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Top models go head-to-head for hotly anticipated model of the year award

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>The prestigious annual Fashion Awards are back on Monday night
Getty Images
The prestigious annual Fashion Awards are back on Monday night

Leah Asmelash, CNN

The prestigious annual Fashion Awards are back on Monday night, and one of the most hotly anticipated categories is the model of the year prize.

Five top industry names — Adut Akech, Bella Hadid, Paloma Elsesser, Quannah Chasinghorse, and Lila Moss — have been nominated for the award, which recognizes the most influential model whose impact goes beyond the catwalk, according to organizers. The awards, an annual fundraiser for the British Fashion Council Foundation, also recognize designers and independent brands.

The winners will be revealed during a ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall on December 5.

With no model category in 2021 or 2020, Akech picked up the award in 2019 — when she was up against Winnie Harlow and Kaia Gerber, among others — before the pandemic forced the event to make changes to its format.

This year, the group of nominees reflects an ongoing shift away from the homogenous model ideal of the past: Akech is a refugee from South Sudan, Elsesser is a plus-size model, and Chasinghorse is an Indigenous model and activist.

“It’s going to take a while to see this change take over,” Akech told CNN in 2019, in reference to a shift towards more diverse representation in the industry. “But it makes me very proud to be a model at this moment where I can be part of that change.”

Akech has been a force in fashion for years now. Born in South Sudan and growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya, she is now one of the most in-demand models working, regularly appearing for brands like Valentino and Givenchy.

In 2019, she dedicated the prize to refugees around the world.

“To them I say this. Whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s modeling, or acting, or medicine, you should never doubt yourself or let the world convince you that it’s not possible,” she said while accepting the award. “Because if a little dark-skinned South Sudanese refugee who comes from absolutely nothing can do it, so can you.”

Chasinghorse, writing for CNN Style earlier this year, also praised the larger change in the industry. A member of the Hän Gwich’in and Sičangu/Oglala Lakota tribes in the US, Chasinghorse said she grew up without seeing herself represented in pop culture. Now, she feels fortunate to represent her people on magazine covers and on the runway.

Still, there’s always room for improvement.

“So many rising models now have something special and unique about them that they bring — they aren’t just meant to wear clothes,” Chasinghorse wrote. “Seeing these changes across the industry is heartening as it evolves into a better version of itself. But we have to keep holding each other accountable. I’m looking forward to watching it grow.”

When Elsesser shot her cover of Vogue for the January 2021 issue, she described the experience as “surreal.”

She — a self-described chubby, short, mixed-race woman — on Vogue, famously known for showcasing white, tall, and thin? In another era, it wouldn’t have been possible. Today, Elsesser has walked for major luxury brands like Fendi, Lanvin and Chloé, and been featured in advertising campaigns by many others, including Victoria’s Secret.

She’s also pushed the labels she’s walked for to include a wider range in sizes. After working with designer Nensi Dojaka, the designer began offering larger sizes for the first time.

Lila Moss, daughter of legendary model Kate Moss, has pushed fashion in her own way as well. Just this year, Moss attended the Met Gala — one of the most distinguished events in the fashion industry — wearing her insulin monitor and pump.

The devices, meant to regulate insulin levels for those living with Type I Diabetes, were visible beneath her sheer Burberry dress. And this isn’t the first time Moss has worn them — she also walked a Fendi and Versace joint runway show in September 2021 with the pump sitting on her upper left leg.

Though about 1.5 million Americans are living with Type I Diabetes, it’s rare the device is shown on the runaway. Still in a video for British Vogue earlier this year, Moss revealed the pump “comes with me everywhere.”

Bella Hadid, who made her New York Fashion Week debut in September 2014, was the center of one of the buzziest moments of Paris Fashion Week in October this year, when she closed French label Coperni’s Spring-Summer 2023 show with a dress that was literally sprayed on.

Hadid began walking wearing nothing but underwear. Then, a team of scientists sprayed a misty liquid on top, which almost transformed into wearable material in less than 10 minutes.

Whether this is the future of fashion remains unclear, but of course Hadid — a highly sought-out model who has walked for brands like Versace and Chanel — was at the center. Despite being the daughter and the younger sister of models, mother Yolanda and sister Gigi respectively, Hadid has carved out a space that is all her own.

She was nominated in 2016 for the award, but lost to her sister. This year, she could finally seize the top prize.

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