alexa Blackbook: Role Models: The Changing Faces of Fashion

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RUNWAYS and magazine covers are no longer a one-size (or gender or color) fits-all world. Models are now harnessing the power of their platforms to speak up and disrupt the status quo, working to transform the fashion industry into one of real inclusivity, beyond lip service or tokenism. Meet five models-cum-activists who’ve altered the industry with their looks — and so much more.





DISCOVERED on Instagram by legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath, 25-year-old Elsesser grew up in LA, the daughter of a Chilean-Swiss father and African-American mother. Through her bikini-clad selfies and refreshingly honest Instagram captions, she’s now changing the way fashion represents women of different sizes and cultures. “It took a lot for me to be able to say that I’m a plus-size model or a model at all without feeling terror,” she told Allure magazine. “We’re told that if you’re not this one archetypal kind of beauty then you’re not worth it … But it’s not true. Emotionally, it’s so taxing. It takes so much energy not to love yourself.”





ONE of the fashion industry’s most in-demand faces, Nef was the first transgender model to be signed by a major agency (IMG). The 24-year-old Columbia graduate recently starred in Gucci’s latest fragrance ad and appears as a recurring character on Amazon’s “Transparent.” She has also become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. “There isn’t a trans moment,” she told the New Yorker in 2016. “There were zero, and now there are 10 to 15. That’s not a moment. If anyone’s having a moment, it’s white cis men … It’s just a presence where there was an absence. We deserve so much more.” And indeed, Nef’s family has encouraged her to go for so much more. Nef, writing for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, shared her mother’s unflinching advice: “There are going to be a lot of people looking at you. They will say hurtful things … you need to have a thick skin. They’ll say you’re ugly, disgusting — but it’s an opportunity for you. Own it. If this is what people want from you, give it to them.”





CANADIAN model Harlow first caught the world’s eye as one of 14 finalists on “America’s Next Top Model” in 2014. Born with vitiligo, the 23-year-old has gone on to model in the pages of splashy fashion magazines, star in a recent Swarovski campaign and cameo in Beyonce’s visual album, “Lemonade.” In a 2014 Ted talk, she recounted a painful childhood: “I was singled out because of this skin condition, I was bullied, I was alienated.” Now, she says, she simply wants to be seen as a person. “I’m very sick of talking about my skin,” she told Elle Canada earlier this year. “I am literally just a human. I have the same brain as you; there’s a skeleton under my skin just like yours. It’s not that serious.”





GRABBING headlines in 2016 as the first model to wear a hijab while walking in major shows (including her debut on Kanye West’s catwalk), Aden has also landed on the covers of CR Fashion Book and Allure. Before making a splash in the fashion world, the stunning 19-year-old — who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and raised in Minnesota — was the first Somali-American to compete for the title of Miss Minnesota USA. “It took me a while to just be comfortable in my own skin and really just wear my difference proudly — not be ashamed of the way I dress,” she told Vice. “I feel like that’s something a lot of women experience … I say I’m different, but really, aren’t we all different?”





BELGIAN supermodel and Alexander Wang muse Odiele has walked countless runways and fronted a jaw-dropping list of A-list fashion campaigns throughout her impressive 12-year career. But in January, the 29-year-old gained even more attention after revealing that she is intersex (born with sex characteristics that aren’t typically male or female), in an effort to reduce stigmas and advocate for others. “It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” she told USA Today. “I am proud to be intersex.”


Photos by Amanda Mertens (Paloma), Mary Rozzi/Contour by Getty Images (Hari), Alessandro Russo (Winnie), Getty Images (Halima), Courtesy of Women Management NY (Hanne).

Adidas’s Oktoberfest Inspired Shoes are Built for a Bender

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You don’t have to be Bavarian to love Oktoberfest – the beer drinker’s high holiday crosses all cultural lines. Admittedly, though, the lederhosen look could stand a little modernizing.

Luckily, Adidas has released a new pair of shoes that actually might look awesome with a dirndl. The limited-edition München features embroidered details that pay homage to designs on the traditional Southern German attire. Made from the finest brown leather with gold stripes, it comes adorned with the word “PROST” (which means “cheers” in Germany). The stylish sneakers are also functional, made with material that’s both beer and, um, vomit repellent.

The München retails for $237.50 (€199.95) at Adidas. Each purchase, appropriately, comes with a complimentary 43einhalb x Rastal beer mug.


Marc Jacobs Releases Riley Hybrid Smartwatch

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David Hughes for Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs has gone digital.

Indeed, the designer has taken the plunge into tech with the new Riley hybrid smartwatch. Available in four ultra cool styles, the sleek timepiece features a remote camera button, movement tracking, sleep tracking, push notifications, and a find-your-phone feature.

