Cara Delevingne has been named model of the year 2014 somewhere or other, and you’ll get no argument here. Sure, you hear other names tossed about—Karlie Kloss, for one, Joan Smalls, for another—but no one beats Cara for runway/cover girl exposure.
A case could probably be made that she has single-handedly resurrected the term “supermodel,” that she has alone had it applied to her and perhaps a few others for the first time since Linda Evangelista, Christie Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss were awarded the exalted title. She’s so up there on supermodel cloud nine that she’s done Burberry campaigns with Moss, who’s been an on-and-off Burberry model for many years.
How prominent is Delevingne? She’s accomplished something that few supermodels from any age have done: She’s redefined fashion. Although she’s short for a model—5’ 7” (so’s Moss)—and has a winning kittenish smile and cat-like glare—it’s her eyebrows that are talked about more than any of her other features.
They’re thick, and suddenly, thick eyebrows are in. How in are they? Delevingne has been quoted as saying she used to be given free tweezers, but she no longer is. Apparently, no one is suggesting she trim her eyebrows. Apparently, others are going about thickening theirs.
Twenty-two-year-old Delevingne is so ubiquitous that she’s got contracts with—besides Burberry—Topshop, Balmain, DKNY and Chanel. She posed discreetly naked for Tom Ford’s Black Orchid perfume. She’s also created a Mulberry bag that doubles as a backpack and goes for $1300 or thereabouts. Whether it will raise backpacks to the level of high fashion with well-heeled schoolgirls demanding them remains to be seen.
Karl Lagerfeld is enamored of her to such an extent that she’s both opened and closed his recent runway shows. He likes her so much that he’s written and directed a short film around her called Reincarnation. In it she appears—waving a Lagerfeld signature fan—as a portrait come to life. She dances with Pharrell “Happy” Williams, who is also appears as a portrait come to life. They waltz to Williams’s “C C The World,” with the “C C” standing, of course, for Coco Chanel. (Chanel, who founded the fashion house Lagerfeld runs, is played in the clip by Geraldine Chaplin.)
As for opening and closing fashion shows, the designation is not just Lagerfeld’s, or any other designers’, conferring a favor. It’s worth more in fees, and Delevingne is worth plenty. Years back Evangelista said she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000. Forget that. It sounds as if Delevingne won’t even roll over for far more than that.
Estimates of her 2014 earnings go at high as $46 million, but that sum seems to be in dispute. Nevertheless, she’s salted away plenty in a financial atmosphere where she’s trademarked her name and may be taking in the kind of booty handed her and other celebrities for merely showing up at special events. She may not even have to walk runways (she’s chatted about being fearful of falling) but simply sit in the front row facing them in order to bank substantial sums.
It isn’t stopping there, either. The Lagerfeld short isn’t Delevingne’s first time before cameras. Among early toe dipping was the clunky 2012 Jude Law-Keira Knightly Anna Karenina. More impressive are the six films in post-production right now—Pan, Suicide Squad, Paper Town, Kids in Love, London Fields and Tulip Fever. As a result of these, it looks possible that she could leave modeling behind and make the complete transition to movie making.
(Others have but not as successfully as actresses who’ve played models. That’s to say ’50s supermodel Suzy Parker was okay in The Best of Everything, and Andie MacDowell did nicely in films, Candace Bergen better than that. There is definitely Lauren Bacall and Oscar winner Charlize Theron. But none of them compare to Rita Hayworth modeling in Cover Girl or Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face or Julie Christie in her Oscar-winning Darling.)
Since she’s ceaselessly busy, when does Delevingne have time to be herself? “I don’t like Cara the model,” she was once caught live declaring. “I’m just Cara, and people like to pay me to model.” The enjoyment she has is cutting up with her friends, or so she’d have fans everywhere believe. She’s so intent on it that she’s compiled segments of Cara Delevingne’s Funniest Moments.
Whether these moments are genuinely entertaining depends on sharing the same attitudes towards humor as she has in which she’s silly in the way many 22-year-old young women are silly. Perusing as much footage as I could find on Delevingne in her behind-the scenes mode, I was only good for one seven-minute video. Thousands of others might be amused at her making goofy faces, dressing in animal costumes and clowning with friends like Kendall Jenner.
How to explain Delevingne’s eminence? In the Lagerfeld runway shows—populated by far fewer models than appear to be passing by since so many of them look alike—if Delevingne stands out, it’s because she’s the one with whom the couturier is holding hands when he takes his bow.
The truth is there’s no explaining such acclaim. Certainly, good looks according to whatever the prevailing definition is at the time are required as well as a modicum of poise, of confidence, of a clear-eyed gaze into the camera.
On the other hand, luck might be the most likely explanation—luck that goes beyond the luck of being born attractive by conventional standards or, in some instances, being born attractive by unconventional standards the world is ready to acknowledge.
But if it’s luck that anointed her, it’s not luck that’s keeping her there. What’s apparent about Delevingne now that she’s where she’s risen is that she realizes the power given her and instinctively understands how to use it. Sometimes it’s manifested by an authority she radiates. She knows who she is and expects the onlooker to recognize it as well. At other times—often when strolling with Lagerfeld (who also did much with the far more regal Evangelista in her heyday)—she does little, intuiting that she needn’t and she’ll still be appreciated.
Delevingne, with her 6.2 million Instagram followers, certainly benefited from advantages not every model can boast. She’s the daughter of Charles Delevingne, a wealthy London developer, comes from substantial families on both sides, was brought up in posh Belgravia and was educated at the ritzy Bedales school, where tuition is around $50,000. (Speaking of renowned beauties, her godmother is Joan Collins. Her sister is Poppy Delevingne, also a model, not nearly as well known.) She began modeling when she was 10 and has been at it ever since.
Get used to the name and the eyebrows. They’re going to be around for some time to come. I, for one, hope so. I get a kick from her sense of eminence. She gives the impression that to her that eminence is something of a joke and she’s ready to share it as widely as she now knows she’s able to. It’s a fun application of uncommon privilege. She’s not rubbing our noses in it, She’s spreading it around.