Christy, Cindy, Claudia, Linda, Kate and Naomi. In the early 90s, these names were synonymous with glamour, opulence, and just about every catwalk, fashion magazine, advertising campaign and product placement on the market. Today, however, even those in the fashion industry itself would be hard-pressed to name even one model who strutted their stuff during New York fashion week. By all accounts, it would seem we’re in the midst of a cover girl cover up.
But to understand how the most recognizable faces in the industry fell from grace—and the pages of magazines—it must first be understood how they rose to the top. Certainly, models had reached household-name status before: there was Suzy Parker in the 50s, Twiggy in the 60s and Christie Brinkley a decade later. But in the late 1980s, a super-sect emerged—a breed of woman that were more than just a face, a body, or a look. Indeed, these women were a full-blown business, staging a veritable media takeover by ensuring that their long legs and pert breasts could be seen on every television, billboard and magazine and making it known that no one could get between Kate and her Calvins.
What these girls had achieved, in a relatively short period of time, was fame, and with it, a rather hefty dose of notoriety. So much so, that at the height of their heyday, scandals clung to the models like lycra-laden evening gowns, with the pages of tabloids filled with stories of hissy-fits, druguse, wild sex-romps and infamous “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day” diva-like demands.
But it wasn’t just the bad attitudes and party-hearty lifestyle that banished the supermodel. Shifts in the global economy meant that elite designers were now marketing their wares to the masses, and to broaden their appeal, were looking for faces that were fresh yet easily recognizable.
Enter the actress, who despite spending much of the 90’s embracing flannel, corduroy and other staples of the grunge era, was now looking to portray glamour and old Hollywood elegance. Fashion houses quickly bought in to the idea of actresses as models, knowing that a single red carpet walk in one of their designs could instantly elevate their profile and secure their position in the spotlight. Magazines, meanwhile, desperate to stave off dwindling circulation caused by a surge in Web-based media outlets, latched on to the actresses, capitalizing on the nation’s new-found celebrity obsession by combining these cover shots with shocking tell-all tales.
Consider this: A review of the 40 greatest magazine covers of the last 40 years conducted by the American Magazine Conference in 2005 gave top billing to Rolling Stone‘s 1981 cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono lounging naked in bed. Second in line? The 1991 Vanity Fair cover of a very pregnant—and very naked—Demi Moore. Now consider that the last time Vogue put a model on their cover, there were 10 of them and, perhaps more shockingly, they were dressed in clothes from the GAP!
Indeed, even the editor in chief of CosmoGirl! has recently been quoted as saying that while she’d love to profile a new model on the cover of the magazine, she simple “can’t risk that” in today’s high-stakes magazine market.
So what makes these new models unworthy—or worse, unable—to achieve recognizable status? Some fashion insiders speculate that it is the model’s short shelf-life, which has pre-pubescent girls strutting the catwalks before burning out or fading into obscurity by age 20. Others, meanwhile, attribute their lack of recognition to the industry’s relentless pursuit of the next big thing, with designers one day lauding the 17-year old, spindly geek chick manning the cash register at the Winn Dixie and the next touting the virtues of models from far-flung countries. Or perhaps it is the modeling agencies themselves, who in recent years have traded timeless beauties for girls with striking features and are now forced, as a result, to create a revolving door in order to keep the books fresh and their clients interested.
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