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Thursday, August 05, 2004

The story so far...

This is an update of a May 2003 posting...

If you think the stuff you see is this Blog is obscure - you are right.

Thanks to AW, her friends and minions, and their "new aesthetic", the public has grown totally indifferent to today's "top" fashion models - the ones seen in the "major" fashion mags and in the various "top model" lists.

Despite the efforts of a small group of people to kill the original "supermodel" concept (according to which the top models have to be the ones with the best bodies and face features and with mass appeal potential) and replace it with their own version, most people still talk about Cindy C and Naomi C when they are asked to think "top model".
In fact, 2005 will be a "supermodel" year - you'll see once again many of the things that were hip in 1995, including rave fashions, and of course, the (high fashion) "supermodel". A grotesque version of Linda E is back, looking exactly like she did in 1995, and sharing campaigns with Paulina Porizkova and others.

The "specialist" reporter on the subject, M Gross, who wrote the book "Model", lost his column last year because readers of the NY Daily News newspaper reportedly showed little interest in his (A-list) model-related coverage. He is back in the news, since a new "supermodel" movie is to be released in 2005, with backing from Madonna, and based on the "Model" book.
Most of the media "model reporting" is really nothing more than PR for model agencies and NYC fashion PR houses, like Krier, KCD and Betak - with almost all "gossipers" having something in common: Awe for publishing giants Conde Nast and their high fashion mags. Other competing mags (US Elle and H Bazaar mainly) regularly get trashed, there are constant rumors about H Bazaar's "troubles", while the main rivals to the Conde Nast "contract photographers" - mainly P. Demarchelier and G. Bensimon- are routinely described as incompetent or talentless
(Demarchelier recently signed with Conde Nast, so the critical CN lackeys will now learn to adore him).
The NYC high fashion clique has total control of NYC media reporting on modeling - although even major biz events, like fashion weeks, are today minor news.

Does the media indifference really bother the high fashion crowd - or was it achieved by design?

Yours truly is different- I have no ties whatsoever to fashion or modelling, English is not my first language, and not even Gerald Marie would hire me (Despite the fact that his Ukrainian wife is one of my Top 3 fave models, ever since 1997). I operate from somewhere in Europe, and couldn't care less about the NYC model biz "insider" stuff - I mention these open-sourced "gossip" stories mostly for their comic relief value, and to highlight the crass characters of many of the main participants. The truth is that the Milanese and the Parisienne are even more irrelevant - and they don't speak much English, so they are no fun at all.
Some of this "gossip" btw may help to explain why certain models do better than others, or why some agencies do poorly (in which case, it's the models again who suffer)- so it has some relevance.

I do like "new" fashion mods - but my interest has waned after the decline in overall fashion model quality, caused partly by the collapse of the "old-style" fashion modeling biz, which was run mostly by maturing playboys and various dillitantes - they may have looked weird to grown up women, but they sure knew how to pick the best girls. The quality of most of today's model "discoveries" is very poor, compared to what model agencies produced in the nineties, when the international frenzy with the "supermods" was in top gear.
My interest in all this started after I found out that many of the top girls in the (very few) major fashion model contests - the prime vehicles for discovering the best new mods throughout the nineties - were in fact better mods than most of the celebrated "top models".
That was back in late 1997, but I still feel relevant - many of the girls I met back then and in the next 3-4 years are only now becoming more visible. The delay is largely due to the "edgy" model wave that sidelined most quality models in the past 5-6 years (to call these "edgy" mods simply inferior in quality would be incorrect, since they were in effect "anti-models" - the people who promoted them wanted to destroy the image of the perfect, elegant, appealing model, that the "supermodel" era produced)
Girls like Michelle Alves had trouble finding jobs from 1999 onwards - it was only recently - after 9/11 in fact - that many got the success they deserved. Others, like Korina Longin and Noemie Lenoir, among the "soon to be big" in 1997, are still not widely known, in high fashion circles anyway. Rhea Durham, the "Revlon girl" after Cindy C, was "high fashion" for a time, but perhaps her beauty looked too "classic" for AW's purposes - she still works, got married, but the hipster crowd pretends she doesn't exist. The girls who were working before 1998 and "survived" without much trouble tend to share certain common characteristics - mainly the fact that they are favourites of AW/Meisel and their circle.

Not that I was ever into "supermodels" much - I was no more interested than the average guy, just following the supermod coverage on the TV news and all over the press, for much of the nineties. I still have the 1986 Sports Illustrated calendar - it was actually a present - with Paulina Porizkova's pics, but I never bought any mags with her editorials.
As for the "supermodel" story - most people credit Elite's Monique Pillard as the inventor of the supermodel concept - helped by Marco Glaviano, who shot a series of calendars with Paulina Porizkova, in 86 and 87. Cindy Crawford was the top name in the late 80s - and beyond. Cindy, as well as S Seymour and 80s top model Hunter Reno were contestants in the first fashion model contest Elite organised, in Acapulco, Mexico. Linda Evangelista wasn't there - but she did win the "Miss Niagara Falls" contest when she was 14 years old. In 1990, after the initial success of the "Trinity" (Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista) in which S. Meisel played a significant role, after he met Christy in 1986 - Gerald Marie, one of Elite's owners (who was also instrumental in the "Trinity" success story and used it to promote his new wife, Linda E) convinced several important designers,like Gianni Versace, that supermodels were worth much more than the standard pay rate. Gianni started the model "exlusives" game - he paid more than anyone else was willing to, so that a supermodel would do only his show during Milan fashion week. Other designers joined the bidding when they saw the media attention this concept brought to Gianni, and model rates in general skyrocketed.
The "Trinity" disbanded in late 1992, not long after Linda E made her famous "won't get out of bed for less that $10K" comment. That was effectively the end of the "high fashion supermodel" - interest in them declined throughout 93 and 94, and by 1995 they were absent from most FW shows.

