2012 Breakthrough Models

2012 was a phenomenal year for the modeling industry, with a fresh crop of new stars showing their stuff as well as familiar faces who pushed through to that next level. Take a look back at some of the girls who had their breakthrough moment this year.


They said it couldn’t be done! A model who resonates with the commercial market and the most rarified echelons of high fashion. Kate Upton puts a 21st century face on the kind of straightforward, pinup sexiness that harks back to the days of Jayne Mansfield and Mamie van Doren. With legions of followers on social media, coveted covers (including Vogue Italia & British Vogue) and a public presence worthy of a Hollywood starlet, Upton is most certainly one of the year’s breakout stars.


There is being a superstar model and then there is crossing that final line and becoming a full-fledged celebrity. You can have all the covers under the sun, but it takes going that extra mile to get the public at large to pay attention. This year Karlie and Joan (no strangers to success – they topped 2011’s models of the year list too) had their breakthrough moment by becoming the new hosts of MTV’s House of Style. Fashion wise both girls had an incredible year (Vogue Italia covers, campaign after campaign, memorable appearances on the VS runway) but it was stepping into the shoes of Cindy, Shalom and Amber that pushed them into the stratosphere.


Elegance and edge all wrapped up in a perfect package, Nadja Bender’s rise to the top has been seamless and she shows no signs of stopping. Nadja is already a familiar presence in campaigns, with an only girl stint for Balmain and three seasons worth of appearances in Gucci’s luxe ads.


You can’t stop the unstoppable force that Meghan Collison has become, ads for every brand edgy brand on the market, a coveted slate of covers and editorial appearances and a look that remains every bit as original as the day she stepped into the spotlight.


Cute as a button and extraordinarily versatile in front of the camera, Xiao Wen Ju struck a chord this year in memorable campaigns for mega-brands like Kenzo and Marc Jacobs. All throughout 2012 Xiao Wen kept showing up in all the right places – editorials in American Vogue, CR Fashion Book and Vogue China, on the catwalks of the best designers and of course on those millions of street style blogs. Even off the runways, Xiao Wen manages to turn each moment into an unforgettable picture.


From girl most wanted on the runways opening a record number of F/W shows, to campaign presence du jour, Kati Nescher remains one of the most compelling faces to emerge in ages. Nescher’s aristocratic bearing and classic beauty have made her a favorite of designers and photographers in search of a timeless elegance; Saint Laurent Paris, Tom Ford, Nina Ricci and Chanel have all fallen hard for Kati’s charms.


Daria has always been in demand, but 2012 saw her ascend to new heights as one of the most prominent faces of Dior – trumped only by Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. When a model and a movie star are on the same brand footing you know you’ve got a star on your hands. Daria was also front and center in ads for Chanel, Jil Sander, Louis Vuitton and any other brand looking for a bit of that coveted blonde cool.


The Meisel exclusive is one of those fashion achievements that only a few girls ever get to experience. Impressing the industry’s foremost photographer is a coup, but impressing him enough to land a place in 2 Prada campaigns and 2 Vogue Italia covers in short succession is a major feat.


In a business saturated with beautiful faces, personality is the key to standing out and no one has more personality, fun and vivaciousness than Cara Delevingne. With humor and undeniable, Cara carved out a niche for herself, impressing everyone she came in contact with and appearing everywhere from the cover of i-D (sporting a spider over one eye no less) to ads for Chanel and Burberry. Her win as model of the year at the British Fashion Awards was the icing on the cake.


Once every few years a thinking man’s beauty arrives on the scene and impresses every client with an esoteric point of view. Marie Piovesan’s unique, sculpted features and intellectual background set her apart from the fray and in a short period of time she’s moved to the top of the heap as face of Celine, Marc Jacobs and more.


When it came to campaigns in 2012 Aymeline Valade, was the girl to beat. Armani, Bottega, Donna Karan, Lanvin, it is an accomplishment for a girl to land one of those campaigns but to land them all takes a true star. In 2012 the ballerina turned catwalker became the undisputed face of pristine luxury.