Jacobs tapped photographer David Hughes to shoot the campaign, featuring Alexis Jae (musician), Amanda Steele (YouTuber), Charisma Glasper (dancer), Amy Sall (editor and professor) and Ke’andra Samone (actress). The series features Jacobs’ muses wearing the watch and explaining how they put theirs to work.

The Riley hybrid smartwatch retails for $175 at Marc Jacobs.

Elvira Launches Clothing Line Just in Time for Halloween

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She’s a movie star, a comic book character and a straight-up vixen of her time. Now Elvira is a embracing her rightful place as a fashion icon.

Cassandra Peterson has teamed up with Pinup Girl CEO Laura Bynes for a line of vamp couture. Items take clear inspiration from the Mistress of Dark’s legendary style. Dresses in black and purple accentuate the curves and show the right amount of cleavage, and a dark floral headpiece lends a sweet feminine touch to the gothic couture.

Elvira for Couture for Every Body is now available on Pinup Girl Clothing. Prices range from $78-$248.

Julien Macdonald Designs Couture Burger Box for McDonald’s

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Julien Macdonald’s signature McDonald’s burger box. (Photo courtesy of McDonald’s)

McDonald’s has found a collaboration worthy of its namesake. The classic American fast food chain is adjusting its brand with the help of London designer, Julien Macdonald.

For a newly launched gourmet burger, Macdonald has designed a limited-edition burger box. The black box with gold baroque print is inspired by the designer’s own signature collections.


Julien Macdonald presents his signature McDonald’s burger box. (Photo courtesy of McDonald’s)


“I drew inspiration from my fashion creations and iconic embellished red carpet dresses,” Macdonald said. “This was translated into a gold baroque crystal encrusted box, which is the perfect packaging for the luxury McDonald’s Signature Collection burger.”

The box will be available at showcase events hosted at the chain’s locations around the UK. A special hand-embellished box by Macdonald will be up for auction, after its unveiling at the Leicester Square location. The proceeds will go to the Ronald McDonald House charities.

Lady Gaga Is Photographed By Hedi Slimane For V Magazine

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In one of her most stripped-down photographs yet, Lady Gaga graces the new cover of Magazine‘s music issue, shot by Hedi Slimane. The cover image sees Mother Monster on the verge of revealing a nipple, free of makeup and looking naturally tousled. Take a look:

                          Hedi Slimane for VMagazine.

Along with the cover shoot, Gaga spoke with New York novelist Tama Janowitz for the issue, with whom she talked about Joanne and her new found love of horses.

“After The Fame Monster and subsequent albums, I felt that there was a part of me that was connecting on a human level with the public and part of me that was connecting on a whole new level, one that I had been wanting to connect with them on, a sort of fantastic magical level,” she said. “And now, I want more of that connection.”

Gaga revealed her new obsession with stallions following the reception of a gift horse named Arabella from her record label.

“I just get on the horse and go. It’s sort of a metaphor for all the guys I’ve been with,” she continued.

All this horse talk is making us need to watch the “John Wayne” video, which, for your convenience, we’ve included below:

Vans Announces Collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld

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Whether you’re walking the red carpet at the Met Gala or shredding in an empty pool on your favorite deck, Karl Lagerfeld wants to dress you. Popular skate brand, Vans just announced a collaboration with the couture designer that’s sure to make our feet and our wallets happy.

According to WWD, a silhouette of Lagerfeld’s iconic profile will appear on Vans’ signature checkerboard design with a fabric boucle and a quilted letter K. The collection includes the designer’s interpretations of Vans’ Sk8-Hi laceless platform and Old Skool laceless styles. Other products include a t-shirt, a bomber jacket and a leather backpack.

The footwear and apparel collection will launch September 7. Prices range from $40 to $300. Find more info here.


Dakota Johnson, Petra Collins & Hari Nef Serve Flower Power in Gucci Ad

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Gucci unleashed a floral explosion for their latest campaign. For their new fragrance, Gucci Bloom, Glen Luchford directed a beautifully lush short to serve the scent justice.

“I wanted a rich white floral fragrance, a courageous scent that transports you to a vast garden filled with many flowers and plants, a bouquet of abundance,” said designer Alessandro Michele. “The garden is as beautiful as women are; colorful, wild, diverse, where there is everything.”

The short does a good job of transporting us to that vast garden. Fifty Shades of Grey actress, Dakota Johnson is joined by model, Hari Nef and photographer, Petra Collins in the campaign. They strut around a floral-covered town in their casual Gucci streetwear before heading back to an overgrown apartment and then taking a dip in a pond with their flowy Gucci dresses.

