Edie Campbell is not your typical supermodel. With jet-black hair, ice blue eyes and porcelain skin, she’s more about brains than beauty, and more punk than princess. Now as a gothic horse whisperer in the Alexander McQueen campaign and bringing her whole family along for the ride in Lanvin autumn/winter 14, the catwalk and campaign queen talks fame (avoiding it), Dolly (her horse) and the transformative power of a haircut.
When Edie Campbell marched on to the stage to collect Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards last December, she cut a striking figure amongst the sea of black ties and party frocks. Dressed in a pair of Louis Vuitton boyfriend jeans, a sheer black T-shirt, brogues and a beaded jacket, she rocked a look that was low-key yet refreshingly cool. “Models don’t usually have to speak, so this could be a career ending moment for me,” she quipped, before making a sharp exit back to her table for a much-deserved glass of champagne.
“I didn’t get booked for any shows my first few seasons. I’d go to castings but I was always a little too short and the clothes didn’t fit me that well. I’d leave thinking I must be a monster...”
The next day the tabloids feverishly asked who this girl who pipped last year’s winner and favourite Cara Delevingne to the post was? The Huffington Post even ran an article titled, “Edie Campbell is the Model Of The Year you’ve never heard of”. But Edie’s lack of household name is part of her appeal. Graduating with a 1st Class Honours in History of Art from The Courtauld Institute this June, she’s the model’s model, the fashion insider who’s as much about brains as she is beauty. The 23-year-old Londoner has enjoyed a stellar year, rising up the ranks to supermodel status, without racking up the column inches in the process.
There’s something refreshingly ordinary about Edie Campbell. Standing at a demure 5ft 10, with jet-black hair, porcelain skin and pale blue eyes she isn’t one of those impossible beauties that only the fashion industry deifies. Instead she exudes the aristocratic elegance of a young Stella Tennant, or the gothic poise of Susie Bick. We meet at Le Pain Quotidien in Notting Hill. Dressed in a simple black polo neck and jeans, Edie could easily slip by as another pretty face amongst the West London coffee morning crowd.
Unlike some of her model contemporaries, Edie has never courted the limelight, rarely appears in gossip pages, and has triumphantly avoided becoming the subject of tabloid fodder. “I actually can’t think of anything worse than being famous,” she confesses sipping a soya milk latte. “The idea of not being able to get on the tube would be my fucking nightmare!” The tabloids may have crowned Cara Delevingne “the new definition of British cool”, but Edie Campbell can safely claim the “anti-cool” crown as entirely her own. Refusing to get caught up in celebrity and all its trappings – “Fame really distorts your perception of yourself. It’s really impractical” – Edie gives the impression that she could quite happily jack it all in at any time. “I could probably count on my left hand how many times I’ve been spotted,” she laughs. “I guess I’m just not that recognisable.”
Born Edith Blanche Campbell on 25th September 1990. Edie grew up in Westbourne Park, and attended St Paul’s Girls School. The daughter of former Vogue Fashion Editor turned architect Sophie Hicks - “a real force of nature” - fashion has played a part in Edie’s life since childhood, although not always in the most welcome ways. “My mum used to pick me up from school wearing Comme des Garçons drop crotch trousers,” Edie cringes. “They were the most embarrassing things in the world! The crotch was so low she had to hold it up to hop into the car before pulling her ass up. It was mortifying.” While her mum’s fashion choices left a lot to be desired to a young Edie, her mum’s relationship to the fashion industry was a blessing. When she was 15, family friend Mario Testino photographed Edie for a British Vogue feature about up and coming Londoners. While it marked the beginning of her modelling journey, it wasn’t until six years later that her career really took off.
“I didn’t get booked for any shows my first few seasons,” Edie confesses. “I’d go to castings but I’d never get chosen for anything. I’d leave thinking I must be a monster... It was really tough, but it gave me drive. I didn’t do shows for a very long time... I was always a little bit too short and the clothes didn’t fit me that well, my long blonde hair was limiting too. It took a while for it all to click into place.”
Fashion is well versed in the transformative power of the haircut. From Linda Evangelista to Agyness Deyn, “cut it off and boost your career” remains a magic formula that works time and time again. So when legendary hair stylist Guido Palau suggested chopping Edie’s hair off on the set of a punk inspired shoot with Steven Meisel for American Vogue, she knew she couldn’t say no. Edie’s honey blonde locks had long typecast her as the quintessential English rose – at the beginning of her career she appeared in more 60s inspired editorials than you could shake a stick at – whereas her new shaggy black crop screamed rock ’n’ roll.
“My boyfriend was horrified when he first saw my hair. I mean really horrified... It was short, jet black and properly mullet like. He likes pretty blonde girls, so he was like, ‘this is a criminal act, who’s done this to you? This is a nightmare!”
