Call them style whycons—people whose unconventional aesthetics and bold wardrobe choices have gotten them noticed, for better and for worse. While those on the Eastern Seaboard worship almost exclusively at the altar of whycons who are the offspring of old-money socialites, Los Angeles is—and always has been—home to the immigrant ingénue.
Since the dawn of Hollywood's golden age, girls with big dreams and small waists have been getting off the bus from Anytown, USA, looking to make it here. Make what, exactly? “It” used to be a career as an actress, but now, thanks to the Internet, “it” changes every other week.
Model/web-lebrity/pink-haired style whycon Audrey Kitching—friend of fashion Renaissance man Clint Catalyst and designer Jared Gold—formed her fan base via the primordial HTML code of MySpace. Since the Web cares little about geography, her physical location seemed irrelevant. But six months ago, Kitching left her native Philadelphia and headed straight to L.A. “I used to fly out here all of the time for photo shoots,” she says, “so it just got to the point where it made more sense to move out here. I figured that things would happen a lot faster if I did, and it turns out I was right.”
Since then, Kitching has launched her own website, covered New York Fashion Week for MTV and been featured in an exhibit at the Warhol Museum in Philadelphia. One might expect her to have developed an ego as blinding as her hair, but Kitching continues to remain refreshingly humble. “I don’t think I’m the most stylish person ever,” she says. “I don’t think I’m the best model ever. I just wake up and live my life. If people happen to say nice things, that’s awesome. If not, it’s not going to bother me.”
We use the Internet to work, play, date and even have sex; it was only a matter of time before it fostered its own celebrities. American Apparel model Lauren Paez didn’t think twice before she sent photos of herself to the L.A.-based clothing company in response to one of its online model searches.
“I was living in a tent in Yosemite with my then-boyfriend when we saw they were looking for models, so we submitted some photos and it just kind of happened,” Paez recalls. For the record, the Boyle Heights native wasn’t living in a tent because she was strapped for cash—she was just very earth-conscious at the time. “I was so granola back then,” she says. ”That’s part of why I wanted to work with American Apparel, because they’re a sweatshop-free company and I thought that was really great.”
Not everyone loves the fact that these girls—along with Cory Kennedy, Linda Strawberry, Jeffree Starr, Raquel Reed and Sky Ferreira—are influencing the fashion industry and altering standards of beauty. Kitching has received anonymous e-mails telling her she is too short and too fat to be a model. She takes it all in stride. “I don’t really care what other people think about me—they either like me or they don’t,” she says. “Our whole generation is so consumed with appearance. Everyone feels pressure to fit in. I like to think of myself as someone they can look up to who breaks the mold of all that.”
Despite what Tyra Banks will tell you, a fierce runway walk does not a model make. The gap between trained professionals and “accidental” models has narrowed, thanks to the accessibility of the Internet and our insatiable hunger for new images. Suddenly, being conventionally good looking in the fashion world means about as much as the plot in a Sophia Coppola film: It’s nice when it’s there, but the actors and art direction are strong enough to keep an audience entertained either way. Enter the whycons.
Marcos Luevanos is Style editor for Metromix Los Angeles.