supermodels

   The term ‘supermodels’, coined in the 1980s, exemplified the changing status of the model from mere clothes horse to a woman with international status and business acumen. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, despite stars like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton (see models, 1960s), the names of models were largely unknown outside of the fashion business unless they married celebrities (as with Jerry Hall, marrying Mick Jagger). By the 1980s models had become household names, often better known than the designers of the clothes they wore on the catwalk. Each supermodel had a particular look which concurred with the fashion moment and epitomized the dominant characteristics of the contemporary western feminine ideal. Accordingly, the influence of the supermodel in the formation of gender identity was fiercely debated, never more so in the 1990s with the introduction of the waif look through the new realist fashion photography of Corinne Day and the appearance on the catwalk of supermodels Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd. Their undernourished, underdeveloped look led to much debate over the link between fashion imagery and eating disorders in young women, and some were dubbed ‘vocational anorexics’, whose body shape was directly related, like ballerinas, to the demands of the job. Once a transient and thus well-paid job, from the 1980s on the shelf-life of the supermodel was considerably lengthened through product endorsement, particularly exclusive contracts with cosmetics companies and glamour shoots for personal calendar work. In the 1980s and 1990s the distinctions between runway and catwalk models began to disappear, with the profitability of the fashion image becoming more dependent on the marketable look of each model who had become a personality in the spirit of the film star or pop star rather than a body which displayed clothes. In the volatile business of fashion, the supermodel was seen as a safe marketing tool. The success and status of the supermodel by the end of the 1980s was best expressed by supermodel Linda Evangelista, who was reputed to have boasted she didn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000. Naomi Campbell, a black model from Streatham, South London, became one of the first in Britain to be given the title of supermodel. Campbell went on to appear on the cover of British Vogue and was the first black cover girl for the French edition. However, the wholehearted acceptance of black models is debatable, as nonwhite models have yet to receive major product endorsements or be awarded the more lucrative cosmetics contracts.
   See also: models, 1960s
   CAROLINE COX

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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