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Kate Upton and the Return of the Supermodel

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KATE UPTON
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The moment was impossible to stage. "Teach Me How to Dougie" blasted from the loudspeakers at an LA Clippers game. A (then unknown) model named Kate Upton showed off her best Cali Swag District dance moves while her friend captured it all on his iPhone. All it took was one tweet, and Upton's star was instantly born on computer screens around the world.

In an era where Hollywood stars had supposedly stomped out the supermodel, a handful of girls have still risen to the ranks of superstars. Upton, along with her contemporaries Coco Rocha and Cara Delevingne, have become brands in a time when models are accustomed to the idea of being seen and not heard on runways, while actresses and pop stars do the talking in magazine cover stories and international ad campaigns. The original six supermodels -- Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Stephanie Seymour, and Christy Turlington -- may have created the concept of the supermodel, but Upton, Rocha and Delevingne are turning the idea of what "supermodel" means on its perfectly symmetrical head. The three new age superstars are actively crafting their own publicity campaigns and gleaning armies of digital fans with their every blog post, candid Instagram photo and witty tweet.

Kate Upton's popularity is literally quantifiable. You can see it in the millions of YouTube views and Twitter followers she has accumulated since her now famous video went viral. Through her use of guerilla marketing, the traditional media came calling. First Sports Illustrated gave her the coveted Swimsuit Issue cover. GQ and Esquire soon followed suit. Then the unthinkable happened. Carine Roitfeld and Anna Wintour wanted to work with the model who had charmed the world with an iPhone and little bit of tech know-how. The evidence speaks for itself: the blonde bombshell is currently on the cover of Vogue's June issue.

Unlike Upton, Coco Rocha's story begins in high fashion. The Canadian model got her start the old-fashioned way, as a teenage protégée to Steven Meisel. Now 24, the social media-savvy Rocha has amassed millions of followers on 13 different platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr. While speaking at "Decoded Fashion," a style and technology conference that took place at New York Fashion Week this spring, Rocha was asked about the key to her online brand's success. "My content is from me. It's not some PR firm that's deciding to sell other things," insisted Rocha to the audience. "It's me and my voice and I think only I know it best."

Rocha has used her self-made brand power to branch out from starring in elite campaigns for the likes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel to shooting mass appeal ads for Ann Taylor and Esprit. One of the crowning moments in her multi-level takeover? Coco posed in a campaign for Diet Coke (shot by Karl Lagerfeld, no less), an iconic brand famously characterized by Andy Warhol as the most democratic product of all time, a drink beloved by everyone from the super elite to the Everyman. Rocha most recently invaded living rooms across America when she joined Naomi Campbell and Karolina Kurkova as a supermodel coach on the reality show The Face, which has already been picked up for another season.

Labels and multi-national corporations clearly see the added marketing benefits of booking a model with a built-in fan base. Delevingne, who has almost 2 million followers on Instagram alone, posts photos from her work in campaigns such as Burberry Body Tender sandwiched between backstage pics from Paris Fashion Week and candid shots of the model hanging out with best friend Rita Ora. She might have the allure and edge of her supermodel predecessors who partied with rock stars and ruled the runways, but the big difference is that, through Delevingne, we all have backstage passes.

Linda, Christy and Naomi's supermodel era may have been defined by its glamour, but Kate, Coco and Cara are becoming megastars with every off-the-cuff tweet and Instagram photo of a bad hair day. Hollywood stars like Natalie Portman, Blake Lively and Keira Knightley might still dominate when it comes to the September issues, but given that none of these women are even on Twitter, it's not outrageous to suggest that, in the near future, the supermodels might monopolize the newsstands once again. The fashion world might be known for repeating itself, but whenever it makes the old new again, it always has a fresh take that we haven't seen before.

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