‘Super’ Model Effect: in an industry with one-hit wonders how do you have that staying power?

“One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” A phrase made popular by Heidi Klum on the hit show Project Runway rings true for the entire fashion industry. And with modern society so addicted to novelty, the industry is feeling this truth harder than ever before. More so now the models, with thousands of fresh faces being discovered via social media and walking the runways; a pretty face has become a dime a dozen. So how then have models not only survived the fickleness of the industry, but gone on to be household names? A list of very specific attributes secured their star status.

THE SUPERMODELS

A term that became popular in the 1980s, it applies to extremely well paid models that are recognised worldwide for both commercials and haute couture modelling. While many iconic figures came from the Supermodel era, most notable were the ‘original supermodels’, i.e. Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, and Christy Turlington. The five were handpicked by photographer Peter Lindbergh for the January Vogue 1990 cover, but no one could have predicted the kind of power they’d obtain individually and as an exclusive group. They’ve graced all types of magazines, ranking in over 100 covers each. Add to that the multimillion dollar contracts, campaigns and endorsements. One can’t even fault Linda Evangelista for the now iconic comment, “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 per day.” But what was it about Evangelista that earned her 700 fashion editorials, the most Vogue Italia covers to-date and millions to walk on one runway?

The Original Supermodels [Image: Peter Lindbergh/Vogue]
The Original Supermodels [Image: Peter Lindbergh/Vogue]
Your X Factor

Most supermodels were known for a specific reason. As an elite group, all women were fiercely feminine, full-bodied, had the right amount of glamour and were very diverse in their looks. You could identify them instantaneously… unlike the current runways where everyone seems to look very similar. Linda Evangelista aka ‘The Chameleon’ was known for her remarkable level of versatility. She frequently changed her look and carried them extremely well. Cindy Crawford was known for her trend-setter abilities; you can thank her for the cut-off shorts and beauty mole trends. Turlington was the “insurance model”, because she gained such a positive reputation of always delivering what the clients wanted. Naomi broke barriers for women of colour by being the first black model on the covers of British and French Vogue but she was also known for her cat-like prowl/sashay runway walk. While Australian, Elle Macpherson, was known as “The Body,” which earned her a whopping five Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers.

Recognising the selling power of the supers, Gianni Versace cast Linda, Cindy, Naomi and Christy to walk in his autumn/winter show in December 1991, reportedly paying them $30,000 each.
Recognising the selling power of the supers, Gianni Versace cast Linda, Cindy, Naomi and Christy to walk in his autumn/winter show in December 1991, reportedly paying them $30,000 each.

Have a personality

In an interview with the Telegraph , Lindbergh expressed that “In 1988 everything was beautiful and glamorous, but there were these other women, they had balls, they had brains.” Kate Moss, who later joined the supermodel status in the 1990s, build her brand around her casual persona that brand expert Peter Saville described to the Bloomberg Businessweek as, “She is an accessible icon to everyone, in that young women can relate to her and aspire to be her…similarly she’s not intimidating. She’s synonymous with possibility for young women – she’s not impossibly beautiful, or alluring, or mannered. It’s that that’s made her such an astonishing role model for her times. Plus Kate has never denied or denounced her roots…All this has endeared Kate to a generation. She’s a brand.”

Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne [Image: Courtesy of Burberry / Collage courtesy of Get Styled]
Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne [Image: Courtesy of Burberry / Collage courtesy of Get Styled]
The closest to supermodel status (before her retirement announcement) is Cara Delevingne. She isn’t just know for her unambiguous eyebrows and distinguishing bone structure, but also for her personality that translated far beyond the catwalk. From her carefree and laissez-faire attitude, to her outspoken nature about the pitfalls of the fashion industry or a poorly prepared reporter during an interview. It’s clear she’s more than just a mannequin  and has some solid thoughts. As well as a sense of humour and a love for animals which makes her more approachable.

 

Leverage what you have.

In an industry that likes to ‘retire’ models in their mid-twenties, it’s important to build your staying power. For the original supermodels , the power had shifted from the brands to the models who would no longer be a blank slate that just wore clothes. By the 1990s they were being covered more in the public eye than the designers they wore; this gave them the power to take charge of their careers. This also included asking for bigger fees and diversifying their portfolio by going into entrepreneurship.

