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Back in 2010, Hailey Clauson was the modeling industry’s darling du jour. She walked practically every major runway for the spring 2011 season, from Calvin Klein to Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton to Versace, Hermès to Lanvin — and she was only a sophomore in high school. Cue the headlines. Remember the Diane von Furstenberg runway dustup, when the designer ended up with a 15-year-old in her show while joining the outcry for models 16 and older? That was Clauson. And a year later, when Urban Outfitters was slapped with a lawsuit for selling a T-shirt with an image of a model sitting on a motorcycle in a racy position? Clauson again. “It was just funny, because I had so many controversies, but I was the most innocent and good 15- to 16-year-old in the world.”
And then her body changed and she took a time-out. “I couldn’t do shows anymore, and no one really knew what to do with me,” Clauson said, chalking up her newfound womanly curves to puberty. After taking a year off to regroup, she is back with a new career. Now all of 19, Clauson is repped by One Management and has a sharp focus on editorial work — and a healthy dose of body confidence to boot. These days, she embodies a Bardot-esque vintage glamour, and proves it in Agent Provocateur’s spring campaign. She’s also the cover model on the July issue of Flaunt and the summer issue of Galore Magazine.
This story first appeared in the July 16, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Ever the model, Clauson stepped into WWD’s office on a recent afternoon complaining about the photo snapped of her in the building’s lobby, a de rigueur procedure by security staff. “They don’t even give you any warning before they take it!” she said, holding up the uncharacteristically goofy photo of herself. “No mercy.”
WWD: How did you get started in the industry?
Hailey Clauson: I’m from California. I went to an open call in L.A. and was like, “Might as well see what happens.” It started from there, and I signed with Ford when I was 13. Then I moved to New York when I was 15, and I did my first show season. I’ve lived here ever since.
WWD: You’ve made WWD headlines a couple of times — there was the DVF controversy, and then the Urban Outfitters lawsuit…
H.C.: The fashion world loves to hear about a young model… even Brooke Shields, back in the day. At the time, I didn’t really understand why it was such a big deal, but now, with the DVF thing, I totally understand why she was upset, although nothing was ever lied about. I think once people start catching on in the [mainstream, mass media] instead of just within the fashion world, it makes people freak out a little bit.
WWD: And then you took a hiatus from modeling.
H.C.: For shows, you have to be tiny. That’s why I was 16 [when I was] doing them. It was hard because you’re young and you’re constantly trying to live up to what you’re expected to be, and you don’t want to show up to a shoot unconfident. So I took a little break and went home and kind of figured out more who I was as a person. I was like, “OK, this is how I look now — I can’t be 16-year-old Hailey anymore.” It made me understand that I can own myself — if you believe in yourself, then other people around you will believe in you, too. A lot of girls are curvier and going for that sexy, curvy thing. I got some meat on my bones and that’s OK.
WWD: But you did walk the Jeremy Scott show for fall.
H.C.: Jeremy Scott was my first show in two years. I was working with Carlyne [Cerf de Dudzeele], the stylist — I did a shoot with her and Mario Testino, for German Vogue, and she was also styling the Jeremy Scott show. And she loves sexy girls. I wasn’t expecting to get cast, but I was so excited. It felt good to be back on the runway.
WWD: Have you always enjoyed fashion?
H.C.: I started so young. I was so interested in fashion and photography — I was an eighth grader and I knew everything. That was my passion in life. I had Vogue covers all over my wall. I was trying to get my parents to [take me to] an agency from a really young age, and they said, “No, we’ll let you know when we think you’re mentally ready.” They were very supportive of me. They never would put me in weird situations or leave me on my own. I was very lucky to have them, because a lot of girls who started at that age don’t have that support. It’s better that the age for runway shows is 16 now — you know yourself better.
WWD: Are your parents still as involved in your work today?
H.C.: My mom follows me on Instagram and “likes” all my photos. They love hearing about it, but now they’re at home, doing their own thing. They don’t need to check on me as much. They know I’m fine now.
WWD: Conversationally, you seem much older than 19.
H.C.: I’ve always been kind of mature for my age. On jobs, you can’t sit in the corner and not talk to people. You’re hanging out with people twice your age. Even just living in New York, you grow up so quick. You gotta be independent and figure your stuff out.
WWD: You’ve worked with some of the world’s top fashion photographers — Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh, Ellen von Unwerth — and also Hedi Slimane and Karl Lagerfeld. Any standout moments?
