Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cox plate

montana cox at chanel FW1213/getty via daylife

"Everyone you've worked with said you were ready to take on the fashion world" Australia's Next Top Model host Sarah O'Hare told Montana Cox on live television last October, after announcing the 18 year-old Melburnite as the winner of the 2011 series. Just five months later, it seems O'Hare and co may have had a point. Over the past fortnight Cox has scored some of most coveted runway jobs in the business, just adding top Paris shows Lanvin, Christian Dior, Kenzo, Mugler, Cacharel, Andrew Gn and Vanessa Bruno to a Fall/Winter 2012/2013 showlist that already included Italian luxury names Bottega Veneta, Pucci and Etro. Cox leaves Paris today after adding just one more name to that list. It's a big one (UPDATE: Chanel, see above, where Cox walked alongside compatriots Miranda Kerr, Julia Nobis, Caitlin Lomax and Rosemary Smith). Then it's straight to Charles de Gaulle airport for a flight to Melbourne, to star in Thursday night's David Jones parade which will open the L'Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (her only LMFF gig). Stand by to see if Cox scores an equally coveted spot on any of the Top 10 Newcomer lists that are published by various outlets at the end of the season. But just how unusual is her 'overnight success' against the broader backdrop of Tyra Banks' Top Model franchise, which was launched in the US in 2003 and is now produced independently in some 50 countries? And with Cox as its latest star, just how successful is the Australian version of the show?   

In 2009, Sydney model agent Priscilla Leighton Clark declared Alice Burdeu "the most successful winner from any Top Model series"

Big claim - and at the time, of course, Leighton Clark's Priscillas agency was affiliated with the series. 

In 2007, Burdeu won Cycle 3 of the Australian series. And she did indeed walk straight into an international high fashion career, walking for D&G, among many others, in her first show season in February and March 2008. Prompting models.com to include her in its Top 10 Newcomers list for Fall/Winter 2008/2009.

Burdeu went on to book advertising campaigns for D&G, Blumarine Resort and Sonia Rykiel, before taking a break to study psychology at Melbourne University. Abbey Lee Kershaw, meanwhile, who also made models.com's Top 10 Newcomers of Fall/Winter 2008/2009, has since gone on to become models.com's world number five ranked high fashion model. Kershaw emerged from another Australian modelling competition: the Girlfriend Model Search, a straight model scouting competition, as distinct from a reality television show. 

There is a very big difference, it seems.

Prior to Burdeu, as far as we can ascertain, no other Top Model winner in any other market had achieved a similar level of international success. 

Gemma Sanderson, the winner of the first Australian series, is based in London, where she is repped by the Storm agency and has worked consistently as a commercial model, most recently as a face of online retailer ASOS. But that is quite different from booking runway shows and campaigns with high profile luxury brands and editorial in leading magazines.

Patricia van der Vliet was placed fourth in Cycle 4 of Holland's Next Top Model in 2008 and one year later made models.com's Top 10 Newcomers of Spring/Summer 2010. Van der Vliet's success has since far eclipsed that of Burdeu: she has shot campaigns for Balenciaga and Burberry, among many others, and is on high rotation on the world's top fashion runways. Same goes for Finland's Suvi Koponen, who won a Finnish reality show called Mallikoulo in 2005 that was similar in format to the Top Model series, although not officially connected to same. 

But not only does Australia's Next Top Model appear to have been the first Top Model series to have actually produced a 'top model', it may well be the only show in the entire franchise to have produced three thus far.

Virtually straight off the winner's block of ANTM Cycle 6 in 2010, Amanda Ware scored 17 shows in her first international show season, Spring/Summer 2011, and is still going strong this season.  

And of course, had Cassi van den Dungen in fact won Cycle 5 of the Australian competition in 2009, who knows, Sarah Murdoch may have had a top model trifecta on her hands after her three year tenure as the local show's host and executive producer.

Although quite clearly the 2009 AusNTM finalist with the best international potential, van den Dungen lost to Tahnee Atkinson - an absolutely beautiful girl whose lack of an international career post-ANTM, nevertheless, comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone in the fashion industry. Optioned at one point as a Balenciaga Paris exclusive, van den Dungen's Paris hopes were dashed that season. She is currently taking a break from modelling after the birth of her first child.

Quite ironically perhaps, the original American version of the show, which is produced by and stars Banks, has fared poorly in terms of launching successful modelling careers.

Frockwriter has little doubt that a major part of the problem with this concept is the input of the relevant television executives, keen to 'dumb it down' for the 'punters'.

"That whole tv show [Top Model] is not produced for scouting, it’s produced for entertainment" said one senior Australian modelling source, who did not want to be identified. "I don’t think that show gives the model any credibility whatsoever and I think one of the reasons why those [Australian] girls have done well internationally is not thanks to that tv show. If casting directors knew that they were from the show, they may not have even touched them. That's my theory anyway".

Leaving aside the fact that Myf Shepherd was snubbed by Australia's Next Top Model producers in 2008, before going to an absolute blockbuster first international show season, in which she walked for almost every major fashion name, some feel the quality of the Australian edition of the show has been improving year-on-year, particularly since Murdoch's arrival.

"I think the Australian one is really clever because it's the perfect combination of entertainment and actually good scouting" said the same anonymous modelling source [who is not connected to the show]. "It’s really good quality I think. Those girls are really good. And I couldn’t say the same for some of the other countries I’ve watched: New Zealand, Germany, the US". 

"I think the last few years they’ve definitely taken a different tack" said Kathy Ward, a director of Sydney's Chic Management which organises the longstanding Girlfriend Model Search, took over Priscillas' role as the Australia's Next Top Model local agency affiliate in 2011 and now represents Montana Cox in Australia.

Contracts with Chic Management and its New York affiliate Next were part of Cox's prizes. Thanks to a family connection with the world's biggest modelling agency, IMG, however, and what appears to have been a loophole in the ANTM contest conditions, Cox was able to knock back the Next offer to sign worldwide (ie outside Australia) with IMG. According to Ward, this loophole will be firmly closed for the 2012 competition.

"I think it's become more of a true modelling competition" added Ward of ANTM. "When it first started, yes I think there there was a bit of, 'Well she makes good television, let’s include her'. Now I think they’re seeing it through different eyes and the potential to grow it even further by finding true international supermodels".   


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