Jeremy Scott isn’t into subtlety. Take his fall/winter 2011 collection, for example. It featured lightning rods, giant stuffed animals, neons of every color, the Superman “S” made into a question mark, and a twisted take on the Coca-Cola logo that replaced the original slogan with “Enjoy God.”
But after seeing that show, little mattered apart from opening model, Charlotte Free. Before the lights went down at Milk Studios, Scott tweeted a picture of Free, her famous pink locks pulled back in pigtails, with the caption “Meet Charlotte Free my new muse!!!” Her first time on a runway, for Richard Chai, had been six days earlier. She was all anybody was talking about.
Free ran with the flash sensation, booking editorials in places like Jalouse and Interview, and posing for photographers of the Terry Richardson and Cobrasnake sort — not exactly Mario Testino for Vogue, but a specific kind of triumph nonetheless.
Now, she’s made the biggest leap yet. Yesterday it was announced that Free will be the new face of Maybelline, the largest cosmetics brand in the world.
She was discovered in late 2010 by photographer David Mushegain at a video game arcade in Los Angeles, where her family has lived for five generations. The resulting photo series was, well, free — Charlotte in a Los Angeles parking lot, Charlotte crouched in a bus terminal, Charlotte climbing over a graffiti-speckled wall. Mushegain started sending around the pictures to see if they attracted any attention. They did. “[Mushegain] told us he just found an amazing new face in a video game arcade in L.A.,” the California skatewear brand RVCA blogged on its Web site. “Charlotte Rvles. You will be seeing a lot of her around RVCA.” She was signed to IMG Models, home to Gemma, Lara, and Gisele, and hit the runway just a few months after.
Then came the photoshoot with Richardson, which resulted in a spread for Olivier Zahm’s Purple Magazine. She’s her usual rebellious self, wearing men’s clothes, flicking off the camera. More striking is the outtake that Richardson posted on his blog of Charlotte licking her own unshaved armpit. In a Guardian article, Free defended the pose as a feminist statement.
Today, she’s still an edgy choice, but she’s lost some of her shock value. The early pictures don’t exactly scream “maybe she’s born with it,” and they certainly don’t say “maybe it’s Maybelline.” They’re grainy, they’re punk rock. She’s knocking soup off the racks in grocery aisles, she’s going to bars in a Lakers T-shirt. Her hair is that fantastic pink, but it’s also scraggly and unwashed. Don’t tell her current employer, but back then, her face showed no trace of makeup. For a company that’s been represented in the past by Erin Wasson, Christy Turlington, and Julie Stegner, Maybelline’s choice of Free feels like a brave move.
To reveal their new face, the brand made a video with P’Trique (real name: Patrick Pope), the filmmaker behind the “Shit Fashion Girls Say” viral videos. In it, the flamboyant would-be-fashionisto calls designers, socialites, and Twitter-famous fashion editors to say he has a secret — or in P’Trique-speak, a “chic-ret" — but he can’t tell unless they promise they won’t tweet it. Of course they do, and so did every person who watched the clip. The meta-social networking trick, works every time.
And then today, a blog on the Grazia Web site offered a peek at what Free’s first TV spots would look like. In the stills, she’s in a black form-fitting outfit that might be a leotard, with a black choker creeping up her neck. And there’s no sign of the foundation-free grunge kid: she’s got thick slashes of yellow eyeshadow, black eyeliner, and rose lipstick. But most shocking is her hair: black at the roots, blond through the middle, and finally, but only at the tip of the bun, pink.