By and  on May 29, 2008

PARIS — To paraphrase Douglas MacArthur, old supermodels never die, they just fade away for a while. And then they come back again.

Although celebrities have hijacked hordes of fashion ads in recent years, Nineties-era supermodels — displaying formidable powers of longevity — have returned with a vengeance in many of fall's fashion campaigns.

That Linda Evangelista is starring in Prada, Naomi Campbell in Yves Saint Laurent, Claudia Schiffer in Chanel and Salvatore Ferragamo, Eva Herzigova in Louis Vuitton and Christy Turlington in Escada suggests these industry thoroughbreds remain as bankable and fascinating as Hollywood's best beauties.

In fact, models in general — from newbies to veterans — dominate the lion's share of European designer campaigns for next season, from Daria Werbowy in Christian Dior and Raquel Zimmerman in Fendi to Angela Lindvall in Jimmy Choo and Kate Moss in Stella McCartney. Notable exceptions to the celebrity-free ad zone include Charlotte Gainsbourg for Balenciaga and Vanessa Paradis for Miu Miu — while many American brands also are sticking to the celeb road, such as Calvin Klein's multiple use of Eva Mendes.

Karl Lagerfeld — who has tapped Schiffer for three consecutive Chanel fashion campaigns, not forgetting Turlington, who appears in this season's Chanel eyewear and handbag spots — asserted that iconic Nineties supermodels are celebrities themselves, as easy for people to identify as any movie star.

"Time makes them sometimes even more interesting," Lagerfeld said. "I work with them because they are great and right even for this moment. They are still young women with nice faces and great personal, modern style. They are, and stay, irreplaceable."

Schiffer, who is also doing an encore in Ferragamo's campaign, is "better than ever," according to Lagerfeld.

Donatella Versace credits her late brother Gianni for fueling the supermodel phenomenon by sending all the top girls down the runway together in 1991.

"He made the models into celebrities as he understood that the more famous they became, the better it would be for him," she said. "I don't really make a distinction between working with celebrities and working with models as I think girls like Christy Turlington and, more recently, Kate Moss and Gisele [Bündchen] are celebrities, just as well-known as many actors and musicians."Versace, who chose Natalia Vodianova and Isabeli Fontana for her fall spots, said the original supermodels parlayed their high profiles into varied careers, which in turn fanned even greater fame. "Because of this, designers may now be viewing models as having equal celebrity pulling power as many actors and musicians," she said.

As for why the original bunch is back in vogue, Versace attributed it not only to talent, but "being the original in any field gives you a very special and enduring cachet."

Observers also attribute the renewed appeal of supermodels to cyclical tastes.

"At the end of the Nineties, there was a [supermodel] overdose and people wanted to see actresses, but maybe the fact that actresses don't really have a real relationship with fashion is driving [their return]," mused agent Didier Fernandez at DNA Models, which represents Evangelista, Nadja Auermann and Amber Valletta. He also suggested "people are starting to wake up" to the value, both in the emotive and bankable sense, of these iconic women.

For example, Evangelista has appeared in L'Oréal ads for 18 months and sales of products she represents have increased 20 percent, according to Fernandez.

"When Linda arrives on a shoot, everything changes. She knows the makeup artist, the stylist, the lighting, the photographer: She knows what she's doing," he said, citing the hubbub on the red carpet sparked by the Canadian's appearance at the Cannes Film Festival last week as further evidence of the enduring media fascination. (Evangelista started modeling in 1984.)

Vuitton, which tapped Jennifer Lopez for its ads in 2003, has flipped between celebrities like Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johansson and modeling greats including Campbell, Bündchen and Herzigova, who this season strikes heroic poses in front of the Unisphere, the steel globe in Flushing Meadows Park in New York, site of the 1964 World's Fair.

Antoine Arnault, Vuitton's director of communications, said a "familiar face" — whether model or actress — is vital to stop readers from flicking past an ad. But equally important for a fashion brand is change every season, which depends on the instincts of Vuitton artistic director Marc Jacobs, who mined the Eighties for his latest catwalk collection."I personally think working with celebrities is a real plus," said Arnault, citing a deluge of media coverage as one advantage. However, Vuitton clearly believes in iconic models, too, draping six of them on muscle cars last season to promote its collaboration on leather goods with artist Richard Prince.

"In the last campaign, we though Eva's two pictures were really stunning," Arnault said. "She's a stunningly beautiful 35-year-old woman."

With experienced models, he added, "there's more depth. These ones have soul."

Demand for 39-year-old Stephanie Seymour, represented by IMG Paris, has also spiked over the last two years. Already the face — and body — of the French lingerie brand Chantelle, Seymour will also star in the fall campaign of Spanish leather goods and fashion firm Loewe.

The leather good brand's creative director, Stuart Vevers, cited a sense of nostalgia for fashion icons that made an impression during his formative years. "To me it was instinctive. [Seymour] was the first name I said, and I was amazed when it came through....These are the people who were there when I first got interested in fashion. It was such a powerful period for fashion and modeling," said Vevers. "It was also super important that she was confident and sexy, but with an undercurrent of cool."

Escada chief executive officer Jean-Marc Loubier lauded Turlington for bringing multiple dimensions to the company's ad campaign for two seasons running. "She's meaningful to many generations as she's a woman who has been fulfilling herself on many levels, such as with her [Nuala] yoga line and her [Sundari] beauty brand. She's very much in tune with the key social trends of the moment," he said. "In the case of Escada, we're building the character of the brand, and if she were just a top model, she wouldn't fulfill that element."

Celebrities began storming fashion ads and magazine covers in the mid-Nineties, with the appearance of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis in a Donna Karan spot considered a lynchpin campaign. In a 1996 interview, Calvin Klein declared, "I don't think people are that interested in models anymore."How times have changed. Yet many observers, Lagerfeld included, shy away from the term "comeback" to describe the surging popularity of the supermodels of yore. These models "have to be used 100 percent with the eyes of today, not as people with 'comebacks,'" the designer said. "They have to be part of our times."

To be sure, this evergreen pack of models seems to operate in a league of its own, picking and choosing work that fits in with their family life and other pursuits. Having shot fall campaigns for Iceberg, Dsquared and David Yurman fragrance, 36-year-old Valletta is mainly focusing on her acting career, while 36-year-old Auermann, who is based in Berlin, has declined a number of modeling offers, choosing instead to focus on her fledgling music career.

"When you've done all of the worlds' shows and campaigns and have traveled around the planet three times a week (for eons), it's normal that a model wants to slow down and focus on special projects," said DNA's Fernandez.

"[These ladies] work for 30 days of the year and make as much as a younger model does in 300 days."

Here's a list of supermodels and details on their fall-winter campaigns:
- Linda Evangelista: Prada, photographed by Steven Meisel.
- Claudia Schiffer: Chanel photographed by Karl Lagerfeld; Salvatore Ferragamo, photographed by Mario Testino.
- Eva Herzigova: Louis Vuitton, photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.
- Christy Turlington: Escada, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier.
- Stephanie Seymour: Loewe, photographed by Steven Klein.
- Amber Valletta: Dsquared, photographed by Steven Meisel; David Yurman fragrance, photographed by Peter Lindbergh. — K.F.

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