Supermodel Linda Evangelista was so in demand back in the Eighties that she famously quipped she and her sister supe Christy Turlington never got of bed for less than $10,000 a day. But as Hollywood superstars supplanted supermodels in the fashion and beauty universe, numbers like that were more of a dream than reality for many models.
In the last five years, Uma, Gwyneth, Nicole et.al. have replaced Linda, Christy, Kate and Cindy as the reigning faces of the times. Gone were the days of models in music videos, cola commercials and peering out from the cover of every major magazine in America. In their stead cavorted celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and J.Lo, posing on countless Vogue covers, landing coveted cosmetics contracts and signing deals to produce their own perfumes.
Save for a few breakthrough names like Gisele and Carolyn Murphy—who became celebrities in their own right—models were relegated to the inside pages of magazines.
It seems that the model is, at last, back. Witness Evangelista on Vogue’s August issue, the first time in 14 months a model held that position, or Kate Moss on the cover of September’s Vanity Fair (not to mention almost every major ad campaign this season, including Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Calvin Klein Jeans). Designer Donatella Versace, who has tapped pals like Madonna and Halle Berry for recent campaigns, went with five top models for this fall’s Versace ads, while Revlon is rumored to have signed some of the hottest up-and-coming girls (the industry’s favored term for a model) for a 2007 launch.
“Celebrities have become lifestyle icons. We know everything about them and we even call them by their first names,” says Rochelle Udell, executive vice president, chief creative officer of Revlon. “With reality television, the whole world is a celebrity. There’s a specialness about the model again. They take us into a world that is aspirational and fantastic.”
What with the omnipresence of Tinseltown’s brightest stars, and the profusion of publications devoted to chronicling their every move, it’s no wonder that models, who are seen but rarely heard, are enjoying a resurgence. “Call it celebrity fatigue,” says Charles DeCaro, a partner in the ad agency Laspata/DeCaro. “When you first saw boldface names in advertisements and magazine covers it was novel, but it’s become so ubiquitous it’s one big bore.”
And if there’s one thing the fashion and beauty worlds hate, it’s boredom.
“I want to see fresh,” says Gloria Appel, who oversees Procter & Gamble’s Cover Girl, Max Factor and Clairol accounts as executive vice president, group director, of Grey Advertising. “You get a more objective point of view about beauty with a person whom you don’t know a lot about. There’s a certain mystery. We’ll see more of that in beauty because beauty is suffering from a lot of sameness and you want to be new, different and fresh.”
This season, “new, different and fresh” has taken on a number of different components. On the one hand, there’s the return of the iconic Eighties supermodels, including Evangelista and Christy Turlington. While not actresses, these women are more celebrity than model, but have been largely absent from the world of fashion and style in the past five years—marrying, having children, moving to Europe. Though absent, their popularity with the public remains firmly established.
“There’s a large portion of Generation X and Y that grew up with these models,” says John Demsey, group president, the Estée Lauder Cos. “Women love to see the reference points of people whom they found aspirational when they grew up. Whenever you have a reinterest in that, automatically a new crop comes in and new girls enter the fray.”
From the ethereal beauty of Gemma Ward to the alien-esque looks of Sasha (who’s shot the past three Prada campaigns and counting), insiders say the new contenders make up one of the most interesting group of girls they’ve seen in years. “They’re a new breed of model,” DeCaro says. “They bring newness, freshness, excitement and an ‘I’ve never seen that before’ quality to an image.”
One aspect that sets them apart is their diversity. While the Brazilians were all the rage at one point, followed shortly thereafter by Eastern Europeans, today’s crop of girls on the verge is global in scope. This month’s WWD Beauty Biz cover girl Hilary Rhoda is from Maryland. DuJuan, whom advertising veteran David Lipman dubs “the first major Asian model” hails from China, while Caroline Trentini is from Brazil.
What they share in common is their beauty and worldwide appeal.
“There was a period when we didn’t use models,” says Grey’s Appel, “because they were grungy looking and way too thin and there wasn’t anything beautiful about them. There was a time when strange was beautiful in editorial.
“The current crop of models is bringing in a new perspective,” continues Appel, who notes the use of models versus celebs is almost always cylical. “It’s a different beauty, a more diverse beauty. The model world is coming back to pretty.”
For proof, look no further than models.com, which ranks the top 50 models weekly based on their editorial and advertising campaigns. (Daria, Gemma, Malgosia, Julia, Isabeli and Doutzen were among the group at press time.) “For a while, there were beautiful girls, but they were aloof, there wasn’t much for the American public to relate to,” says Wayne Sterling, the site’s editorial director. “Now it’s changing. DuJuan, for example, has become a universal beauty, even in Asia,” Sterling continues. “There’s a big difference between a Chinese beauty and a Japanese beauty and a Korean beauty in terms of ideals, and DuJuan seems able to cross over into all of these different markets and at the same time fits into the ideals of beauty for the Western market.”
What’s more, these girls know how to work a camera angle. “There are only so many celebrities who can deliver a picture. There’s a very big difference between performing in front of a movie camera versus a still camera,” says Lipman, the creative director of his eponymous agency. “It’s easier to take pictures of a model. They’re schooled and trained to deliver a great picture every time they go to work. That’s their job.”
Killer bone structure doesn’t hurt either. “When you need to focus on making a specific lip point or eye point, you want the talent to be able to withstand the pressure of the camera and be able to focus on that product attribute,” says Stephanie Klein Peponis, executive vice president, chief marketing officer of Revlon.
Still, for models to break into the superstardom stratosphere today and break the stranglehold Hollywood has on magazine covers and high-profile contracts, a pretty face is not enough. “If you’re going to compete with celebrities, you have to shine,” says Ivan Bart, senior vice president of IMG Models. “You’ve got to have a story to tell and demonstrate that you’re three-dimensional.
“Take Liya Kebede,” he continues, the last model before Evangelista to appear on a Vogue cover (back in May of 2005) and a face of the Estée Lauder brand. “She’s beautiful, smart, a mother of two and a spokesperson for the World Health Organization. That’s why she got the cover. She’s got a lot of stuff going on and that’s what people are looking for today, be it a model or celebrity.”
This article appeared in WWD BeautyBiz a special publication to WWD available to subscribers.