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When Kendall Jenner, 18, walked in Marc Jacobs’s show (center) during New York Fashion Week, many assumed it was a one-time stunt by the designer, who loves using celebrities in his ad campaigns. But now that she’s graced the catwalk in London and Paris (for Givenchy, left, and Chanel, right), Jenner seems poised for a high-fashion career to take off. We chatted with Nigel Barker, host of modeling competition The Face, to see if he thinks Jenner has what it takes to become a top model.
“I definitely think she has the potential,” he tells PEOPLE. “These things rely on a little bit of longevity and she’s still young, [but] she’s doing all the right things, walking in the right shows. She’s got the look — that smoldering, strong look. Every once in a while, she reminds me a bit of Gia Carangi, that sort of mystery to her.”
But Barker is quick to point out that it’s what she does with this newfound high-fashion exposure that will make or break her career. “We now have to see the editorial pickup, we need to see the big magazines endorse her. She’ll need to get campaigns in the right areas,” he says. “Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, if they pick her up, then high fashion has truly endorsed her. Hopefully when she’s in front of those cameras, she’ll allow her confidence and sense of humor and motivation to come together and be spontaneous. If it’s everything we expect from her, people will want to see it.”
He also says that any backlash she might receive could work in her favor. “With modeling you don’t have to be liked. People need to have an opinion — you never want to be average,” he says. “You want people to say ‘I hate that, I love that.’ Both are newsworthy. Both create a cult following, and having models who have cult following is fantastic.”
And of course, it doesn’t hurt for these designers that Jenner has that cult following built-in with her Kardashian brand. “It makes total sense. Why would you not have someone who could be a model, be a model if they have a built in audience?” he says, though adding it could fuel her to work even harder to prove herself. “If people think you’re blessed just because you’re a Kardashian, you might think, ‘I want to prove this.’ That drive, that ambition is inspiring, and people will see it.”
Barker would know — he’s had many seasons on America’s Next Top Model and The Face to see up-and-coming models make it or break it. And he promises lots more of that on The Face‘s second season, which premieres tonight on Oxygen, with new mentors Anne V and Lydia Hearst in addition to existing mentor Naomi Campbell.
“This season I’m not just the host, I’m also a confidant,” he says. “Now I get to go in and ask the questions the audience is thinking, from the drama behind the camera to the mentors’ advice in front of it. Why are they thinking that, what’s going on? It adds a whole new dimension.” Tune in tonight at 10 to see it go down, and tell us: Do you think Jenner has what it takes? Is Barker spot-on in his assessment? What should she do next?