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Vicki Hogarth

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Kate Upton and the Return of the Supermodel

Posted: 07/09/2013 8:53 am

Kate Upton

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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  • SI Swimsuit On Location Hosted By HAZE Nightclub At ARIA Resort & Casino

    LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 15: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Kate Upton arrives at SI Swimsuit On Location hosted by Haze Nightclub at the Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter on February 15, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jacob Andrzejczak/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

  • SI Swimsuit Launch Party Hosted By Crimson In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Kate Upton attends SI Swimsuit Launch Party Hosted by Crimson at Crimson on February 14, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

  • Club SI Swimsuit Hosted By PURE Nightclub At Caesars Palace

    LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 16: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Kate Upton arrives at Club SI Swimsuit hosted by the Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace at the Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace on February 16, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jacob Andrzejczak/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

  • SI Swimsuit Models Visit Caesars Palace

    LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 16: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model Kate Upton visits Caesars Palace to mark Swimsuit Launch Week in Las Vegas and the upcoming celebration of Muhammad Ali’s 70th Birthday at Caesars Palace on February 15, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

  • Kate Upton arrives at the Vanity Fair Os

    Kate Upton arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party for the 84th Annual Academy Awards at the Sunset Tower on February 26, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ (Photo credit should read ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Orlando Magic v New York Knicks

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Model Kate Upton attends the game between the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

  • Axe Sport Blast Combine House

    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Model Kate Upton attends NFL Rookie Event at Axe Sport Blast Combine House at Times Square on April 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Axe)

  • Google & Hollywood Reporter Host An Evening Celebrating The White House Correspondents' Weekend - Red Carpet

    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Model Kate Upton attends Google & Hollywood Reporter Host an Evening Celebrating The White House Correspondents' Weekend on April 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Hollywood Reporter)

  • "Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations" Costume Institute Gala

    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Model Kate Upton attends the 'Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations' Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

  • US model Kate Upton arrives for the scre

    US model Kate Upton arrives for the screening of 'On the Road' presented in competition at the 65th Cannes film festival on May 23, 2012 in Cannes. AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Model Kate Upton poses as she arrives to

    Model Kate Upton poses as she arrives to attend the 2012 amfAR's Cinema Against Aids on May 24, 2012 in Antibes, southeastern France. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Michael Kors Celebrates Fashion's Night Out

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Model Kate Upton celebrates Fashion's Night Out at Michael Kors on September 6, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Michael Kors)

  • Cantor Fitzgerald & BGC Partners Host Annual Charity Day On 9/11 To Benefit Over 100 Charities Worldwide

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Model Kate Upton attends Cantor Fitzgerald & BGC Partners host annual charity day on 9/11 to benefit over 100 charities worldwide at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Mike McGregor/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)

  • EPIX And Vanity Fair Present The Premiere Of "Everything Or Nothing : The Untold Story Of 007" - After Party

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 03: Kate Upton attends EPIX and Vanity Fair present the premiere of 'Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story Of 007' after party at Metropolitan Club on October 3, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Epix)

  • "Casting By" Premiere After Party- 50th New York Film Festival

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Kate Upton attends the 'Casting By' Premiere After Party During The 50th New York Film Festival at Empire Hotel on October 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

  • "No" Premiere - 50th New York Film Festival

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Kate Upton attends the 'No' Premiere During The 50th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on October 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

  • Mercedes-Benz/GQParty

    NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 02: Model Kate Upton attends the Mercedes-Benz/GQParty at The Elms Mansion on February 2, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz)

  • Sports Illustrated Celebrates SI Swimsuit 2013 With A Star-Studded Red Carpet Kickoff Event At NYC's Crimson

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 12: Model Kate Upton attends as Sports Illustrated celebrates SI Swimsuit 2013 with a star-studded red carpet kickoff event at Crimson on February 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

  • SI Swimsuit On Location Hosted By Marquee Nightclub At The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

    LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 13: Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton attends SI Swimsuit on Location at the Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on February 13, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images)

  • Club SI Swimsuit Hosted By 1 OAK Nightclub At The Mirage, Las Vegas

    LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 14: SI Swimsuit Model Kate Upton attends Club SI Swimsuit at 1 OAK Nightclub at The Mirage Hotel & Casino on February 14, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

  • Kate Upton Visits "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"

    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 25: Kate Upton visits 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on February 25, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

  • The Samsung Spring 2013 Launch - Arrivals

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Model Kate Upton attends The Samsung Spring 2013 Launch at Museum Of American Finance on March 20, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

  • Samsung's 2013 Television Line Launch Event

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Model Kate Upton attends Samsung's 2013 Television Line Launch Event at Museum Of American Finance on March 20, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

  • The Samsung Spring 2013 Launch - Arrivals

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Model Kate Upton attends The Samsung Spring 2013 Launch at Museum Of American Finance on March 20, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

  • "PUNK: Chaos To Couture" Costume Institute Gala

    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Kate Upton attends the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Huffington Post)

 

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