Don’t call it a comeback! Suvi returned to her rightful place on top of the heap with a series of high profile campaigns that flaunted her ease in front of the camera. In short succession Ms. Koponen snapped up Sims’ superb McQueen ads, a Chloe fragrance contract and a slew of editorial work, cementing her status as a girl of the moment.

  1. Cara and Karlie. Especially Cara. U can put her in AMazon jungle, she will find way there to manage herself as well… Joan rides Karlie’s train… I hate the fact that she little bit imitate Liya. I like her more to be herself.And Karlie, oh GodLOOVE HEER!!!Girl TRULYYYYYYYY DESERVE N.1. ITS PITY SHE IS NOT L’OREAL, ESTE GIRL. VS YES TRUE IT WORKS. BUT STILL DOUTZEN OR PALVIN CONTRACT COMBINATION COULD SUIT KARLIE PERFECTLY.

  2. Totally agree with your list ! 2012 was the year Cara Delevigne took over tumblr.com aswell

  3. Interesting to see that the average age of these breakout girls is not 16-18 years old…

  4. Agree on most accounts. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Ms Upton. I like her and only time will tell…

  5. Lovely list! I agree with everything eventhough I don’t like some (Kate, Cara).

    I miss Bette thought. She has the biggest comeback…. Valentino, Hermes, Jimmy Choo, DsQuared, Miu Miu, Bottega Veneta.

  6. Nadja Bender a force to reckon with !!! i predict a lot more from this one in the year to come .. Keep up the good work Denmark !!

  7. @stradivarius Joan is not “riding Karlie’s train” as you put it, Joan’s work is much more blue chip than that of Karlie’s, not to mention Joan has a massive long term beauty contract that Karlie has yet to book. So while Karlie is booking ODLR, Donna Karan, Elie Saab etc, Joan is booking Gucci, Chanel, Versace, Fendi etc… editorially, they working right around the same pace. That’s why Joan is #1 and Karlie #2. Hope that clears things up for you

  8. Yeah… for Kate Upton. Don’t really know what to make of/about her — TBH didn’t even know her for a start before all this hyping… we’ll see what she’ll make about that in the future.

  9. Where is Karmen Pedaru? She did a million campaigns for Michael Kors & Gucci. fragrance campaigns for Jimmy Choo & Michael Kors, campaigns for Chloé, Bottega Veneta, Belstaff, H&M… Way more impressive than Daria, Marie, Suvi & Meghan.

  10. Hey Joel-
    I like Joan but besides Fendi name one campaign where she was the only girl-not many, huh? And a lot of girls in the top 20 have fronted campaigns where they were the only girl featured…that is why there is a debate on Joan being #1.

  11. Hey Ally-
    I think we all know that the reason why Joan wasn’t given OG campaigns is because she’s a black girl. I’m in no way saying that it’s a racist thing, as majority of the luxury consumers are caucasian and designers need to appeal to that market. It does however take quite a bit of work for a designer to take a chance on a model of color and give her a campaign on her own regardless of whether or not they like her. Again on the topic of #1, Joan’s resume is still much more blue chip than that of Karlie’s and perhaps the biggest accomplishment is landing that big long-term beauty contract. Karlie still doesn’t have one… And I also do love Karlie very much, but I can see why it happened that way

  12. @Elena It wasn’t a breakthrough year for Karmen because she’s always been a big campaign girl. The list is about the girls who stepped up to a completely new level from where they were. Had Karmen landed major covers then I’m sure she would have been on the list :-)

  13. I agree with Cara, Aymeline and Meghan making the list! I wonder why Bette Franke wasn’t in it though she had huge comeback…

  14. It is most refreshing of All to see a real woman on magazines. Featured should have been Kate Upton’s GQ cover.


  15. Eugh Cara and Kate and Suvi, only model i really understand is Vanessa and Daria

  16. Why isn’t Tyra or Janice Dickinson on this list? Their People Magazine Cover was golden!!

  17. When I think of “breakthrough” I think past high fashion. Kate is the only one that comes close. and Karlie and Joan. The rest I have not heard of one time. Kate is the one who I have a feeling is gonna be everywhere in 2013. Im not even a fan of hers aesthetically (a blah round structureless face and body photographs so average-ly imo) but she seems to be a hit with the masses AND the biggest fashion taste makers so, she will have a HUGE 2013.

