Cameron Rus­sell

The ac­tivist is mo­bil­is­ing her fel­low mod­els, rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the fash­ion in­dus­try in the process.

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Cameron Russell - By Ly­dia Slater Pho­to­graph by WILL DAVID­SON Styled by MI­RANDA AL­MOND

The day be­fore fly­ing to New York to meet Cameron Rus­sell, I book my­self into John Frieda’s sa­lon for an emer­gency hair colour and blowdry. Af­ter all, cer­tain stan­dards of groom­ing are de rigueur when in­ter­view­ing a su­per­model.

But I needn’t have wor­ried, for Rus­sell is a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish. She turns up at our ren­dezvous, a park in Queens, wear­ing baggy shorts and train­ers, her own tawny hair scraped back into a tight pony­tail, and scoffs at the no­tion that her (nev­er­the­less ex­quis­ite) looks make her in any way wor­thy of spe­cial treat­ment.

In­deed, Rus­sell has spent much of her mod­el­ling ca­reer do­ing bat­tle with that no­tion. In her 2012 TED talk – ti­tled ‘Looks aren’t ev­ery­thing. Be­lieve me, I’m a model’ – she called out her own in­dus­try for be­ing racist, sex­ist and pur­vey­ing un­re­al­is­tic im­ages of phys­i­cal per­fec­tion. ‘These pic­tures are not pic­tures of me. They are con­struc­tions by a group of pro­fes­sion­als,’ she ex­plained. No won­der her talk is still one of the 10 most watched ever.

She is ‘not that in­ter­ested’ in her ap­pear­ance. ‘When I was in sev­enth grade, they got us to sit in a cir­cle, and then they asked us to step into the mid­dle if we thought our thighs were too big, or what­ever – which is a crazy thing to do to teenage girls any­way. I didn’t step into the cir­cle for any­thing, and it was the first time it dawned on me, “Wait, am I look­ing the way girls want to look?” Pre­vi­ously

I hadn’t thought about it at all.’

All the same, with lu­cra­tive cam­paigns for brands such as Louis Vuit­ton, Saint Lau­rent, Calvin Klein and Gior­gio Ar­mani un­der her belt, Rus­sell is fully aware of the pulling power ex­erted by her fine-boned beauty (she stud­ied eco­nomics at Columbia Univer­sity, af­ter all). And in turn, she has not hes­i­tated to use her vis­i­bil­ity to fur­ther the causes she cares about.

In 2017, Rus­sell co-founded the Model Mafia, a pres­sure group of model-ac­tivists, and in the same year, brought the Me Too cam­paign to fash­ion by pub­lish­ing mod­els’ anonymised sto­ries of ex­ploita­tion on her In­sta­gram feed, lead­ing to a whole­sale shake-up of the in­dus­try, af­fect­ing some of its big­gest names. ‘Of course there is go­ing to be a power im­bal­ance that has to do with gen­der when ev­ery­one in charge on set is a man,’ she points out, so she has been in­sist­ing that the shoots in which she par­tic­i­pates are as di­verse as pos­si­ble.

Now, she’s in the midst of writ­ing a book on fash­ion. ‘It’s a bril­liant mi­cro­cosm to talk about cap­i­tal­ism and power,’ she ex­plains. ‘Re­search­ing it has been so fas­ci­nat­ing. Did you know that one in seven women in the world is em­ployed in the fash­ion in­dus­try, and the ma­jor­ity don’t earn a live­able wage? But look­ing at it in a pos­i­tive way, if we get this in­dus­try to change, we ef­fect huge change glob­ally.’ Com­pas­sion, com­mit­ment, in­tegrity: no­body wears it bet­ter than Cameron Rus­sell.

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