I’m a huge believer of calling things like they are so I can’t help but be super aggravated at how carelessly people toss the word “supermodel” around these days.
It’s like a model gets discovered, appears in a few campaigns and runways and suddenly she’s dubbed a “supermodel.” Pfffft. Not even close!
The fashion and modeling world has a rich history behind it and only those who have studied it (or are somewhat familiar with it) will likely agree with my point of view on this subject. Or at least understand where I’m coming from.
It’s not about “hating” on certain models, it’s simply about setting the record straight and if there’s anything we should strive for within the modeling industry, it’ accuracy of some kind.
In a 2007 magazine interview, Claudia Schiffer was quoted as saying, “The supermodel is dead.” And you know what? I believe her. But I’m not saying that to be dramatic. It’s the truth. The models many idolize today aren’t supermodels (at least not when it comes to the true definition).
To help get my point across, here is my view/understanding of what each of the following terms “Supermodel, Power Model, It Model” mean and where they belong in the industry by today’s standards:
It’s been said many times and I’ll also jump onto the bandwagon that there are 5 “original supermodels”: Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer. Yes, there were other heavy hitting models of the 80s and 90s, such as Helena Christensen, Tyra Banks and Elle Macpherson, but it is the “Original 5” that remain the iconic symbols of what embodied a supermodel and that era of the industry.
What helped to skyrocket these models into supermodel stardom was the fact that their faces and names were recognized by people inside and outside of the fashion industry. This seemingly small fact is actually quite huge as it applies to the concept of a supermodel. What allowed these women to become known by everyone from fashionistas to the average family? Magazine covers.
Back in the 80s and 90s, models were the go-to-people for gracing all of the major magazine covers, both fashion and non-fashion alike. This was how the average person who wasn’t a fashion guru knew who the most famous faces in modeling were. It wasn’t uncommon for someone like Cindy Crawford to appear on the cover of a magazine like Good Housekeeping and then pop up on the latest Vogue cover next.
These supermodels knew no boundaries and weren’t restricted when it came to publications. They appeared in all of them. Because of the publicity that magazine covers offered, it raised the level of familiarity the average consumer had. Keep in mind, there was no social media back then so this was the main way people knew who was who.
What brought the era of the original supermodel to an end? Celebrities. Singers and actresses became the popular face to have, not just on the cover of all the magazines but the advertisements for clothes, accessories, fragrances, cosmetics, etc. Models were meant for covers and when celebrities took over that scene, it turned the tides for models and made their roles more limited, especially when it came to reaching the average non-fashion obsessed consumer.
Look at any newsstand these days, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be a celebrity (who was not originally a model) on the cover. The models who do find themselves on the covers are now mainly limited to fashion magazines (not always but most times). Remember: the original supermodels were on all of the magazine covers and not just those related to fashion.
When the celebrities took over the covers and the spokesmodeling/brand contracts, it resulted in setting up future models for a spotlight regulated to the catwalks, editorial pages inside the magazines and the occasional ad campaign.
Some would argue that many models in recent years are highly recognisable and that they could name them all. But 9 times out of 10, those people making such claims are avid fans and followers of the fashion industry so it would make sense that they would know who those models are instantly. What about the next door neighbour? Your teacher? Your parents?
I must remind you that the supermodels of the original era in the 80s and 90s could be recognized by housewives, businesspeople and even the baby boomers. In all honesty, you can’t really say the same for the many models that have been labeled “supermodels” in recent years. I must admit that even I can’t name a lot of the mislabeled “supermodels” these days…in fact, a lot of them look so similar I get them confused!
The Power Model category is where I believe the majority of the models who have remained strong in the industry belong (not in the category of supermodel). This isn’t a lesser title to covet and it doesn’t mean someone labeled a “Power Model” isn’t as successful as the supermodels of old.
It’s quite the opposite as you can see by the name itself. A Power Model is one who isn’t just paid a lot of money for the work they do, they’ve managed one of the greatest feats of all: staying power. It’s one thing to be a successful model but to be one that continues to stay employed for 5+ years is an accomplishment that deserves to be recognised.
There are plenty of Power Models who belong in this category: Heidi Klum, many of the VS models, Gemma Ward, Kate Moss, Gisele, Iman, Tyson Beckford, etc., etc.
Some of these Power Models have remained relevant in the industry through their name and reputation alone but also because many have stepped into the role of an entrepreneur by coming out with their own product lines, moving on to become television/media personalities, running their own corporations, etc.
Not all Power Models are instantly as recognizable by people outside of the fashion world but most are certainly familiar with who they are, depending on the Power Model and what he/she has done. For example, Tyra Banks has been around forever but these days the latest generation of consumers and the average Joe/Jane don’t associate her with her original career as a model but because of America’s Next Top Model.
Stepping outside of the modeling category for many Power Models is what has allowed them to be reintroduced to the next generation of fans in a new way.
Sadly, all too many “It Models” are the ones who get called supermodels and that really grinds my gears. I’d say 80% (dare I say 90%?) of the models today who obtain some amount of measurable success in their careers should be automatically put under the “It Model” category.
Similar to what I said about the Power Models, It Models aren’t any less successful or inferior than the other two categories I talked about above. But it is important to label these models properly and understand that the reasons that led to the category they belong in, do differ.
Not all It Models go on to become Power Models. It’s hard to reach the top of the modelling game and it’s even harder to stay there. It’s easy to spot an It Model: seemingly overnight they start appearing everywhere…advertisements, in the biggest runway shows and the social media monster can’t stop talking about them.
These are the new kids on the block who were discovered and put out into the spotlight at the right time. They’re fresh, they’re hot and everybody wants a piece of them. This is totally normal for models who are basking in their time to shine. However, more often than not, the It Model finds their flame extinguished after a few years. They eventually get replaced by the new It Models who are younger, fresher and more in demand.
Have you ever wondered, “What ever happened to so-and-so? I hardly see them in anything anymore.” Chances are, that’s because–for whatever reason and that isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault–they didn’t have the staying power to move on into the Power Model category.
Keep in mind that modeling isn’t a career that’s known for its longevity. It isn’t a joke when people offhandedly comment that most models, namely runway and fashion models, are “retired” by the time they’re 25. As many young and aspiring male and female models as there are out there ripe for the taking, the industry can be picky, kick out whoever they want and welcome whoever they want in because It Models are always replaceable. It’s sad but true.
So next time you start to call someone a “supermodel” think about whether or not that individual really deserves the title and if they’ll even still be around in a year or two. It kinda makes you think once you start putting things into perspective.
Modeling 101 – A Model’s Diary
By Dania Denise