Reading time: 8min.

by Natalie Bannerman

The fall of the nineties supermodel

What happened to the Supermodel!?

Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Iman, Elle MacPherson & Alek Wek these names don’t count because they gained their notoriety before & during the 90’s but for whatever reason we don’t produce models that are blessed with such a title anymore. Arguably models such as Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid are bestowed with such a name, but I disagree and I find myself asking why that is.

Show’s like ANTM (America’s Next Top Model) and even Naomi ‘s ‘The Face’ have completely over saturated the fashion industry. We the public are in undated with countless names and faces that for the most part are forgettable. The shows themselves only really focus on the luxurious mystery holidays and cat fights who could forget the famous Tyra meltdown of 2005! They have made the job of the once revered strutting the runway, too easy and accessible. According to writer Chris Rojek in his 2001 book entitled Celebrity. Celebrity is ‘the pent up needs of the audience’ and ‘ the embodiment of ideology.’ The representation of the the things we hope to have and likely never to achieve, if shows such as these have taken away some of this magic, its no wonder why we don’t view these women as ‘super’ anymore.

Conversely the 90’s was a time for culture, fashion in particular was very much at its height at the time, which meant those in this industry were popular by association. The Naomi’s and Kate Mosses were more than just pretty faces they leant their names to many a great cause. Naomi Campbell famously back in 2003 modelled for Katharine Hamnett wearing a diamanté embellished ‘Use a Condom’ & ‘Peace’ vest top a reference to the spread of aids in Africa.

They partook in all of aspects of the culture. Art, Pop music, film & television and used their modelling as a platform to speak out against many social injustices. Kate Moss in particular is regularly seen partying with friends from various industries. Artists & painters in particular have always been drawn to her rebellious, free spirited nature.

They weren’t afraid to get involved in scandal or do something outrageous, they had interesting celebrity relationships, made public mistakes and grew in front of our eyes. Yet despite our current age of transparency many of the models of today are increasingly secretive, too afraid to be publicly ridiculed and we the public are given the impression that we don’t get to know the real person and feel somewhat distanced. Equally it could be this privacy within their personal lives that the media are unattracted by, especially when by comparison there are countless television celebrities willing to bear all.
The 90’s also bred healthier body images, now by no means am I saying that these women weren’t amazingly slim and skinny but their image was by no means unhealthy or dangerous, think back to few years ago when size zero models were all the rage. How can any of us forget the disturbing image of an anorexic Isabelle Caro featured in every major publication on the dangers size zero and the unhealthy body image the fashion industry was beginning to perpetuate. Although now more than ever before we see a surge of plus size models in print and on the catwalk, a sign that things really do change over time.

Multifaceted! They were able to pull off punk, goth, grunge, endogenous , curvy, minimal and do it believably, while many models of today give off this air of wanting to look cool and sexy rather than experimenting in the weird and wonderful. (Cue ANTM clips of the girls crying during makeover week!). Although we still have hope in the Agyness Dean’s of today who still manage to rock the grungy look with ease.

But is it all the fault of the models of today? Are they really doing something different to that of the models before them? Arguably the title of Supermodel is one that is given and not earned. Rojeck states that there are three forms of celebrity. Ascribed, achieved and attributed. Ascribed meaning notoriety which those who are born into celebrity status, such kings and queens. Achieved being fame that has been given through personal accomplishment, like a talent or skill. The last being attributed this is the type of celebrity that is given to those who are made to seem important by association. Perhaps the problem lies in that the media of today are inundated with attributed celebrity in the form of reality stars who are far more controversial and entertaining to follow. So they therefore are given far more media interest and attention. Equally many of the major product endorsements and campaigns that used to belong to supermodels are now being given to major music artists, actors and athletes who have the public profile necessary to garner sales. “They are taking jobs from deserving models and its unfair’’ says Lyndsey McIntyre Kenya’s licensee for the internationally renowned Ford Supermodel of the Year competition.

We must also remember that we are moving further away from the need for supermodels. Dove’s 2004 ‘Real Beauty’ campaign introduced a growing a trend of real products for real women. Consumers are increasingly becoming dis-interested in the stereotypical image of beauty they are fed, and are calling out for more relatable models who resemble themselves. Australian model Robyn Lawley was the first plus size model to appear in a Ralph Lauren campaign and many more appear to be joining her. Actors, musicians and athletes are not bound by the conforms of a particular body type and image in the same ways models are and therefore comfortably fulfil this mass need for ‘realness’ but still attain this notion of superiority and elitism that Rojeck states is crucial in order for the notion of celebrity to work. ‘The identification of the masses with celebrity is always false consciousness, since celebrities are not regarded as reflections of reality, but fabrications designed to enhance the rules of capital.’ Here Rojek suggests that people don’t view celebrities as real people. but as illusions constructed to encourage us to make money and to feed into the capitalist lifestyle.

It is clear however that with the fall of 90’s supermodel so falls something bigger than a title or status within the sphere of the fashion industry but a sign of changing ideologies. We are slowly moving away from viewing celebrity as something to be in awe of but rather something to humanise and admire at best.

But as Rojeck points out ‘it is an enormous paradox that democracy, the system which claimed moral superiority on the basis of extending equality and freedom to all, cannot proceed without creating celebrities who stand above the common citizen and achieve veneration and god-like worship.’ Democracy from a social aspect is the notion that we are all equal, we are all free and from that, the opportunity to reach the unattainable is possible.