natalie westling is the face of a generation
Meet the cover star of The Activist Issue. 18-year-old Natalie doesn't subscribe to any pretty girl stereotypes.
She can't name her best feature, she actively avoids people who are "too into their looks" and she never wears make up off the job. Natalie Westling defies every stereotype of a person who makes a living from their looks. She's 18 years old and you can tell. Not because she's immature, but because she's excited about everything that she's experiencing. Growing up in sleepy Scotsdale, Arizona, in a family containing two accountants, Natalie has gone from spending her days skating and wearing Vans, to jet setting around the globe. Her first modelling job was opening for Marc Jacobs and shortly after she was "the dead girl" in his campaign, alongside Miley Cyrus. Constantly told, as she must be, that her beauty is rare, you would think she'd be kind of a dick by now. Yet Natalie is incredibly laid back. "I've never felt star-struck", she says in her slow-brewed West coast tone, "because everyone is a human being. We all have flesh, we all look the same inside." Of course she's found confidence in her new life, but of a quiet kind. "Modelling has made me feel comfortable with myself. I'm definitely not like 'oh now that I have all this, I'm the shit'. It's made me realise who I am. I finally feel comfortable in my own skin." Natalie didn't grow up, as many beautiful girls do, without questioning her place in the world. "Actually growing up was really hard because I felt like I was living a double life. My mum thought I would be this perfect daughter and dressed me in really girly clothes, and tried to change my view of who I was as a person. Ever since I left the house to pursue modelling I've been able to find myself in a way that I never have before."
The fashion industry feels like home for Natalie. As it does for a lot of people who grew up feeling a little bit weird, not quite into the right things. Fashion has a terrible reputation for being exclusive and up itself, when actually it's one of the most accepting and inclusive communities. Now more than ever, fashion celebrates whatever it is that makes you different. It allows the people who never fitted in to stand out.
Having first picked up a skateboard when she was three years old, skate culture is Natalie's thing. "I've broken my ribs a few times and I've busted my knees. There's been a lot of broken bones", she says, like it's collateral damage. She got her first tattoo during Milan Fashion Week last year; it reads 'skate' in graffiti font on her forearm. The second on the other forearm is the vans off the wall logo, which you can see fresh and sore on her Instagram. "I've been wearing Vans ever since I can remember," she says. Natalie taught i-D how to skate in a film on our site last year. With her long, famously red hair, boyish dress sense and the way she carries herself off catwalk, there's something quite Kristen Stewart about her. She suits being on the screen; you want to watch her move and hear her talk. It's tempting to use the word "androgynous", but what does it mean? The word 'tomboy' seems painfully outdated too. "If androgyny helps people relate, that's cool", she says of the bucking trend of unisex fashion and unisex catwalks, "I've walked in men's shows before and walked in women's shows that had men in them." We talk about gender in the fashion industry, but as is becoming increasingly apparent, Natalie isn't that fussed about the label of it. She thinks it's a positive approach, but she doesn't want to dwell.
Natalie's area of interest politically is in LGBT rights. "Obama has made a real difference there. Eight years ago, before he was in office, there were no LGBT rights. Now the LGBT community can get married in the majority of states. It's great to see an important topic continue to sweep the country."
Independence is important to Natalie, as it is to any 18-year-old. "I'm living in my girlfriend's apartment now", she says, "I'm glad to come back to New York and sort of have my own place". Of her hopes for the future, "living on my own" and "having my own skate brand" is what comes up. Despite the skate obsession and backwards snapbacks, Natalie was a well-behaved child. "My mum kept me very much in line. When I came to the modelling industry, it gave me freedom. Now I can rebel."
As the producer on set of the i-D skate film wrote, Natalie is, "as chilled as a bowl of Frosties". Nothing fazes her; she has the deadpan monotone of a person who's lived a hundred lives and can stand back and appreciate the world around them for it is, and what it's not. Her "old soul", as she calls it, is the result of her upbringing. Yeah, she uses Instagram but it doesn't take long to get to the bottom of her feed. "I'm not huge into Instagram… I'm not huge into any social media really. I was raised not to think too highly or too much about technology." In fact, it kind of pisses her off. "You'll be having a conversation with someone and they'll just be on their phone. They'll hear you but the only words you get are: uh huh… yeah… yeah. Meanwhile they're texting someone else. I feel like, with the whole technology thing, you lose out on personal relationships." As a product of the internet generation, and especially in an age where models and celebrities are indistinguishable, Natalie's relative technophobia is a breath of fresh air. On her Instagram-generated peers, Cara Delevingne and Kendall Jenner, Natalie wavers, "Cara and Kendall are cool people. I don't think that the celebrity aspect makes them big headed in the modelling industry. They're both down to earth." One of her best model friends is fellow i-D cover star, Binx Walton. I interviewed Binx last year and it's easy to see why they get along. They both have that super-casual, slow-talk thing going on. "We both have the same mentality: we don't really care what we look like", Natalie says, in another refreshing first for a young brilliantly successful model. "For the most part, I'm able to surround myself with girls who have that same mentality. Of course I also hang out with the girls who do like their looks. I hang out with everyone, I'm pretty easy going."
As the face of fashion for 2015, Natalie is flying the flag of low-key, not bothered but not complacent either modelling. She's rolling the Kerouac, On The Road way of "having a damn good time just being [her]self." She doesn't subscribe to any pretty girl stereotypes and her (incidentally very pretty) head is screwed on. "People see through you very quickly in this industry", she says, "so it's important to be genuine. You know, stay true to who you are."
Text Sarah Raphael
Photography Willy Vanderperre
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm