Milan Fashion Week has long been criticized for the lack of diversity on its runways. The dialogue typically centers around race, but the city is hardly known for size inclusivity, either. It seemed like business as usual, then, when supers like Mariacarla Boscono and Karen Elson; staples like Lexi Boling and Adut Akech; and—it almost goes without saying—Kaia Gerber and the Hadids hit the runway at Fendi’s fall 2020 show on Thursday, February 20. But this time around, there was a welcome surprise: They were soon joined by Paloma Elsesser and Jill Kortleve, the first “plus-size” models to walk Fendi in the house’s history.
Elsesser, a regular at Eckhaus Latta, typically walks smaller-scale runways. Kortleve is no stranger to major shows; she started out as an Alexander McQueen exclusive in 2018 and so far this season has booked Rag & Bone, Michael Kors, and Molly Goddard. Still, Fendi marked her Milan debut. “Sometimes I feel like my life isn’t real,” she wrote afterward on Instagram.
Elsesser also used Instagram as a platform to reflect on the experience, which she described as a “monumental moment.” “Thank you to everyone involved. For making me feel protected, safe, and seen,” she wrote on Friday. “This means the world to me, but most importantly to those who have never seen themselves on a runway in Milan.” Industry names like Karlie Kloss and Brandon Maxwell jumped in to the comments with heart emojis, while Bella Hadid went as far as to call Elsesser “my president.”
Backstage, Fendi’s creative director, Silvia Venturini Fendi, told Vogue that “of course” she has felt frustrated with sample size being the standard. “Especially because you talk to me and I am not really a prototype of that shape. So it’s liberating for me to portray these clothes in a different way, on different sizes.” Hopefully, there will be even more than two different sizes next time, though Fendi’s picks of Elsesser and Kortleve are especially significant; the two are some of the industry’s most vocal when it comes to body positivity.
The Most Surprising Runway Models at Fashion Week Fall 2020
Miu Miu’s fall 2020 show offered a surprise right off the bat when the 16-year-old Euphoria actress Storm Reid opened in a crinkly orange gown. Reid also recently wore Miu Miu on the Invisible Man press tour, and declared herself a “#miumiugirl” in an Instagram post after the show.
The Miu Miu catwalk also played host to Rita Ora, who is signed to Kate Moss’s modeling agency. Ora shared the news on Instagram, writing, “So your girl gave you a walk today Hunay on this fine Tuesday! Such an honour to walk for [Miuccia Prada].”
Every few years or so, the ’90s super Kirsty Hume returns to the runway. This time around, she did so at Alexander McQueen with fellow Fashion Week vets Amber Valletta and Malgosia Bela.
Somehow, it wasn’t until this season that Lara Stone walked her first Valentino show. It was her only runway appearance for fall 2020, and her first in two years.
Sasha Luss stuck to the front row at Balmain and Chanel, but she made the leap back to the runway for Givenchy. Aside from a couple of Balmain shows, Luss has stuck almost entirely to campaigns since switching her focus to acting. (She starred in her first feature film, Anna, with Helen Mirren and Luke Evans last year.)
Helena Christensen has been largely absent from the runway since helping Donatella Versace to close out Versace’s spring 2018 show with a supermodel reunion in 2017. But just before Fashion Month came to a close, the 51-year-old jumped back in to the fray with an appearance at Balmain in Paris. Christensen’s 20-year-old model son, Mingus Reedus, also popped up on the runway, at Tommy Hilfiger’s show in London.
Erin Wasson has pivoted to styling, designing, and making TV appearances since dominating the runways in the early aughts. The 38-year-old still regularly stars in campaigns, but it had been years since she’d walked a major show before she joined Christensen at Balmain.
Olivier Rousteing kept the supers coming at Balmain. On the heels of Liya Kebede, Esther Cañadas closed out the show in one of Rousteing’s signature admiral jackets. The 42-year-old, who was a muse to Donna Karan, was everywhere on the runways in the ‘90s, but took a step back from the catwalk in the early aughts.
