In the hypercompetitive, rarefied world of professional beauty, what defines the look of the moment? Hailey Baldwin, Maria Borges, Bella Hadid, Elsa Hosk, Candice Huffine, and Jasmine Tookes prove the answer is, for once, truly manifold. Consider this a celebration of progress—for diversity of skin color, hair texture, and body shape, yes, but also dreams and ideas—and a bid for much more of it to come.
Daughter of The Usual Suspects actor Stephen, cousin to model Ireland, niece to Alec (not to mention onetime love interest of Justin Bieber), Hailey Baldwin has made a seamless transition from Hollywood royalty to fashion rock star. “It just happened naturally and progressed,” says Baldwin, 20, who switched her focus from ballet to modeling when she was 17. Now best friends with fellow social-media-queens– turned–models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, Baldwin has a whopping 9.4 million followers on Instagram, where her feed brims with not only glamour shots from fashion shoots and shows around the world but also Bible verses (“My faith is something people sometimes get surprised by”) and casual, makeup-free shots. “I think naturally pretty is the way to go,” says Baldwin, currently the face of Guess and a cohost of TBS’s celebrity rap-battle show, Drop the Mic. She cites another beachy blonde, Claudia Schiffer, as her beauty icon. “Girls should feel confident in themselves without having to alter anything.”
Born in the midst of the civil war in her native Angola, Maria Borges was raised by her sister from the age of 11, when their mother died. Often teased for being so tall and lean, Borges, who revered Naomi Campbell, entered a modeling competition in Luanda, the country’s capital, at 17, and while she didn’t win, she did land a contract. In her first New York Fashion Week, in 2011, she walked in 17 shows, despite barely speaking any English (“If someone said something to me, I just smiled,” she says). By her second season, she was a Givenchy exclusive (she refers to Givenchy’s then– creative director Riccardo Tisci as her godfather); countless editorials, fashion shows, and advertising campaigns later, in 2015, she became the first black Victoria’s Secret model to rock her natural hair in a short Afro on the runway. “I wanted to inspire women around the world to embrace their own hair and texture, especially African women,” she says. Most recently, she was named the new face of L’Oréal Paris. “I’m happy to see this embrace of diversity happening right now,” she says. “But I hope it’s forever. Girls with short hair, tall girls, black girls, Chinese girls, Korean girls—we all follow fashion.”
As a Malibu teen, Bella Hadid— half Dutch, half Palestinian, all American—spent her time working at a juice bar, riding horses, and “having the high school experience,” she told ELLE, or as much as that’s possible when your mom is a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills and your sister, Gigi, has a burgeoning modeling career. But once Hadid met with a modeling agent at 18, “things went a little more full force than I expected.” It’s an understated way of describing the speed with which the now 20-year-old ascended to the supernova status she currently holds: 11.2 million Instagram followers who fanatically follow her every move; more than 30 magazine covers in 2016 alone; campaigns for Topshop, Balmain, and Dior Makeup. After long looking up to ’90s supermodels like Linda Evangelista, Hadid is now often compared to them. “There’s this extra x factor that makes these girls superstars,” designer Jeremy Scott told ELLE. “Bella has that.”
“Beauty is changing,” says the 5’9½” Elsa Hosk, 28. “It’s more about finding someone with beliefs that you look up to versus just a pretty face.” For Hosk, a highlight of last February’s fashion shows was meeting Halima Aden, the Somali American model who walked the runway for Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti in a hijab and braces. “I was such a silly fangirl,” she says. “It’s more important than ever to stand up and have a voice.” After being “thrown into this crazy industry” at 15, then playing professional basketball for a short time in her native Sweden, Hosk moved to New York to model full-time at 20, quickly landing print work for Guess, H&M, and now Givenchy, as well as shows like Altuzarra, Oscar de la Renta, and Victoria’s Secret. “You’re constantly judged on how you look,” she says of her job. “But over the years, I’ve come to not care so much. You can’t be perfect—no one is.”
When Candice Huffine was 15, her bedroom walls were plastered with her favorite beauty queens, and she had years of pageant competitions already under her belt. So when she traveled from DC, her hometown, to New York for modeling-agency open calls, she assumed it would be as simple as signing on the dotted line. Instead, she heard over and over that they’d love to have her—but only if she lost 15 pounds. Ultimately, one agency signed her as a plus-size model, though the category left her confused: “I was a size 6! I went so far as to show them the label in my pants,” she says, noting that these days, she’s a size 12. She started booking jobs immediately, first for catalogs and magazines like Seventeen, and then, pivotally, she landed a 2011 cover of Italian Vogue: “Previously, curvy girls had lived a quiet, commercial-catalog existence,” she says. “It ignited some lightbulbs in people’s heads.” In 2015, Huffine broke another barrier when she appeared in Pirelli’s iconic pinup calendar. “Growing up, my favorite model was Laetitia Casta, the curviest girl at the time,” she says. “It’s vitally important, moving forward, that there’s a woman every girl can identify with.”
On Jasmine Tookes’s twenty-fourth birthday, in 2015, she learned that after three years of walking the Victoria’s Secret runway, she was finally becoming an Angel—one of the bewinged models who rep the brand year-round. It was a dream come true: As a little girl, Tookes had staged Victoria’s Secret shows at home for her mom, who was a stylist. “I had crowns and wings and scarves that I’d tie in crazy ways,” she says. She’d particularly looked up to Tyra Banks for her confidence and skill, and also for having been the first black woman to don the jeweled, multimillion-dollar Fantasy Bra, an event that basically anoints its wearer as the sexiest woman in the world. Victoria’s Secret knows that whichever model walks the runway in “Fantasy” will generate break-the-Internet numbers on social media. In 2016, when Tookes found out she’d be following in Banks’s footsteps and wearing that year’s version, she burst into tears. After moving to New York from Orange County, California, to model at 18, she’d too often found herself the only black model in a show. But since then, she says, “the industry has grown.” Last February, for the first time, at least one model of color appeared on every New York Fashion Week runway, and more than 30 percent of the models were nonwhite.