On September 11, 2015, nearly 100 models glided down the runway for Givenchy’s Spring 2016 presentation. It was spectacular in the literal sense, a massive production with choreography by Marina Abramovic, a slate of heavy-hitters including Kendall Jenner, Lineisy Montero, Joan Smalls, Jamie Bochert, and Candice Swanepoel, and a couture-like decadence that paid homage both to the anniversary of the terror attacks that struck New York City 14 years prior and to designer Riccardo Tisci’s 10-year anniversary at the storied French house.
But it was also singular for Canadian model Natalie Ludwig: It was the first runway gig for the Dartmouth College student, and a gateway into a new realm of modeling. (She was scouted at age 13, but only signed with Elite Management in 2014.) She walked Givenchy as an exclusive for Spring 2016; then, when the Fall 2016 season arrived, she signed on for no fewer than 17 different shows across Milan, Paris, New York, and London, including Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Maison Margiela, and Valentino. Now, she’s embarking on her first couture week — when we spoke over the phone in late June, she had already arrived in Paris, just days away from the beginning of casting.
Ludwig is a willowy, blue-eyed 20-year-old blonde with a narrow, aquiline nose that she said she works to her advantage in editorial shoots and on the runway. “Straight on, I can be such a different person than if I’m profiled,” she said. She’s a chameleon on the catwalk, moving seamlessly from the balletic romanticism of Valentino Fall 2016 to the edgy playfulness of Maison Margiela. (She listens to music to get in the right headspace, she said, adding that tunes range from Eminem to her brother’s workout playlist.) Her ability to embody different characters is also what drew her to modeling. Ludwig moved to New Hampshire from Vancouver for university, and soon, her friends began taking jobs and internships in offices. She realized she wanted to pursue a fashion career rather than go the traditional route.
“I hadn’t seen the extreme creative side of it, so I wanted to give it a test,” she said. She started going to New York for test shoots, juggling school and work until that fateful Givenchy gig. She’s taking a step back from the classroom now, studying one semester per year and spending the rest of her time focused on modeling. (She’s still on track to graduate, but in 2021 rather than 2017.)
The learning curve has been steep for Ludwig, but she hasn’t been without help. Her little sister recently signed with IMG Models, and her brother, actor Alexander Ludwig, was plucked out of a University of Southern California library by one of Bruce Weber’s scouts for an Abercrombie & Fitch campaign. He has since committed to acting — he played Cato in the Hunger Games trilogy and now has a recurring role on the History Channel series Vikings — but he’s still working with Bvlgari, his sister noted.
“He’s definitely taught me to be a lot more confident,” Ludwig said — both on and off the runway. He’s something of a thrill-seeker, she explained: “He surprised me on my birthday and we went skydiving. I had no idea till I got there...We’re always testing ourselves.” (She has a dare-devilish streak, too, but “he’s more psycho,” she said with a laugh.)
She’s also had help from the pros — she met and befriended supermodel Naomi Campbell while on vacation in Uruguay over Christmas this year, and the two stayed in touch. Campbell was backstage at Burberry during the Fall 2016 show in London, and Ludwig attended her Taschen book launch in New York in April.
“She just made me recognize that I’m able to transform myself into different characters,” Ludwig said — it was Campbell who first noticed how Ludwig’s look could change with the camera’s angle. “Now, I just don’t hold back when I walk anymore.”
Ludwig wasn’t immediately endowed of that confidence. “At the start, I was taking everything personally,” she explained. “One season, you may fit [a designer’s] vision, and the next season you don’t. I’ve just come to understand that — it doesn’t mean they don’t like me.”
She may have borrowed this confidence and fashion savvy from her brother — and mother, whose vintage Versace and Dolce & Gabbana Ludwig borrows on occasion — but she’s also inherited a realist streak from her dad. She studies sociology and human geography at Dartmouth, and once she had graduated and wrapped up modeling, she hopes to team up with her siblings and work with — or even start her own — charity linked to fashion and female empowerment. (She cited Petra Nemcova’s philanthropic work as inspiration.)
In the shorter term, Ludwig’s dream collaborators include Versace, Prada, Chanel, and Dior. She’s already won over Riccardo Tisci and Naomi Campbell — if her path thus far is any indicator, the rest will be lining up any day now.