S Meisel really became -internationally- significant again only after 1998, when he started shooting major European campaigns. Most of Meisel's friends actually were influential long ago, even before AW became the US Vogue editrix, in 1988. US Elle (whose launch in NYC and success in the late 80s contributed to the editorship changes in US Vogue) and people like Demarchelier arrived fairly late, but threatened the clique's power.
The Gross book is probably the only source on Meisel's past, since he stays well away from publicity - here are a few things Gross mentions about him:
"Meisel and a pack of powerful fashion friends were trying to resurrect the cult of the fashion photographer of the sixties...In the beginning, he was imitating his idol, Avedon, whom he worshipped since grade school...he copies anything from Horst to Bourdin and poses his models as actresses and mannequins of earlier times..." Gross also mentions an interview Meisel once gave to the gay mag "Advocate", in which he says he always liked to photograph "...more effeminate-looking men, more masculine-looking women, and drag queens in hopes of teaching that there is a wide variety of people...there's absolutely a queer sensibility to my work...but there's also a sense of humor...a sarcasm and a fuck you attitude as well as a serious beauty"
This may be useful for those who claim that Meisel and Co are just doing their job and don't have any kind of agenda - one has to wonder how much of this "queer sensibility" AW shares with him.

The supermodels generated publicity not just by appealing to fashion's limited audience, but mainly by appearing in the mass media and in men's magazines, calendars, etc - they were in fact a mass-appeal "product". Designers, fashion magazines and the biz in general benefited from the increased public interest in all things fashion - if you look at the covers of most big fashion mags throughout the first half of the nineties, they are dedicated to "supermodels". The same was true for mainstream media - models outnumbered celebrities.
The big winners were of course the model agency bosses - the public demanded more of the same, and many new names joined the supermodel club after 1991 as a result.

In 1992 , the "grunge" trend was hot, along with Nirvana and Seattle music, and several "waifs" became big - with Kate Moss getting the Calvin Klein contract. The few famous waifs (Meisel also "developed" Stella Tennant, considered a waif at the time) were just a sideshow though. The public wanted tall, perfectly proportioned supermods - even Naomi C said at the time that she felt "inferior" when standing next to many of these "perfect" girls.
Here is the ancient alt.supermodels FAQ which tells you more than you really need to know - this one factoid warrants special mention:
"...Amber Valletta, in 1995...was everywhere and then deliberately cut back on exposure to prevent saturation and self-distruction of her career".
I bet the hipsters are still laughing - Amber is of course a perennial fave of the NYC high fashion clique. Her Versace campaign saturation did little to damage her career - although the same cannot be said for Versace sales.
As for "everywhere" - I don't remember seeing her in any European (non-Conde Nast)fashion mags until the late 90s.

The Gross book ends sometime in 1995. That was when terminal "supermodel boredom" hit fashion (although the trend started two years earlier) and Christy Turlington announced her retirement (but have since returned, retired again, etc).
What went wrong?
Gross offers some views - the major reason was that models became too powerful, and when even their agents got pissed (classic scene of JC in the back of a limo, blasting "ungrateful" Naomi) they got in trouble.
The supermod frenzy actually peaked in Europe in 95/96 - many "fashion/supermodel TV specials" were filmed at the time, mainly in France and the UK. In all of them, photographers like Demarchelier or Baily are shown waiting, sometimes for days, for the supermod to show up for her scheduled shoot. AW's alternative business plan certainly took care of that problem.

Many of the "top" mods who showed up between 92 and 96 disappeared not long after - Irina Pantaeva, Claudia Mason, Meghan Douglas, Jenny Shimizu, Laeticia Herrera, Iris Palmer, Fabienne, Patricia Velasquez (she did show up again recently, in beauty ads in US magazines) and so many others. Some, like Michelle Hicks and Guinevere van Seenus, Vogue Italia regulars, show up here and there and then disappear again. The 1995 "hot face", Kristin McMenamy, as well as Shalom Harlow, gave up. Bridget Hall is still around, like Chandra North, Georgina Grenville and Kirsty Hume, but hardly among the hipster faves. Others, like Maggie Wrobel, Michelle Weweje, Michelle Behennah, etc were successful commercially but got little respect from "high fashion". A great resource for model fans is "Mr 88's" magazine lists, buried somewhere - but still accessible (Please, never link directly to any pics in these sites - use text links instead).
There were also many faces who were popular mostly in Europe at the time - Adriana Sklenarikova, Carla Bruni, Ines Sastre and others are far better known today than any of the "fashion" names mentioned above. Eva Herzigova is still considered a "GUESS model" by many NYC "pros" - her mass appeal in Europe is second only to Naomi's. Models like Valeria Mazza, Leticia Casta or Nieves Alvares are huge in their respective markets. Euro fashion mags did not adopt the "celebrity covergirl" swing that was so popular in the US - most mags still use models on their cover pages.

I don't know if anyone will do a book about post-1995 events, but it will probably be boring and far removed from the truth - nobody in NYC would dare go against AW and her clique. How are they going to explain the "Belgians" - as just another "beauty wave", like a clueless US Elle person reportedly claimed?

So, what about the Madonna/Gross movie? Well, M Gross made a lot of money working for Conde Nast magazines, and I doubt he'll risk his professional future to tell a truth that nobody really cares about.
In spring 2003, the news was that Michael Flutie was trying to buy the media rights to the Gross book. His Company agency glory days were the post-95 years, so maybe he was going to expand on the book story he represented some of the best models at the time.
Flutie was not the typical model boss - he said himself once, that being gay made it easier for him to approach girls with modeling potential. His mods were rather "conventional" though - like Amy Wesson, perhaps the best US model after 1995 in my opinion, who had some trouble with drugs. While still popular in Europe, with several campaigns in France and Italy in past years, she still faces problems getting work in NYC.

