The high fashion industry has a new "it girl," and she comes from an unlikely place.
18-year-old Kendall Jenner may have gotten her start as a reality TV celebrity on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but she's quickly establishing herself as a model to be reckoned with. Since appearing in Marc Jacobs' Fall 2014 show at New York City Fashion Week (in which she flashed spectators with a full-frontal view of her breasts), Jenner has been walking some of the most renowned runways in the industry. Over the past few days, she's sported Givenchy and Chanel for editors and buyers, and she's even been invited to walk in the most prestigious shows at Paris Fashion Week.
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In many ways, Jenner is a typical model. She is 5' 10," slim and stunning. Whereas her half-sister, Kim, embodies sex and seduction, Jenner is the epitome of glamour and youth. But unlike most haute couture models who are often viewed more as mannequins than people, Jenner has been allowed a genuine personality because of her presence outside of the industry. She's built a down-to-earth persona that resonates with fans of Keeping Up with the Kardashians who felt like they were part of her life when she failed her driver's test and when her mom revealed that Jenner was on birth control for her cramps.
Her life may be eccentric and luxurious, but it's also real and relatable in a way the fashion industry generally is not. Her Instagram profile picture, for example, is not one of her highbrow and low-coverage photos for W Magazine. Instead, it's a selfie in which she wears normal clothing and makeup. She is quick to post images of her riding on Vespas, or simply messing with friends backstage. Jenner personifies the desires and thoughts of the average teenager, and perhaps because she seems "normal" and human, she's become the new fashion icon.
None of this is to downplay Jenner's talent as a model. Her abilities stand on their own. When she strutted down the catwalk at Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week, no one identified her. She blended in with her peers, and it was not until after the exposé that the press realized that Jacobs had incorporated a celebrity appearance. Of course, once journalists registered that a reality TV star was taking on haute couture, a major debate materialized: Did she deserve her place on the runway?
For decades, actors have been the faces of designer brands, and their photos have appeared in ads in Vogue and Vanity Fair as the pinnacle of beauty. However, there has always been something sacred about the runway. Recognizable faces rarely bridge the gap between seat and stage, and when they do, it's often part of a self-indulgent maneuver for attention (like when Paris Hilton decided to invade São Paulo).
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So is Jenner's influence on the fashion dialogue a sign that haute couture is selling out to become an extension of pop culture? Maybe, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Fashion is an art form that, as an emblem of elitism, has often excluded entire populations. But if designers choose to hire capable models that happen to be famous, they're making a decision to open the doors of high fashion to the public.
Like quirky British model Cara Delevingne, Jenner represents a new kind of face in the industry. Jenner is the graffiti of style; she's bringing Chanel and Givenchy to the masses and giving them a piece of the elegant salons and tents where Anna Wintour and Nina Garcia lurk in their designer suits.