Top models Paloma Elsesser and Precious Lee crowned ‘The New Supers’ by British Vogue

Fashion bible British Vogue celebrates the evolution of the supermodel in its latest issue.

Throwing a literal curve to the fashion industry, British Vogue tapped models Paloma Elsesser, Precious Lee, and Jill Kortleve for the cover of its April 2023 issue. Introduced as “The New Supers,” the cover celebrates a new kind of supermodel rooted in representation. 

Paloma Elsesser, Precious Lee, The New Supers British Vogue April 2023 cover plus-size models
(Photos: British Vogue Inez & Vinoodh)

“It’s about more than just a picture — what we’re doing is creating a reference […] I always think about the 15-year-old girl sitting in her bedroom in Milwaukee who needs to see someone with boobs or a belly represented,” Elsesser told British Vogue. “I want her to know we can be chic, beautiful, and cool — to see all the possibilities.” 

While the industry is filled with beautiful faces, as Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief, notes, “beauty is only one building block in the powerful space” that Elsesser, Kortleve, and Lee occupy in the fashion world. Compared to the 20th century’s “Trinity” of supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista, Elsesser, Kortleve, and Lee resonate with today’s modern woman’s physique

From left: Jill Kortleve, Precious Lee, and Paloma Elsesser (Photography: Inez and Vinoodh for British Vogue)

Representing naturally curvy physiques on catwalks and campaigns for high-end and affordable brands alike, the trio’s impact has been leveraged by consumers and industry leaders. But even at the height of their visibility, the new “Supers” still face a level of imposter syndrome. During an intimate brunch interview with Vogue, the trio agreed their work is just as rewarding as it is challenging. 

“My mother called me a supermodel from the beginning,” says Lee. “Even when we were sitting in a waiting room at a casting with dozens of other girls, I was her super. Back then, I’d get annoyed with her. ‘Supermodel’ wasn’t a word I’d use to describe myself, even once I started ticking off the boxes.”

Today, it’s safe to say Lee and her fellow cover stars are in a league of their own. From modeling for Zara and Versace to acting as the love interest in Drake and 21 Savage’s “Spin Bout U” music video, Lee is slowly expanding beyond the fashion industry and into the acting world. Similarly, Elsesser, who once considered writing as a career, is crafting her first collection of essays. 

“[A]fter having to turn my story over to others constantly, it’s exciting and intense to be able to tell it myself,” she shared. “So much of the work we do is focused on empowering others, [but] now I’m giving myself permission to center my own needs.” 

Elsesser, Kortleve, and Lee’s emergence in high fashion campaigns marked a shift in an industry that consistently ignored larger bodies. Working toward a vision of purposeful fashion and imagery, each understands the unique power she holds in empowering women around the world and revolutionizing the fashion industry. 

“I was comparing myself to other girls, wondering why I felt out of place, and I realized that it was because I’d never seen anyone who looked like me in those spaces. I had to change the way I looked at things,” said Kortleve, who wears a size 8-10. “Representing different body types doesn’t just mean that you have one model who is size 0 and another who is a [U.S.] 14 — you also have to show what is in between.

With industry beauty standards constantly being challenged, younger generations appreciate models like the “Supers” as much for their personas as their beauty. 

“How often do girls see a [U.S.] size 16, brown, chocolate girl jumping through the air on a Vogue cover or being called a supermodel?” said Lee. “ None of us aspired to a title [per se], but inspiring others on this level is powerful.”

Ultimately, these industry pioneers are coming to understand the power of their success.  

“It’s a privileged responsibility,” said Elsesser of their unique role. “There are layers added to navigating our careers, and it’s all nuanced… No matter what else happens in our lives, we know that in some small corner of the world, we’ve changed something, and not just for ourselves. How many people get to say that?”

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