Yolanda Hadid is more of a front row fixture these days, but for decades the 56-year-old was a regular on the runway. Forty years after Eileen Ford discovered her at age 16—before she’d even seen a fashion magazine—Hadid returned to her roots by joining her daughters Gigi and Bella in walking Off-White’s show in Paris.
It wouldn’t be a Philipp Plein show without controversy. Failing to remove the two giant gilded helicopters from the backdrop of what was supposedly an homage to Kobe Bryant might be one of Plein’s biggest blunders yet, but at least this time it also gave us an opportunity to see a show opened by Jada Pinkett Smith.
The photographer (and onetime model) Ellen Von Unwerth also made a surprise appearance on Plein’s catwalk in Milan. Naturally, she brought her camera along.
It’s not entirely unheard of for Lottie Moss to turn up on a catwalk—in 2016, she even walked for Chanel—but in no way does Moss hold a candle to her half-sister Kate. So far this season, though, she has the super beat: Kate has yet to walk a single fall 2020 show, whereas Lottie put in an appearance at Tommy Hilfiger’s TommyNow.
Less than three weeks after signing to IMG—not to mention engineering J.Lo’s portion of the Super Bowl halftime show—the choreographer Parris Goebel made her London Fashion Week debut at TommyNow. Previously, she was endorsed by none other than Rihanna, who tapped Goebel to both walk and choreograph last fall’s Savage x Fenty show.
This Milan Fashion Week marked a milestone for Fendi: For the first time ever, the house featured a “plus-size” model in one of its runway shows. In fact, the label cast two—the first of whom was Jill Kortleve, who made her runway debut as an Alexander McQueen exclusive in 2018.
Joining Kortleve at Fendi was Paloma Elsesser, who’s also a vocal advocate for body positivity. Elsesser, a regular at smaller-scale shows like Eckhaus Latta, later reflected on the experience on Instagram: “Thank you to everyone involved. For making me feel protected, safe, and seen. This means the world to me, but most importantly to those who have never seen themselves on a runway in Milan.” Like Kortleve, Elsesser also walked Alexander McQueen.
Lena Dunham set a high bar for London Fashion Week on day one when she stepped onto the runway for the first time ever at 16Arlington, wearing a one-sleeve leather-topped cocktail dress.
It’s been decades since Anh Duong, who’s since become known for her self-portraits, frequented the runways. Not that you’d be able to tell from the 59-year-old’s surprise appearance at Prabal Gurung. “In my 20s, they told me I would never model because I was mixed race and looked too exotic…Many moons later I am still modeling 😅,” Duong, who also recently appeared in Uncut Gems, posted on Instagram after the show. “The fashion industry is the most powerful venue to influence how we view beauty and women. Today I am honored to represent my age group. It is important to use that voice in a way that will empower women and stop shaming them for their color, shape, or age.”
Caroline Polachek, formerly of Chairlift, closed out Puppets and Puppets’ fall 2020 show at the Prince George Ballroom in an inventive interpretation of a hoop skirt.
Jillian Mercado, who’s fresh off a delightful role in The L Word: Generation Q, has booked her fair share of fashion campaigns. But it wasn’t until The Blonds’ show during New York Fashion Week that Mercado, who was born with spastic muscular dystrophy, made her runway debut. After the show, Mercado reflected on the experience on Instagram, describing it as “the opportunity of a lifetime, a huge milestone in my career.”
Ahead of her own show, which took place off the official New York Fashion Week calendar, Lou Dallas designer Raffaella Hanley moonlit as a model for Eckhaus Latta, as well as Puppets and Puppets.
Mission Chinese Food chef Danny Bowien took a break from the kitchen to walk not one, but three shows this season: Eckhaus Latta, Sandy Liang, and, seen above, Puppets and Puppets. (Is it any surprise he has good taste?)
It’s felt like far too long since Daphne Groeneveld has been a regular on the runway, and yet the Dutch model is only 25. This season, she sat front row at Palm Angels, and eventually took the leap back onto the runway at Laquan Smith.