Meet the new generation of 'It Girls': There's greater opportunity, but the stakes are higher too

Sofia Richie Grainge, Hailey Bieber
The "It Girls" we can’t stop talking about today - like Sofia Richie Grainge or Hailey Bieber, both pictured above - have that It factor, but they also are armed with publicists and stylists curating their image. Photo credit: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images; Karwai Tang / WireImage / Getty Images

By Diana Pearl for The Business of Fashion, an editorial partner of CNN Style

Modern day "It girls" aren't just born, they're made.

The elusive term, describing a girl or woman with that certain je ne sais quoi, has been part of the cultural vernacular for nearly 100 years, made famous in the 1927 film It starring silent actress Clara Bow - who is often referred to as the first "It girl." Since then, it's been used to describe a slew of women, from Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick to Bianca Jagger to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy to Alexa Chung.

But today's crop of It girls don't earn the title by accident. Whether by necessity or desire, they are propelled by a well-oiled machine behind-the-scenes. No longer is being an It girl simply a side effect of being a paparazzi magnet (Bessette-Kennedy), attending all the right parties (Jagger), having influential connections (Sedgwick) or simply having great style (Chung). Today, it's a job in and of itself - one that, to do successfully, requires a team behind you. 

At the same time, having that "It factor" is increasingly necessary to break through in fashion at all, particularly as a model or influencer.

"It used to be that you could find a great-looking person somewhere, give them the right haircut, dress them the right way, send them out and that would work," said Jeni Rose, senior vice president and co-head of fashion representation at WME Fashion. "That's not possible anymore."

Take Sofia Richie Grainge, unquestionably this summer's It girl. Her April 2023 wedding in the South of France set off a firestorm of interest, with TikTok users labelling her the face of "old money" style. Google searches for her name multiplied by 100 in the days preceding and following the event.

Since then, she's inked collaborations with brands like Jo Malone and Maybelline, grown a TikTok following of over three million, sat front row at Chanel's cruise show in Los Angeles - the luxury house having made three custom looks for her wedding - and landed on the cover of Town & Country. 

There was no guarantee Richie Grainge's nuptials would go quite as viral as they did or have such an extended afterlife online. But that doesn't mean it happened by accident, either.

"With anything in life when it lands, it lands," said Liat Baruch, Richie Grainge's stylist. "But it's something that's been building. We've been working together for a while. We know what silhouettes work, what fabrics work."

Edie Sedgwick is pictured in conversation with the artist Andy Warhol.
'60s "It Girl" Edie Sedgwick is pictured in conversation with the artist Andy Warhol. Photo credit: John Springer Collection / Corbis / Getty Images

How publicists make "It" happen

For those already in the public eye, it's often a well-coordinated and well-publicized shift in style that triggers "It" status. 

Anne Hathaway, a Hollywood mainstay of over two decades, has crept into It girl territory in recent years since working with stylist Erin Walsh, leading to headline-making outfits like a white Armani Privé column gown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, or a bold, purple Valentino minidress (with matching tights and chunky platforms) worn to a Bulgari event in May. Richie Grainge had been working as a model for years and was also known as the little sister of 2000s It girl Nicole Richie. But it took until her nuptials, for which she embraced a "quiet luxury"-inflected look, to cement her Gen-Z style icon-hood.

Vogue's wedding coverage has in particular become a go-to It girl launch pad, because their photo-heavy stories offer a way for people to get a comprehensive view of a bride's style and taste, said Robyn DelMonte, a publicist turned TikTok creator who comments on pop culture on her account GirlBossTown.

Ivy Getty, the great-granddaughter of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, blew up online in November 2021, when Vogue shared her San Francisco wedding. Since, she's also been on the cover of Town & Country and become a fixture on the fashion scene, attending events like the Met Gala and Cannes.

Getty has all the makings of a classic It girl - famous family, beautiful looks, a distinct sense of style. But in today's ecosystem, she needed that extra push to pop in the cultural consciousness. Coverage of her wedding was arranged by Savannah Engel, the founder of public relations firm Savi. Since then, the pair have continued working together to capitalize on the interest - and newfound opportunities - that came Getty's way. 

They "immediately got to work," Getty said: She met with Engel and communications strategist Federica Parruccini to lay out both her immediate and long-term goals and received media training to better handle the swarm of attention.

"I wanted to learn how to better brand myself, but also not feel like I'm 'branding' myself," she said. "I just wanted to feel like I am putting somebody out there that feels authentic to who I really am."

Parruccini said that with Getty, it's about evaluating if something feels genuine to her, her life and her interests. If she attends a fashion show, for instance, they want it to be a show for a brand she already likes and has an interest in.

"Our goal is not at all to make her famous," said Engel. "Our goal is to create her brand. It's not about the next two years, it's the next 10 to 15 years." 

Do you still need "It"?

With social media, today's It girls can harness the power of the public's interest and turn it into a long-lasting career. Someone like Hailey Bieber started out as a model and social media star, and then got a boost from her famous relationship (and, again, a Vogue-covered wedding) before launching her skincare brand, Rhode, which sells the "glazed donut" beauty look she made famous on her Instagram.

"Getting out there for five minutes, especially in fashion, is not hard, because people are always looking for the next thing," said Rose. "But becoming a big deal and staying a big deal for years on end is a testament to the level of the talent that you're dealing with and also the level of the management."

There's greater opportunity, but the stakes are higher, too. Today's It girls are faced with a heightened level of scrutiny, particularly if they make the choice to pursue a more public career. 

"You can't be in that public light without having protectors or brand builders, and that's what we are," said Engel. "We expand her community and build her brand, but we're protecting her. It would be impossible to smoothly grow as an It girl without that unit around you."

Plus, there's more competition for "It" status than ever before. It's not just socialites, heiresses or the Hollywood-adjacent, but influencers who can - and do - earn the title.

Still, there's something about a connection to wealth or fame that people can't resist; this is the year that people were captivated by quiet luxury, after all. "It takes a different kind of confidence to be a little quieter and still be noticed," said Baruch.

And that confidence or charisma - that certain something that's been an It-girl must-have for over a century - is still the fundamental piece of the equation, no matter how big of a team you have behind you. 

"Even if you have the tools and are following all the calculations of what it takes to be an It girl, it still might not pop," said Delmonte. "You need to have that "It factor" for it to work."

Editor's note: This article was originally published by The Business of Fashion, an editorial partner of CNN Style.