Landing a Prada catwalk exclusive was widely considered to be the holy grail of runway bookings, turning an unknown face into one to watch in an instant. Models like Sasha Pivovarova and Lindsey Wixson have reaped the rewards of this coup in seasons past (fall 2005 and spring 2010, respectively), booking campaigns for the label and many others, on top of numerous magazine covers and guaranteed spots on the world's best catwalks. But recently, Balenciaga started booking exclusives as well, and the label's reputation for brilliant casting has begun to rival Prada's.
Perhaps Balenciaga's biggest runway moment occurred when casting directors Ashley Brokaw and Nicolas Ghesquière got Miranda Kerr (previously known for her Victoria's Secret bombshell status rather than her high-fashion work) to walk exclusively for the spring 2010 season. Kerr then scored campaigns for Prada and Jil Sander, and was shot by Steven Meisel for the September 2010 cover of Italian Vogue. A season later, Milou Van Groesen opened the label's spring 2011 show as a worldwide exclusive, and was subsequently featured on the covers of Japanese Vogue and i-D. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Aymeline Valade modeled for years without any major success before her spring 2011 exclusive with the label, which catapulted her to a W shoot with Meisel, as well as an Etro campaign and Allure spread lensed by Mario Testino. Most recently, the label cast Erjona Ala exclusively for fall 2011; she then became the star of spring 2012 London Fashion Week.
This begs the question: Whose word is worth more when it comes to the birth of a model's career? While Prada has major success stories with Pivovarova, Wixson, and Irina Kulikova (who walked in fall 2007), some of the label's other exclusives never really took off (Bara Holotova from fall 2009 and Nicole Hofman from spring 2010, to name a few). Meanwhile, Balenciaga is still a new player in the exclusive game, so the jury is out. Keep a close eye on this season's Prada exclusive Lara Mullen and the yet-unknown Balenciaga exclusive to see.