word of Honor

From the social creme to the catwalks has never been more than a step. Honor Fraser, who here models the clothes of six British designers, is the latest to step down - or is it up? By Tamsin Blanchard. Photographs by Derrick Santini
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Aristocracy and modelling go hand in hand. There's Stella Tennant, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and the first British face of Chanel. There was the Russian Princess Natasha Paley, who modelled for Cecil Beaton in the Thirties. Sixties model Verushka's full name is Countess Vera von Lehndorff, and Italian supermodel Carla Bruni is from the aristocracy too. If you are beautiful and a society gal, modelling seems the natural thing to do.

Honor Fraser, 22 years old, is a Fraser of Lovat, a family of Norman descent that came to Scotland in the 12th century. Her ancestors' history is prime Hollywood material with all the ingredients of a great blockbuster: a fine and noble family, wailing bagpipes, tartan, treason, executions and an estate that was once the largest in Europe, as well as recent tragedies culminating in last year's loss of much of the estate through bankruptcy - ideal for Honor's ambitions to go to film school in New York.

In the golden days, the Lovat lands stretched from the east to the west coast of Scotland. But a series of personal tragedies - Honor's father died of a heart attack while out hunting, an uncle was gored to death by a buffalo in Tanzania, and, recently, her grandfather died - coupled with bad business sense, has left the family in debt, more than pounds 7 million of it, and forced them to sell the Victorian castle, 27 houses and more than 2,000 acres of fertile farm land. (Honor's 18-year-old younger brother is now Lord Lovat.)

Little wonder, then, that she has shifted her modelling career into gear and has her sights set on both fame and money.

It is 10.30 on the morning of Honor's shoot with The Independent and I have parked my car outside a pretty Georgian terrace just behind King's Road in deepest Chelsea. This is the model's part-time home, where she lives with her half-Italian mother, Virginia. The cleaner opens the door to empty a bin as I approach and she motions to me to wait in the hallway. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling in hunting trophies, heirlooms and huge paintings that look as though they might be left over from the sale of the castle last summer - the wine cellar alone was valued by Christie's at pounds 100,000. (The pistols Bonnie Prince Charlie used at Culloden remain in the family.)

Ten thirty is a late start for a model, but Honor Fraser has reached the point in her career where she can dictate terms - she featured across a 12-page fashion story in French Vogue that made her look like an Ingres painting, as well as in this month's Harper's & Queen in a more fresh and modern guise. The day before our shoot, she was in Paris being snapped for French Elle; the following day she was to catch a plane to LA. Nevertheless she is a true professional, and is ready - with her recently cropped hair, perfect, creamy skin and well-worn, long, black velvet coat with a button missing - as soon as I arrive.

"It's a ridiculous decade for the model," she tells me, in a voice that has been reared at the French Lycee in South Kensington rather than in the Highlands. "I think it's fabulous, but it's really quite outrageous how much money a model can make.

"I want to make a lot of money," she adds. It is clear that the fairy- tale images of the 15-bedroom castle and misty Highlands of her childhood are no longer relevant in her life. "You have to move on. The family history is totally archaic - not something I want for myself." Honor Fraser has her feet firmly on the ground and her sights raised as high as they will go. "I'm feeling a little ambitious," she says.

As yet, she has not been given a megabucks contract (though she features in campaigns for Hermes, Kenzo, Harvey Nichols and Burberrys), but she has recently moved to New York (in her terms, that means leaving a suitcase of clothes at a friend's apartment) where the big name photographers and designers will no doubt be charmed by her aloof, noble looks and her aristocratic English accent.

Honor began modelling relatively late - at the age of 18 - after being encouraged by her cousin, Isabella Blow, a stylist and champion of Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen. "I feel very sad for the girls who get into modelling at 15," she says. At that age, she herself had little interest in clothes and make-up. She wanted to be an Olympic gymnast.

"I was a real tomboy. I was more interested in doing my own thing outdoors with guns. I like sports." There is something strangely perverse about watching the reflection of an exquisitely beautiful woman in the mirror of a studio dressing room, having her hair primped and ironed and her nails painted, saying, "I have a man's mind - I always wanted to be a boy."

Despite this, Honor Fraser is rare in the world of high fashion modelling - where fellow Storm model Kate Moss has set the tone for boyish figures - having an ample bosom and a more womanly shape than most. At the Christian Lacroix haute couture show in January, she found herself wearing a crystal-encrusted corset dress which involved fittings with Pearl, the British corset master. After being laced in, her waist was reduced by eight inches. "It's kind of erotic wearing a corset," she said. "It's very exciting to be changed by clothes, for your shape to be exaggerated."

During the shows, Honor is in her element. The poses she likes to strike when doing Scottish dancing are given a real platform, with a whole wall of photographers concentrating just on her.

"I was always a real show-off as a kid," she says. "I love being on the catwalk. Just for a second, I feel like I'm the most important person in the world. I love the pomp and circumstance and ceremony of the catwalk shows."

Over the last few days of London Fashion Week, and during the forthcoming Paris Ready to Wear, Honor Fraser will stalk the catwalks for the designers whose clothes she wears in these pictures: Vivienne Westwood, Bella Freud, Alexander McQueen, Pearce Fionda, Clements Ribeiro and Philip Treacy. They would not be complete without her