After opening the Prada 2018-2019 Fall-Winter show, Anok Yai became Estée Lauder's new face worldwide. In October 2017, she had only signed her very first modeling contract with famed Next Models agency, who spotted her from a trending Instagram post of hers.
The classic way to spot a model is well known. In 1988, Kate Moss was 14 years old, returning from a family trip to the Bahamas: as she strolls down the aisles at JFK Airport in New York, a scout stops her to convince her to become a model. The rest is history.
Zoe Louis is a another recent example. In early 2017, while attending an Ariana Grande concert, Louis is noticed among the crowd, and signs shortly after with the legendary Ford Models agency. This September, she could be seen walking the runways of the Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and Giambattista Valli shows, among others.
But that was the old way of doing things. Now, with the evolution of technology, agencies have found a new hunting ground for spotting tomorrow's new face among the crowd of millennials: Instagram. A platform that clearly changes the rules of the game, making would-be models active participants in their own scouting.
Anok Yai is no stranger to this approach. The 19-year-old Sudanese-American has been living a fairy tale since a professional photographer posted a snapshot of her on his blog and Instagram account, which counts a following of nearly 25,000 people.
The cliché, taken at an event at Howard University to which Anok was invited, was posted by @thesunk on October 21 with a direct reference to Yai's account, @anokyai.
That morning, the young medical student's account adds over 50,000 subscribers—today, it counts 176,000. Her email is flooded and, among the many proposals from modeling agencies, a particular offer stands out: Next Models, in New York. Yai, who has always dreamed of following this path, signs immediately. Fast forward to February 2018 and the young model finds herself opening Prada's 2018-2019 Fall/Winter show, twenty years exactly after her idol, Naomi Campbell opened her own show for the label. Yai is the second African-American model ever to be given this opportunity.
Anok is part of a new generation that has managed to capture the attention of the agencies —whether voluntarily or involuntarily— through photos posted on social networks. Recognizing this, the prestigious IMG agency organized a large-scale recruitment campaign on Instagram in 2015, wittily dubbed "We Love Your Genes". The campaign encouraged anyone on the platform to identify their selfies with the #WLYG hashtag, which the agency actively monitored and screened. More than 14,000 people participated in the movement, but only a dozen (including the promising Sofia Rivolta and Mies Magrijn) landed the much coveted contract with the agency. Beyond physique, IMG said it takes a close look at participant's personal universe. This criterion was thought to be paramount when ultra-creative Marc Jacobs chose the muses of his 2014 Fall/Winter and 2015 Spring campaigns through his #CastMeMarc hashtag.
A new kind of recruiting for a new type of model, less coat rack and more representative of its generation, sporting differences without fear.