Watch the campaign video for Gucci Bloom below:

‘Singapore Design Now’ Exhibits the Best of Southeast Asian Design in NYC

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To say design is emerging in Singapore is an understatement. The creative community is positively thriving under the hot Southeast Asian sun, bringing with it a new, endemic-but-international vision for fashion and beyond. Fittingly, the Asia Society in New York is featuring Singapore Design Now in its ground floor exhibition space – featuring six rising design stars from the Lion City.

This BlackBook writer (who had the good fortune to live in Singapore for a short, very memorable spell) jumped at the chance to dive into the creative minds of these exotic talents. Here is their take on being part of the show, and part of Singapore’s exciting, breakout design scene.


Santhi and Sari Tunas, Binary Style

Who knew a scarf could communicate so much? Santhi Tunas – twin sister and half of the bespectacled design duo Binary Style – says “our scarves are about telling Singapore stories. We draw inspiration from everything Singaporean, everyday life. The city is about a blend of old and new, nature and built environment; but ultimately Singapore is a great melting pot of cultures. These elements provide an endless source of ideas.”
Both trained architects and Indonesian natives, Santhi and Sari ‘s featured collection ‘Singapore Stories’ is indeed a colorfully graphic, narrative tribute to the region’s diversity. Proving so popular (never mind that we know firsthand that the scarf is a must-have when transitioning from the oppressive regional heat to the chilly indoors), certain alluring designs like “Rainy Day” and “Botanical Garden” keep selling out at The Asia Society.
The designs each represent a people or place in Singapore, like “Little India” and “Chinatown.” One edgier standout, “Samsui Ladies,” tells the story of the Samsui women who Santhi explains “represent an early period of Singapore’s development, when all was new and fresh, and opportunity abounded.” Wrapped up in this particular scarf design is “their hard work during some 50 years from the 1930s to 80s, constructing the new nation with bravery, resilience and determination, coloring the city with progress.”


Yilin Choo, Choo Yilin

With Singapore’s deep multiculturalism as inspiration, Yilin Choo’s award-winning jewelry designs represent “the rich intersection of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian influences together with a deep understanding of Western culture…facilitated by English as the primary language taught in schools, that makes us as Singaporeans see the world in a distinct way.”
Choo puts a thoroughly modern spin on traditional jade stone to create her elegant jewelry line, Choo Yilin. “While Singaporeans cannot lay claim to jade as a material,” she admits, “as it is cherished across the global Chinese diaspora, it is something that does speak to our heritage. We are the first designers in the world that use jade in the way we do, and this celebration of such an iconic heritage gemstone is something we are proud of. In Chinese, there is a saying, ‘gold is valuable, but jade is priceless.’ And this is something we want to share with the world.”
Handpicking Type A jadeite, with vibrantly-colored semi-precious gemstones, Choo weaves them together with intricate metalwork detailing. Peranakan culture, which originated in and is distinct to Southeast Asia, is another of her biggest inspirations. “Intricate motifs and vivid colors characterize the aesthetic,” she explains, “and it features heavily in our work.”
 Choo rightfully positions herself as a storyteller, using jewelry as a platform for Southeast Asian heritage and conversation.
“Each piece as a visual idiom of our personal story and communities.”



Ling Wu x Onlewo

Ling Ling Goh’s adorable Ling Wu clutches are the perfect carry alls, not only for lipstick and keys but also for a bit of storytelling. Collaborating with Mike Tay of Onlewo for Singapore Design Now, the designers created a capsule collection, Siu Jie, which means “Miss” in the Cantonese dialect and is commonly used in Singapore to address younger female acquaintances.
“Made for the modern, independent woman, exuding an inner beauty and strength,” Ms. Goh cites the local availability of materials like leather, wood, rattan and stone that factor into her design aesthetic, “made for the modern, independent woman, exuding an inner beauty and strength,” But for this chic little collection, five original Onlewo prints depicting the architecture, culture, people, as well as the flora and fauna of Singapore were used to wrap the compact clutches.
Tay admits his favorite of these designs is Tiong Bahru, where he’s added the image of local character Bob – a scrappy tomcat living on the streets of the namesake neighborhood, who the residents collectively look after. The beloved feline even has his own Facebook page, “The Story of Bob – a very special cat.”
With a passion for telling stories of Singapore through unique patterns, Tay creates cotton linen fabrics inspired by Asian roots with a focus on Singapore heritage, culture, and iconic places. This writer can imagine sipping a signature Singapore Sling at the renowned Raffles Hotel with a Peranakan Rhapsody or Botanical Gardens bag in her manicured hand.
Goh enthuses, “For me, it is about adding to Singapore’s design history, and being both a link and a stepping-stone for the designers who come after me. I feel it’s important that the things I create have longevity. I always aim for my designs to be both functional and beautiful; if I capture both of these things then I feel that the design is successful.”

