The ‘nepo model’ backlash: When a pretty face isn’t enough

The familiar origin story of model discovery is being rewritten by the onslaught of celebrity offspring in fashion. Comments from Italian Vogue cover star Vittoria Ceretti against nepo-babies and celebrities benefiting from nepotism, explain why nobody is smiling on the runway.

Once gangly girls such as Claudia SchifferChristy Turlington and Naomi Campbell were scouted by agents who could see a bright future and big dollars in developing cheekbones.

Today, if your parents have a hit reality television show, aristocratic title, Oscar or dramatically deep pockets, you can jump the queue to walk in the next Dolce & Gabbana show or lipstick launch.

“I bumped into an interview of a so-called ‘nepo baby’ or whatever y’all call it,” Ceretti wrote on an Instagram story, later shared by fashion news account Diet Prada.

“I have many nepo baby friends whom I respect, but I can’t stand listening to you comparing yourself to me. I was not born on a comfy sexy pillow with a view. I know it’s not your fault, but please, appreciate and know the place you came from.”

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The comments follow a recent interview in Ella magazine with Chanel ambassador Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of actor Johnny Depp and French singer and former Chanel model Vanessa Paradis.

“The internet seems to care a lot about that kind of stuff,” Lily-Rose said. “People are going to have preconceived ideas about you or how you got there, and I can definitely say that nothing is going to get you the part except for being right for the part.”

Lily-Rose Depp attends the Wolf Premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Lily-Rose Depp attends the Wolf Premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

While Lily-Rose is the assumed target of Ceretti’s comments, Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber, Kim Kardashian’s sister Kendall Jenner and sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid, who found fame following their mother Yolanda’s appearance on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in 2012, all qualify as nepo models.

The appearance of Prince Felix of Denmark on the runway for Dior, Heidi Klum’s daughter Leni on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Germany’s April issue, and Eve Jobs, daughter of Apple founder Steve, in Louis Vuitton’s latest advertising campaign, has helped drive more than 70 million views of the hashtag #nepobaby on the social media platform TikTok.

Ceretti’s comments were supported by Egyptian-born Sudanese-American Anok Yai, the second black model to open a Prada show, after Naomi Campbell.

“I will see some of you privilege [sic] kids stress about not booking a job because of the impact of your career while there are those of us who stress because we don’t know if we’ll be able to take care of our parents this month or put our siblings through school,” Yai wrote in a now deleted Instagram story.

Kendall Jenner qualifies as a nepo model.

Evan Agostini/AP

Kendall Jenner qualifies as a nepo model.

The director of Australian modeling agency Chic Management, Kathy Ward, is surprised by the sudden focus on nepotism in fashion.

“I thought it was more prominent a few years back, when clients or designers were looking for a point of difference,” Ward says. “I remember when Ivanka Trump came out and walked at Australian Fashion Week in 1999. People are always interested in famous offspring, and it can give you some traction at the time.”

Leah Wood, daughter of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood and Lianna Perdis, daughter of makeup entrepreneur Napoleon Perdis, have both been part of the Chic modeling stable.

“Some models with famous family members dip in and out of the industry,” Wards says. “Being a model takes hard work to keep going. No one can say that Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid haven’t worked hard to get to their position in the industry.”

For some nepo models it’s easier to hide the illustrious branches of their family tree than deal with accusations of favoritism.

“I remember when Clint Eastwood’s son [Scott] was modeling here in Australia and didn’t want anyone to know who his dad was,” Ward says. “I’ve just signed the daughter of someone quite famous, and she feels it would be better not to be known by the family name. It’s quite a smart move.”

Model Christian Wilkins, son of Australian television presenter Richard Wilkins, on Melbourne Cup Day in Gucci.

Sam Tabone/Getty Images

Model Christian Wilkins, son of Australian television presenter Richard Wilkins, on Melbourne Cup Day in Gucci.

On the Australian modeling sprice Christian Wilkinsson of Nine television presenter Richard Wilkins, has so far avoided falling into the nepo baby trap by building a reputation for a professional work ethic.

“I always loved fashion so when Dad could, he’d always bring me along to events and like any parent he helped make introductions,” Christian says. “Connections may open the door but what you do once you step through is what is actually important and also what is ultimately going to make the difference in the longevity of your career.”

Martin Walsh, managing director of Christian’s agency Chadwick, puts it more succinctly.

“Mentioning Christian’s father is not relevant anymore. It’s a point of interest but he’s an individual on his own merit.”

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