Elle Macpherson launched a signature lingerie line, Macpherson Intimates as well as a skincare collection, called (of course) “The Body”. Crawford launched several successful businesses, including “Meaningful Beauty”, a line of anti-aging skincare products, and an eponymous Home Collection. Power models such as Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum used their modelling fame and connections to transition into the television industry as media personalities and corporation managers.

Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks as Victoria's Secret Angels [Images: Getty Images / Victorias Secret]
Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks as Victoria’s Secret Angels [Images: Getty Images / Victorias Secret]
But it’s Gisele Bundchen that seems to have mastered the art of leveraging one’s personal brand with licensing deals. She may have gone the predictable route of working with beauty products but her hard work and likability factor got the attention of other industry bigwigs such as Volkswagen.  The ‘Gisele Effect’ has such an economically positive effect on brands that economist, Fred Fuld, created the Gisele Bundchen stock index, to monitor her impact on a company’s growth.  For example, Bundchen’s representation of Proctor & Gamble grew their Latin American sales by 40%. And the more her momentum grows the greater her leverage gets. She began licensing her name to promote products such as the Gisele Bundchen iPANEMA flip flops from the shoe company Grendene.

[Image: Courtesy of Pantene]
[Image: Courtesy of Pantene]
[Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton]
[Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton]
[Image: Courtesy of Gredene Ipanema]
[Image: Courtesy of Gredene Ipanema]
Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything

This may seem hard to do especially if either the money sounds really, really good or because you haven’t gotten work in a long time/haven’t gotten that ‘break’ yet. In the long run, this attitude won’t work as it will either get you burned out or look less credible and brands won’t want to work with you. For example, at the height of Cindy Crawford’s career, she was doing workout videos but also got a very attractive offer to do cigarette videos/ advertisements. However she turned them down as appearing in the latter would hurt her overall brand.

[Image: Mario Testino / Vogue]
[Image: Mario Testino / Vogue]
THE INSTAGIRLS

After the iconic Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, ended the supermodel era by making celebrities the covers of publications and the faces of brands, the power of modelling was uncertain.  Then came the new up-and-coming era of models known as instagirls (Instagram girls). While Naomi Campbell has been quoted referring to the new era as, “easy come, easy go”, there are a few that have managed to gain some traction. The likes of Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid are just some of the stand out brands in the new batch of models. They may not be known as well as the original supermodels but they are shifting the limelight back onto the models for the current generation. While they still have the conventional approach of catwalks, such as the famous Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, to couture runways, endorsements and campaigns, their power comes from social media.

Jourdan Dunn and Karlie Kloss team up for the spring-summer 2016 campaign from Liu Jo. [Image: Chris Colls/Liu Jo]
Jourdan Dunn and Karlie Kloss team up for the spring-summer 2016 campaign from Liu Jo. [Image: Chris Colls/Liu Jo]
Utilize the power of social media

What Cara, Kendall, and the Hadids  understand is that brands want more than than just their physical appearance; they want their clout and communication power. The Indiana University actually developed an algorithm to prove that models with more Instagram followers get more Fashion Week bookings. Their findings, which proved to be 80% accurate, showed that hyperactive accounts such as Kendall Jenner’s, would increase your chances of walking the runway by 15%. Now dubbed the ‘Kendall Jenner Effect’ by social media slang, most brands shy away from models with less than 10,000 followers. Gigi Hadid alone has 17.2 million followers which is way more than Versace, Balmain and Moschino combined.

[Image: Courtesy of Balmain]
[Image: Courtesy of Balmain]
[Image: Courtesy of Balmain]
[Image: Courtesy of Balmain]
But it isn’t just about showing how glamorous a brand is, but using their social networks to keep their business brand personal . The new legion of models communicate directly with their followers and share pet pictures, their insecurities or even just the mundane aspects of their days. They’re more active than reactive; choosing to share more about each other, from their successes to icons that inspire them. They’re also sharing about their philanthropic and general interests. Models like Jourdan Dunn uses her platform to also advocate for those suffering from sickle-cell anaemia, a blood disorder her son Riley has.

Models just want to have fun [ Images: Instagram]
Models just want to have fun [ Images: Instagram]
Whether you’re modelling philosophies lie in the old or new school, the general message that comes from both is taking charge of your own image and personal branding. These lessons need only apply to aspiring or still-growing models; we can all learn to harness the skill of self-curation to build up our influence and power in whatever fraction of life we choose.

 

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