Last month’s Miu Miu show saw the internet lose its mind for several hours, thanks to a few factors. Firstly, the inclusion of buzzy stars such as Ethel Cain and Emma Corrin. Also, the clothes, from Carhartt-coloured outerwear to the genius styling trick of jumpers tucked into the top of tights (sure to be seen IRL now).
But if Cain and Corrin grabbed the headlines, the appearance of other models would have blown up in smaller circles. See photographer Bella Newman and Annabelle Weatherly, the artist and sometime model with the best mullet in the business. Their casting wasn’t the result of stylist Lotta Volkova and casting director Ashley Brokaw feeling the pressure to fill a show with 65 looks. In fact, it was part of a bigger trend: the rise of the IYKYK model.
Newman is huge in one sense; she shoots for Tommy Hilfiger and Self Service, and has dabbled in modelling before. She also has 37.6k followers on Instagram, including Mel Ottenberg, Rihanna’s stylist and the Editor-in-Chief of Interview, who commented, “I KNEW SHE/YOU LOOKED FAMILIAR BELLA!!!!” on her post about Miu Miu. But – as Ottenberg’s comment suggests – she is out of context on the runway, only recognised by those in the know.
The IYKYK model isn’t always an industry name. Slightly more niche celebrities have also made surprise appearances at Fashion Weeks. See author Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation) in the Maryam Nassir Zadeh show; designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin in last year’s Rick Owens show; Greg from White Lotus on the Eckhaus Latta runway in February; or stylist Law Roach, modelling on the catwalk for Boss’ show in Miami a few hours after announcing his retirement on Instagram. Look, too, at casting where knowing is about being in the joke – M3gan as a model for Heaven by Marc Jacobs, for example. Then there’s the cult reference: recognising Y2K goddess Devon Aoki in the new Acne Studios campaign.
The casting of Newman and Weatherly can broadly be put down to a (technical term) “cool person factor”; if you know them, you’re in the “in crowd”. This is the same with the case of Dean Kissick, the art writer, followed by the great and the good of New York’s Dimes Square scene, is enjoying something of a modelling career. He was in a campaign for J Crew in February and followed that up with a campaign for Heaven, which also featured writer and editors Isabella Burley and Mel Ottenberg.
IYKYK casting, in whatever form it comes, has long existed in fashion to a certain extent: see Jean-Michel Basquiat on the Comme des Garçons runway in 1987, Adrian Brody for Prada in 2012 or one of The Real Housewives of Cheshire Dawn Ward on the Art School catwalk in 2019.
The decision to cast these personalities alongside professional models gives brands something different – depending on who it is. A niche celebrity like White Lotus’s Greg might go momentarily viral, while Aoki for Acne is a choice for the heads. The cool real person option adds a layer of authenticity. Rather than choosing someone solely for their beauty and ability to look great in clothes, they are bringing the actual people they would like to wear their labels into the campaign. And if they share their love of the brand with their influential friends and followers? Even better.
It isn’t always strategic, of course. Sometimes it’s friends helping out a friend. See Zainab Jama, the creative consultant who has modelled for each of the Ferragamo shows by her friend Maximilian Davis. Or look to Raul Lopez’s Luar; the women in his shows are chosen from his New York community.
“They are my second family, my support system,” he told Numero this month. “When it comes to my shows, the House Dolls are like my daughters, and then there are the House Guests, who are the models from agencies.”
A family feeling was there at the show thanks to those Dolls, with cheers from the audience for each look. Turns out, if you know, you know.