Edwin Low, Supermama

We first excitedly encountered Edwin Low’s Supermama ‘brand’ at their shop-in-a-shop at The National Gallery Singapore. So you can imagine our delight in seeing the designer, educator and entrepreneur’s cool kid porcelain plates featured in Singapore Design Now.
At the hyperlocal Supermama, they collect, create and curate objects that engage customers, using, as Low puts it, “culture as a context for design, exploring the fine line between cultural artifacts and everyday objects, and the concept of basic luxury – that everyone can own a piece of heritage.”
He continues, “we’re not just producing souvenirs but searching for a different way to enhance Singapore identity.”
Low’s design philosophy centers around the embrace of icons that speaks of a particular time and place, people and their culture. He explains, “My work around ‘icons’ of Singapore aims to document our stories and, in the process, define our identity. Our culture is a beautiful amalgamation of borrowed cultures that enables a new visual language to be formed. In a way, there is no better place than Singapore to develop this new form of material culture.”
Our favorite “icon” in the Singapore Design Now show is Jalan Besar Kitties, inspired by Jalan Besar Street in Kallang; we can attest to the street’s intrigue. As The Asia Society puts it, “A random mix of neighborly friendliness and midnight seediness. Mixed in between hardware stores and harmless grocers are Karaoke pubs and nightclubs featuring a cacophony of characters that makes this area the perfect setting for a gangster film.” Indeed, Supermama’s Japan-made artwork features two resident stray cats wearing welding goggles, hugging bottles of whisky and beer cans with the battle scars gained from their tumbles in the street.


Carolyn Kan for Carrie K.

Safety pins, leather, nuts and bolts all get reimagined in Carolyn Kan’s jewelry line, Carrie K.
Skewing more Hermes than ho hum, she enlightens, “The Reborn collection spotlights unsung heroes of mundane yet essential everyday objects. It hopes to remind us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and not to take it for granted, such as our multiculturalism, which is the foundation of our harmonious society.”
With a splashy debut in 2009, Carrie K. won the ELLE “Jewelery Designer of the Year” award. Yet it all started the year before in 2008 for Kan when she took a year off from the corporate rat race to travel. The former Managing Director of an International advertising agency had an epiphany in Florence while learning to silversmith. She’s even gone on to collaborate with Disney, creating a toothier collection for Beauty and the Beast.
Like her fellow designers in Singapore Design Now, Kan loves telling stories through her craft. “We are a little old school,” she admits, “about taking the time and care to handcraft meaningful, covetable, little loves that will be valued for a long time.” The collections “challenge traditional notions of what makes something precious and desired, celebrating the beauty of imperfection, and marveling at the mundane in everyday life.”




We’re crazy for this homegrown fashion label, having spent way too much time in their minimally sleek boutique-cum-cafe in Singapore’s ION Orchard (Mall). From fast friends to company co-founders, Sven, Kane, Julene and Jaclyn of IN GOOD COMPANY eschew the vicious cycles of the fashion seasons in favor of presenting thoughtful capsule collections of womenswear and more. Known for their modern adaptation of wardrobe classics with certain technical finesse, the designers bring this same attitude to their accessories.
Each sublime piece in “Singapore Design Now” has been meticulously assembled with mathematical precision and finished by hand. The necklaces in the show are all “modern, geometric compositions that take a graphic trajectory, interpreted through custom ceramic balls and recycled metal hardware. Strung together by matte satin ribbons, each adds an insouciant charm to everyday ensembles.”
Sven and Kane, founders and co-designers, share how living and working in Singapore informs their design process. “Singapore’s multiculturalism, set in a cosmopolitan society, is both a comfort and inspiration,” they insist. “While IN GOOD COMPANY doesn’t reference ethnic cultures in its aesthetic or design, we are cognizant of the way people dressed, how we want to be presented, how fast we want to be dressed and, of course, dressing for our weather.” Needless to say 90+ degrees and humid is the average day in Singapore.
They continue, “IN GOOD COMPANY is natively Singaporean in this sense: characteristically modern, versatile, quietly confident. And we always pay attention to the details.” IGC’s achingly cool accessories, like their evolved line of womenswear, embrace “the tenets of good design: it has to look better, work better for you, and it has to be easy to use. We are always conscious of how IN GOOD COMPANY fits into our customer’s lives – we aim for the classic silhouette with a design twist.”

Singapore Design Now runs through early August at The Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, New York City