NYC agents often display poor taste in model selection - or maybe that's the plan, since "good taste" is a no-no for the high fashion illuminati. The locals always talk about "the girl from next door" look, and until about 1996/97, the majority of the mods in their rosters were Anglo-Saxon, like their next-door neighbors.
Like their London friends, they are largely culturally ignorant - it's not that they knew and didn't care about Eastern European or other "ethnic" models, but they actually had no idea what these mods looked like - they probably assumed they resembled the evil spies in cold war propaganda movies. There were several hilarious "ethnic mod" articles in both US and UK media, inc one in the NYC Paper magazine, which demonstrate their ignorance - in the Paper story, a few years ago, a "Wilhelmina agent" who was apparently ex-Elite, claims that there are really no worthy Russian models, and Elite (the big agency at the time) wouldn't open an office in Moscow any time soon. Elite of course worked with agency Red Stars in Moscow since the the early nineties, and many of the top winners in their model contest - Tatiana Zavialova in 93 (3d), Natalia Semanova in 94 (1st), Irina Bondarenko in 95 (2nd) Diana Kovalchuk in 96 (1st), Vika Sementsova in 99 (1st) - were ex-USSR, and represented by the Moscow agency! Obviously Elite's PR wasn't very effective, but such displays of ignorance are typical even today, when one reads the statements made by NYC biz people - most don't ever bother to read or look at the pics in fashion magazines (except the 4-5 "hip" titles, of course).
The truth is that very few people in any agency really know anything about models - and most of those who were competent, are long gone.

It's amazing how many US top mods come from poorer areas in the US midwest and south - Amy Wesson was spotted in Biloxie, Missisippi (in a trailer park, if we are to believe Mr Flutie) but she is probably the only one who doesn't show it. Up to the mid-90s, the modelling world was ruled by the Nordic blonde, preferrably of the native English-speaking variety. Past Elite Model Look final contests used to include huge numbers of US and Canadian girls, who had limited success afterwards. That "inbalance" came to an end around 96/97, the same time many Milanese openly complained about the quality of "top" US models, as the fashion world was fast becoming more international (not in the narrow "add some black/hispanic variety" sense, as popular in NYC) and most of the hip US mods at the time didn't look very "cosmopolitan". Not surprising, considering their backgrounds.

Elite was pushing the second wave of supermodeldom back then - their "Supermodels of 2000" hopefuls - back in 96/97 -included Ines Rivero and Valeria Mazza (both from Argentina), Daniela Pestova (Czech Republic) and Ingrid Seynhaeve (Belgium). Note that none of the so-called "top NYC mods" - Amber Valletta, etc - on US Vogue cover pages and editorials at the time, or any Anglo-American types, were included. In 1998, their "Latin queen" was Gisele Bundchen, a little known Brazilian model of German ancestry, who had won the Brazilian Look in 1994 but had done next to nothing since. The hyping followed the Linda E model - constant exposure for many months in a row, on different Vogue editions. AW called her a "Vogue supermodel" - it was obvious that some people were trying to re-engineer the "supermodel" business model, but by adapting it to their mentality.
With AW's clique post-98 domination, many of the "high fashion" waifs/superwaifs who had little mass appeal or even exposure outside the US/UK, got their revenge - Meisel keeps planting Amber Valletta everywhere, Carolyn Murphy was recalled from her Costa Rican surfing exile to appear on Roitfeld's Vogue Paris with a radical salon hairdo - and then as a post-modern Grace Kelly for E Lauder, while Trish Goff, Tasha Tilberg, Stella Tennant and others are still around - it's like time has stopped.
Other more promising models faced troubles - Angie Lindvall, an "Elle face" back in 97, became "cult" and then fell from NYC hipster grace, but seems to be back in favor with the hipsters in 2004.
Many excellent new US/Canadian mods like Bekah Jenkins, Noot Sear, Lindsay Frimodt, etc work mostly in Europe - while bland "next door girl" faces keep showing up every season and getting most of the high fashion hype. Originally the Milanese used them for such trends as "trailer trash chic" - known as "poverty chic" in NYC - but now they are everywhere.

An old site which was mainly Elite PR, supermodel.com, still exists. Buried in their "reports archive", you can find NYC modeling biz factoids from late 96 and 97. You won't see many "edgy" faces - compare these mods with today's "A-Listers".
Notice the "Elite Party" story - the agents are probably all gone, the new mods in the pics were Nina Heimlich, Jennifer Williams and a cute Danita Angell, still a junior in high school. Georgina Cooper btw is still around. The Model Look event mentioned is probably from 1997, a NY preliminary. Note a very young Tracy Trinita (a 1995 Look finalist), Daniela Pestova - obviously their big star at the time - Rosemarie Wetzel - "Elite's next supermod" in late 1995 who still looks amazing in recent Oenobiol ads, and Larissa Bondarenko (not related to G Marie's current wife, Irina Bondarenko) - who showed up naked in Italian Max, looking great for her 28+ years.
One of the "lost Prada girls" is Sierra Huisman - allegedly an IMG "discovery" in 1999, but notice her in a 1997 Shisheido party -and Alek Wek was there too - long before she was hip in NYC! - here. The "Ford 50 years party" item shows that Ford did even worse than Elite in wasting top model careers - the selection of Diana Kovalchuk as the 1996 Look winner was partly due to her resemblance to Patricia Velasquez, very hot at the time.
Russians and Argentinians/Brazilians were going to be the next wave, or that was what Elite's people had in mind - but not the Russians of the sort that Women agency promoted up to recently. Natalia Semanova and several others (Dior face Christina Semenovskaya, Wonderbra girl Inna Zobova, Tatiana Zavialova, Clarins girl Olga Kurylenko, etc) were major stars in Paris/Milan, but never really appealed to the NYC fashion crowd - to the few knowledgable types anyway, since the rest probably don't know they exist - while Colette Pechekonova, said to have been discovered via the internet, did so, for reasons unknown.
I have the programme of the 1997 Elite international Model Look contest final - it includes a pic of Tatiana Zavialova, who was said to represent the soon-to-arrive "alternative beauty" to fashion modeling. That term, in later years referred to manly-looking, knobbly-kneed and generally quirky mods - but in 1997, an appealing Russian face was the "alternative" to the usual nordic blondes and the "next door" faces.
Even the Vogue empire had selected the very impressive Malgosia Bela as its "Face of 2000", according to German Vogue - but Meisel reportedly still can't find the right hairstyle (!!!!) to revive her career.
As for the Brazilians, NYC modelling never liked "Latin" - looking models. Of course, few people knew about the mostly blonde gauchas from Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina back then - and Shirley Mallmann's success at the time was not enough to signal anything, since most people didn't even know she was Brazilian.
The success of Gisele Bundchen in 1998 had a lot to do with the "Latin" trend at the time, when stars like J Lopez and Ricky Martin were very popular. Gisele, spent over a year in NYC doing mostly nothing since she arrived there in Dec 96, while Elite was ignoring the rest of their excellent 94-97 Brazilian model discoveries - they were in "development", which meant they had to wait for their turn. Most didn't, and left Elite for other agencies. Ford Models miscalculated also - along with Elite, they had the two oldest modeling agencies in Brazil, and their local model contests produced the best mods (Adriana Lima and Revlon girl Luciana Curtis were Ford Brazil, while Isabeli, Michelle Alves, Alessandra Ambrosio, Ana Beatriz Barros, Fernanda Tavares, Caroline Magalhaes-Ribeiro and Gisele were with Elite Brazil).
When Gisele got her US Vogue cover in July 1998, it was agencies like Marilyn and IMG who had the Brazilian stars, almost all of them ex-Elite and ex-Ford Brazil discoveries.

