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Looking Back at London’s “It-Girls”

Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. Photo by Ben Merk. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Staff writer Ava Mellor takes us through the lives and careers of some of London’s most well-known “it-girls”. 

The leading lights of London’s social scene, pop-culture personified, and the faces of each decade: “it-girl”, a term coined in the 1920s, has become synonymous with up-and-coming women who portray an easy-going, fun-loving lifestyle, fuelled with parties, celebrities, and mystique. As a mark of Women’s History Month, this article revisits the lives of some of London’s most iconic “it-girls”, and forecasts the next generation of leading women.

Pattie Boyd

Pattie Boyd, the common denominator between Eric Clapton and George Harrison; besides guitars, of course. Think Brigitte Bardot, but less French and with a slightly smaller beehive. Aside from being one of the most successful models of the sixties, posing for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Elle, Boyd is known for her relationship with one of the Beatles, which began in 1964 whilst she was cast in a short film featuring the band. Perhaps top of the criterion for what constitutes an “it-girl” is being envied by all other girls; and at least that’s the case for Boyd who, alongside Yoko Ono, was both loved and hated for her ability to not only get with one of the Beatles, but also to marry and divorce one. Before their marriage ended, and before affairs began with Maureen Starkey and Eric Clapton, Harrison wrote one of the most acclaimed love songs of any generation, all about Boyd, called “Something”. The song’s lyrics are somewhat ironic now. The couple divorced in 1977; Boyd would go on to marry Clapton, Harrison’s best friend, and become the muse of more love songs: “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight”, which both made women jealous all over again.

Marianne Faithfull

With a name like Marianne Faithfull, the irony wrote itself. An infamous muse of Mick Jagger, and one of the many socialites to fall victim to heroin in the 70s, it is easy to let Faithfull’s lifestyle overshadow her sensational career in music. Faithfull released her first single, “As Tears Go By”, which had been written by members of the Rolling Stones alongside Andrew Loog Oldham, and reached top 10 in the British charts, all before her 18th birthday. Her first songwriting endeavours coincided with her involvement with the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, a high-profile and tumultuous relationship that ended in the late 60s. However, Faithfull did not earn the title of “it-girl” just for a relationship that ended five decades ago. Marianne was always the frontrunner of London’s social scene, one step ahead of every trend, and an attendee at any event worth mentioning. After years of substance abuse, and a brief venture in acting, Faithfull made an industry comeback, releasing an album in 1987 with Island Records titled “Strange Weather”, which included an updated version of the song that started her career. The album was a huge success, praised for its ability to portray a woman who went to a place of no return, but managed to come back to tell the story.

Kate Moss

Born in Croydon, Kate Moss skyrocketed to fame in the 1990s after being scouted as a model aged 14 in an airport, leading girls everywhere (myself included) to believe the same thing would happen whenever they found themselves in a 500-yard radius of an aeroplane. Moss captured the attention of the industry with her childlike features and natural affect, winning her contracts with Calvin Klein and British Vogue. Tabloid culture became quickly fascinated with the 20-year-old, who developed a “rebel without a cause” branding and became the face of the growing-in-popularity “heroin chic” style, which is now referred to as an eating disorder. Swaddled in the grunge era of the 90s, Moss’s initial success in her ability to portray a party-centric lifestyle came back to haunt her when in 2005 a photograph of her and her boyfriend of the time, Pete Doherty, using cocaine was published. Almost as quickly as her initial rise to fame, Moss went to rehab and came back to reclaim her spot as one of the world’s highest-paid models. As the average career span of a model rarely exceeds 30 years, Moss has had several business ventures since her time on the catwalk. She has launched successful collections with Topshop and Mulberry and released her own perfume. Kate Moss remains a household name and will always be one of London’s most renowned “it-girls”.

Alexa Chung

British TV personality and fashionista Alexa Chung is, perhaps, who springs to mind when reflecting on some of London’s more recent “it-girls”. Known for her boy shorts, knee socks and striped tees, Alexa Chung is the ultimate rock star’s girlfriend who defined a generation of noughties teens, centred around Myspace and Tumblr. With high cheekbones and striking eyes, Chung began modelling at a young age, posing for junior magazines such as Elle Girl. She also undertook a decade-long career as a presenter in the 2000s, appearing on Popworld, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, and Big Brother’s Big Mouth. Yet, it was her enviable relationship with Alex Turner, the lead singer of the indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys, that propelled public interest in her private life. Alex and Alexa were the dream pair who ruled London’s social scene, an era where late nights in the east end’s scrawny clubs were effortlessly cool, and when wellies were still acceptable attire at Glastonbury. Given that she was allegedly the inspiration behind a whole album released by the Monkeys, fans were devastated by the couple’s split in 2011, marking the end of Alexa’s rock-star’s-girlfriend era, but most certainly not the end of her status as an “it-girl”.

Traditionally, “it-girls”, like those above, started their careers as models, muses, or both. More recently, however, the discourse surrounding what constitutes an “it-girl” has distinctly developed. With the ever-changing social media landscape, it is increasing easier to quickly garner an audience. Youtube, and now TikTok, sensation Olivia Neill is an example of a less-traditional, but no less popular, up-and-coming “it-girl”. Despite beginning her career online, Miss Neill is now a frequent attendee at awards evenings, fashion shows, and can be spotted on most red-carpets. Begging the question, is social media the new face of the “it-girl industry?” If so, does it come at the detriment of more “organic” fame? And will this generation of internet “it-girls” ever really receive the same public attention that Pattie Boyd or Kate Moss once did? Time will tell.



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