Rocha started thinking about her brand in 2007 with a Tumblr blog called Oh-So-Coco. “I was ready to do more than take pictures,” she says. “I was ready to talk.” The web was where she could deny she had cancer (she’d dyed her hair red for Vogue and had to keep it under wraps with a wig); take on haters who criticized her perceived weight gain; and write things like “Just kicked @KarlieKloss out of the house after she ate my last 2 boxes of cereal. You know I love my cereal!!”
Rocha calls herself a nerd, which might be a tough brand to push as a model. She prefers gadgets to clothes. She is heavily involved in charity, and made a documentary in Haiti. She was discovered at an Irish-dance competition in Canada, and the fashion moment everyone remembers her for was the February 2007 Gaultier show in Paris when she did a jig down the runway.
Also hard to sell: She’s kind of a prude. Or, depending on how you look at it, a staunch advocate for models’ rights. At 16, she got pressured into doing a semi-nude shoot. And from then on she laid down parameters: no cigarettes, no nudity, no lingerie, which means no swimwear because that could make people think she’s willing to do lingerie. This also effectively means no Victoria’s Secret, often a launchpad into TV. And no acting. She’d like to try it, but she won’t curse. “Unless it was like the next Jane Eyre, there really isn’t a lot I could do,” she says.
She’s not kidding around. The other day, Rocha found herself on a shoot with three male models who were unexpectedly “inappropriately clothed,” she says. “I mean, I don’t have a problem with male models, but if I have told you that this is not what I do, either they have to go or I have to go. So, in the end, they had to leave. How terrible does that make me look? But it’s too bad people don’t stick to their guns. And read the contract and realize this is not what Coco’s going to do. We can’t trick her into it.” (Rocha is mentoring Kloss on tweeting more, but otherwise, Kloss is growing up all on her own. She just did a controversial nude shoot, her first, for Meisel in Italian Vogue. The truth is that not all girls want to take over the world,” Kloss told me. “I want to take over the world.”)
Rocha believes that if her online following is too big to be ignored, she can get ad campaigns no matter what her contract says. We’re talking over espresso with Rocha’s British husband, James Conran, who helps manage her mini empire. With her Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, and other platforms—including Tencent Weibo, a.k.a. “Chinese Twitter”—combined, Rocha is up to 1.65 million followers. Google+ is her House of Style: Her 588,000 followers there are mostly guys from India and Asia.
Could that translate to profit? As Conran puts it, “If she’s speaking to 580,000 people on Google+, that’s worth something. I don’t know what, but something.” Should brands pay her extra to tweet a photo of, say, a Rodarte campaign she’s in?
When she started doing social media, Rocha was worried the oversharing might cause the industry to un-follow her. “You’re supposed to be high fashion, exclusive, untouchable,” she says. Now she’s not as concerned. “High fashion may decide that she’s old news,” says Conran. “But a girl like Coco who has a million followers is not going to disappear overnight. Clients will still want her. Even if the few people who kind of control fashion decide they don’t like Coco, it’s not that easy for Coco to disappear.”
Anyway, she’ll always have Canada. She’s covered the red carpet for Entertainment Tonight Canada and done backstage interviews at the very shows she’s walked in. Doing Canadian TV was her agent’s plan. “He was like, ‘We need you to get famous in Canada.’ Say America is done with you, Canada will be like, ‘We’ll take anything!’ ”
When Jay-Z was seeking a big name to co-host an after-party for his Carnegie Hall benefit concerts last week, he called Karolina Kurkova. Her brand equity is model as entertainer, the person to turn to when you want to spike enthusiasm at some fancy event. It comes from growing up as a five-eleven teenager, she says. “I was never the girl the boys wanted to date. Being funny was my shtick.” The morning of Jay-Z’s party, Kurkova, mother to Tobin, 2, excitedly (and graphically) showed me the breast-feeding techniques she planned to teach the rapper that night for Blue Ivy.