In late 1999, J Casablancas changed plans, and Elite promoted young Raica Oliveira as the new Dior girl after she won the Look 99 title - but it was too late, as Elite was in decline already. Soon after the international final in Nice, France, in September 99, a "sex, drugs and underage models exploitation" expose appeared on BBC TV. Nothing was actually proved, except that French playboys have a poor sense of humor, and that London agencies -Select in particular- knew that some of their models were heroin/cocaine addicts and did little about it. In fact, the London Premier agency lady boss declared that however bad things were, she wasn't going to play the "model granny". Instead of getting outraged at this indifference towards models, many people were "worried" about the threat old model bosses posed to underaged mods.

This is probably what the Madonna/Gross movie will focus on - Gross keeps talking about the sad lifes of some models who partied too hard and were exploited by the biz, to showcase the "ugliness" of modelling. Of course, "mediterranean loverboys" are the only villains - after all, Ivan Bart and Co cannot possibly be considered a threat to underage mods (even lesbian bookers are OK in this respect)
You can be sure that the demands hip agents/stylists make on 50 kilo/16 yo mods to lose over 10% of their already low weight before they can do "high fashion" is one of the subjects which will be ignored in the Madonna movie - which after all,is intended as a merchandising extravaganza, sort of "Sex and the City" travels back in time.

The 1999 "expose" accelerated Elite's decline and effectively eliminated the agency as the major modelling force in NYC, at least in the new "edgy" high fashion environment. What did JC really had in his mind at the time?
I don't know if Elite was going to resist AW's new "modelling world order", but their Look 99 press release sounded like a defiant statement in defense of "classic beauty". JC showed weakness during that period - he tried to find new people to head Elite NYC, but they in turn made all sorts of demands and then abandoned him. After he left NYC "as planned" for retirement in Florida, having sold his agency share to a Swiss financier, some minor bookers with connections to Meisel and Co took effective control, and eventually abandoned the agency along with the models they were managing.

Meisel wasn't always into "edgy" - he liked girls like Mexican Elsa Benitez a lot in 96/97. Her Pirelli calendar pics were amazing, and she was "the other" Elite major Latin star - and he used her a lot in Vogue Italia eds. If Elsa had the "glistening breasts" that high fashion so adored in Gisele, I wonder whether she could have been the one in Gisele's place. In any case, it was Gisele who got the major hype, and as a result, the world discovered Brazilian fashion models - which is really what matters.
The London agency lady bosses did their best to push their "edgy" faves since AW became the "trendsetter" - mostly local aristotrash, nieces and girlriends of the glitterati, plus a few "provincial" girls - their successes included Karen Elson, Erin O'Connor, Jodie Kidd and Kate Moss - who suddenly was now the "top" name and not just a sideshow to the "true" supermods. The London mods can be superwaif, overweight (Sophie Dahl - this UK Telegraph article on her beats any Monty Python movie script) or have other quirks usually not tolerated in "normal" mods - but NYC "anglophiles" will make sure they'll do well regardless.

S/S 2004 was the time for the major comeback of the Anglo-American model - new US/UK as well as Canadian and Australian faces dominated the high fashion catwalks. Even Karen Elson made a comeback - she now appears all over French fashion magazines as a beauty model, along with Omahyra Mota and other NYC beauty queens, and French Elle (who had to explain to its readers what "edgy" was back in 2000) devoted a cover to her, even though she never bothered to do any eds for Elle editions in the past.

Even though "pioneering" Karl Lagerfeld had adopted Stella Tennant in 1996 (Kate Moss lasted one year) and then Karen Elson in 1997 (who, he said, resembled an "alien mutant" - this April 1998 Salon story senses the new mood) things in mainland Europe took longer to catch up with Meisel's "new aesthetic" turn - even himself used to shoot faces like Amy Lemons and Elsa Benitez just a year before.
The turn went into high gear by the arrival of mods like Karen E and Sunniva Stordal in Vogue Italia. Karen's story is important since she was the "battering ram" used by AW's pals to impose their "new order" - her story was covered in several articles (in June 1997 and March 1998 and as well as in this piece, when the "freak" was now conventionally "chic". (UK Telegraph - free registration may be needed). When Karen Elson showed up in Milan in Spring 98, the Milanese called her "fat" and unsuitable for catwalk duty - but they soon understood what was going on, and never complained again. Karen even became a Valentino girl in 1999/2000, underscoring the total surrender of the "high fashion" Milanese to AW's new business model. She recently revealed her anorexia/bulimia problems in UK Vogue, but apparently it hardly impressed anyone in NYC.

