They say New York City is the land of opportunity, and it certainly is for young American models looking to get their start. As one of the four biggest fashion capitals of the world, NY takes the industry incredibly seriously, drawing in models from all over the world and discovering new ones at every street corner. You might even call it the new American dream.
But what sets American models apart from the rest isn’t just their work ethic — it’s their sense of celebrity. Using social media and other similar platforms, these women manage to give the public a glimpse of their real lives, strengthening their fanbases, their brands, and their popularity worldwide. They appear in music videos, make cameos on TV shows, and slowly make their way into the entertainment industry as actors or musicians, cementing their place in American pop culture. Don’t believe me? Just say the names “Kaia Gerber” or “Gigi Hadid” in a crowded room and wait for the response. Nearly every single person of a certain age will know exactly who you’re talking about.
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite American models — ones who have become the It-girls of the international fashion community, who have infiltrated your Instagram feed and your TV screens, or who, at the very least, are bound to make it there. These women aren’t just aspirational, they’re practically untouchable.
Here are some of the leading American models in today’s fashion industry:
Modeling is in Kaia Gerber’s blood — she’s the daughter of supermodels Rande Gerber and the legendary Cindy Crawford, so it’s only natural that she would follow suit. Kaia landed her first gig at age 10 for Versace’s junior line, Young Versace, and by 2017 she was making her runway debut for Ralf Simons’ Calvin Klein Collection. By 2018, Kaia was walking alongside her mother in Spring Fashion Week while representing some of the world’s biggest designers, including Coach, Prada, and Fendi.
Emily DiDonato was scouted at a mall at the age of 10, but she didn’t make it big as an American model until 2009. Of course, that didn’t really matter — that’s the year the magic happened. After getting her first jobs with Guess? and Ralph Lauren, she went on to graduate high school and immediately got signed as the face of Maybelline New York. Just a few months later, she was signed on as a Victoria’s Secret model and graced the cover of her first magazine, The Block‘s October issue. By the time New York Fashion Week came around that year, Vogue Germany was already dubbing her the “top newcomer.” Now DiDonato is one of the most well-known American models of all time, walking for Chanel, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton and appearing in advertising campaigns for Miu Miu and Giorgio Armani.
Gigi Hadid is one of the biggest names in American modeling, though that’s no real surprise. Her mother is former model Yolanda Hadid (yes, of the Real Housewives variety), which may have helped Gigi get her early start in her career. While she began modeling at age 2 for Baby Guess, she took a break to concentrate on school and returned to modeling in 2011. After that, Gigi’s model status was cemented, and she became one of the world’s most renowned American models, gracing the cover of at least 12 versions of Vogue, winning International Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2016, and appearing in a plethora of music videos, including her then-boyfriend Zayn’s “Pillowtalk.”
Emily Ratajkowski is one of the American models who was able to use her success on the runway to catapult herself into fame. Emily started acting as a child, and at the encouragement of her acting coach, met and signed with a talent agent at the age of 14. She began modeling for Kohl’s and Nordstrom, and while she attempted to jump start her acting career, she was often typecast as the mean girl or the cheerleader. She decided to focus on modeling instead until she rose to prominence after appearing in Robin Thicke’s video for his controversial single “Blurred Lines.” Since then, Emily has had little problem booking modeling gigs and soon began acting in movies such as “Gone Girl” and “I Feel Pretty.”
Kate Upton began her career as an American model in 2008 when she attended an Elite Model Management casting call — and signed with them the same day. She soon began modeling for Garage and Guess and made an appearance in the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. From there (and with a little help from some viral dancing videos), Kate’s career took off, and by 2012 she was already considered the fifth sexiest model in the world by models.com. Years later, Upton now boasts 6 million Instagram followers and has made appearances in movies “The Other Woman” and “The Disaster Artist,” among others.
At 15, American model Jasmine Tookes was discovered at one of her celebrity stylist mother’s showroom appointments and was soon booking gigs with UGG Australia and Gap. However, she had her big breakout in 2011 when she began modeling on catwalks, earning her the title of Style’s top new model and earning her praise from fashion publications everywhere. She was chosen as one of the 11 new models to walk in the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and became a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2015. By 2016, Forbes had named her number 17 on the list of the world’s highest paid models.
Alexis Ren has made a splash in the American modeling community, especially in the past few years. She was Maxim’s cover girl in August 2017 and was named Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie for 2018. She even launched her own line of gym-to-street activewear called Ren Active. But perhaps Alexis’s biggest feat yet is her incredible online presence, which has garnered her 12.8 million followers on Instagram alone.
Taylor Hill’s career as an American model began when she was discovered at 14 in a barn in Colorado by a photographer and agent. She booked her first gig in 2013, when she was featured on Intissimi’s catalog, and by 2014 she was already being featured in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. By 2015, she was already cemented as one of the best in the business, voted “2015’s Most Promising Model” by Couturesque readers and “Model of the Year” in social media at the Fashion Media Awards. In 2016, she landed at number 17 on Forbes‘s “The World’s Top-Earning Models” list.
Binx Walton made her catwalk debut at 16 in Marc Jacobs Autumn/Winter 2013 show, but she didn’t have her breakout moment as an American model until she was cast in the Céline Spring/Summer 2014 show. She went on to star in major campaigns for Chanel, Coach, and Balmain, and has walked for Alexander McQueen, Valentino, and Fendi, among others. Over the years, she’s amassed 167k Instagram followers, and she actively uses her platform to advocate for Amnesty International.
Martha Hunt began her career with a move. After she was discovered by a photographer in Charlotte, North Carolina, she packed up her things and moved to New York City to meet with modeling agencies, jumpstarting her career as an American model. She made her runway debut in 2007 in Paris Fashion Week, where she walked for Issey Miyaki, and has walked for over 180 fashion shows since. She has walked in every Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show since 2015 and officially because a Victoria’s Secret Angel in 2015. She’s currently a spokesmodel for Free People and boasts 2.9 million followers on Instagram.
Karlie Kloss is perhaps one of the most well-known American models of her time, becoming not just a fashion icon, but a pop culture icon. Her career began in 2006 when, at just 14, she posed for the cover of the June issue of Scene Magazine, which was later forwarded to a modeling agency in New York. In 2008, Karlie walked 31 runways in New York Fashion Week alone and worked in 64 shows total in a single season. She’s known for her unusual, “powerful” runway walk, which she dubbed a “moody gait.” Her popularity led her to make appearances in the TV shows Gossip Girl and Bill Nye Saves the World and music videos for Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” and Chic’s “I’ll Be There.” With that resume, it’s really no surprise that Vogue named her one of the top 30 models of the 2000s.
Lexi Boling never planned to become a model, but when she turned 18, her mother coerced her to attend a casting call held by Ford Models. Once she had her braces removed, it was official — she was signed as a model and worked her first fashion show for Alexander Wang in 2014. Since then, Lexi has represented a plethora of designers, including Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Versace, and is widely considered fashion’s favorite “bad girl.” She’s best known for her numerous covers of Vogue Italia and her appearances in multiple Prada campaigns.