Not so long ago, the role of an e-commerce model sat at the bottom rung of the desirable fashion-gig ladder. Sure, you might get paid a pretty penny for the very commerciality of it all, but it wasn't necessarily career-enhancing stuff. That is until brands realised that there's so much potential in discovering the right face for your audience. Find the model that inspires people to shop, and you have yourself the gift that keeps on giving. Not only that but as the online shopping space has become ever-more crowded, labels are all-too-aware that their identity needs to be defined and their "look" easily recognisable (not to mention you need major models to stand head-to-head with your peers).
Bag yourself an iconic '90s face (like Zara has done on multiple occasions this year), and you have not only a marketable talking point within the industry but a real wow moment for consumers too. Add those points to the fact that model shots and e-commerce imagery has become more editorialised than ever, and it's imperative you've got a subject who can meet the challenge. It is no mean feat shooting countless looks in one day and upholding enthusiasm and sass throughout the entire process.
In the Who What Wear UK office, the conversation of our favourite online models who prompt us to magically shop often comes up. I recently spoke to an inside source at one of our most relied-upon high-street brands who told me just how important it is for them to secure a particular face. Why? Because whatever the model wears typically sells out.
Hannah Jowitt, head of the women's board at Models 1, has also noticed amongst the most successful e-commerce girls: "The look that really seems it be working is someone that is beautiful but also attainable. Not too tall, not too skinny, not too strong, not too sexy. Also, someone that looks like they’re not taking themselves too seriously."
Jowitt has also witnessed the shift from this being perceived as a lesser position in the industry to big business. "I think everyone now sees the value of e-commerce for models. As a new face it’s an amazing way to build up a nice pot of money. I have known very successful e-com models who buy their first flat purely from this work," she tells us. "As agents, we have to be careful not to allow a girl just to be an e-commerce model. You have to manage the girl’s career and eventually scale down the e-com in favour of higher fashion and bigger commercial advertising jobs. However, it’s a great building block for all girls starting out, they learn how to model, how to work in a team, and set themselves up with a nice cushion of cash along the way."
For many brands and sites, it will be a case of trial and error (and, occasionally, steal the model from a competitor), but there are other factors behind a casting director making a decision. As Jowitt explains, "Models are—and I hope always will be—in demand. They have had to diversify, though. Customers want a piece of the model's personality; they want to feel they can live the life and that they resonate with the person on the screen. Social media currently plays a big role in model booking. I don’t know that it will stay this way, but for now, models have to use their social media to grow their business, and they have show their personality through it. Hundreds of selfies and work pics just aren’t enough. The customer needs to feel they have seen inside the model’s life a little."
It's important too—for consumers, in particular—to see the same women over and over again and for the brand to reinforce their aesthetic rather than chop and change each season. For example, I can spot the model who often does ASOS's White collection or the model who is photographed for everything at American boutique FWRD from a mile off, and that's a very good thing when we're presented with so much imagery each day.
Aymeline Valade is the 34-year-old French actress and model that Zara has recently picked up on, and Who What Wear's associate social media editor, Isabel Mundigo-Moore, is already hooked: "She makes everything look effortless and cool. I haven't actually bought something but I've had been close on a few occasions and then I had to rethink why I was about to buy those pieces." Which is fascinating, considering Isabel is more of a vintage or niche brand shopper than a Zara girl.
Semaj is my current obsession and makes me rack up the biggest shopping basket wishlist on American boutique, Lisa Says Gah. Maybe it's her wild hair or her no-makeup beauty, maybe it's the super-easy way she just throws on the prettiest pieces and makes them look relaxed… I'm not sure what the magic of the rather mysterious Semaj is (you can glean a little info in this BTS piece here, but otherwise I can't tell whether she's a model signed to an agency or just a pal of the site) but I hope she keeps popping up on my feed…
The idea of this piece first started with Hedvig Palm, the bushy-browed Swedish model, because we noticed her on every one of our favourite high street sites: From Zara to COS, Mango and more, she's instantly recognisable and yet versatile enough to work across entirely different brands and pull off the clothes with such ease. Hedvig was Byrdie editorial director, Amy Lawrenson's top choice right away.
Another one from me: Zinta. Almost permanently booked for shooting the latest pieces at online American designer boutique fwrd by Elyse Walker, keeping the same ultra-static, mega-grumpy glare in each shot. Maybe it's the incredible continuity (and great styling) that lures me in. Maybe it's that I want to be able to wear my hair slicked down in a middle parting. Maybe it's that I know she's also a polo player, pilot and regular adventurer.
We first wrote about Slovakian-Greek model, Dominika Grnova three years ago when she captured our attention and wallets repeatedly via her modelling work on ASOS. The brand often used her for their higher price point lines such as ASOS White, and since then I've seen her everywhere. These days you'll also find her at Accessorize, Nasty Gal, River Island, Urban Outfitters and, we suspect, many more.
Cara Taylor was nominated by Byrdie's associate social media editor, Alyss Bown. "I have a couple of 'go-to models' for when I'm online shopping, but this Zara model could be wearing a bin bag and chances are, I'd buy it," she tells me. "It's probably because she has pretty much the exact same hair and complexion as me so I can visualize myself in the clothes—but also because, she's very genetically blessed and looks just the right amount of casual with a hint of edginess. Annnd now I'm off to buy that velvet dress."