  18. Joel you betta serrrrrrve that true tea for all that thirst. Yasssssss!

  19. Joel speaks the truth and is very knowledgable. I love the fact that a black / latina girl like Joan is getting bigger and bigger. There is no way Joan is riding Karlie’s train!! Joan is very much her own person and has more blue chip campaigns than Karlie. IT’s a much bigger fete and challenge for a black girl to get to where Joan is. Joan’s story is much more impressive than Karlie’s! As a white female, I’m happy to see Joan as the #1 model! Well deserved!

  20. OH and JOAN is an Estee Lauder spokesperson!! Know one ahs asked karlie to be there spokesperson. And to behonest, I dont think Karlie should be on the list because she is in no way brokethrough this year! She’s been doing the same for a while.

  21. why would arizona or barbara palvin make it. Actually Arizona got an estee contract which is an accomplishment. Most deserving are Nadja Bender, Joan, Aymeline and Cara.

  22. I’m rooting for Joan and Karlie. The only other girls that will make any impact in 2013 are Kate Upton and Cara D. I’m not a fan of Kate – i still dont understand her hype.. I feel Cara is more of a personality, not a long lasting model.

  23. I read something interesting on fashionista.com about Joan. apparently she was this years 6th most visible model in vogue magazines (globally). I think it’s safe to say that the girl gets used less because of the colors of her skin. They use her less in Only Girl stories than her peers. There’s no logical reason why.

    Via Fashionista.com:

    Joan was ranked number one model in the world by Models.com earlier this year. It’s kind of a big deal. And what a coincidence that it was the same year she finally scored her first Vogue cover (and for Italia, the girl is no slouch!) as well as her second and third (Australia, Turkey). She’s a Vogue US favorite who makes worthwhile pit-stops at editions like Italia, Paris, and UK, and shoots with the best of the best photographers. However, Joan lacks the consistent page numbers of her peers and appears in multi-girl features more often than not: two things keeping her out of the top five

  24. Great list. I think there should maybe be another 1 or 2 models included. Kate Upton, Joan Smalls and Karlie Kloss are really paving the way to become more than just models. Most celebrity potential.

  25. love you! @Joel !!! totally spoke my mind! spot on! that said, I lovvvvvvvvve Karlie she’s my favourite BUT I couldn’t argue with Joan’s position…I was actually excited cos its like a major deal! She deserves it and I really don’t like Kate ANY BIT, don’t mean to be harsh but she shouldn’t have anything to do with fashion in my opinion. If however she blows up in 2013? good for her! :) love XAIO! saw that one coming

  26. Not really understanding this list,……..
    The only true “breakthroughs” have been Ms.Axente and Cara(totally dominated the Fall 2012 season).
    Daria I would say had an already established position but rose thanks to Raf’s favoritism. Kati has risen pretty far so soon.
    But um,………… What about Bette Franke?! Daphne Groeneveld(even though I’m not the biggest fan the girl was EVERYWHERE!). Vika Falileeva people(I pray will become the Natasha Poly of her generation). And of course Lindsey Wixson!
    Just saying.

  27. Thank Diva/Divo Model Gods people are missing Gemma Ward.. As I am too.. The World is so lost with out her Alien-esque Doll Beauty.. Its sad over how models have so called pushed ahead or fashion greats with magazines haven’t really hailed/nor revived her importance of her incredible career condensed only in a few years. Please speak up more about getting this beauty back into the World of Fashion/Modeling!! I’m about to hold a sign in front of IMG “Please Bring Back Gemma Ward!!” :) Cheers to Fabulosity!!

  28. Karlie is a sure win!!! It is predicted that she is one of the modern day supers.. =) But I really want to see Bette Franke and Lindsey Wixson to be part of the list. They have done pretty much work and inspired a lot of people in the fashion world.

  29. Karlie is too skinny for my liking’s and Kate Upton is too large for my liking’s. Cara is PERFECT in every way. LOVE her, someday maybe I will be on that list!

  30. Miranda Kerr is my all time favorite model but I am glad that Cara Delevigne won model of the year!

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