The pivotal year for the swing to "edgy" was 1998 - that was also when Tom Ford, who was at the time thinking of leaving Gucci for Hollywood, decided to stay on and expand the Gruppo - AW and her allies took advantage of that, along with the door that was opened by Mr. Arnaud and his friends into Paris, for AW's fave London-educated young designers (Galliano, McQueen, McCartney, etc) to replace such "stale" traditionalists as Dior's G Ferre, who would have refused to go "trash" to appeal to the "It girls". Yves St Laurent was an easy target - the YSL PaP ad campaigns by Sorrenti were amazing and a work of art, his designs were actually selling well, but AW had blacklisted Yves and he in response refused to advertise in her mag. The YSL owners were looking for a better business deal - and AW's "new order" plan looked appealing. Tom Ford took care of the business penetration into Paris - the "creative" brain for both YSL and Gucci was in London - and the Parisienne, who send the Gendarmerie to harass G Armani when he attempted a Paris showing, gladly collaborated - once again stupidly thinking that post-modernism was the salvation for their stagnating fashion business.
The relation between Tom Ford and AW is well-known, and if you needed proof, the "Goddess" corporate PR, financed by Tom and hosted by AW, is one example. Tom Ford was one of very few people on whom AW could count on for ad revenue - and other things. He was also instrumental in helping to install his own stylist, Carine Roitfeld, as the editrix of Vogue Paris - an irrelevant publication when Juliet Buck was running it, but nowdays the darling of every NYC hipster, second only to Vogue Italia, Meisel's pet project, in that respect. For a fun article on Carine R and "coolness" check this out - nothing like NYC "fashion journalism" can produce.

Yves wasn't the only one US Vogue-only readers may be ignorant about - when Prada financed Azzedine Alaia's comeback recently, he refused Conde Nast employees entry to his Paris show as a payback for the treatment he had received from US Vogue in the past. Conde Nast editrixes can have very cozy relationships with their advertisers - Versace is very important in their list, and gets special "protection" - for example, other designers who may be called "the new Gianni Versace", such as Julien McDonald, Elie Saab or even Roberto Cavalli, are ignored or trashed by the vogueys. It may of course be just a coincidence, that all three who design Versace-like fashions receive similar treatment. In contrast, Mr Elbaz, who was "stale" and "boring" as the last YSL designer before Tom Ford took over, is now doing fine, since he presently works for an LVMH firm, a major Vogue advertiser

Conde Nast bigwigs are very much invoved in the philosophy behind their high fashion mags - SI Newhouse approves of the almost total absence of men in AW's publication, and has made comments about some Vogue editions being too "testosterone heavy", bacause they featured photos of men.
The absence of men in US Vogue - pregnant women get photographed (only when having babies is trendy) by well-known lesbian A Leibowitz, while the men "responsible" are nowhere in sight - is interesting, but I doubt if NYC journalists will ever comment on the subject.

The "It girl" was the centerpiece of AW's business plan - but statistics showed that they had stopped buying "luxury" goods as early as mid-2000, after they were wiped out by the stock market crash. That was not the case in the mid-90s, as the exploding stock market was creating many new urbanite professional-class females, in the 19 to 35 age bracket, who were going to be the customers for AW's "high fashion" ideal. The newly famous fashion designers and their brands, brought out of obscurity in the late 80s and the first half of the 90s by the clever marketing trick of the "supermodel", plus the new London-originating "talent", would now go global with a unified message, but appealing to the right niche audience - so the mass-appeal of the "supermodels" was seen as irrelevant.
When Tom Ford started to re-organise Gucci, he got rid of Gucci licencees, and concentrated on branding and total control of the product. The fashion models were now going to be part of the total package - they didn't have to be appealing, but it was important that the target audience was to perceive them as "cool". In fact, if they had some quirk, that could add to their "coolness" and help differentiate the product. The plan was helped by "cool" publications, also targeted at the same newly affluent audience - yuppie lifestyle/fashion mags like i-D, Dazed and Confused, Numero, etc. These mags (with the exception of Surface and very few others) surrendered their faux avant-garde image to service the high fashion conglomerates - their new role was now to push the "luxury" conglomerate merch, and use the new "edgy" and "cool" mods, shot by new "cool" photographers - preferrably under Conde Nast contract, since Virgos tend to be control freaks. Real anant-garde was the last thing that really interested the hipsters - not only Surface, but other "alternative" fashion/lifestyle mags, like Helena Christensen's Nylon, did not impress them - since they were not under their control, and they weren't really serving the "luxury" market and AW's advertisers. AW's friends showed their respect for models and designers alike, when the Prada boss said that "marketing is more important than design" - but the so-called "designers" proved spineless and none complained about the comment.

How the "high fashion model hype" system actually works:
The "hip" agents/bookers (being a Conde Nast lackey increases your hipness value in NYC) grab some nodescript/"edgy" face out of a playground or find some bland face with little or no modeling history (as was the case with many 22+ year old "Belgians"), the contract "cool" photographers are instructed to shoot her for editorials scheduled to appear in cooperating "cool" artsy magazines like i-D, and the result is used as proof of the mod's "hipness" - next, the "friendly" conglomerates get them as "exclusives" for their shows or campaigns, in a game that benefits everyone - the mod's hyped "value" may then convince other (usually clueless, Germany's Escada is an example) fashion clients to pay extra to get the mods for their own campaigns as well - they couldn't do any better than get the "prestigious" Gucci/Prada girl, after all. When it comes to people like Testino, his polaroid is all that's needed for a model to make it big. Of course, people like Meisel and Testino are busy, and have little time scouting for models - usually the mods are suggested to them (or to their assistants actually) by fashion PR people or "stylists"- it was no accident that nearly all hip Russian mods, the first to really impress the NYC crowd after 1998, are represented by the same agent (Anne Vialytsina was an IMG "discovery").

As for the fashion week shows, the major NYC fashion PR firms gradually took over the show management and organisation - they nominate the season's "hip" faces and bus them around to all the "major" shows. The hippest show stylists are actually the same ones doing the "cool" styling for the hippest high fashion magazines - Meisel's Vogue Italia stylist, the Pop stylist, etc - so there is no danger of any "non-approved" mods displacing the "cool" ones from show castings. The hip agency bosses made a lot of money from fashion shows in past years - that balanced the revenue they were losing because their "edgy" models weren't suitable for any other work.