So did lobbing her hair off really change people’s perceptions of her? “Absolutely! That hair wasn’t me at all,” Edie reveals. “People would look at me and think she’s such a pretty little cherub and I would be sat there snarling at them. This is much more up my street.” She tousles her jet-black crop as if contemplating the magnitude of her transformation. “My boyfriend (Otis Ferry) was horrified initially,” she continues. “I mean really horrified... It was short, jet black and properly mullet like. He likes pretty blonde girls, so he was like, ‘this is a criminal act, who’s done this to you? This is a nightmare!’ Obviously he came round. Otherwise he would be the most shallow person in the world.” Edie’s raven locks accentuate her marble skin and stone blue eyes, transforming her from the girl next door to an ethereal, otherworldly beauty. With her transformation complete, the work came flooding in. “I guess designers found that long wavy 60s thing quite limiting,” she concludes, recently starring in campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander, Lanvin, Alexander McQueen and Dior, and hitting the catwalk for 21 of spring/summer 14’s standout shows including Louis Vuitton, which culminated in her most career-defining moment to date.
Naked apart from a G-string and Stephen Sprouse designed body paint, Edie’s role in Marc Jacob’s swansong forLouis Vuitton was the defining moment of spring/summer 14. So how did it all come about? “The night before the show I was at a party when I got a call from my agent asking, ‘What do you think of body paint?’” Edie recalls. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ ‘You’ll be completely naked...’ she continued, and I was like ‘yeah, that’s fine.’ ‘All you’ll be wearing is a tiny thong...’ I was quite drunk at this point so I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, I’m fine with that, I’m carefree, my body is there for the people!’ So I sloshed over to Louis Vuitton HQ with my mojito, sloshed around and did a trial run.” The Stephen Sprouse body paint took a gruelling seven hours to complete, a twenty-person team and a 3am call time. Each LV logo was painstakingly painted on by hand, before being embossed with black crystals and glitter. “It took absolutely forever!” Edie confirms. It was pretty awful actually. I was exhausted, so after a while I was being held up and painted while I slept.” The result was a masterpiece of showmanship and creativity in which Edie, her arms bound by black chains and a majestic Stephen Jones black feather headdress upon her head, stole the show. “It was totally ridiculous,” Edie laughs, “but one of those things you just can’t say no to because it’s too chicken. It was the only moment in my life where it was legitimately ok for me to wonder around half naked, painted head to toe, in front of my family! I thought I was going to be really embarrassed, but it was strangely exhilarating.”
The show was such a success, Marc Jacob invited Edie to star in his spring/summer 14 Louis Vuitton campaign. Photographed by Steven Meisel, it’s a celebration of inspirational women and pitted Edie alongside icons Catherine Deneuve, Sofia Coppola, Gisele Bündchen, Fan Bingbing and Caroline de Maigret. “OMG I was so flattered!” Edie gushes. “I have massive respect for Marc, he’s really fun and he does everything to the best of his ability. His work is a dream.”
When she’s not modelling, Edie can be found hanging out in West London with her boyfriend Otis, or riding her two horses Dolly and Armani – “worst horse names ever”. “I love horse riding,” she says. “In fashion you’re so out of control, your entire career relies on others, but with horse riding it’s up to me, I can be as good as I want to be, I can train as much or as little as I want.” It also enables her to switch off from the demands that the industry (this magazine included!) places on models today. “I hate it when magazines ask things like ‘can we have your top 5 beauty products?’” Edie confides. “Come on now, that’s really not something the world needs!” She feels the same way about making speeches. “The British Fashion Awards were funny. It was sweet and flattering, but making a speech was so nerve-racking! I felt like Miss Congeniality, world peace!” So has winning Model of the Year changed her life? “Well, the other day I got recognised by someone on the Welsh Borders, but other than that not really, no.”
Her younger sister Olympia is keen to follow in her footsteps, and Edie is always on hand with advice. “Modelling has been a really positive influence in my life,” she says. “Being successful helps, it’s really not a lot of fun if you’re not. A lot of the world’s most complex and interesting personalities work in fashion, so you learn how to read people and to navigate potential minefields, especially because people are a lot quicker to discredit a model than an editor.”
As for how Edie sees her career progressing, she’s very matter of fact. “I’d be sad to no longer work with such amazing people, but what goes up must come down...” She pauses for a minute, before concluding, “A lot of my friends who graduated alongside me this June have had to make decisions about graduate schemes and diplomas... I say to them you have an English degree from Cambridge and that’s not enough?! What the fuck’s going on in the world? The highlight of my career so far is definitely still being employed!”