Why ’90s Model Tasha Tilberg Is Once Again the Model of the Moment

Tilberg’s candid spirit satisfies the zeitgeist’s craving for unvarnished sincerity.

Last September, I found myself ensconced in a steamy underground parking garage, waiting for a fashion show to begin. Toronto’s beau monde had gathered to watch the prodigal return of Sid Neigum, a wunderkind who left in 2016 to showcase his work in New York and London. The air was humid, and the mood was restless and electric.

A distended electronic beat swelled, and a severe-looking model strode down the runway in a pleated white column dress and strict black blazer. Her hair was slicked back into a demure low pony, and her gait was confident and commanding. As the identity of the model dawned on me—and the others in the room—the buzz was palp­able. It was Tasha Tilberg. 

Following our current era’s combined fervour for nostalgia and narcissism, the most prominent faces of the day are supermodel offspring à la Kaia Gerber or social media stars like Kendall Jenner. Tilberg is neither.

Following our current era’s combined fervour for nostalgia and narcissism, the most prominent faces of the day are supermodel offspring à la Kaia Gerber or social media stars like Kendall Jenner. Tilberg is neither. She’s a ’90s model whose appeal rests on her unvarnished simplicity. Although she wasn’t as ubiquitous as the Hadid sisters, Tilberg walked in a total of 11 shows for Spring 2019, from Proenza Schouler to Victoria Beckham. She is undoubtedly having a banner season, but when she speaks to me over the phone from her home in Powell River, B.C., she chalks up her much-hyped return to simple availability. The six-year-old twins she has with her wife, Laura Wilson, have reached school age, and, consequently, she has more time to gallivant around the world.

Perhaps it really is that simple, but the timing for her return couldn’t be better. Today, Tilberg’s oddball DGAF spirit feels refreshingly relevant. “Her presence is serious but gentle; her look is tough, but she has a softness,” says Neigum, who, in addition to casting Tilberg in his show, shot his entire Spring 2019 look book with her. 

When Tilberg embarked on her career in the mid-’90s, she didn’t quite fit in with the giraffe-like glamazons or the heroin-chic waifs like Kate Moss or Jaime King. “She became the poster girl for a different kind of look,” says Trey Taylor, a pop culture expert who pens the “Hollyweird” column for Paper Magazine. “She was totally granola grunge.” With Tilberg’s hand-poked tattoos, septum piercing and brooding mien, her hard-edged look was a direct predecessor to cyberpunk Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. “She was fresh and cute but could completely transform,” says Taylor. “I think that duality is what excited casting directors.” George Whiteside, the photographer who shot Tilberg for FASHION’s December/January cover in 1996, recalls her as being “a little kooky.” “She whispered in my ear that she was a vampire,” he said, laughing.

When she was younger, recounts Tilberg, she was embarrassed to tell anyone she was a model. “I think I had to prove to myself that it was a worthy industry,” she explains. Today, she’s not concerned with proving anything. “Before, if I felt somebody wasn’t happy with the way I was working, I would take it personally,” she recalls. “I have no such issues anymore.”

At 38, Tilberg has replaced the moody defiance with a monklike sense of calm. Her current look is “really natural,” says Liz Bell, her Canadian agent. “I love that she has character lines on her face and embraces it.” The return of Tilberg isn’t about the token diversity of hiring an “older” model or nostalgia for a bygone era. Rather, it hints at an era in which the concept of a “woman” isn’t preceded by a parade of qualifiers. Tilberg projects a sense of contentment that is irresistible. Perhaps being satisfied and content with one’s life is the ultimate aspiration.