The big model powerhouses, who were behind the "supermodel" concept, and used their resources to find the "better" models were not needed any more - during the years that big agency bosses were in control, AW and everyone else in fashion played a secondary role, and that obviously had to change.
I actually never even heard of Anna Wintour - or any other editrix - even after watching and reading hundrends of fashion-related articles and TV reports, up to late 1997. AW couldn't rise to the top and become the "trendsetter" unless model bosses/mega-agents lost their power - and they did help their own demise by asking for 50+ percent fees, alienating everyone and behaving like nobody could ever threaten them. Their greediness was such, that they had started to threaten model fan sites with "copyright" laws - I learned from an Elite bigwig in 98 that the agency had sold the model portfolios of all their models to a French multimedia company - and that those types could "get upset" if others published online photos of Elite's mods (an argument helped by the peculiar French copyright laws)
Elite was the major power behind most top models/supermodels (by 1996/97 they had all the major girls) but their power was coming to an end - the agency effectively collapsed in less than two years, from mid-1998 to mid-2000. The owners of the new hip agencies were now the principal players, and they were welcomed by fashion's "new order" - remnants of the "old order" (Karin, Metropolitan, Wilhelmina, Riccardo Gay, etc) were sidelined.

There are of course those people who think that AW is really incapable of such grandiose planning, and it was really her London pals in modelling and fashion (and perhaps some others behind them, who sought a chance to help Her Majesty's coffers) who "helped" her with all this - I tend to subscribe to that theory.
Is she (and her minions) really responsible for everything that's happening in the modeling world?
The truth is that her "trash chic" approach (every proper high fashion person is pro-poor taste and anti-bourgeois, whatever that means to the politically ignorant in NYC) and her ever-increasing strong preference for using celebrities instead of models helped reveal the true nature of most "creative" types in high fashion.
Up to a few years ago, most of the fashion gliteratti showed up on TV expressing their love for the mods in their shows, coz they allegedly personified the "drop dead gorgeous woman" ideal they so much adored. AW helped them to "come out" and express their true love - for "thinness", "new sexy" and "alternative elegance" - and show their (dis)respect for models in general.
Even "conventional" Alberta Ferreti trashed models when she said that "the difference between dressing an actress or a pop star and a model is huge...a star - the right star - humanises the clothes."
Imagine what sort of respect the freakier biz types have for fashion mods. So, some totally manufactured mega-fake "star", like pop tart Kylie, is more "human" than fashion models?

It looks more and more like the high fashion biz people would rather go back to pre-85 times, when only a few horsey blondes like Jerry Hall modelled - but they would also like to keep the fame and money the "supermodels" brought to them.
If it wasn't for models and their appeal, very few people would bother with any of them - as was the case 20 years ago.

AW and her pals, after their own fave anti-models failed consistently to help sell products, blaimed the mods and switched their attention to celebrities or model/celebrities from the past - even the one "Vogue Supermodel" - ie Gisele - is not that visible in the last couiple of years. AW's problem is how to find celebrities who are not widely known in the US, and who will then need her strong "support" - she seems to have chosen ex-Posh Spice for that role, she probably thinks she can do an "Ozzy" and charm the US public. We'll see.

The rest of the world still likes fashion models very much, and "classic" mods continue to appear on the covers of fashion magazines and TV around the world. In Italy, the big mobile phone companies who dominate the ad market use very appealing young mods, like Megan Gale or Kasia Smutniak, in their print/TV ads. Fernanda Tavares and L Casta look gorgeous in L'Oreal TV ads - their people know that actresses/pop stars alone can't sell every product. Teresa Lourenco was in Campari TV ads while many young mods, like Yfke Sturm, show up in French/Euro hair product/beauty/cosmetics ads - and the list goes on.

The "supermodel boredom" period coincided with some major model-related controversies - on the NYC side, the Davide Sorrenti affair, the drug troubles of Jamie King, Amy Wesson and others, and the public outrcy against fashion biz practices that even forced President Clinton to condemn them. (Today, "conservative" and "family values" G W Bush sees nothing wrong with AW's anorexic world, and one of his nieces is part of the celebrity/model circuit)

London agencies were badly bruised by their own 1997 "heroin chic" scandals - when British designers had to announce, under public pressure, that they wouldn't employ any model addicts (imagine how widespread the problem was in London).
The UK Vogue editrix btw - infamous for a number of things, among them calling Sophia Loren "white trash" - said in 1998 that heroin chic "may" cause harm - but not really.
The agencies did recover soon though, and were instrumental in providing models for AW's "edgy" wave.

The superwaifs that arrived with the "heroin-chic" look multiplied, but were still largely a sideshow - and clients weren't all that happy. Omega watches threatened to pull its ads out of UK Vogue in 1997 because of the "skeletal" mods - primarily Trish Goff - who appeared in the mag. Quirky/edgy mods in eds and on covers pages increased sharply from 1998 on - and up to early 2002, most of the "edgy" faces who arrived in NYC, came via London - Norwegians, Russians, Belgians, whatever the "trend" demanded.
The "Belgians" came and went as fast as the Antwerp designers who AW promoted - remember the US Vogue special on them? Nowdays, ex-"edgy" Anouck L and Co are being "beautified" and marketed to Japanese cosmetics firms.

NYC has now become the one "model capital" - up to the start of the "edgy" wave, most of the top mods were based in Paris - and the rest in Milan.
Some top names didn't even bother to travel to NYC, for the local fashion week. Today, very few good mods remain in Paris - mostly the ones who live there permanently and have husbands/boyfriends. Even Natalia Semanova had to move to NYC with her husband, a booker with Elite Paris, to revive her career - the NYC types did not include her in the crowd they bused to the "major" shows. In fact, the inability of a mod to travel to NYC or LA is often cited as a factor that limits her success potential. The models need to be in NYC (or LA) because that's where most of the "important" editorial and campaign photography takes place.
The reasons for why much of the fashion photography business has moved to the US are more complex - lower prices made possible by technical advances is one factor. The bottom line is that most of the new "hip" faces appear as NYC agency models - Natalia Vodianova spend two years in Paris and Milan being ignored by the local high fashion crowd, who started adoring her after she came back via NYC.

