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Poppy Delevingne lives to love. “I love modeling,” says the London-born New York-based beauty. “Adore it. I love the traveling, the people I meet, the artistic side to it. I love fashion. I love wearing clothes. “I love the electric atmosphere of New York,” she continues. “I love that people are always up for anything. I love the quirky restaurants. I love the shopping. I love the little vintage-y places in the Village. I love Bleecker Street. I love Barneys—it’s my favorite department store. And I love how cheap everything here is at the moment. I can’t buy anything in London ever again. “I love the roof at Soho House on the weekends and I love the boathouse at Central Park,” she adds, the words tumbling out. “My sister and I rowed around the lake and then had lunch there. Heaven.” The 22-year-old’s natural-born ebullience has propelled her to the front of the pack of a new breed of scenemakers, girls who are as personable as they are beautiful, who work as hard as they play and who are increasingly being tapped by fashion and beauty companies to promote their wares as brand ambassadors. They’re well-born, well-educated and well-connected—Delevingne, for example, attended a posh British boarding school, stayed in the Duchess of York’s apartment when she first came to New York and is one of Tatler magazine’s 10 most eligible girls in the world. “These girls have different backgrounds and unique personalities,” says Peter Knell, a manager at IMG Models. “Each has in some way been behind a movement, be it a style movement, a cultural movement or design. They’re influencing pop culture.”
In addition to Delevingne, the new crop of go-to girls includes Harley Viera-Newton, a 19-year-old NYU student (she’s studying Egyptology)-slash-DJ who has been named Dior Beauty’s in-house DJ; Julia Restoin Roitfeld, the daughter of French Vogue editor Carine, who oversees her own art directing company when she isn’t starring in Tom Ford’s fragrance ads, and Leigh Lezark, whose role as founding member of the Misshapes has morphed into that of overall tastemaker. There’s also Lydia Hearst, the publishing heiress/model/actress/Page Six magazine columnist; Maggie Betts, daughter of developer Roland Betts and a staple in the pages of Vogue; Vanessa Traina, daughter of Danielle Steele, fashion muse to young designers and French Vogue intern, and Byrdie Bell, a Chicago-born socialite turned-actress. “The difference between models, celebrities and these girls is that these are people the fashion industry can take to heart,” says Richard Habberly, who runs the Elite + division of Elite Models.
This story first appeared in the August 8, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“Celebrities are created by stylemakers like [stylist] Rachel Zoe. We know they’re man-made creations. Models are usually faceless, a blank canvas that you paint on. There’s always a need for a girl who is a style icon, who puts herself together really well. These girls are fun, effervescent and energizing. You can buy fashion but you can’t buy style and these girls personify that. “They personify the lifestyle of luxury brands without being too manufactured because they’re luxury brands themselves,” continues Habberly. “They aren’t put together by stylists, hairdressers,
makeup artists. They’re not creations. They created themselves.” Key to their appeal is that they don’t allow themselves to be defined by their good looks or their tony backgrounds. They, like us, work. “In times like this, things split. On the one hand, we’re looking for something that’s real, and on the other, we’re looking for escapism,” says Sarah Brown, beauty director of Vogue. “There’s a lot of respect for people who have real achievements and who work hard. People are looking for some sort of relatability—sure, you might have better clothes, but you work hard and there’s a balancing act in your life, too.” Brown also notes that the appeal of the perfectly groomed uptown socialite as brand ambassador seems to be on the wane in favor of a hipper, cooler esthetic. Delevingne may sport long blonde tresses like Park Avenue princess Tinsley Mortimer and be a brand ambassador for Versace, but her personal style can best be described as eclectic. “The way I dress depends on the way I feel when I wake up in the morning,” she says. “In my closet, there’s a lot of bright color going on, a lot of sparkle, a lot of bohemian stuff and bits of edginess like black patent leather boots.”
While the Mortimers of the world haven’t fallen by the wayside—she is still very active in her capacity as Dior beauty ambassador—forward-looking brands are adding edgier girls too. Take Viera-Newton, who joins Mortimer in the Dior lineup this month. “Harley has cultivated this edgy, eclectic downtown style,” says Pamela Baxter, president and chief executive officer of LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics NA and president of Christian Dior Inc. “She’s gorgeous and smart and also really well-rounded. She’s out and about, socializing, meeting people, talking about our products. It’s a hands-on approach.” Delevingne herself neatly defies classification into traditional social divides. She’s as apt to be found at a dinner party at socialite Marjorie Gubelmann’s Upper East Side town house as she is downtown at Beatrice Inn. And though her feet are firmly planted in the London/New York social axis, she’s keen to conquer the Hollywood scene too. She recently wrapped filming on Perfect, a short film about a model who’s on a path of self-destruction, and plans to pursue acting lessons this fall. “It was very intense and when we finished filming, I felt like I had achieved something,” says Delevingne of the experience. It’s a feeling she thrives on—and one that makes her emblematic of the bright young things dominating the scene now. “In London, ‘It’ girls tend to be girls who don’t work and who just go out. In New York, it’s different. I do work, very hard. I do go out and yes I do wear clothes for designers, but I work just as hard as I play. And I love it.”