H.C.: There are certain photographers I was working with at different chapters in my life. Mert and Marcus picked up on me, and I was shooting with them a bunch when I was 15. I loved fashion, so I already knew who they were. I would go to set and there would be all these top models there. For most kids, they’ll go and see actors and singers and that’s their version of celebs. But at that age, those models were my celebrities. I was so nervous to be working with them. Now, as a woman, it’s different. But at that age, everything was so overwhelming. I like working with a lot of new photographers, too. It’s cool to come up with people — kind of like Kate Moss and Mario Sorrenti. They all rose together.
WWD: Tell me about the new Agent Provocateur campaign.
H.C.: It was very editorial. Normally, they’re not that editorial. I was so in character. They had this whole set built, and it looked like a kitchen. They even had loud music playing that would go with the Fifties-housewife thing.
WWD: You were also shot by James Franco for that Seven for All Mankind campaign.
H.C.: That was pretty cool. I was pretty nervous, not gonna lie. I spent two days with him, and it was a group of us. It was really fun. But it was a little nerve-racking.
WWD: And you’ve worked with Terry Richardson a bunch…
H.C.: I just shot with him again a few times. My experience personally with him is that he’s actually kind of shy. I worked with him when I was 17, and he was very respectful of the fact that I was underage. He was making sure I was OK and comfortable.
WWD: Are there any models in particular who you look up to? You post a lot of Nineties babes on your Tumblr — Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista…
H.C.: Those girls are my inspiration in modeling, always. I’ve always kind of wanted to bring back the whole Eighties, Nineties supermodel thing. Who wouldn’t? They lived like rock stars back then. But my all-time favorite model crush is Veruschka, who is more Sixties. She made modeling an art.
WWD: Do you have lots of model friends?
H.C.: No, I don’t hang out with a lot of models, actually. People are usually surprised by that. I have some model friends, but most of my friends go to NYU or are just artists, photographers, cool people. At the end of the day, you don’t wanna go home to your friends and talk about modeling. It can feel really competitive. I never personally feel competitive, but I don’t want to be around that sort of thing.
WWD: Are there facets of the industry you’d like to see changed?
H.C.: Well, for me, it’s changing the variety of body types [on display.] I know a lot of people are trying to change that, but obviously it’s not really changing. The thing is — they choose one girl to change it…but there needs to be a group of girls working with different bodies. I do understand why for runway you have to be super tiny, because that’s how the clothes hang. And with curves, you only can be seen as sexy. But it only takes one person to pick up on that and change it.
WWD: It’s like the Kate Upton effect.
H.C.: Exactly. Kate Upton can do high-fashion stuff, but no one sees her that way. But she can totally do it. Also, I’d like to see models just getting more respect. A lot of girls come and work their butts off, and girls need to come to New York more educated and understand the business. I’d love to talk to young models and help them out, because it’s confusing coming to New York for the first time.
WWD: You have a big following on Instagram (@haileyc123).
H.C.: I have a lot of supportive people on Instagram, but there are some haters, too, especially if I put up photos of my body. People will have wars over it, and I will all of the sudden have 200 comments. I posted this one photo where I was proud of how I looked, and people had a whole war [in the comments] over whether I was skinny or fat, or if I wasn’t perfect, which is just funny. I found it really interesting to see what certain people think, and how certain people that are obsessed with models just assume that everyone has to look a certain way.
WWD: In what ways has modeling changed you as a person?
H.C.: Since I started so young, I was doing online classes for high school. But I was traveling the world, so my eyes were opened in ways that would’ve never happened sitting in a classroom. That changed my perspective on life. I found it hard to relate to my high-school friends. I have a few friends back at home that I’ve always been best friends with, but I have nothing in common with anyone, just because of what I’ve lived through. I feel like I’m 20 years older than them. [Some people] don’t really understand — they think that you’re just making a million dollars and sitting in front of a camera for five minutes. But it’s an everyday job.
WWD: Do you ever think about what you would be doing if not modeling?
H.C.: I’ve always been very interested in the creative arts. I think I would be in fashion or art or music in some form. I’m sure one day I’ll transition to something else and just do some modeling on the side. You gotta change it up a little bit.
WWD: What are some of your professional goals?
H.C.: Just to keep embracing what I have and keep putting my market to the industry. Also, I would love to somehow get involved with a program to help young girls with their confidence — and young boys, too. I was bullied in high school for being tall and awkward, and I can relate to a lot of kids in that sense. It would be nice to find something like that.
WWD: Did you ever have any mentors?
H.C.: Actually, when I first came to New York, at 13, a photographer friend of mine, David Mushegain, introduced me to Erin Wasson. My dad and I had coffee with her, and she just sat down and gave us advice. I didn’t have a mentor necessarily, but for someone like that to sit down and talk to me at the beginning of my career was pretty inspirational.