Model agencies in Paris and Milan still (with a couple of exceptions) scout for "conventional" models - since in Europe, a good quality model will do Couture, PaP, cosmetics, catalogues, etc as required.
(even if some model agents like to brag that their mods are not "commercial", since they think it makes them look more important)
In Milan, over 70% of working mods are from Eastern Europe or Brazil, and the number of Eastern Europeans in Paris is also high, even if Brazilians are not as popular as in the late 90s.

The Italian fashion business is so big, that even the fashion conglomerates and AW's power plays don't influence things there as much as they do in Paris (where the fashion week show times are altered, to fit into AW's busy schedule) or NYC.
In fact, AW was so pissed by the refusal of the Italian fashion board to accommodate her schedule by changing their dates, that she skipped Milan FW more than once- her minions in the media followed that by trashing the Milanese shows and designers and singing the praises of Parisian fashion.
Unfortunately for them and AW, the recent unpopularity of everything French in the US isn't helping them much - so now they have to be nice to the Milanese once again.

There are constant reports about Gerald Marie trying to unload Elite - he is in courts with a Swiss partner who refuses to give up the brand name - and also that Ford, and even "powerhouse" IMG, are up for sale. The "safe" agencies seem to be the ones who have managed to find some "investor". The downturn in the agency business was to be expected - AW's strategy and the deminished importance of the fashion model isn't doing the people who are in the modeling biz (and not media/entertainment) any good.

It was announced that there won't be any more "Vogue Awards" specials on VH1 - I guess Stella Tennant was the final straw for the average viewer, with K Kurkova less successful than expected, once again proof that AW's policies are financial failures. No VS lingerie show for 2004, either.

Few people in NYC or anywhere else continue to spend serious money on models and ad campaigns - mainly lingerie firms and beauty/cosmetics brands.
The Victoria's Secret people are constantly under siege by the usual NYC suspects to add more "high fashion" to their castings - their disasterous 2001 lineup (Betak even planted his wife, 76cm-chest Audrey Marnay, in the roster) was followed by a much better 2002 and 2003 effort. Other sexy model "institutions", like the Pirelli calendar and the SI Swimsuit Special are on a slippery slope.

At the same time, the new men's mags - Maxim, Stuff, Max, Arena, some GQ editions, etc are slowly moving away from the Pamela Anderson "Nordic boobaliscious blonde bombshell" stereotype, and into featuring more good fashion mods.
The clueless high fashion crowd believes that what (straight) men want to see is someone like Heidi Klum - their idea of a "swimsuit" mod.
Men's mag readers however are not "It girls", and the mag editors can't afford to have their mags fail to please the hipsters.

In addition to Victoria's Secret, the "high fashion" contingent now targets cosmetics/beauty firms, even lowly Maybelline (Carmen Kass was said to be in contention, but she escaped embarassment after Dior decided to renew her J' Adore contract) and the few remaining fashion brands who are willing to spend money - mainly "urban chic" labels like Baby Phat. And of course, US Vogue's hippest are nowdays regulars in many of the (previously) much-despised "catalogues".

AW's Milanese axis was and still is based on Gianni Versace's talentless and insecure sister, the duo of Dolce and Gabbana - who still do their creative shopping in London flea markets- and of course, Ms Miuccia Prada, a PhD in Political Science and a proud communist, who took over the family business and used the models and products to scorn the bourgoisie - she once said that her designs are inspired by "the banal" (NYC types should look that up)
Lots of banal (but affluent) women support Miuccia's agenda and the rest of AW's friends, even if AW's "alternative" business model has effectively collapsed and all "major" Vogue advertisers are in bad financial shape.
However, R Lauren, L'Oreal, and other "uncool" brands who tend to use "unhip" models and no "A-Listers" are posting big profits, proving convincingly that a bad economic situation really affects only those who execute bad business plans, have poor marketing and the wrong products)
Gianni Versace's death in 1997 removed a voice that could counter AW's plans - not that Gianni was 100% true to his stated principles ("I don't like models with no tits or ass") since he did use waifs and superwaifs in his shows shortly before his death. However, the term "Versace model" meant something - which is no longer relevant today. Valentino proved to be very weak, and even Roberto Cavalli has to accomodate the "high fashion" crowd since he wants to expand in the US (The S/S 2005 choice of Angie Lindvall will certainly alienate the Cavalli woman, and I think Roberto's sales will suffer as a result)
JP Gaultier used to be known as someone who liked "pretty girls" - why he had to replace mods like Cathy Hurley with the duo of Karen Elson/Omahyra Mota in his latest perfume ads is a mystery. Perhaps he is only a figurehead now and has no creative control anymore.

AW is of course mainly interested in the success of her own magazine before anything else - but when her best advertisers are slashing their ad budgets, and she has trouble replacing them (her mag needs to mantain high margins, and its importance is mainly due to the fact that it generates much more ad revenue from the same number of ad pages as other similar mags) without her mag starting to look like Glamour - even merchandisers like Saks or Ann Taylor won't keep placing 20-page "advertorials" for long, if the retail situation doesn't improve. Very few people noticed that Vogue's ad revenue dropped more than "troubled Bazaar's" in 2002, over 8%, from Jan to Dec 2002, compared to the same period in 2001 - AW's media friends made sure that little detail was glossed over.
Unless the US Army decides to give Conde Nast a "reconstruction" contract to help Iraqi women "modernise", or something equally unexpected happens, the financial future for AW's mag looks bleak. Her position in US Vogue is still secure though - if she goes, all the talentless lot who exist thanks to the suck-up jobs they keep doing for her will be left in limbo - their services will no longer be needed. The truth is that the Conde Nast ownership has nobody to replace her with - unless they choose a male editor, as was the case when she arrived at US Vogue.

