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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Did the modeling biz ever have a reputation? And if so, when exactly did it lose it?

Andre Leon T impersonates Mr. Potatohead during Milan FW

If you ask the usual NYC/London "pros", they'll tell you about the TV exposes featuring playboy agents allegedly lusting after teenage models - and pretend there is really nothing wrong with drug use, as illustrated by Katie's troubles (even when everyone seems to be making drug jokes as soon as "fashion model" is mentioned) - or anything else in the biz...

The truth is that the coke-supplying grannies who still run the "major" London agencies and the motley crew (ranging from "Mary Poppins" puritans to militant lesbians and Warholite Lady Bunny afficionados - the only thing they have in common is their aversion to women in swimsuits) that controls NYC "high fashion" were almost wiped out back in 1997-1998 by the "heroin chic" scandal. If you look at press reports from the era, you'll see that AW and her lackeys received constant abuse from the mainstream media, criticizing them for allowing their mods to become drug addicts - and promoting superwaifs as the female body ideal...even US presidents joined in the condemnation:

Clinton Condemns "Heroin Chic" in Fashion Industry Following New York Times Story

A Death tarnishes Fashion's Heroin Look

It is obvious how hypocritical all these "magazine editors" etc were - the "healthy images" they promised to deliver were quickly forgotten when they felt they could get away with it.

The hypocrites tried to shield their faves - who disappeared from the fashion scene for a few years, with C Murphy going boho in Costa Rica, etc - by putting the blame on upcoming models, like Amy Wesson, who was blackballed by S Meisel and his Warholite pals when her drug problems became too public - the same hypocrites who "ignored" Katie's troubles had nothing good to say about Amy, whose career was destroyed in the US market (she continued working elsewhere, and showed up in the campaign for the top-selling perfume "Angel")

The "heroin chic" episode killed the glam modeling biz public image and led to major changes - Elite Models, the dominant agency at the time, had effectively collapsed in NYC even before the BBC TV "expose" exploded in late 1999, mainly due to greed and inept management. Their successful affiliates in other countries died for similar reasons - but mainly because their markets could not sustain the inflated fees they demanded for top quality models. The talent that originated from their model contests carried a high price tag but the demise of the "supermodel" could no longer support that. The "virgin mods in distress" BBC story never aired in the US, so there was really no major public outcry about any "sex troubles" over there. Still, it serves as a useful tool and is often used against the old enemies - but few straight men would be interested in the sort of models that Bart, Rowland and the like produce nowdays. The BBC later admitted that the story was false and never touched the subject again.

These days, the biz people (NYC now controls the biz in every respect, with Paris and Milan quickly disappearing from the modeling biz map) prefer to keep a low profile and use bland models that won't draw much public attention - which also suits their mentality. A couple of "mainstream" faces (ie Gisele and Natalia Vodianova) are used for PR purposes and that's about it.
In this context, it will be interesting to see how they handle the upcoming "Devil wears Prada" movie, which can potentially cause them a lot of trouble if it focuses mainstream media attention to biz practices and makes people realize that AW and her minions "forgot" about all the promises they made back in the late 90s...


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