Edie and Olympia Campbell: Sister Act

Edie Campbell's star is in the ascent – as is that of her younger sister Olympia. On the eve of a new exhibition of model self-portraits, Alexander Fury meets the fashion world's favourite pair of preeners

Alexander Fury
Monday 02 September 2013 08:37 BST

Edie Campbell is the girl of 2013. Let's get that out of the way first of all. Bagging a slough of major magazine covers – including British Vogue, Love magazine, and not one but two consecutive covers of the ever-influential Vogue Italia, shot by Steven Meisel – a veritable barrage of campaigns and opening the autumn/winter 2013 shows of Marc Jacobs, Burberry Prorsum, Jil Sander and Louis Vuitton, she's the certified face of the moment.

In fact, scratch that. Because 22-year-old Edith Blanche Campbell is more than just a pretty face – which is what makes her a great model. If you think of fashion's current gaggle of gangly Great British girls as a clique – it's easy to do, they all seem to have gone to the same schools, drank at the same clubs and gone out with the same boys – then Edie sticks out as the smart one, the one who could easily jack in all the modelling malarkey in a couple of years and wind up writing a book, working with disadvantaged children or, well, presenting television shows.

Edie's more a female Tim Marlow than an Alexa Chung, though. She is ferociously smart, having just graduated with a first from the Courtauld Institute, in London, ranked first nationally for history and history of art (her subject) and whose alumni include art critic Brian Sewell, Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller and, oddly, Vincent Price. She's also an accomplished horsewoman (she won the inaugural all ladies horse race at Goodwood in 2011 ), she works for charity (as a young people's ambassador for The Reading Agency) and even has a rockstar-royalty boyfriend (Bryan Ferry's son Otis).

So out of the young London talent, Edie is the one you can never imagine going off the rails, the one with her head screwed on. She's the one using her modelling money to buy livestock – she has two horses, Dolly and Armani (“Worst horse names ever,” she states, rolling her eyes) rather than getting lashed in Mahiki or Whisky Mist.

And, of course, there is that face. “She's an old-fashioned fashion model, she looks great in clothes, she has an elegance and a haughtiness which adds to a picture,” says Katie Grand, who put Campbell on the cover of her biannual style bible Love as well as casting her in the Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton shows that she styles. “It's so many things – obviously the way she looks but it's also what she transmits on the page,” says David Sims, who photographed Edie for this season's Alexander McQueen campaign.

“She's very cool in person and that's what everyone is responding to. She has a knack of reading what I'm going to ask for before I ask it and so does everything with ineffable ease.”

“Of course, she is beautiful – but then all models are…” reasons Natalie Hand, director of Viva Model Management London (in effect, Edie's boss). “However, Edie isn't just a model and therein lies the key. Edie's strength lies in her personality and character.”

There's a chance for Campbell to showcase that this month – not on the international catwalks, but in a new exhibition of self-portraits created by Viva London's models and talents, in collaboration with Harper's Bazaar. The show is launched at London's Moretti Gallery tomorrow, moving to the Shop at Bluebird from 4-18 September. Each image has been art-directed by the models themselves, giving them control of their own image. Naturally for her, Campbell's photograph by Linda Brownlee features her alongside one of her horses. “I actually wanted to use the picture of me on the cover of the Racing Post – it's my proudest moment,” she laughs.

That's not what you expect from a model. “My mum has always said 'You have to have something that is more important for you in your life, because the fashion world is not going to want you forever',” she says of her extracurricular activities. “She wanted me to be prepared for when that day comes. To have other interests and to cultivate other kinds of paths in life.”

Fashion runs in the Campbell family: Edie's mother is Sophie Hicks, a former Vogue fashion editor; and her sister Olympia is kick-starting her own modelling career. “If it was the only thing that both of us did then maybe there'd be a bit of rivalry, but since our interests and talents are so different outside of fashion it doesn't really faze me,” says 17-year-old Olympia, of any perceived competition between the two – especially as they share the same agency.

“It's actually very nice because it makes it all much friendlier and less businessy. It also means if I ever need to ask anyone how anything works, I can just ring Edie up and she'll tell me.”

Natalie Hand first met Olympia through Edie, although her modelling career had already begun to take off courtesy of Tim Walker. “Modelling first came into my life when I was about 11 or 12, I think, when Tim Walker did a story about my mum for Vogue Italia and it included photos of me and my sister,” says Olympia. “After that, modelling was always a thought at the back of my head but it was never something that I dreamt of doing all my life…”

Nevertheless, she's rising fast. Last season, Olympia featured in the Marc by Marc Jacobs campaign, and she's already been photographed by Bruce Weber for Love and for this July's Tatler, which was styled by Katie Grand. “When I look at how much Edie has evolved and developed over the past few years, it makes it very difficult to predict where Olympia will be in the same amount of time,” says Natalie Hand. “I think it's best never to try to pigeonhole either of the Campbell sisters as they will constantly surprise you!”

Modelling sister acts aren't unique – although they are rare. Fifties couture favourites Suzy Parker and Dorian Leigh Parker were arguably the most famous while, more recently, Frankie and Missy Rayder have drawn attention. They've even appeared together in editorials – as did Edie and Olympia in that Bruce Weber editorial. “Joe McKenna and I were pre-empting the 'Brit Girl' explosion I suppose,” says Grand. “It all made sense to cast those girls at that time.”

Olympia admits: “The shoot with Bruce was amazing and quite nerve-racking. But luckily my sister was part of it.”

Her Viva self-portrait, however was less straightforward. “It's like one of those ghastly questions you get asked at interviews 'describe yourself in three words…' except this time it's 'describe yourself in a picture',” says Olympia. The straight-up, straight-faced portrait she shot with Emma Tempest was “based on the idea that I'm quite undecided about my whole future”. About as far away as you can get from the Instagram selfie. That's not my idea – I've stolen it from her older art history-graduate sister Edie – but it rings true.

“They both share a similar intelligence and they are sisters so, of course, they share certain qualities: perceptivity, sensitivity, a wry amusement at life. But they are both very individual,” says Natalie Hand of the sisters Campbell. But then she reasons: “I do feel there is a kind of ”sisterhood“ to the girls on our books. I always notice how there never seems to be any kind of negative rivalry between the Viva girls. They really seem to support each other and do very much have each others backs.

“And, yes, they are inspiring.”

Viva London: Self-portraits, in collaboration with 'Harper's Bazaar', is at The Shop at Bluebird, King's Road, London, from 4-18 September. An online portfolio of the images can be seen from 3 September at harpersbazaar.co.uk bazaar.co.uk

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