By Irina Aleksander for The New York Times
ONE afternoon in late July, traffic stopped in Manhattan so that a small parade of models could cross the street. They entered the Coffee Shop, a restaurant in Union Square, and descended to a dimly lighted subterranean lounge with leather banquettes and Champagne buckets filled with mini cartons of coconut water. The girls, most of them around 16 years old, wore shorts and tank tops along with chunky heels and too much eye makeup.
“These are really the babies, but to me, this is the perfect group,” said Coco Rocha, the 23-year-old model, who was there to give a lesson on modeling and social media. She was wearing slim black pants, black boots and a snug white blazer over an oxford shirt buttoned to the neck. Her red hair was pulled up into a neat topknot.
“Who here has a Tumblr blog?” she asked, addressing an audience of several dozen. Ten hesitant hands sprouted. Ms. Rocha smiled. “O.K., what we’re going to talk about in class today is how important it is to brand yourself.” Ms. Rocha, who used to teach dance to 4-year-olds, stood with one foot planted firmly in front of the other, pumping her right knee in the manner of a cabaret dancer as she spoke. “You cannot be just another pretty face,” she added. “Do you know how many girls there are in New York right now?”
More than just a pretty face, Ms. Rocha is one of the few models who has become known by just her first name. At a moment when the fashion industry has increasingly marginalized models — to anonymous, size 0 waifs, a life span of three seasons (that’s a year and a half in human years), and off the magazine covers in place of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga — she has emerged as the model’s liberator.