The future for modeling doesn't look any better, even if 9/11 and the financial crisis made people "want beauty again" - as Tom Ford lamented, in a NY Times interview, also suggesting that beauty "isn't good for fashion". Tom is fashion history in 2004, and the important issue for this site is what's good for models - now that the public got used to mediocrity and bland faces, there is little incentive for agency scouts (even of the armchair variety) to look for "better" models - since they would be worth the same as any nobody who Meisel decides to put on the Vogue Italia cover - or another of Testino's "exclusives".
The fragmented agency situation isn't helping either - the people with money to spend on new models, now go directly to small towns in places like Transdnisteria or Chuvash, in the middle of nowhere, to get the girls from their home agencies - in the past, they would work with 2-3 big national agencies who would develop a handful of carefully selected mods which were usually the best of the lot. The quality of the models coming out of model contests is much worse than pre-99, but some good ones still surface - one example is the EML 2002 winner, Ana Mihajlovic.

Not all fashion is "high fashion" of course - there are many countries where "edgy" doesn't sell (as anyone who has observed the different ad versions in Vogue Espana can tell) and the mass-appeal brands everywhere (or even R. Lauren) still look for that "fascinating" face to grab the attention of the buying public. Milan is the prime example, a place where most brands still look for appealing mods for their campaigns.
The models in non-"high fashion" (from a model selection viewpoint) mags like Marie Claire and even Cosmo (especially the UK edition) look much better nowdays - who would expect an elegant Slovakian brunette with piercing eyes, like Linda Nyvltova, in a traditional "power blondes" mag?

Yours truly will continue to cover true fashion models (but not glamour mods, heavily implanted men's mag beauties, or "hip" A-listers who shouldn't be modelling at all) of the "traditional" variety - wherever they may work, in Vogue, Maxim, catalogues, mobile phone commercials, etc.
They don't need to look all alike or even be "pretty" - I like Inge Guerts and Cathy Hurley the same as Elena Rosenkova and Lindsay Frimodt - all very good fashion models, but very different types, their "hipness factor" is irrelevant to me.

Stay tuned...

5 Comments:

At 8/06/2004 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 2000, you wrote: "Their lineup is top quality, with increasingly popular Anouck Lepere - making it into US Vogue recently - and Spanish posh girl Eleonora Bose the ones to benefit from the Punk/Butch trend."

You referred to Anouck at top quality back then, but call her a 73cm hag now. Is it possible that FV was, too, once a victim of the TF/AW model hype?

 
At 8/06/2004 6:16 PM, Blogger FV said...

I obviously say that Anouck L and Bimba Bose benefited from the punkette/lesbian/woman with a character/whatever trend,
If it seems like I call them "top quality" models, that's my mistake

Anouck L is what she is - a 20+ yo student who did part time modelling for her university class projects, she never had anything to do with professional modelling (unlike Inge Guerts or Hannelore Knuts, who were very popular in Paris/Milan long before AW discovered the "Belgians")
Some say one of the Antwerpians brought her to Paris for his show, others say IMG discovered her (yeah, right), just look at her first pics at models.com to understand what she represented

All this "Visions" agency thing is a very shady affair

Of course, now she does Shisheido - and Omahyra does Replay and high fashion beauty campaigns, so what?

In the TV ad for Hugo Boss, Anouck looked like the victim of a Botox operation gone horribly wrong - she was trying hard to smile, but only half her face muscles moved

 
At 8/06/2004 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FUNNYFAN:

>>?At the same time, the new men's mags - Maxim, Stuff, Max, Arena, some GQ editions, etc are slowly moving away from the Pamela Anderson "Nordic boobaliscious blonde bombshell" stereotype, and into featuring more good fashion mods.

Who do you consider good models who are posing for Maxim and GQ and all of those magazines? I know Kim Smith made tons of Maxim appearences and that GQ featured Karolina Kurkova and Marisa Miller lately. Anyone else of note?

>>In addition to Victoria's Secret, the "high fashion" contingent now targets cosmetics/beauty firms, even lowly Maybelline (Carmen Kass was said to be in contention, but she escaped embarassment after Dior decided to renew her J' Adore contract) and the few remaining fashion brands who are willing to spend money - mainly "urban chic" brands like Baby Phat. And of course, US Vogue's hippest are nowdays regulars in many of the (previously) much-despised "catalogues".

Maybelline almost started using Carmen Kass?! Que horror! She and her gaunt Estonian curves and dead, dead eyes don't seem to be part of their girly, traditional aethetic at all. But Adriana Lim was high fashion once, and she's doing Maybelline now, so who knows...

Baby Phat's biggest model right now is (gag) Kimora Lee Simmons herself. I know they used to use Devon Aoki, who was strange high fashion at it's best/worst... It's just weird to think of Urban brands as wanting high fashion models and not appropriate at all. Those types would be much better served by employing actually sexy models.

 
At 8/06/2004 7:44 PM, Blogger FV said...

Who do you consider good models who are posing for Maxim and GQ and all of those magazines
-----------------

In its first year or so, Maxim/Stuff used tons of Euro fashion mods, from Adriana Sklenarikova and Tatiana Zavialova to Chanel/Dior girls in bikinis - and they almost destroyed US GQ and the established US men's mags.
Now that they got the market share they want, they follow a low budget approach, using mostly crappy UK-market sourced babes
(but you still get types like Minki, K Carreno, etc)

Arena and UK/German/Spanish/Italian GQ use many good fashion mods - FHM sometimes does a good job, they even had calendars with Elite Paris models and some Rio Brazilians in past years.

In the US, Gear often had good model selection, but I have no idea if it still exists. Razor had a Brazilian mods special once. There may be other similar US mags, but most don't even arrive in Europe.


It's more of a hit-and-run affair, but even UK mags have limited their "Jordan"-type coverage and feature more fashion mods - check out a very sexy Gianne Albertoni in a recent UK GQ issue.

Obviously, I am not referring to "Top 50" high fashion mods...

 
At 1/29/2010 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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