Today, Grace “Gracie” Hartzel arrives at the Vogue offices looking what she calls kawaii, aka Japanese for cute, in a vintage lavender-blue schoolgirl dress with a Peter Pan collar. It’s certainly different than Hartzel’s usual image, as the leather-clad, eternally cool girl muse for Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent. Her inky tousled tresses, pillowy pout, slivered cheekbones, and doe-eyes rimmed with just the right amount of kohl makes her a charismatic firework—even in a black-and-white ad campaign, she gives a Le Smoking blazer, barely buttoned collared white shirt, and skinny black trousers a jolt of life. And she’s just as infectious in person: She jokes with the Vogue photo team, making them laugh with a Halloween anecdote, while a big-fan employee blushes as she walks by him. There’s no doubt about it: There is something about Gracie.
Though she may seem like a recent breakout star, Hartzel is no novice on the runway. The nineteen-year-old was discovered in a Cheesecake Factory in St. Louis, Missouri five years ago, and has been modeling ever since. She’s confident and self-assured, mentioning that she walked all of the “good names” during her first season. “My first show was the Raf Simons Dior Haute Couture show,” says Hartzel. “Do you remember that with all the flowers?” Then came more of those covetable “good names,” everyone from Chanel to Marc Jacobs, and ultimately those open-and-close catwalk gigs and multiple campaigns for Saint Laurent.
Oddly enough, her induction into the Saint Laurent family started with her obsession with the subculture of anime and manga—anime refers to the Japanese style of cartoon animation, while manga is the illustration in print form—the type of art that is seen in shows and films like Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Princess Mononoke. Obsessed with one particular piece of manga literature, Hartzel brought the cartoon to life—and in fashion.
“After I did [Saint Laurent’s] first grunge show, I went on summer vacation. At the time, I was reading this one anime and the girl had bangs. So I went to CVS and I bought scissors, I went to the bathroom, opened the manga, looked at her hair, and cut my fringe,” says Hartzel. “The next time I worked for Saint Laurent, they really liked my new haircut. I had hidden it because everyone else told me they didn’t like it. But I liked it and I didn’t care.” Not caring might have been her best career move yet; the new cut prompted Saint Laurent to beckon her to L.A. for an exclusive and a pre-fall campaign. “I just cut my hair and I don’t really know why,” Hartzel says now. “I don’t know what possessed me to do it—I guess it was the manga.”
Hartzel’s obsession with Japanese cartoons started back in middle school after she hung out with a friend’s sister who was an “amazing anime artist.” Soon after, she started watching cult classic films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away—these days, she’s well-versed in the culture, name-checking favorite directors like Hayao Miyazaki, talking about her phone’s anime app, and detailing her favorite stores, which, naturally, are Japanese shops in New York City and Paris that are filled with manga.
“I don’t understand how people can’t be into it!” Hartzel says, citing fellow model fans of the genre (Ali Michael and Charlotte Free) and film stars (the Fanning sisters did voice-overs for My Neighbor Totoro; Christian Bale does the voice for the male lead in Howl’s Moving Castle). “The only thing I read is manga—I’m bored by everything else. It’s the greatest form of entertainment there is.”
And her love for the art is not a deep-seated secret: Her Instagram feed @graciehartzel reveals the dual sides of her nature: ranging from posts of her runway feats for Prada, Versace, and Fendi dotted with colorful anime emoji to an icy portrait of the angular character Zero Kiryu of the Vampire Knight.
But the classic cool French influence holds equal sway for the young Saint Laurent star. “I’m obsessed with Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy,” admits Hartzel. “They are also kawaii.” Spoken like a true anime fan—who also happens to be fashion’s fastest rising star.
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