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The Nineties ushered in the era of the supermodel. Those leggy, statuesque girls not only got the press, the glamour, the cachet, the boyfriends, the exposure and the lifestyle, but, in some cases, the money that movie stars were used to. A legion of five—Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford (one-time waif Kate Moss would soon join their ranks)—popularized the term, although many other models became household names during the decade. The supermodels were heavily in demand, dominating fashion runways both in the U.S. and abroad, magazine covers and print and TV ad campaigns. A top model could earn $100,000 on a single print campaign for a designer, and several raked in millions annually with multiyear contracts. In Europe, some of the top models, such as Nadja Auermann, Evangelista, Shalom Harlow and Campbell, got at least $10,000 per runway show, and in some cases, up to $18,000 per show. Fees had escalated so much in the U.S. too, that in 1993, several designers tried to cap model fees during the Bryant Park shows. As WWD reported, the Federal Trade Commission investigated and subpoenaed several SA firms, and ultimately 7th on Sixth and the CFDA reached an agreement with the FTC that as a group, they would never set modeling fees again. From then on, models were paid whatever the market would bear. Today, the likes of a Natalia Vodianova or Gisele Bündchen can pull down six figures for a single runway exit (plus a dinner party appearance for good measure).
A week didn’t go by when one of the girls didn’t secure a major fragrance or fashion campaign, fronting such brands as Versace, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Guess, L’Oréal, Maybelline, Chanel and Victoria’s Secret, and designers were outspoken about their work. “Linda is the best for photos,” Karl Lagerfeld told WWD in 1995. “She is divine, unique! She is not a perfect beauty, but she has something nobody else has.” Schiffer turned heads the first time she strode down the Milan runways in 1991. “She’s beautiful, but she can’t walk,” said Alan Cleaver, explaining why Byblos didn’t hire Schiffer like the rest of Milan in her first runway season. “I will get on the runway myself and teach her how to walk,” Giorgio Armani told WWD in 1991.
Supermodels made headlines when they changed hair color from brunette to blonde, bought and sold condos in New York, swaggered into parties after a fashion show or displayed divalike behavior such as being late for runway shows or throwing cell phones. But they weren’t always posing for the camera, and a few girls became entrepreneurs themselves. “I love to be in front of the camera, but there are other things I want to do. Singing, getting up on a stage and giving it my all— that would be fun,” Campbell told WWD in 1990. Campbell appeared in a few movies and had a jeans collection; Crawford hosted MTV’s “House of Style” and launched a furniture line and fitness videos; Turlington developed a yoga line; Moss created a near frenzy at Topshop, and Campbell, Schiffer and Elle Macpherson signed on as partners in a restaurant (the forgettable and short-lived Fashion Cafe in Rockefeller Center). Even Elite Model Management introduced a junior sportswear and accessories collection targeted at the supermodels’ admirers. What We Wear by Elite Models kicked off with the biggies: Evangelista, Campbell, Amber Valletta and Harlow.