Campaign Face: Devon Aoki

Clash explores the appeal behind Kenzo's SS14 leading lady.

“She looks kinda alien,” muses brand consultant Ollie Olanipekun, “in the best way possible.”

“She’s iconic!” adds Charlotte Roberts, stylist and co-founder of The Mushpit. “Her face just has that indescribable ‘thing’ that makes you want to look again and again. And again.”

The pair – along with photographer Sam Bayliss-Ibram, who defines her as one of his idols – are discussing the appeal of Devon Aoki, the half Japanese, quarter German and quarter English face of Kenzo SS14, pictured above.

Possibly you recognise her solely as Suki or Miho from 2003’s ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ or the latter ‘Sin City’, her debut film roles which ten years ago upped the ante for the already hugely popular model. Or maybe she caught your eye in the music videos for either Primal Scream’s ‘Kowalski’ or ‘Bones’ by The Killers?

Of course there is the likelihood you’re a fully paid up member of the Devon Aoki fan club, au fait with the multiple Tumblr pages that obsess over her image on a day to day basis; quite literally for ‘devon-aoki-daily’, religiously for ‘fuckyeahdevonaoki’, ‘tiaradevonaoki’ and the rest.

             

 

Discovered at a Rancid gig aged just 13, Devon was introduced to Kate Moss in 1995 and had signed to Storm management by 1996; two years later she replaced Naomi Campbell as the face of Versace.

“She’s closed Chanel and fronted a Baby Phat campaign! Who else could?” reckons Sam, who along with Charlotte points to that photo of Suki atop her pink Honda S2000 car as the pivotal Aoki image.

While her late ‘90s/early ‘00s hey day was shared with other models such as Jacquetta Wheeler, Maggie Rizer, Angela Lindvall, Audrey Marney, Liberty Ross, Anouck Lepere and Frankie Rayder, hers is the face that most often defines the era and continues to speak to the industry today.

Says Roberts: “I think she captures something for me. A mood. It's that mood where, say, you've had an argument with your boyfriend and have gone off in a strop to smoke and sulk and you kinda wanna punch someone. Yeah, she kinda encapsulates that mood for me; a powerful little sex bomb about to blow.”

Like Alek Wek before her, her look – as well as her height – was an anomaly within the business that almost by default caused a ripple. That she arrived at a time when models had to be interesting as opposed to simply beautiful, only further caught the imagination of designers and photographers alike.

“I'm pleased to be a part of a 'new breed' of models who perhaps don't exactly fit the status quo,” she was previously quoted. “I think it's important that there is a change, especially in fashion.”

Roberts suggests “that sulky, bratty vibe she does so well” is what makes Aoki so unique against a backdrop of girls with “maybe a more obvious or conventional sex appeal."

“She's got that innate sense of cool and nonchalance and also 90% of the time looks like she doesn't give a flying fuck which automatically makes you a 1000% cooler. I like that she can look sexy, innocent, mysterious and weird all in one image,” she continues.

It is this spirit that The Mushpit Tumblr page, curated by Roberts and her co-founder Bertie Brandes, is full of, likewise the pages created by other twenty somethings; a nostalgic gaze at an era they were too young to fully engage with but old enough to appreciate. It’s what Devon Aoki the model signifies to many, that crossover at the Millennium where many of 2014’s young adults were approaching adolescence.

             

 

Today you’ll find her model card on the special bookings board (reserved for actresses and musicians who like to dabble), though if her fans in Kenzo and H&M – for whom she fronted the Isabel Marant campaign last year – are anything to go by, modelling is still very much on the cards (if you will).

Additionally, that Jeremy Scott, who for years has lauded Devon as his muse, has taken over at Moschino (thus further cementing his place within popular culture), means we can but hope for a return to the Aoki fronted campaign, such as the label’s SS01 Jeans campaign that graced us with twin Devon’s. 

As if to further whet one’s appetite, when asked for a model today that possesses Aoki like qualities, both Ollie and Charlotte reply Lindsey Wixson, interestingly the same model picked by Scott to close his first Moschino show earlier this year.

Just saying.

Words: Zoe Whitfield

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