Sabina Karlsson: Meet The Swedish Model Making Waves In The Fashion Industry

Her rise charts the evolution of not just the fashion industry, but the expectation we have of clothing and ourselves.

Sabina Karlsson wearing striped leggings

by Kenya Hunt |

Gone are the days when models were expected to be a sample-sized clothes hanger, a pretty face to be seen and not heard. And the rise of Swedish model Sabina Karlsson charts the evolution of not just the fashion industry, but us, and the expectation we have of the clothing industry and ourselves.

‘It’s so important to push for different bodies,’ Karlsson says from her home in New York City. ‘That’s what people want to see, bodies they recognise.’ Her trademark freckles, relatable size 12 shape and striking voluminous red hair made her a standout in a year of virtual and socially-distanced runway shows from Jacquemus, where she memorably walked alongside fellow rising star Jill Kortleve in those highly Instagrammable corn fields in the South of France, to Michael Kors. She’s a part of a wave of models coming through who are broadening fashion’s notion of size. ‘Women like models Precious [Lee], Paloma [Elsesser] — they’re breaking barriers and opening doors for people to become more accepting of their bodies.’

Sabina Karlsson wearing a red dress from Fendi
Sabina Karlsson wearing a Fendi dress ©Victor Dermarchelier

Karlsson began her career as a child model at the age of 4. ‘Up until I hit my teenage years, I was happy on set. No one ever judged me for my size.’ But things changed when she turned 16 and set her sights on walking in Milan. ‘In order to do that, I knew I needed to lose weight, and that’s when I really started struggling. I was always working out. Always on a diet. But my body naturally didn’t want to be that skinny. It felt odd to think about food in a [restrictive] way.’

So she persisted through the weight fluctuations. A breakthrough happened when a friend introduced her to an agent at the curve division of Ford. ‘He told me my measurements were perfect. And that was me not being on a diet or working out every morning and night. That was a real turning point for me.’

Sabina Karlsson wearing a floral dress and tights
©Victor Dermarchelier

In an industry that is often known for its rapid churn of teenage newcomers, Karlsson, a married mother of a two-year-old son, stands out as a woman others can identify with. ‘I feel like I value my career and my job so much more now rather than if I was an overnight success. I’ve gone through the struggles and rejections,’ she says. Now, she’s appeared in the pages of Vogue and i-D and in campaigns for L’Oreal. ‘I’ve done commercial with one foot in editorial,’ she explains — all the better to have a greater impact. ‘I’ve met women who told me, “I bought that [dress] because of you. I saw that it fits you and thought it could fit me as well.” Not a lot of people can relate to sample size.’

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SEE: The Results Of Grazia's Size Survey

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Photographer: Victor Dermarchelier

Stylist: Anya Ziourova

Talent: Sabina Karlssen at Milk Model Management

Hair: Gavin Harwin at The Wall Group using Oribe

Make-up artist: Christine Cherbonnier at The Wall Group using Shiseido

Manicurist: Martha Fekete using Essie

Casting and production: Jessica Harrison

Stylist's assistant: Alex Hall

Photo assistants: Margaret Gibbons and Ryan Petrus

Digital technician: Ryan Page

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