If there’s one perk of the New York Fashion Week schedule being jarringly bare bones this season, it’s that smaller-scale and up-and-coming labels have the chance to shine. Of all seasons, then, this one couldn’t be better for what’s arguably the least likely designer to join the fray: Under the leadership of its relatively new CEO, Julia Haart, Elite World Group—the international modeling agency which represents Kendall Jenner, Adriana Lima, and Irina Shayk—now has its own fashion label, known as e1972. 

When Haart was appointed to the helm of Elite in March of 2019, she promised to build up the company even further—quite the lofty goal, given that it was already the world’s largest network of modeling agencies. (Elite Model World, Women Model Management, The Society Management, and Women 360 are just a handful of the powerhouse agencies Elite oversees.) Haart, who was previously the creative director at La Perla, vowed she would create new avenues of growth for the company. Last year, she mentioned that a fashion brand called e1972—a nod to the year the agency was founded—would be part of it all, but cryptically left it at that.

Unsurprisingly, then, before the lights dimmed at e1972’s debut runway show on Saturday night, no one seemed to know what to expect. “I was really interested and intrigued,” Cody Simpson said backstage. “I mean, everybody was a little intrigued to see what it was.” "Everybody" included front-row guests Tommy Dorfman, Ashley Benson, and head of the CFDA Steven Kolb (who chose e1972 over the CFDA-backed Laquan Smith show just a few blocks away).

Adut Akech

Here’s what they found: Adut Akech leading a parade of models down a concrete runway, against the backdrop of vibrant walls freshly graffitied with inspirational phrases like “MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SUCCEED,” “WORK IT,” and “BE YOUR OWN ICON.” Established models like Isabeli Fontana, Lais Ribiero, and Cindy Bruna soon followed, as did Lindsey Wixson—a rare sight on the runway, given that the beloved model “retired” at age 23 in 2017—followed suit. Even rarer was the fact that showgoers occasionally cheered—though who couldn’t, in the presence of the runway’s most high-energy model, Miss Fame? The same goes for Bebe Rexha, who made a surprise appearance and strutted up and down the runway with glee. “Thanks to this sexy lady,” she said, holding hands with, and twirling, Haart, whose elaborate skin-tight sequin bodysuit fit right in with the show’s high-production value. (While the rest of fashion is in a frenzy for “sustainability,” Haart’s show presented the “go big or go home” mentality, despite brand messaging that states an effort for a reduced carbon footprint.) 

“It’s very nice owning a modeling agency,” Haart said of the casting, laughing. “It makes the runway very easy.” She meant not just to find models in general, but models she felt best encapsulated the brand, which initially blossomed from her frustrations with the fashion industry. She wanted to eradicate body-shaming—of which she’d seen plenty, working in the modeling industry.

The brand offers clothing with no sizes whatsoever. Shoppers use an app on their phones to scan their bodies, which gives a 3-D reading of every curve and detail to e1972. The consumer can then shop on the site with their exact bodily specifications, with each piece being made-to-measure. E1972 uses small ateliers based in New York City to create the clothing, with small batches of ready-to-wear basics like sweatpants and sweatshirts pre-made.

“The whole collection is about uniqueness and individuality—your clothes, your way, your size,” Haart said. All of the products can be purchased through the e1972 online store, and e-comm is certainly the main platform for consumers. But if the shopper wants to experience shopping at a higher level, there is a VIP aspect to e1972. 

“I have 32 agencies around the world,” Haart added, speaking rapidly. “Pretty much in every major city. In the 32 agencies, I’ve now put one room that has been set aside for the atelier. If you order a piece that’s more than $10,000 on the website, if you would like, we will invite you to one of my 32 ateliers around the world. We will wine you, we will give you champagne, you’ll meet someone from the design team, we’ll take your measurements, you’ll get to be in an agency, you’ll get to see models walking by. And how did you get that experience? Not by spending 2 million at Chanel in three years. You ordered it from your computer in your bedroom.”

This idea: “your clothes, your size, your way,” is one Haart repeatedly stressed during our conversation, saying it over and over like a mantra. And it’s one that Miss Fame, who’s one of e1972’s spokesmodels, was more than happy to get behind; she even scheduled her entire New York Fashion Week around the show. “It’s a really great celebration of individuality, and a way to present your own version of existing on this planet,” she said. She first met Haart through her work with Supreme, and now considers her part of her “family in the industry”: “I think her whole approach is to feel celebrated and uplifted. That’s rare in modeling, and in fashion. So for somebody to really welcome you with open arms means the world to me.” 

Miss Fame

For a runway vet like Fontana, who worked with the Elite chief executive while she was at La Perla, Haart’s “be yourself” approach to the runway was unheard of. “We always have to do what they tell us,” she said of the instructions models are typically given backstage. Especially now that she’s a health coach, she wants to put her decades of experience to use. “We can help each other to be stronger. That’s why I’m here, I guess—I think people need to see more light, and to believe in themselves more, and I think I can help them.” Not just in terms of self-confidence, but also with simply having fun—even when it comes to the non-models. (She enthusiastically offered this reporter a bite of her favorite Häagen-Dazs ice cream backstage.) 

Isabeli Fontana

Of course, the fashion industry isn’t just fun and games; there’s still the question of why a billion-dollar company like Elite World needs to create a brand in an industry that’s overflowing with labels and waste. With companies under Elite’s umbrella raking in revenue, why bother? According to Haart, the existence of Elite is exactly the point.

“I don’t think I could do it without the agency,” she said. “Meaning, the fact that I have 32 agencies helps me not have bricks-and-mortar stores. The fact that I’m constantly dealing with talent from all over the world, I get to see what people need and what they want and what inspires them and what makes them unique. So it gives me a real insight into the psyche of people all over the world. We’re kind of like a UN here. We have people from all over the world. And I love the idea of ‘be your own icon.’ Taking that [high-low] model lifestyle—if you see models on their off days, they’re in sweatpants and sweatshirts. Or they’re at the Grammys or the Oscars. I wanted to give that feeling to people who aren’t models. There’s no one who can do it better than us.”

Isabeli Fontana, Joaquim Arnell, Julia Bergshoeff, Lais Ribeiro