What happened to the ‘it’ crowd? The disappearance of the supermodel.

There were once the supermodels. They were household names, unquestionable beauties, millionaires, and apparently friends. We still see photos of them in their heyday today and are reminded of the golden age of fashion where the models would love their designers, the clothes, their jobs and each other, and they would be loved back in turn, even idolised, by millions.


That meteoric constellation of Linda, Christy, Cindy, Naomi and Tatjana, while idiosyncratic enough in their personalities, all shared a commonality of the invaluable components that make an ‘it’ girl: they were all-rounders; at once ubiquitous and yet indefinable for it. Their fingers were in so many pies – cosmetic campaigns, fitness videos, famous husbands and friends – that they began to blur the lines between celebrity and model. At once ours for the taking as we could have gathered them in our arms in a stack of magazines, they were yet completely unreachable in their glittering closed circle in the upper echelons of celebrity as we knew absolutely nothing about their real lives. They were, and still are glittering myths; goddesses who only appear to flit through nostalgic tales of parties gone by, catwalks walked and beautiful dresses shed at the light of morning.
So what happened to this modelling boom? The phrase ‘we don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day’ springs to mind. It may be true that the vanity and pride of these girls caused them to get too big for their size six Manolo Blankik boots and they were subsequently ousted from their places in the cosmetic campaigns that their faces were synonymous with. Yet, no one else was there to take their places as the golden girls of fashion. Instead Kate Moss ushered in the rise of Heroin Chic, malnourishment and unsmiling indifference to stardom. Or rather, did fashion itself shirk off its golden shimmer for a harder, more streamlined edge?
As the economy shrank and the financial boom begun to seem like a mere golden dream, the faces on magazine covers reflected the new, grungier attitude that fashion had taken. Despite the fact that fashion and clothes design is at its very core an artistic, escapist trade, it is easy to see how the overwhelming doom and gloom foretold from newspaper front pages at the time would not only affect what was coming down the runways, but also who was. Models became distinctly thinner, more Eastern European, and younger; almost pre-pubescent in their lack of curvature or personality.
So fashion has become less fun, more business, as the need to sell clothes and make money overshadows all else. The longevity of the model, as well as the magazine or fashion house, also now depends on adapting to the more efficient business she is a part of; not sharing in a collective market, but instead having a very distinct and self-contained image to sell to us. Girls now own their own, mutually exclusive fashion niches, and are therefore sponsored by the fashion house which aligns most directly with their lifestyle choices. The boyish Alexa Chung for example is synonymous with Mulberry, up to the point where the satchel of her namesake accounts for up to 15% of their annual sales. Lily Cole’s wholesome concern for her education as well as the environment means she has become the poster girl for the responsible Body Shop, and Cara’s escapades with class As, finger tattoos and almost-underage rock stars has earned her campaigns with basically any fashion house that wants to target a younger, hipper crowd. But while each model may embody one facet of the girl we want to be, none of them are able to be all things to all of us like the supermodels of the 1990s. Consequently, the faces of fashion are much more fractured and disparate than they ever have been before.
Not only that, but they are all just so dull. This is perhaps for the reason that models today are too accessible. In an age where the most successful models have learnt to brand themselves, their lifestyles, and their clothes in such a way that is quantifiable and therefore profitable, have they become almost repelling in their availability? If we take for instance Alexa Chung’s new book ‘It’, it is clear that the elusiveness of her brand of cool was what made her so, well, cool. The same goes for the replica Kate Moss wardrobe sold in Topshop a couple of years back. Of course parties that we were at never seem so exciting as the ones we only see pictures of, and this is perhaps why it is so easy to look back on past eras as better than our own because there was just not the same, overwhelming amount of data and information available to us then. However it is undeniable that for women whose role it is to sell us ideas and dreams, not just the clothes on their backs, reading about what they eat for breakfast causes them to lose much of their mystique and consequent lustre.
The overexposure of the lives of these women means that they are no longer contained within the realms of high fashion, but seem to have been assimilated into our day-to-day lives. As Cara’s life is spread out and dissected before us across pages of tell-all exposes and photo montages, and she pops up as regularly on our twitter feeds as our best friends do, we can no longer revere her as goddess. Although it may appear beneficial to knock our idols off of their pedestals and see them for what they are – regular people – the changing role of models has another, darker consequence. There has been much written on the disadvantages for the self-esteem and identity of young woman of the constant presence of such models in the public’s consciousness. The saturation of media with images of thin, alien-looking women has changed our perceptions of beauty and consequently our expectations of ourselves. However because these women have been insidiously making their way into other forms of our consciousness through instant digital media, it seems that their body shapes and lifestyles have become ever more normalised in the social consciousness. When our selfie pops up next to Alexa’s, it is hard not to compare and obviously feel the worse for it, just as much as the pages of models’ ‘off-duty street style’ online make our own day-to-day wear feel woefully inadequate. It is hard therefore not to miss the era where there was a quantifiable line drawn between the realms of celebrity and normal life, and we always knew where we stood.