I investigates whether the supermodel has become a distinct species.
The age of the Supermodel is over, dead and buried. Ten years ago, most critics in the world of fashion would have given a reluctant nod of agreement to my opening sentence. Household supermodels, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss were still considered runway royalty, even though their heyday had long since passed and although Victoria Secret sensation Gisele Bundchen was dubbed a supermodel, her lack of allure when compared to the Big-Six of the 1980s and 1990’s took the “super” out of her model status.
However, in more recent years there has been a turnaround, with a new-batch of beautiful faces rising to the challenge to take the catwalk crown. Cara Delevingne, Karlie Kloss and even Kendall Jenner, of the Kardashian Clan (whether rightly or wrongly so) have been given the title of “supermodel” by the media. But are they really supermodels? Do they correspond to the construct that was created for them in past or are they paving their own way? And the biggest question of all what is a supermodel anyway?
While former Sports-Illustrated and Harper’s Bazaar, cover girl, Janice Dickinson, has continually claimed that she coined the term “supermodel” in the 1970’s, in reality it had been in existence long before then. For most, the world’s first supermodel was the gamine and waifish, Londoner nicknamed “Twiggy”. Her signature eyeliner flick, thin frame and cropped androgynous hair-cut won the hearts of the entire globe. In 1967, The New York Times, attributed the title of supermodel to Twiggy, while Glamour did so the following year. At 5 ft 6, Twiggy was by no means of exceptionally tall stature, so whether she would have succeeded as a supermodel by today’s standards is certainly questionable, with most catwalk queens towering at 5 ft 9 at the very least.
English beauties Twiggy and Jane Shrimpton laid the foundations of supermodel status for a new wave of model wonders who would storm their way into the 1980s and 90s. This was undoubtedly the Golden Age of the Supermodel. Cindy Crawford’s alluring beauty mark allowed her to earn up to $800,000 for a single photo-shoot, while Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and the later addition of Kate Moss, completed the “Big Six” supermodel squad. Kate Moss’s ability to pull-off garage grunge just as successfully as simple elegance made her a winning contrast to the demure and sultry Campbell, their difference complementing each other.
The noughties did nothing to foster the emergence of new supermodels. With actresses and TV stars fronting beauty campaigns and magazine covers, the demand for supermodels waned. Although, Georgia-May Jagger, famed for her gapped-grin and red-lipstick, was the face of Rimmel and Rosie-Huntington-Whiteley featured widely, they lacked the sheer supremacy that a true supermodel needs to possess. Schiffer and Crawford declared that the time of supermodels was over and that they “had lived through it”. However, just as the world seemed ready to resign supermodels to bygone days, a new crop of beguiling beauties strutted onto the scene.
The 2012 London Olympics was a perfect time for Cara Delevingne to parade her modelling prowess alongside household names Campbell and Moss. Fresh from a successful Burberry Campaign, Delevingne became the face of DKNY and Yves Saint Laurent. Meanwhile, American Karlie Kloss’ sleek demeanour has allowed her become the muse of Jean-Paul Gaultier. While in recent months Kendall Jenner has worked the runways of London and Paris Fashion Weeks, it remains to be seen whether she is deserved of the title of supermodel. Has her infamous family status been the reason for her rise in the haute couture sector or has it been for her own modelling merit?
The fashion archives will tell us whether these contemporary faces made the cut as supermodels. For many, becoming a supermodel is all about luck, but in reality it is all about attitude. You don’t have to be the most beautiful girl in the world to lead the pack at a Chanel show. Attitude, confidence and originality have been the winning qualities of supermodels past and present. And if you possess these qualities, according to Jean-Paul Gaultier, you have the ability to “advance fashion by ten years”. No pressure then Kendall!