Yet with tabloid features portraying an overworked, tired-looking Kaia following her New York Fashion Week debut last September, she is certainly not one to rest on her laurels and sets herself apart from the Jenners of the industry by taking a serious, committed approach to her work. Whether or not you agree with the opportunities that Gerber has had access to, it is an aspect of the industry that is seemingly unavoidable in such a social media and fame-obsessed era. It is the responsibility of both agencies and labels to continue to work towards a more diverse and equitable casting process for models, and to take a severe approach to attitudes of complacency or egotism.

Meanwhile, if her mother’s enduring legacy is anything to go by, it seems the fashion world has barely scratched the surface of Gerber’s potential as a model – and having been branded ‘the new Kate Moss’ following her Calvin Klein Jeans ad, the young star looks set to command catwalks and campaigns alike for many years to come.

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